Prince Tony Momoh, a former Minister of Information was the national chairman of the defunct Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) which later merged with some political parties to form the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI in Abuja, he speaks on President Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration for re-election, former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s letter and latest developments in the ruling party. Excerpts:
President Muhammadu Buhari declared his intention to seek re-election at the last NEC meeting of your party. Did you see that as a surprise?
No! Actually, I am in politics because of Buhari. If Buhari today say he is no longer in politics, I will leave because politics has nothing to offer me. I am a professional in politics and not a professional politician. Even in America, people are comfortable lying because of politics. There, politics and lies are inseparable at least by some people. There was a particular incident when someone in Congress was accused of fraud and was asked to withdraw and apologised to his colleagues before withdrawing. He said he will never apologise because he was emphasizing his prerogative as a politician to tell lies. What you do here binds you and judgement will come one day, because what you sow you reap. I was donated to Buhari in 2003 by my community to work with him when I left PDP.
So, you were once a member of PDP?
Of course, I was a founding member of PDP. In 1998 December, I conducted primaries in Kano that brought Kwankwaso and Ganduje. I knew how I pleaded with Ganduje to be Kwankwaso’s running mate and how I pleaded with Kwankwaso to accept Ganduje because in the governorship primary, Kwankwaso was first and Ganduje was second. Ganduje later said he is going to the Senate and I said ‘No! Unless two of them run together, we will lose the election in Kano. They finally agreed and we won. I was the Media Director for the late Chief Alex Ekwueme’s campaign who contested against (Olusegun) Obasanjo at the Jos convention. I also played the same role at the 2003 Abuja convention.
Why then did you leave the party?
I left because there was no forum for discussing ideas. I don’t like where ideas were not discussed. Another factor why I left was because the one we called Leader, that is Chief Tony Anenih didn’t encourage any forum for discussion. Chief Anenih worked for Obasanjo while I worked for Ekwueme so understandably, he wasn’t excited about the presence of those who were with Ekwueme in PDP. So, in 2003, I wrote a very comprehensive letter and I left the party. In 2005, when some of the people were quarrelling with Anenih, people like Lucky Igbinedion, the letter I wrote went viral. People now began to see what I saw that time. So, after leaving PDP in 2003, my community, the Otaru of Auchi wrote to Buhari donating me and one other person to work with Buhari because he believes that he (Buhari) will be president. When Buhari was in Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), a proposal went to him to do Auchi erosion which was dividing Auchi into two. People were very concerned and they wanted someone who will do the erosion. Without knowing anybody from my area, Buhari agreed to tackle the erosion. So, my community said I should go and work with him because if he becomes president, he will do the erosion. So, I have been with Buhari ever since.
The president’s declaration generated mixed reactions from Nigerians with many saying he has not done enough to merit a second term. What is your take on this?
If they believe he has not done anything in his first term, then they have the option of voting him out. If they can muster the votes to vote him out, goodluck to them. I was telling someone some few minutes ago that don’t look only at what Buhari has failed to do, also look at what could have happened if Buhari had not been there. One major thing that could have happened if Buhari was not elected is that most of us enjoying Abuja and talking peace would never have been around because Boko Haram would have overrun Abuja. That is the clearest danger that was prevented by Buhari’s coming. Whatever people say about whether Boko Haram has been degraded or not, the fact is, in the North East today, Boko Haram is not holding any territory. Lots of people have now returned to their farms. Another fact is that today; we are not using all our monies in importing food. The fact that we have also gotten out of recession is another plus. Look at the South- East, in 16 years results of presidential election were written up. 99 percent of the results were written up and there is no doubt about that. Though Buhari did not have more than 5 percent in most of the areas, I am sure that there is no way in the 2019 presidential election, Buhari will get a minimum of 25 percent that needs in the South East and South South. That is one area that a lot of people don’t think about that he will make inroads in those areas. Buhari has done a lot for those regions in the last three years and I am confident that they will appreciate him with votes. For instance, Onitsha- Enugu road, go there today and see what the Buhari government has done. What PDP failed to do in 16 years has been done. Enugu- Okigwe- Port Harcourt you can pass that road today. Also, the erosion sites are being addressed. Also, look at the social security programmed of the federal government, the one meal per day. So, a lot of things are being done by the Buhari government. Power is being generated from 3,000mw to 7,000mw. Things are happening. Look at the achievements in TSA and BVN. The blockages are there for everyone to see. The loss of the looters is the gain of the system. The economy is not full time boom; unemployment is still there. But it is unfair for anyone to say things are not happening.
There were reports that he once said if he becomes president, he will only serve one term. Why do you think he is changing his mind now?
Buhari never said he will only contest for a single term. Buhari I know will never say so. In fact, he said he will not contest again after the 2011 election. I was the national chairman of CPC and I said ‘shut up! You are a member of CPC. It is the party that decides where you go to. You are only an individual and so, he bowed to the wishes of the party. So, he never said he will do a single term but even if he said so can he not change his mind? But I am saying that he didn’t say so. He is constitutionally qualified to contest twice. We have people who fought for third term in this country. This man has not even contested for second term and you are saying he should not contest. If you are a member of the party and you are telling people not to contest, it will be understandable. But you belong to other parties and you are telling someone in which party you are not a member not too contests. People should respect themselves, otherwise some people will take issues with them.
Former President, Olusegun Obasanjo has advised President Buhari not to seek re-election in 2019, citing his non-performance as example. Do you think his call is justified?
