With the heat of the forthcoming 2019 electioneering politicking already hitting overdrive, veteran journalist and former minister of information and culture, Prince Tony Momoh has insisted that President Buhari-led government remains Nigeria’s best option moving forward as a nation. In this interview, the 78-year-old chieftain of the All Progressive Congress (APC) trumpeted that their party had made good its promise of stimulating growth in the economy, providing security and fighting corruption.
He also spoke on the spate of killings triggered by the farmer-herdsmen clash across parts of the North.
A quote was attributed to you saying that Nigerians should stone APC leaders if they get into power and fail to perform in two years.
Yes it is true. It is fact that I said so.
So two years into this government, do you nurse fears or foresee being stoned by Nigerians?
Who would say that the APC government has not performed unless you have vested interest. We are in a recession, nobody foresaw a recession and we’ve come out of recession. And look at the indication about Nigeria all over the world. All these are indications from people who have no business trying to praise or condemn us. But the fact is whatever happens those who have their own views would express them. As minister of information, I gave you information on one or two reasons for you to cure your ignorance of the issues. Or if you like use the information to, for ideological reasons, ignore the position that I’ve given you, and still stick to your own position. That is what we witness in a democracy.
We said we would address the economy, security and fight corruption. Tell me if there is government that has been there or in the past that has fought corruption the way we have done. And you don’t expect corruption not to fight back? The economy is improving, and things can only be better not worse. So two years after that statement, nobody has any reason trying to stone us.
On our own record, look at what is happening. There are more people moving into APC now than those moving out of APC. Many people think that those who gave 95 per cent of the votes would have 95 per cent of the resources. But you and I know that in the South-east, for instance, where PDP had over 99 per cent of the vote for 15 years, nothing happened in respect of the Onitsha-Enugu Road, nothing happened in respect of the Enugu-Port Harcourt Road, nothing substantial happened in respect of the second Niger Bridge, nothing happened about the erosion. It is there for everyone to see till now what is going on between Onitsha- Enugu, Enugu- Port Harcourt Roads, many of the erosion sites and the second Niger Bridge. Most of the South-east politicians are joining APC. They are doing so not because anybody has money to give them because it is on principle. Or why do you think many people are going over to the APC?
It could be because APC is in power today and…?
(Cuts-in) No! It is simply because, whether we like it not APC is doing better than PDP would have done. And there is no area in Nigeria that you won’t have our flag flying and if PDP had been there the country would have collapsed.
What is your view on the reaction of the legislators on the spate of herdsmen killings across the country?
The fact is that the legislators as much as the Presidency, as much as the Judiciary and as much as you and I, to be preoccupied with the security and welfare of Nigeria. And it is not just because of the herdsmen attack but they have always reacted this way to issues that have challenged our security as a nation. You will agree with me that everyone is angry at what happened in Benue. A state burying 73 people; whatever led to it is not the issue now. The issue is what happened. So I would not blame the lawmakers. But the fact is if we do not address the problems which have been there for hundreds of years, and which have taken a new dimension which many people are not ready to look at. Then we are going to have these issues coming and coming and coming, and we crying and crying and crying.
What is the new dimension that no one is talking about sir?
For instance, this thing of people being attacked in their homes; it is what I can interpret as something that should never be encouraged. People are sleeping their homes then you pounce on them and attack them. I think it falls more in the area of terrorism. It is like a Boko Haram thing more to me, like a group of people who are reacting to their cattle being stolen if that’s how people want to look at it. But it is attack of a village, a community who may have not had anything to do with cattle. So what I’m saying is we should check what is happening, the new dimension to terrorism in Nigeria. Nigeria is under siege. This type of thing happened in Zamfara State, where people attack cattle rearers and took away their cattle. The country is under siege, of Boko Haram, armed robbers, and kidnappers. Nigeria is under siege and it is a challenge to us all to address it.
CAN and social groups have constantly accused this government of not doing enough to curb killings by the herdsmen. Many of them say these killers are rather being pampered and begged, and that the president is slow at acting or even condemning the murderous activities of the herdsmen…
(Cuts-in) When the president vowed that whoever is involved with these killings must be brought to book, what type of statement is that? Is that not a condemnation? Is that not a pointer to whoever is involved in this criminality? Look, the president has no friend when it comes to security of lives of Nigerians.
(Cuts-in) But he has been overly criticized for going on to launch his re-election bid and going for a party congress rally after several people have been killed in some parts of the country. Many feel it was immoral and insensitive to those that lost loved ones in the mayhem.
We Nigerians all pretend to be democrats. Do you know why? Because we don’t know that democracy is talk shop. We channel energy for doing things to talking. That is why it is ‘Democracy’. Democracy is not peace of the graveyard. When there is any problem in a political party, we say the party has collapsed as if being in a political party means everybody expressing views the same way. There is freedom of expression, it is guaranteed in the constitution. People can say anything they like but the fact is there are laws regulating each. And so he should be aware of those laws.
