Former Minister of Information, Prince Tony Momoh has said that President Muhammadu Buhari will win the 2019 presidential election despite criticisms in some quarters against his administration. Among other issues in this interview with WILLY EYA, he also examines why insecurity persists in the country.
Ahead of next year’s general elections, what are your feelings especially with regards to all manner of political activities including alliances, realignments, defections and even the creation of a third force in the country?
The election would come and go; government is a continuum. Our democracy is maturing. Many people are registering and there is a tendency to regionalise our politics with the parties telling their members to go and register. But all of them are doing the correct thing in trying to grow our democracy. However, when the time of decision comes, that is the time you would know that emotion guides our actions more than religion. What I am saying is that those Christians who are preaching against certain candidates because they belong to another religion and those Muslims who are preaching against certain candidates because they belong to another religion, would be shocked what would happen. But when like Mbadiwe said, “come comes to become”, people would move to the areas of their beliefs. In the East for instance especially Onitsha, many of them are Catholics and so on and so forth but when Zik was there, they put up a candidate against him and appealed to the sentiment of Christians but Zik still defeated them. At certain critical time, emotions take over. Our religion is that of peace but our elections are just like war on their own. So, when it is time to vote, people go to war and then go to their areas of upbringing. Many of them who are Christians and Muslims are not really mature to imbibe the values of Christianity and Islam. So, it shows that politics is maturing and people would move in the direction of what is there on the ground. And as I have told you, Nigerians would be shocked because there is more on the ground than lots of people think. Hunger for instance is on the ground but the fact is that people would discover, and they are already discovering that the only language that hunger understands is food. We either buy food or we grow it. We do not have money to buy food but we are growing it. Everywhere, food is being grown all over the country and Nigerians would more appreciate made in Nigeria goods than foreign goods. So, the change that was promised is taking place and it would be reflected in the voting pattern and not the sentiment of dividing Nigeria along ethnic and religious lines. That would not work.
But ahead of the election, you must admit that the major challenge facing the administration is the spate of violence and killings in various parts of the country. Are you not worried that your party, the APC is going to that election with that problem still lingering?
Killings are activities that the government did not envisage but the killings are a challenge to everybody. So, everybody should be blamed for the killings. Communication resolves everything. How much communication is there? And if there are no instruments of communicating, we must establish them rather than buying the weapons of war. But let me tell you and I am saying it with all sense of responsibility. Many people are playing politics with the killings. They are initiating a particular pattern of belief, which would undermine the credibility of their group in future. We had the Biafran war in 1967 -1970 and the South East held Nigeria to a standstill before it ended. So, nobody could undermine the Nigerian/Biafran war. Now, the issue of militancy confronted this country and reduced our oil production to less than one million barrels per day. Nobody can undermine the works the militants did in the Niger Delta. The National Democratic Coalition(NADECO) confronted Nigeria peacefully after the annulment of the 1993 election and in spite of what you may think, there was no coup in Nigeria that was resisted that ever succeeded. The 1993 annulment of the election of MKO Abiola was resisted through the activities of NADECO and so on and so forth, and that was how the compromises of 1999 brought in former President Olusegun Obasanjo from the South West zone of the country. From what I said now, you cannot undermine the Niger Delta, you cannot undermine the Igbo and you cannot undermine the Yoruba. And when the problem of the Fulani caliphate was there, they discovered that they could not undermine the Kanuri and the Tivs. But do you know what we are doing now because of politics? Anything that happens now, we say it is the Fulani herdsmen whereas it is since the collapse of the Libyan army and the problem in Mali that caused the free flow of weapons into Nigeria especially the activities of Boko Haram. And instead of looking at the challenges confronting Nigeria, we are saying that it is the herdsmen that are doing it. Cattle rustlers also seize the cattle and kill the herdsmen which is another issue confronting Nigeria but we in Nigeria because of politics always say killings are by the Fulani herdsmen. Do you know that what Othman Dan Fodio could not achieve when he was quoted as having said that he would dip the Quoran in the sea is being achieved through stupid politicking by saying that everything that happens in Nigeria is by the Fulani herdsmen? Anywhere you go to, people would say we cannot go to farm because of the Fulani herdsmen. This is when as a matter of fact, the Fulani herdsmen are in more danger than any other Nigerian. Do we talk of Igbo armed robbers? Do we talk of Yoruba 419ers and so on? We talk of all these as crimes and we should be talking of the killings as also a crime. But because of politics, we are going into areas to make our children believe that the fear of Fulani herdsmen is the beginning of wisdom. So, what Othman Dan Fodio could not achieve when he was alive in Nigeria, we are achieving it through communication and making our own children afraid of the Fulani. Remember that the Fulani are in the minority in this country. Can you see the way we are moving in the way of deforestation and who would pay for it; our children. We must have the right communication. So, I want to say that criminals do the killings and we must all come together to fight it.
