Prince Tony Momoh, a former Minister of Information and Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council of the University of Jos (UNIJOS), is one of the national leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview, he spoke with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI in Abuja on the three years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration and other issues. Excerpts:
President Buhari on Tuesday May 29 marked three years in office as president. He was elected on a four-year mandate which will elapse in 2019. Do you think three years is enough to assess his performance?
Even one day is enough. But one thing people should know is that three or four years is not enough in total consideration of your efforts to assess what you can do in any polity. But even if you spend one day, it is enough depending on which areas you are looking at. If you are looking at the area of tenure, one day tenure means you are there for one day. In one day, the person may just had breakfast or dinner or held a few meetings with security people .
So, if you are to assess him on the three cardinal programmes of his administration namely war against corruption, revamping the economy and tackling insecurity, how will you rate him in these areas?
Corruption has been our bane. He promised to fight corruption. In the area of corruption, there is nobody who is too special or too big to be tackled if found to be corrupt. Whether some people have been prosecuted or not, anybody who have any case to answer will answer it in this administration. If you see those who are crying about the anti-corruption war today, they are those in position to abuse forum. Abuse of forum is taking advantage of where you are to make what you are not entitled to make. Go all over Abuja and see several houses that EFCC has marked for investigation. Many of these houses were owned by those who are in public office. So, the president has done a lot and many of these things are visible for Nigerians to see.
Our economy has been monolithic, we rely on crude oil. He promised to diversify the economy. He also promised to secure the country. These are areas of concentration you can assess him on apart from other areas. I think we have had bigger challenges in the area of security but we should ask ‘what has happened in the last three years in our efforts to secure Nigeria? We have spent more money trying to attend to the security architecture than any other time in recent history of Nigeria. Look at what has happened to the Army, Navy and Airforce. I am not running down the last regime but a lot of money voted to buy equipment for the military to fight the war in the North East was routinely shared under the immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan. That is not a patriotic attempt to look at security. This administration has zeroed in on securing the country. In spite of what anybody may say about Boko Haram, despite the support they are getting from international terror groups, the Nigerian Army and their neighbours have tried to ensure very hard in ensuring that Boko Haram is not occupying any part of Nigeria where they can fly a flag as it happened before.
The economy has been diversified in spite of recession. Nobody can say today that we still depend exclusively on oil. In Nigeria today under Buhari, it is a great joy to be a farmer now. Nobody can say the cost of food items in Nigeria today has hit the roof, rather it is going down on a daily basis. A bag of rice that was about N18,000 before is now N10,000. The same goes for Garri and other food items. Also, the social investment programme of the government has been a huge success. To think that you will go to more than 20 states of the federation today and meet schoolchildren being fed five times a week and that this schoolchildren are being fed with food grown in the area, and cooked by 15 to 30 women in a community is amazing. Nobody in the media is looking in that area and I don’t blame them because the media is not brought up to look at what is routine. That is why I defined NEWS in my book News Of The Forgotten Army as “a report of the displacement of the routine”. Like some people say, if a dog bites a man, it is not news but when a man bites a dog, it is news. Feeding school children five times a week is a routine but God forbid if there is poisoning of schoolchildren as a result of this feeding programme, that is the time people will make noise about it. More children are enrolling in school as a result of this feeding programme. These army of parents in the rural areas and their families, do you think election will come today and they will say they will not vote for Buhari? By the time these people vote for Buhari and he wins, social media influencers who didn’t see all these lofty programmes now will say the election was rigged. These are the areas I looked at when I say that I have confidence that Buhari will be returned as president in 2019. Apart from the core areas of support, there are some areas that we are not looking at. We are not looking at this area of feeding and the gratitude the parent will show through the ballot. We are not looking at the areas of the South East and South South where results were routinely written up. How can you have a presidential election recording 99 percent in the South South and South East? This was because they were routinely written up. Now, with President Buhari’s insistence that election should be free and fair, if there is voting today, there will not be 15 percent in the South South and South East for Buhari. He will have a minimum of 25 percent in most of the states in the South East and South South which is the minimum requirement you need to up your number of votes. He had more than 25 percent only in Edo state where he had 46 percent but in all others, the results were written up. Everybody knows that.
There is impression that the South East and South South are predominantly PDP states and that no matter what Buhari does, he cannot win in these states. What is your perspective on that?