I don’t want to say anything derogatory about Obasanjo. I respect him, he is highly cerebral and he is of high consequence in our polity. In 1979, he gave us Peugeot as official car and Volkswagen. In 1999 when he came back, he ditched Peugeot as official car brought Jeep. It is as if he regretted the sacrifices he made up till 1979 and wanted to live a life of opulence after 1999. Obasanjo was really very poor by the time he came out of prison in 1998 but by the time he left office, he wasn’t a poor man. Up to the time he came back to office in 1999, he was saying anything about whoever came. After 1999 and up till now, he has had a say in who is there. But the fact is that Obasanjo’s relevance in political calculation has limitations because it is the votes that will count at the end of the day. I am happy with his guts because he knows that he cannot risk putting up a political party that will win an election. If he does and the party loses, he is finished politically. So, he won’t try it. If he says Buhari should not seek reelection, it is his own business to say so. There is freedom of expression but he does not have the forces to stop Buhari. He doesn’t have what it takes politically to stop Buhari.
Some people have claimed that once Obasanjo moves against any president, such a president cannot get a second term as witnessed in the last presidential election where the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan lost. Do you also share that view?
Obasanjo will not get involved in any coup and no coup in Nigeria that is resisted ever succeeded. So, how will he remove Buhari and put another person there? Will he call the Yorubas, Northerners, South Easterners and South South to vote against Buhari?
You were alleged to have said Nigerians should stone APC leaders if the party failed to perform in two years. Do you think the party and President Buhari have performed to the expectations of Nigerians?
Yes, I said stone us if we didn’t perform but we have performed. Look at the economy, we came out of recession. Look at the revolution in agriculture; look at what we have also achieved in the area of fighting corruption. I make bold to say that there is no president since 1999 that has performed as Buhari has done?
Are you saying in three years President Buhari surpassed Obasanjo’s achievements in eight years?
Yes, by far! From 1999 to 2003, there were parallel presidency, Obasanjo and Atiku. Obasanjo spent one year travelling out of his first four years. He left governance to Atiku to such an extent that Atiku was calling the shots. I was working for Ekwueme and we were discussing with Atiku to run with Ekwueme. Unfortunately, Obasanjo went to meet Atiku, I don’t know what agreement they reached but the fact is that Atiku changed his mind. When Obasanjo and Atiku won the 2003 election, people from Adamawa sent a delegation to Obasanjo asking him to support Atiku for 2007. I was writing my column that time in Democracy Watch and I predicted that the first casualty of Obasanjo’s return in 2003 will be Atiku. Between 2003 and 2007, Obasanjo spent the most time trying to dislocate Atiku. In 2005, because the soul of PDP was PDM, Atiku’s party on whose platform Obasanjo got to power, the then PDP chairman, Ahmadu Ali announced that PDP had sacked everybody and they should go and re-register but the instruction was PDM members, Atiku’s people should not be registered and so they deregistered PDM. Atiku and Obasanjo were so much at loggerheads that Atiku as Vice – President had no work to do and he was funding his office with his own money. Obasanjo even wanted to remove him as his deputy but the courts refused. So in Obasanjo’s eight years, he spent the first three years trying to find his feet, he then spent the last year settling down. However, the next four years that he would have sat down to do his work, he was busy using it to destablise Atiku and therefore destabilising the polity. After the eight years has gone, he now wanted Third Term which Nigerians kicked against. Obasanjo’s coming from 1999 to 2007 was a time that he would have really built Nigeria just like Rwanda and other countries did but those eight years were the greatest disaster in our democracy project.
Some governors, we understand are prodding Chief John Oyegun to seek re-election. Based on his handling of the party affairs in the last four years, do you think he deserves to be re-elected?
The fact is that he(Oyegun) is entitled to seek re-election. On his handling of the party affairs so far, I am not to judge him. He can contest and if he wins, he continues to be chairman. But I know a lot things people are saying are exaggerated. We know there are lot of hiccups in political parties all over the country. That is what it should be because democracy is a talk shop. If you really want to achieve in a particular polity, then look for that quantum of freedom that will ensure maximum achievement and that is why I say democracy is the luxury of development. When you are developing, you look at the form of government you want to take, you call it democracy. Take that quantum of freedom that will drive development and lead to growth. But if you spend all the money you have on running a government, which is democracy, you will never develop. That is why I have spoken about decongesting the political space if we want to develop in Nigeria.
The PDP recently apologised to Nigerians for their misdeeds in the last 16 years. Do you think Nigerians should accept the apology and reconsider the party?
The apology is necessary. A lot of people congratulated them for apologising, owing up that they did us wrong but to me, part of the apology is to return the loot. What they stole they should return. You can’t steal a goat and then apologise for stealing the goat but the goat is still in your compound.
On this looters list, some PDP leaders whose names were included have accused the federal government of interfering in the judicial process since some of the cases are in court. As a legal practitioner, what is your perspective on this?
The fact is the federal government listed people who have cases too answer. Are those on the list claiming that they have no cases to answer? Of course, they do.
(They are claiming that if at the end of the day they are proven innocent, many people are already regarding them as looters based on the list. Do you share that view?
Then there is a window. They can sue for damages, for defamation. The fact is that some of these cases have been there since 2002. When you have loads of money to ensure that your case is not heard, that is also corruption. President Buhari thought that corruption was at the level of the elites but when he got there, he discovered that corruption was at the top, the middle, the bottom and below the bottom had been corrupted. We have to start the anti-corruption war from somewhere and nobody can say that it was as bad as it was when we came in in 2015.
They have also alleged that former PDP leaders such as Musiliu Obanikoro who are now in APC are not on the list. Don’t you think this is selective?
There is what is called responsibility in the face of communal gate. You cannot say because somebody committed murder, then you are not guilty of murder. The law will take its course. If you are saying the names of others are missing on the list, it is like somebody who stole money but when caught, he said I am not the only person who stole, another person also stole. Accusing another person of stealing is not a defence for you to steal. First of all, a list was released, later another list came out and now, the federal government has told us that more lists will soon come.