The events of this period are similar to those of 2015. Ahead of the last general elections, there were all manner of killings, the climax of which was the abduction of the Chibok girls; now ahead of 2019, the same scenario is playing out with the most recent being the abduction of 110 schoolgirls from Dapchi town. How do you feel about this development?
I am worried over the situation but do not think that it is because the election is coming next year. The Boko Haram sect is fighting a war and they are not fighting a war because there is an election. They are fighting the war because they believe in what they are doing. They are ‘haram’. In other words, they are discouraging people from going to school. So, if Boko Haram abducts people like they did recently in Dapchi, they could not go to school. It is an area that people do not want to go to school and with what happened, you further discourage them from going to school. They are achieving the mission they have set out to do. So, they are not looking for election but do not forget that since they have been degraded, they would look for soft targets and where the military is weak to carry out their activities. If they go to the market, they are not there to kidnap anybody but to kill people. They have their members who are suicide bombers. The perception they have is what no Igbo man or Yoruba man would have. They say if you kill yourself, you are going to paradise. Tell me any Southerner whether Yoruba, Igbo, Edo, Urhobo and so on that would kill himself in order to go to paradise. Nobody would do that. But over there, you are told that if you kill someone for a good cause, you are going to paradise. And that is not even in the Quoran. When I was in a Quoranic school in Auchi, I was told that if you kill a Christian, you have not committed an offence. I grew up to discover that it was a lie. It is not there anywhere in the Quoran. But then, the Prophet Muhammed said that there would be 73 sects in Islam and only one would be correct. Only one that abides by the provision of the Quoran is correct. The Quoran has dos and donts which says that you do this, you go to paradise and you do that, you go to hell. I am not aware of any book that says it so clearly where you go to when you sin. So people now take the road they want to take and when a scholar moves in the direction of using religion as a weapon, then you get what we have in Nigeria today. So, we have to really communicate in the direction of peace and not war. Someone wins an election, takes over and governs and someone loses election and gets prepared to contest again. That is what happens in Britain, America and others. Election should not be a do-or-die thing.
During the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, the abduction of the Chibok girls happened and now we have the incident of the Dapchi girls; does that not suggest a failure of the nation’s security system?
Let me tell you; is it because we are talking about Chibok and Dapchi now. Do you know that the whole of Nigeria is porous? How many areas do we have? The borders are thousands of kilometers porous. Do you know that around 1980 or so, people of Chad came and invaded Maiduguri and I think that President Muhammadu Buhari was the GOC that time. So, these people have been coming but do not forget that Nigeria is at war with Boko Haram. Therefore the whole world of insurgents –ISIS, Tuaregs, al-Qaeda and so on are there fighting. Perhaps, if we look deep enough, we may discover that all these people we call Fulani herdsmen are insurgents who have infiltrated Nigeria. So, the nation is fighting more than the Boko Haram sect. We are currently fighting the whole world of insurgents and that is what Nigerians should be thinking about. It is a war that Nigeria must fight and whatever government that we have, the insurgents are there to undermine security. Nigeria is 60 per cent rural and in the rural areas, how many security officials do we have there? So, we have a lot of problems on our hands and we must unite to address these problems.