Let us watch! The taste of the pudding will be in the eating when the results come out. Buhari in the last three years has done a lot for these two regions despite the fact that they didn’t vote for him in 2015. He has done the East-West road. In the South East now, I saw the Minister of State for Agriculture commissioning these erosion sites in Aba, Abia state. He also said that about 26 erosion sites are being addressed, whether in the whole of Nigeria or the area, I don’t know but I know about when about 11 erosion sites were done. The office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation is responsible for these erosion sites all over Nigeria. The Second Niger Bridge is also being attended to and has been expanded. Also, Onitsha- Enugu road is there, the rail lines projects are also there. If all these challenges are there and for 16 years, PDP and Buhari is attending to them now, you think the Igbos are so ungrateful not to recognise that during elections? Do you think the Igbos are so greedy that they will join the ruling party for nothing? Nobody is giving them any money but they are grateful because of the attention being given to the infrastructures in the East. The South East has the highest infrastructural deficit in the country and they are being attended to by the Buhari administration. Do you think the people won’t show gratitude? So, a lot has been done. It is not all negative as some people are portraying the situation. I watched a television programme this morning where people are referring to negative things and are not even kind enough to refer to any positive thing. They were saying the president has done nothing in the last three years. There is nobody who can say Buhari has done nothing. In the North East, we have been fighting a war. The security agencies have been empowered, the economy has been diversified and all loopholes have been plugged.
At the beginning of this administration, you said Nigerians should stone APC leaders if the government fails to perform. It is three years now, do you think you have been vindicated?
Yes, we are not stoned because we are doing well. If we are not doing well, won’t Nigerians be stoning us? But with the opposition, stoning will always take place. Whether you do well or not, they will always criticise. So, Nigerians who will stone us are PDP members who will not see anything good in APC. Even if we do well, they will start throwing stones. This administration has performed better than any other administration since 1999 in three years. It has even performed better than those who did eight years especially former president Olusegun Obasanjo. Obasanjo’s policies that he introduced in Nigeria that were major had been kept in the observance rather than the breach. He came and breached them in 1999. We established democracy in 1999. He became president and in eight years did more than is acceptable in destroying that democracy. He sacked everybody in PDP in 2005 and re-registered them so that the soul of PDP which was PDM founded by the late Shehu Musa Yar’A dua which Atiku Abubakar inherited. He gave instructions that PDM members should not be registeted. That was in trying to destroy Atiku. So, Obasanjo’s second coming in 2003 was spent more in trying to destroy Atiku. Atiku as Vice- President then had to go to court and then contest election on another party’s platform while he was still in PDP. That is to tell you how personal interests overshadowed due process. In my view, Obasanjo destroyed Nuhu Ribadu because I wrote that Ribadu had been led astray. Everybody like Ribadu because of what he did in EFCC. In his investigations, the EFCC Act said he should go to court and prosecute but Ribadu collected all investigations and handed them over to Obasanjo on his instructions. Obasanjo on his part set up committees to address who was guilty or not. From there, it moved to another committee that decided who could be pardoned or not. Based on that, they disqualified people from contesting election which was outside due process. Unfortunately, my sister Oby Ezekwesili was a member of one of the committees that disqualified politicians from contesting election. That was in the area of destroying our democracy. They just messed up our Due Process.
Why do you think Obasanjo is too critical of those who succeeded him in office unlike what obtains in the United States where you hardly see former presidents criticising the incumbents despite political differences?
Everybody have their strength. Obasanjo’s strength and abilities lie in activity. When he was in power, he worked very hard, positively or negatively, that is the outcome of analysis. But the fact is that he cannot sit down without being noticed. The area he dissipates his energy is the area of manifesting spiritual immaturity. For instance, when you refuse to praise people for doing good. I may be wrong but I am not aware of any outing of Obasanjo where he praised anybody to his own detriment. He does not know how to praise. It seems therefore that he celebrates failure. I think it is a function of spiritual maturity. Anybody who is spiritually mature will concede that every human being has a role to play and then the positive area of that role will be the point you focus on in his favour. I have never seen globally where Obasanjo celebrates the success of any other person apart from himself. I may be wrong but the fact is that if you have such a person, then that person has a spiritual problem.
Afenifere asked a question recently that how come President Buhari didn’t remember the $16bn Power Project since 2015 but only said something about it now because former president Obasanjo is criticising him. What is your take on that?
One thing with President Buhari is that he is someone whose thoughts, words and actions synchronise. Everybody has a thought process that precedes what he says in his mouth but there are some people who will think something and say another. Buhari will never do such a thing. He says what he thinks. Someone told me that if you praise Buhari he doesn’t care, if you criticise him, he doesn’t care. What type of person is that? And then I said when you use energy, it is wasted. Energy is directed to thinking, talking and doing. If you are a talker, you can never be a doer. That is the truth. That is why you see many politicians, who are orators today, if you go to their homes, they are not organised. Another thing about Buhari is that you cannot rush him into what you think he must do if he doesn’t believe in what you want him to do. His biographer said the word papa go-slow is not his name now because he is old. It is an area which is a political strategy to ensure that he is not rushed into anything that may backfire. What happened was that the Buhari Support Organisation came to see him and he was responding to them off the cuff. And if that thing came to him, he will mention it. That is why I said what he think, what he does and what he says synchronise. That is why many people misquote him and anything he says which is not consistent with public perception of discipline and order goes viral. And he is not going to stop. That is his nature.