Prince Tony Momoh, elder statesman and former Minister of Information in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, speaks on Nigeria’s 59th Independence anniversary and other issues of national interests. Excerpts:
As Nigeria marks 59 years of Independence today, how will you describe the journey so far?
We have shown how we cannot grow unless we put development before democracy. We are celebrating democracy, not development. Democracy is a way we have chosen to govern the system, just like choosing other forms of government such as monarchy, military rule and so on. There is nowhere in Nigeria where there is democracy without development. Anywhere you have recurrent overshadowing capital, then it is important to go back to the drawing board. Recurrent should not be more than 20 to 25 per cent.
However, in Nigeria, recurrent is more than 80 per cent. Sometimes, we even borrow to take care of recurrent. As long as we are spending more on recurrent, we will not grow. So, celebrating 59 years of Independence, we have always emphasised democracy at the expense of development especially since 1999. As long as we do not rejig our democracy, there is no way we can grow. I have always emphasised the need for us to decongest the political system. If we do that, we will have economic deregulation.
Now, we have 93 areas where National Assembly makes laws – concurrent and exclusive. If you decongest it and send those powers to the six regions, and then you have 18 coordinating powers at the centre and only one National Assembly instead of the two we currently have, then members of the House of Representatives will move to the regions to become the regional assemblies. Then the senate will have equal representation at the national level to make laws for coordinating activities of the federal government and all other areas devolving to the regions. Until we have that type of thing and take governance to the regions, we are not going to grow. If we do that by sending all the powers to the regions, we have decongested the political space and economic deregulation is automatic. But when you put all the powers in the centre, we are going to continue quarrelling.
Why do you think it has been difficult for the Igbos to produce a president since 1999 and what are their chances in 2023?
Look, we chose democracy in 1999. Everything we want done is in the 1999 constitution. The procedure for accessing office is settled in the 1999 constitution. Whatever office you want, be it in the Presidency, National Assembly even in governorship, you have to vie for through political parties. These political parties at the last count are about 91 and any of the parties can be used to access office. Since 1999, we had the PDP ruling until 2015, when we had the APC. Any other party can come.
The Igbos seems to have settled for two political parties since 1999. These two parties are PDP and APGA. Like I said, PDP had been in power since 1999. I was the Director of Media for Alex Ekwueme campaign in 1998 and I was with him till 2003. Ekwueme, former Vice-President of Nigeria contested the primary and lost to the eventual winner, Olusegun Obasanjo, so the Igbos did not get the presidency in 1999. Also, they didn’t get it in 2003 because it still went to the South- West as Obasanjo got reelected. 2007, it went to the North and late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua became President. When Yar’Adua passed on, Goodluck Jonathan, his deputy from the South-South became the President in May 2010 and was in office till May 2015 when power changed hands.
Three political parties namely ACN of Bola Tinubu, CPC of Buhari and ANPP of Ogbonnaya Onu and some other leaders in the North came together and midwifed APC which was populated by the North and South-West. Only Imo state in the South-East joined APC then. So, if you have APC in government, there is no way the South-East could have the President without political re-engineering by voting for APC massively or doing some other things to acquire the sympathy of Nigerians that formed the majority.
So, if PDP won the South-East by and large, how do you expect the Igbos to access power without the PDP accessing power? So, it is very easy for the Igbos to acquire power and access Presidency in 2023 as people are saying if the party they support wins. If APC wins, there is no way they can access power because power comes through the votes. There is no sentiment about it. Power is not donated, you fight, work for it and take it. You access power through struggle. Nobody is going to say ‘come and take power’.
What about threat from Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which has threatened to secede owing to alleged marginalisation of Igbos?
Talk is cheap. Who told you they went to Japan to embarrass the President? I saw a report by Nnamdi Kanu that they have surrounded Buhari’s hotel and he can’t come out, did he not come out? Why can’t IPOB arrest him as they have threatened? Is it not the same Kanu that said Buhari is Jubril of Sudan? IPOB is a group of agitators who are trying to seek succour for their own people and that is legitimate as long as it is through due process. If it is not through due process, then they have the laws of Nigeria to face.
Some are asking President Buhari to dialogue with Nnamdi Kanu same way former President Olusegun Obasanjo did with Asari Dokubo during the period of unrest in Niger Delta region. Are you in support of this move?
When Asari Dokubo accepted Obasanjo’s invitation and came to Aso Villa, what happened to him? He was detained! Go and find out. If today, Buhari calls Nnamdi Kanu and says ‘come and dialogue with me’, it’s an approach. Dialogue is always better but the fact is, how do you call someone to come and dialogue with you when the person said you are dead and you don’t exist?
What is the way forward?
The way forward is peace. Anybody calling for war will see the consequence of war. War never solves any problem. Rather, it creates more problems.