Former Minister of Information and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Prince Tony Momoh, in this interview with senior Correspondent, TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, speaks on the insecurity challenges rocking the nation, debate on extension of state of emergency on the Boko Haram belt, the ongoing National Conference and the controversy over the Muslim/Muslim ticket. Excerpts:
The nation witnessed another tragic bomb blast on May Day while still grappling with the abduction of some school girls, a development that has attracted international condemnation. How will you rate the security situation of in the country? Do you think the nation is making any headway in the fight against insurgency?
A lot of people don’t just understand what it is when we discuss problems of insecurity. When you secure a state, it means that you are in control of the territory. When you try to destabilize a state, you have an advantage because you will look at where policing is inadequate or absent and strike. The government cannot be everywhere at the same time. And so, when people say it is the failure of the government, you will look more at the role which the government should play in the area of providing the means in which you can empower those who have the responsibility of performing duty of securing the state. In other words, you look at the military, police and other services that have to do with securing the polity and then you empower them.
So, if you have visible absence of empowering. You can then talk of failure of the government, because it is its responsibility to provide the means by which those who are professionals should secure the state. Then, there is also failure on the part of the governed, where they are to provide information to the government on those who are suspected to be trouble makers within the polity. And where that failure comes again when people wrongly blame the government because the buck will stop on the table of the person who is there at the time of the incident, and that is President Jonathan.
So, I am saying that it is not fair to say President Jonathan has failed where the people have failed and is not fair to say President Jonathan has failed where the security agencies that have been fully provided for have failed. But, you can say that President Jonathan has failed where there is inadequate budgeting; where there is inadequate equipping; where there is failure of surveillance and so on. So, the buck must stop on the desk of the president.
I have widened it so that people will not say that I am criticizing the president unfairly. He is the president, I am not the president and so he has the responsibility of ensuring there is no kidnapping, there are no bomb blasts, no robberies, there is no Boko Haram, and there is no unrest. Because, he is there on the directive of the people to provide security and welfare. Like the saying goes, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. And in Nigeria today, there is neither security nor welfare anywhere in the country and so the president bears the burden.
Now the incident of this Nyanya bombing in the analyses of the situation of this nature, you see when someone is on a death row, he will do certain things that will give the impression that he is getting stronger. I think Boko Haram must be in more trouble than we think now. The fact that they are throwing bombs in public places, the garages and so on, shows that they are on their way out. That is my reading of the situation. If they were not on their way out, they will be consistent with what they have done before. The police killed their leader, Muhammed Yusuf extra judicially, and that they should bring the people to book. So, they were targeting security agencies and government. Lots of people had sympathy with them and they approach to government, to discuss with them, apologize to them that their leader was killed and then pay damages. But now, it has extended to not only targeting government offices and government security agencies but targeting the public.
So, the belief or the mission of that body we call Boko Haram is lost and missing and people thought it was Islamic and therefore was anti other religions. And so they were associated with bombing churches. But, not once, they burnt mosques, they killed clerics, they killed everybody, they seized school children, killed the men, took away the women forcefully. That has nothing to do with the Quran. That has nothing to do with Allah. That has nothing to do with Islam. It is Satanic. So, we have a problem of disorientation of those people who thought they had a cause they are fighting for and that cause is lost in the execution of their mission. So, we have more problem than we think; but, I think that these are the later days of Boko Haram, where they now go into public places and start throwing bombs. It means they are running out of ideas of what they want to do, that is targeting the security agencies, so that the injustices they thought had been done to their leader through extra judicial murder, can be righted. That is my own analysis of the issue. But taking of life is condemnable and if it goes to the level where girls are seized from schools and then the government and the military seem not to be doing much, then, the buck stops on the table of the president and he must answer for it. He is the president; I am not.
Let us look at the military and the other security agencies. It is surprising how the insurgents can move around the state and abduct some school girls and still move away in a state with declaration of emergency, filled with soldiers. Do you think the soldiers have compromised?
