Former Minister of Information and Culture during the General Ibrahim Babangida regime, Chief Tony Momoh, turned 76 on Monday, 27th April, 2015. In this exclusive commemorative birthday interview, he told Shola Oyeyipo and Ojo M. Maduekwe his story of Nigeria and his expectations. Excerpts:
Seventy-six years, how has the journey been?
I have more than the physical material dimension to life. So, when you look at the journey so far, the materially or physically-minded will think of when you are born – that is in respect to me, 76 years ago. But with the multidimensional approach to life, I look at where I come from to the earth, my sojourn on earth and where I go to from here, which is a continuum. Therefore, when you say the journey so far, I want to know whether you are asking about the journey to paradise, where we all came from or the journey on earth, which started at Auchi 76 years ago.
Let’s say the last one
Yes, I was born to the Momoh family – a royal house 76 years ago on April 27, 1939 and I was born into a polygamous family, a place that from my experiences of lots of people living together ought to be a study workshop for running families successfully. My father had 48 wives and 257 children – not 205 as a newspaper reported some days ago and I’m number 165. The leader of the family today, the Otaru of Auchi, AlhajiAliru Momoh is number 90.
So, the fact is that all the children were born between 1903 and 1945. It is a very big family arranged into seven compounds that were headed by women. So, we all grew up in that environment, where there were so many people born under different stars. People born during the day and at night; we all grew up together and saw every woman there as our mother. I experienced a life within that setting which now took me into the world and you discover that you have learnt how to accommodate a lot people that came your way. So, an average Momoh does not know what enmity is and does not know what hatred means.
So, if you have that kind of organised setting, where every woman is your mother, then you will move into the larger world a man of peace; a man disciplined and then a man that can trust and be trusted. That has been all my life. I have never quarrelled with anybody to the extent of saying he is my enemy. In other words, I have no enemies. You can say some people hate me. I have no enemy. I have never had any physical fighting.
On April 24, I marked 46 years of marriage; the fact is that apart from the first six months that we experienced some problems in marriage, we have never sat down and had quarrel between me and my wife. We have four children and we thank God there has never been problem – could be with drinking, could be with drugs and I never had a cane to cane my children, never! If you have that kind of environment you will see the serenity and the peace that surround that type of environment.
At 76, would you say your dream of Nigeria has been fulfilled?
At the time of independence, I was a young boy of about 20 or 21 and we all dreamt of a Nigeria that would be like the great countries. The world saw Nigeria as one of those promising countries that will grow in the world and grow the world like Japan, India, Korea and all those areas, but unfortunately, when I was the Editor of Spell Magazine – that was in the 60s, after I read Mass Communication, which was my first area of choice before I read law, I became very disappointed after the civil war and I discovered that we were a failure in comparison to Brazil, India and Korea.
There is nothing you can say we ever did by way of growing the world through what Nigerians have done in the aspect of inventions. Look at what Asians have done without even resources. Look at what Japan has done, look at what Korea has done and look at what India has done. The Asian Tigers; look at what they have done. But look at Nigeria, what have we been able to do? We even import tooth picks. There is nothing we can say we have produced that we are sending out to the world in an era of globalisation.
It is really very painful. We must take off. When are we going to take off? Up till now in 2015, there is nothing we can say we are showing to the world as what Nigeria has produced, unless you want to showcase corruption, fraud and indiscipline. All these areas are areas that should make us declare Nigeria has a mourning ground – a graveyard. My hope is that Nigeria will grow in the next 16 to 20 years. It will grow so big that the whole world would listen to us.
What’s the basis of your optimism?
You can look at the physical and the material aspects and America will say Nigeria will be a failed state but like I said in 2006 when they said Nigeria will be a failed state, I wrote: ‘Will Nigeria Collapse?’ and I said Americans are right because of the physical manifestations we see but they were wrong because of the spiritual dimension to what Nigeria would become.
I’ve said in ‘Letter to my Country Men’ at that time that Nigeria does have a future; Nigeria has a mission. Now, I know the mission. All of you young ones, the world will stand to ask all these things you are doing, teach us. They would even want to force you to teach them the source of your strength because the world is intellectually managed but the next few years, the world will be spiritually driven.