What is your take on the proposed reordering of elections by the National Assembly?
They are the lawmakers and they can do it but that means that what they are doing is in their selfish interests. If they want to reorder elections, the proper thing to do is to have presidential elections, National Assembly elections, state Assembly elections and gubernatorial elections. In other words, it has to be four and not three. You can put National Assembly and state Assembly election and the presidential and gubernatorial elections together. It has to be two and not three. If you want it to be three, then there is selfishness there. Another is that people think that we have had this kind of election that we are asking for before. In 1979, we had other elections before the presidential poll. In 1999, we had other elections before the presidential poll too. But all others that followed, it was always the presidential before others. And do not forget that it was the period of handing over from the military to civilians, so they conducted elections in the rural areas before that of the presidential. There was no occasion where we had other elections before the presidential poll during civilian rule. So, what they are trying to do is to reintroduce what the military did when they were handing over to the civilian. So, if you analyse it carefully, you would see that what the NASS is doing is more of self-interests. But one thing that they do not really know is that they even stand more danger because a sitting president is in a position to do damage to those who want to contest elections and the governors also are in a position to do damage to all those who want to go to the National Assembly or state Assembly. The reordering of the elections would give them the opportunity to do more damage to them if they so wish. So, there is not much they think they would do. Why not let us have what we have been having. With improvement in technology, the ideal thing is that all the elections should be held the same day.
Do you think that the National Assembly is targeting President Buhari by coming up with such a bill?
If it is targeted at Buhari, that is unfortunate. Buhari in 2003 had 4million votes and he was not in government and in 2007, he had 6million votes and he was not still in government and late President Umaru Yar’Adua said the election was compromised. In 2011, without a governor or even a councillor, he had 10million votes and in 2015, with the merger, he had 15million votes. And some are saying he had those votes when there was no hunger, unemployment and so on and so forth, but that is some people talking. But you cannot easily compromise your votes because of the challenges that you can easily overcome. In 2003, Atiku had an opportunity to work with late vice president, Alex Ekwueme. I was the media director for Ekwueme and we were already thinking of how Atiku would run with Ekwueme. But when we thought we had got far enough, Atiku changed his mind and decided to go with the devil he knew rather than the one he did not know. And when they were elected, before they were sworn in, a delegation came from Adamawa to cooperate with Atiku so that he would take over from him in 2007. That time I was writing my column ‘monitoring democracy’ and I wrote then that the first victim of Obasanjo’s reelection would be Atiku. In the four years between 2003 to 2007, he spent most of the time fighting Atiku. He even tried to remove the soul of the PDP who are mostly PDM members from the membership of the PDP and what happened, Atiku ended up leaving the PDP to contest under the Action Congress(AC). So many of these things, the struggle to undermine people would lead to opposite results.
What do you think are Buhari’s chances in the coming election and what do you make of the emerging third force ahead of 2019?
Everybody has a chance but the fact is that you should not forget that the APC is not an alliance of parties. It was a political association that applied for registration and got registered. We had a lot of people that had structures that came into the APC. So, if you want to know how these people would perform, look at what they are taking to the SDP. If they have nothing they are bringing to the SDP, then they would not go anywhere. But do not forget that they just started. We can assess them on the basis of what they are bringing to the party. But it is very difficult for anybody who does not have a structure to win elections in Nigeria. You may have name but you must also have structures. So, those who are going into the SDP now, are they governors, are they former governors, are they Senators or former Senators, have they been involved in any election and they won and do they have structures? So these are the things people consider. Many can move anywhere but I can assure you that the two major parties are the APC and the PDP. And if the SDP comes, they would be there for the PDP because the PDP with due respect has been reduced to a regional party. I cannot see any party that is ready and on ground to defeat the APC. And I cannot see President Buhari losing the 2019 election.