The fact is, you just look at my room here and say soldiers are everywhere. Do you know that a place like Borno state is more than five times the size of Lagos state? And the North East is about one-third the whole land mass of Nigeria? We have hundreds of kilometers of open space. How can the military be there at every time? That is why I said that those who called terrorist now, they look at where the soldier are not present and where the police are not there policing and then strike. That is why urban guerilla welfare is very difficult to wipe out. So, they can’t be everywhere. How many policemen have we? How many soldiers have we? The harm would have been done before they get there. As a matter of fact, soldiers have no business being on the streets. They should fight external wars, but police are so overwhelmed and they were under funding the police. So, we can’t really cope. And also Boko Haram has gone nuclear. People involved are outside Nigeria. America is fighting Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. How much success have they registered? These are people who will watch until you are not there and they strike or look at the soft spot and strike because people can’t be everywhere. So, we have a war on our hands and only international cooperation will help do it.
Once upon a time, a man like General Buhari drove the Chadians about 30 kilometers into Chad and occupied the space. In international law, we are protected. Those who are threatening Nigeria through the borders, why can’t we pursue them into the borders and occupy the territory? Then we negotiate with the countries and nobody stays in their country to attack Nigeria. That is a legitimate right that we can exercise in international law. But, when we sit down and don’t even want anybody to come from outside and help us, then we are part of the problem.
Are you saying the state of emergency has achieved its purpose? There is a debate on whether it should be extended or not while some Nigerians are calling for a fill-scale emergency, which involves the removal of the political class?
The president has no business extending any state of emergency. There doesn’t even have to be a state of emergency in any of those areas. But, to give the military the opportunity to move round, then you declare state of emergency. The governor knows what is happening in his state more than the Army or even the president. The members of the Houses of Assembly and Local Government Chairmen know more of what is happening and they are the ones that can filter information to the military. So, when you now say you remove them and put an Administrator, how will he know what is happening? The natives don’t relate to uniform people. They don’t trust them. So, anybody telling the president to extend the state of emergency by removing governors doesn’t know what he is talking about. In any case, the president has no powers to remove governors. I don’t know how they read their law or constitution. The state of emergency should even be lifted and the military should do what they are doing, as they have been doing, because, I don’t see any improvement. The president should ignore those asking him to remove the governors. Removing the civilian administrators is dictatorship. I think some people are trying to politicize these issues and it should not be so. It is a national problem that we must all join hands to tackle.
There is also growing debate over the ongoing National Conference. There have been talks about some delegates being too old, the youths who are the future not adequately represented, sleeping delegates, and resource control. How will you assess the conference so far?
The people are being very petty. For instance, age is relative. On April 27, I was 75, and I don’t know anybody who can claim to have the experience I have when I manifests life in my environment. Nor can I claim to have the experience any other person has when he manifest life in his environment. So, you have the young, the not-so-young, the old and the not-so-old, all coming together at the National Conference. There is minimum age for voting, but there is no maximum age for voting. So, anybody who is saying old men populated the conference, I don’t pray to God to answer their prayers. Because, what they are saying is that old men are useless in the society and that they themselves should not grow old to be useful. Old people have their own role to play through experience, which you can never buy. The young have their role to play through enthusiasm, which you cannot get from the old because of the advancement in the age of the body. But you cannot talk of age when you talk of the soul and spirit of man. Everybody is a human spirit living in a body and it is the body that ages. The person who is 80 years today may not be as old in creation as someone who is five years old. It depends on the time you came to earth. And you have looked at the problems of the earth and experienced some of these problems and so you are in a position to proffer solutions more than those who are fully experienced the earth as the older ones.
I am saying that in a conference like this, the young and the old should be there, men should be there, women should be there. All interests should be represented if we really want to touch on the issues. In my own way, at age 75, I celebrated Nigeria and I published a document titled “To save Nigeria, Let’s Talk’. I have sent 30 copies to each of the committees of the National Conference. I sent copies to the President of the Federal Republic, National Security Adviser, National Assembly, SGF and various ministries, SSS. I also sent 50 copies each to both the PDP and APC. That was how I celebrated Nigeria. I have always celebrated Nigeria between 1999 to 2011. I monitored our return to civil rule every week and I have it in three volumes: Democracy watch – A Monitor Diary. I know Nigeria as much as any other person. I know the constitution as much as any other person. I was called to the Bar in 1975. I have been through it all. So, what can anyone tell me about Nigeria? I was the National Chairman of a political party, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), and I was one of the chairmen who moderated and midwifed the merger that brought APC today and have given Nigerians the opportunity to choose between two parties. I am not a member of the National Conference, but the solution to Nigeria’s problem is here in this document, telling us how stressed Nigeria is as a nation, how stressed the people are, where we are and where we can be.