Is Nigeria that spiritual as a country?
Yes, we are. Why is it that there are so many churches? Nigeria has the fastest growing churches in the world and in spite of everything Nigerians are the happiest people in the world. We are the most tolerant people in the world. But the fact is that this type of thing is a cosmic presence, an awareness of a cosmic order which Nigerians have but do not know it and Nigerians are the ones knocking on the doors in the spiritual more than any other group of people now and it is an anointing.
There is no accident in nature, anything that is happening is the ordering of the creator manifesting in inspiration.
Would you therefore say that the peaceful conduct of the elections despite initial fears had a spiritual dimension?
There is the spiritual dimension to it. If you look at the APC – my wife is my witness, there have been a lot of proposals for merger – when I was in Egypt doing the knee cap replacement of my leg, I lost a lot of blood and I was between here and there and something came to me. The only way to bring change in Nigeria is through the merger. And then when I was becoming better I called the leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the leader of All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) and then I was the chairman of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and I said the only way these things we have been fighting for will happen is through merger.
There has never been a merger of political parties in Nigeria. Merger means all of us will forego our offices. Merger means BisiAkande, OgbonnayaOnu and I will forego our chairmanship of their parties and dissolve our NEC at national, state and ward levels. In other words, we forego our offices two years before the date.
Fortunately, the leaders of the party who have been discussing this thing found a force driving this need to have a merger and the three of us; I must credit Akande and Onu for their sincerity in trying to ensure that their parties agreed that we should get this thing going and especially, Tinubu and Buhari.
So having done it, people in the merger talks like Tom Ikimi, who coordinated the talks; we had the documentation which was pioneered by nine of us. Chairmen of the ACN, CPC, ANPP, their treasurers and secretaries brought all the programmes, submitted their certificates which were destroyed and then we have one certificate, APC – merger. And on the basis of that change was inevitable.
Now, we are bigger than the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), so there is really nowhere to run to unless you want to go and found another party. So the strategy of the PDP was to stop APC and that is where I’m coming in about the spiritual dimension. We generated 100 members in polling units in the country. There are 120, 000 polling units which means 12 million people which was the highest the PDP ever got when they said they were the biggest party in Africa.
We went beyond that! More than 20 million, so we are bigger than the PDP. So the PDP wanted to stop us instead of going to plan what strategy they would have to confront the opposition that is coming and looking at them eyeball to eyeball.
The APC merger started on a good note but after the merger, there were issues within the APC, which made one of the chief negotiators in the merger to leave. Apart from that, there is also the issue of zoning that is affecting the party currently. Let’s hear you talk about all these.
Like I told you, APC is one party. There is nothing like ACN anymore, there is nothing like CPC anymore and there is nothing like ANPP anymore. All our certificates were collected and destroyed. We have only one certificate and that is the APC.
Your question presupposes that what we have is not a political party but an alliance of parties. It is not an alliance of parties. There is a difference between a merger and alliance of parties. In an alliance of parties, any party can pull out any time but ACN cannot say they are no longer APC because there is no ACN anymore. Their certificate has been destroyed.
When we were packaging the party, we said those in the PDP should be the conservatives and that those in the APC should be the progressives and we said there will be movement across the line until the whole party stabilises.
And if you look at the manifesto of the APC, it is towards the left. We are social democrats. If you look at the governors that came in from the PDP you will see that they were the progressive governors within the PDP.
Talking about zoning, zoning is in the constitution in the sense that all the position in the country should not be dominated by one group. If you look at Section 4 and subsection 3 that in every arrangement all areas should be represented. That is what you can call zoning. In the PDP, there is that zoning. In the APC, there is no zoning. There is no zoning in the APC constitution. But you cannot say the chairman of APC must come from one side, the secretary from the same side – you must spread it among all the groups in the country.
So, this type of thing must be done within the APC. You were talking about problem with zoning, but there is no problem because the National Working Committee – that is the core administrative department within the party, will make proposals and a lot of other within the party.