When you mention CAN; CAN is a religious body and CAN can only do what it’s doing for the protection for its own members and is looking at this thing as religion. So you can’t blame CAN. Muslims would do the same thing if they feel Muslims are being terrorized. You can’t blame them. It is freedom of expression. Politician do same. For instance, PDP would say everything APC is doing is wrong, in pursuance of its own role to be an opposition party. That is what democracy is.
And I’m always saying that Nigeria is the only country I know where you put democracy before development. There’s in nowhere in the world. All over the world leaders invest in development. Then that quantum of freedom in it drives democracy. That is what happen all over the world. That is why I say that democracy all over the world is a luxury of development. In America democracy is a luxury of development. All those things happening in Congress and so and so forth, they have happened at trade meetings, golf courses and so on. They just go to their House to implement what they have decided. But here we spend more than 80 percent of our resources on recurrent. If you spend more than 25 percent of your resources on recurrent, then you should go back to the drawing board. You must spend a lot of your money in securing your land, and stabilizing it through infrastructural development. That is what happens. And if we don’t restructure to have that one reflected on our way of life, we are just wasting time.
It is not just about CAN and other groups, also Senator Shehu Sani also termed the timing of governors’ visit to PMB to endorse him for second at that time of the killings was immoral. What do you make of that?
No, you’re asking me to express an opinion on an opinion. And I’ve explained to you about freedom of expression. People can express themselves the way the like. I cannot question any person’s opinion because he has his own reason for saying what he said. We are in a democracy and anybody can say anything, and many of the things they say can be as terrible as they can be, or as mild as they can be, and a lot of people might not even say anything. So it is unfair for me to start saying anything about what someone said. If anybody feels hurt, let them go to the appropriate area to redress the issue.
With this issue and the barrage of criticisms launched by the opposition and other religious and social groups, do you nurse fear for chances of the President Buhari in the next election?
We are talking of an issue, how would it affect the election which is 2019? Who says that the issues won’t be resolved by then? For instance, who says that the fuel queues would affect election when we’ve resolved it? Who says that kidnapping can affect election when you can you see we are tacking kidnapping. Why do we think it is always has to do with only elections? Look government is there for the security and welfare of the citizens. Where there are no welfare and security, then you can say that the government has failed. Because the constitution provides what everybody should know, and it is there in Chapter Two. You in the media have a responsibility to monitor governance, and if there is any failure in the area of securing the land and stabilizing the land through infrastructural development. Then tell it to the people, and it should help them in the choices they make when it is time to vote.
The president is generally perceived to be very meticulous at governance but many Nigerians feel that with his style he’s not meeting expectations, and that he is thus losing the goodwill of his teeming followers. What do you have to say to people that hold this kind of notion?
The people have a right to their opinion. The president is the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The president is packaged and to be active from 6am till about 2am the following day. Every minute is taken note of. So you cannot come and say you want to see president or to call him to come and play squash. Every minute of the president’s time is packaged. And he follows that routine. A lot of things that are outside, the president doesn’t know about it. And he has no business knowing anything about them because there is division of labour. That is why we have ministers, agencies and hundreds of boards. Things that are happening all over, how can the president know all those things?
But one thing is, anything you tell the president must be thoroughly investigated. There is nobody in Nigeria today who can claim to know the country more than the president. None! He started as a lieutenant during the civil war, being involved in public affairs of Nigeria. And there’s no part of Nigeria he has not worked in- Apapa, Abeokuta, Lagos, Ibadan, Jos, Enugu, Awka, Port Harcourt, all over. There’s no part of Nigeria that he has not worked in. and all times he acquired experiences all over Nigeria. He knows Nigeria very well. Why do you think he will come and sit down, and people who are temperamental and don’t know what is happening would argue to force you take what they say rather than finding out what the true position is?
This country is bigger than any of us. The president does not attend any sectional meeting like him saying we wants to attend the meeting of Arewa or Northern elders. He has always focused on Nigeria. And he is committed to Nigeria. And go close to him. Lots of his friends are from other places. He doesn’t have a favourite when it comes to issues of national interest. I can tell you that because I know.
Very soon we’ll be putting together the body of Alex Ekwueme into soil where it belongs. I was the media director of Ekwueme for 1998 to 2003. And I got close to Ekwueme. I attended the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. My best friends are from there. I have no business being negative about the people from the South-east. I am not from the North, I have been with Buhari since 2003 when I left PDP because of what they are doing. I didn’t like him at first but I got close and found out he wasn’t rigid but he was highly principled. And I like principled people.
So, if I tell you what someone is, take it from me as a senior colleague professionally. Nobody can say that he ever compromised me. How will I be compromised? For what? What would you give me? I and Olikoye Ransome-Kuti were said to be the poorest ministers to ever serve Nigeria. I served Nigeria from 1986 to 1990. I have no property to show for it but the fact is I have my own image to show for it. So I have no business doing things to please anybody. I don’t trust anybody. I only trust God Almighty. So when I make a statement I know and I said that Nigerians should stone us if we don’t perform in the area of fighting corruption, economy and security. Nobody can get up to say they want to throw a stone at APC, because we can beat our chest to say we are trying and we would continue to do our best.