Could you please highlight some of the things in the book?
Take a look at the central government, state and local government. We have a top Federal Government and 36 states that go cap-in-hand on a monthly basis, begging for allocation, as well as local governments that collect allocations and share them as a routine. So, I am proposing a three-tier arrangement; the Federal Government powers; reduced from 93 that we have now, (Exclusive and Concurrent) to about 15; the regional or state government, which are the six geo-political zones that we have as the federating units, and the powers from the centre now going to the region so that each region will grow at its own pace.
Also, if you decongest the political space, economic deregulation is automatic. Each region will tap its own resources and pay tax to the federal government. It will itself have a share from federal allocated revenue. The regions will have states. The states now will not allow themselves to be dissolved. So, they will be there as project implementation areas and combine to run the common services. So, in other words, that is the time you have true federalism. All the local governments will be inherited by the states and regions. And if the regions like, they can cancel them or increase them. Now, members of the House of Representatives will be the parliamentarians in the region. And the lawmaking arm at the centre will be the Senate and there should be equal representations at the national level. You can have an advisory body, one from each state and Abuja, making 37. This will allow everybody to move at his own pace and that there is cooperation at the helms of affairs of the country rather than this cut-throat competition that destabilizes Nigeria. If all that is done, we have resolved the problem of Nigeria.
And how do we implement it?
We don’t have to subject it to a referendum. If Nigerians agree that this is what they want, you take it to the Council of State, an executive body under section 153 of the constitution with the President as chairman. After all has been done, the Attorney-General of the Federation will get other lawyers and package it in proper legal form for the National Assembly to pass in the law without debate. The following day, the governors will also send to the state Houses of Assembly and they will pass it in support and then the constitution is changed under Section 9 overnight and it is constitutional and it becomes binding. Through that, we can have a Nigeria that must become a world power within 25 years. Because, that is an anointing by God Almighty. Nigeria will not collapse. Greed is the motto of the average Nigerian who is a politician because he is preoccupied with what he is doing now and how he can gain from it. Why can’t he make sacrifice for the future of the country?
The coming elections in Osun and Ekiti states are very crucial to the chances of the APC, but there are concerns that some ministers have been using soldiers and police to disrupt the electoral process. What is your take on this?
The military and the police are enlightened enough to perform in the interest of the country. And I mean it. If their attention is diverted to any other areas outside of serving Nigeria, then the resistance against such action will be legitimate. The fact is, Nigerians own sovereignty and it can never be delegated. Nigerians also have opportunity of asking office seekers and holders to renew their mandate after every four years. And anybody who wants to undermine that position through rigging, manipulation and other vices will be resisted. Freedom is never given. It is taken and we are giving Nigerians the opportunity to take freedom. So, the president did not appoint any minister to start using the security agencies to destabilize democratic processes. I believe the military cannot be misused and soldiers who allow themselves to be misused should bear the anger of the people and the condemnation of the world.
What will you say about the debate on your party flying a Muslim/Muslim ticket for the 2015 presidential election?
The issue of Muslim/Muslim ticket is PDP strategy. I was a foundation member of PDP. If I was still in PDP, I would have said ‘look, we have a big challenge’. First of all, these people said they want to come together as APC and they said it is impossible. And then you spend up to N2 billion trying to fight that acronym APC. So, if they leave APC acronym and go for XYZ, are you going to fight XYZ too? So, it is a very shortsighted approach. APC was registered July 31 2013. They said merger cannot take place, but it has taken place.
They said it is impossible for PDP to be defeated in 60 years and I have before 2015, PDP will be in the opposition. We wanted to register 12 million votes, that is 100 registered members at 120, 000 polling units and we did it. APC is not just a political party, it is a movement. As a chieftain of APC, I tell you the issue of the presidential candidate has never been discussed. So, all those telling you about Muslim/Muslim ticket are just speculating and trying to cause confusion within the polity. I can assure you that when we get to the bridge we will cross it. All I know is that we will choose the candidate Nigerians want.
(Published in Sunday Independent on May 11, 2014)