We have the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party, we have the Board of Trustees (BoT), we have the leadership and we have the caucus of the party. All these groups must be briefed on what plan are being made. So, if for instance, the state at which we are in the general distribution of offices in the land is in the area of NWC, not yet leadership and not yet BoT, not yet caucus, how would you say there is disagreement? So that is my answer to your question. I see a lot of things in the papers that there is disagreement.
But there are some camps within the party that are already tussling over who becomes the Senate President and there is this argument among supporters of Senator BukolaSaraki for instance that if the New PDP contributed significantly to the success of the APC, particularly from the North Central, saying based on that he should get the position on behalf of the PDP defectors?
What is wrong with that? I can say we came from CPC when we were not members or no APC we brought 12 million votes and now that we are APC, we have 15 million votes. So CPC brought 12 million votes and the merger brought 3 million votes. That’s what some people are saying. But that is stupid because even if we had 12 million votes without a councillor does not mean that from the 15 million votes now we brought 12 million votes.
I am saying that we are not an alliance of parties but a merger. We have to accept it. Can the PDP group now say that because they were PDP and they are moving their PDP now out of APC? That cannot happen. Anyone who is not satisfied can go and join another party or form another party, and not go back to the old party. What many people are saying just shows that there’s lack of understanding on some of these issues.
People give the impression that the senate leadership is decided at the constituency of the one who took it. The constituency is the senate of the National Assembly. Whoever becomes a leader at the senate are those who are members of the senate and chosen from amongst themselves. That is why if you are a senate president, the senate is the one that will vote for you or vote you out. You are not a senate president because you were elected from a particular place like David Mark, who was elected from Benue; that does not mean that the senate leadership belongs to Benue.
The senate itself decided on David Mark. Look at Tambuwal, he was not the choice of PDP. In 1999, Enwerem was not the choice of PDP. Within PDP, there was a proposal for Okadigbo to be senate president. Later they schemed and removed Enwerem, and Okadigbo became president of the senate; but he was not Obasanjo’s man. Much later Obasanjo was able to scheme and get Okadigbo out. That is what it is. Personal interest can be there but whichever one wins has whoever is supported to be the leader of the house.
Don’t you see a problem here for the APC because there are divided interests on who becomes the senate president – some want Saraki and some Akume. When you have a divided APC senate, it gives room for some to be opened for alignment with PDP senators. Doesn’t this worry you?
There’s nothing wrong with that; that’s what I am saying. For instance, PDP wanted someone as speaker for the House of Representatives but the opposition put Tambuwal there. What I am saying is that I don’t see why this should be a problem because the senate has the right to pick its leader. Also the House of Representatives has the right to pick its leaders. If APC wants someone to be a leader and cannot agree among the contending APC senators, then whoever emerges becomes their leader. It is not a big deal, because the decision is of the senate to pick who they want as their leader.
Don’t you think this will affect the working relationship between the APC-led executive and the legislature, especially in light of the discord between the then PDP-led executive government and the House of Representatives leadership under Tambuwal?
There was no problem. The legislature has its own functions. There was no problem, and there does not even have to be a problem. If for instance, the legislature wants to do the work of the executive, that’s where there will be a problem.
Is this your own view or how the APC party leadership sees it?
This is the legal situation. It is not a question of party or no party but this is the legal and constitutional situation.
Do you have concern about the burden of expectations from the APC government by Nigerians?
Let’s not deceive ourselves – what happened in 2015 had never happened in Nigeria before – massive support of a candidate because of a candidate, so you hit the nail on the head. What expectation was there for Jonathan in 2011 when the election was systemically rigged? Everybody cooperated to rig the election in 2011; everybody knows that. But that’s not the issue. I agree with you about what you said on expectations.
Now the people have said we want change and they have voted for Buhari. The expectation is so much that if in four years that expectation is not met – instead of people celebrating – they will be stoning us. That is to tell you the seriousness of that expectation. So we must hit the road running. I can assure you that we are not there to empower the elites; we are there to empower the common man, and how do you do that?
When you secure Nigerians and everybody can sleep with their eyes closed. And then you stabilise Nigeria through countrywide development of the infrastructure, without saying this one voted for me and this one did not vote for me, then prosperity will emerge and when Nigeria is prosperous, there will be celebration all round.
Why did you say the president-elect is not going to probe anybody because people will expect that he brings some people to justice?
If he’s going to probe people, how can he work? You see the president-elect believes that the government that had been there did what it did because it had the power to do it, and he doesn’t believe that he should come and start questioning how the government that was there exercised its powers.
Even in the face of established corruption cases?
That’s what I am saying: everyone took an oath and allegiance of office. There is no way that you swore to be corrupt. So if you are corrupt, the agencies there that will investigate or auditing will do their work, and if you have anything to answer, you’ll answer. It has nothing to do with Buhari. If you have any question to answer, Buhari will not stop you because you have joined his party. What was happening before was that if you belonged to PDP, they’ll say pipe down. Buhari will not tell any agency to pipe down.
Did you hear the chairman of the House committee on Legislative Budget, Hon. OpeyemiBamidele, who recently raised an alarm that the outgoing president had removed subsidy in the supplementary budget?
I did not hear of that but even if I did, if he removed subsidy and the need for subsidy arises, then you have another supplementary budget. Why do you have supplementary budget? In a supplementary, you provide for what was not provided for in the main budget. I’m only answering this question theoretically; there is no vacuum. If there’s something you need and it’s not there, you’ll ask for it through a supplementary bill.
Let’s talk about the constitutional conference, some people believe that there are some vital recommendations and your party does not appear to be in support of the conference. Are you likely to dump the report or convene another conference?
Must you convene a conference before you know what to do? If you want to convene one before you know what to do, then you plan for what to do that have not been done through other conferences. The one that Obasanjo did in 2005 there were lots of recommendations; what did he do with them? Because of third term project that failed, he threw the thing away. Now Jonathan started dialogue because PDP faced the danger of explosion and was really in trouble, to divert attention they now came up with the conference and put seven billion naira there.
When ASUU was on strike and doctors on strike; when there were lots of problems and which would have been resolved; their need was not up to seven billion naira, then you went and packaged a conference which recommendations you were not in a position to implement, because as at the time they will come out with their recommendations, it will be time for people to start doing primaries. That’s what exactly happened.
What did he do with the conference recommendations? It was when he thought he could conquer the west that he now said he’ll implement the recommendations and went to pay people in the South-west, but when we ask what the recommendations of the conference are, nobody knows. For instance, instead of having regionalism and fiscal federalism, we will now have 52 states to be the federating units in Nigeria, when we are even saying that 36 states are too much. The more states we’ll have, the less the powers we have for the states and the more dependent they are on the federal government. Is that what we want implemented?
What’s your take on the list of ministers flying around?
I have not seen it and I am not interested because one thing I know is that nobody has sat down to start discussing ministers. Whatever anyone is bringing out is from their own fantasy. Don’t forget that ministerial appointment is a constitutional provision. You must appoint a minister from each of the federation, so you cannot reduce it, you must have 36 ministers. It is a constitutional and political thing as well.
The president-elect cannot get up and say he is going to appoint ministers because there must be consultation from the states that will have ministers. Obviously there will be many names flying all over but there must be a meeting, a caucus that will determine what and what will go to the National Assembly and the senate will have a list in due time. But how can they even have a list when there is no handover yet? You see how people jump the gun?
When the outgoing administration proposed May 28 as handover date, what do you think was on their mind?
There is no constitutional demand for handover. What you have is election where a leader is declared and then the next constitutional thing is to swear the winner in, and the person to do this is the chief justice of Nigeria. Handing over is an administrative thing which can be done by civil servants. Even if there is no handing over, at the time the incoming president takes over, all the administrative arms of government will bring in handing over notes. So what is the big deal about handing over and date? The president doesn’t have to be present when the handing over takes place; not to talk of whether it’s on the 28th or 29th.