Prince Tony Momoh, a national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC ) and former Minister of Information in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI speaks on the chances of President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2019 presidential election and other issues of national interests. Excerpts:
Afenifere and some civil society groups are asking President Muhammadu Buhari to reject the N45.5million APC presidential nomination form bought for him by a shadowy group, Nigeria Consolidation Ambassadors Network (NCAN). What is your perspective on this?
That is an expression of opinion. Afenifere and the other groups that are talking, are they members of APC? So, people have a right to comment on what is happening in the environment in which they live. I don’t grudge them and I can’t deny them of their right to freedom of expression. People bought forms for Buhari, it is for him to accept or not to accept. I don’t see anything wrong in anybody showing interest. Atiku Abubakar even shed tears and broke down emotionally when people presented him with PDP nomination form because he was overwhelmed by that show of love. So, it depends. Some people can even say ‘No, I don’t want the free forms. I am going to look for money myself’. Buhari may thank the group and say he doesn’t want and he may accept it and show gratitude. If I am Buhari, I will say thank you for the assistance. But I am not Buhari. So, it is left for the President to react on whether to accept the gesture or not.
But do you think it is morally right for people to purchase free forms for politicians?
What is wrong in that? The truth is that no one man can fund an election. You need help from others. Do you know what it cost to even say you want to be an elected person at any level even as a councilor? If you know that as a councilor, within 18 months, you can build a house and then buy a Jeep, what will you not do to accept that office? That is why I have been asking for restructuring which will make politics a service and not a business. But today, it is a business. It is only people like President Buhari who are unique in themselves because of their attitude to service where at the presidential primaries of the APC in Lagos in 2014, he said ‘People may want Dollars or Naira, I don’t have. Even if I have, I won’t give’. That is when money was flowing all over the place among the aspirants to the delegates; $2,000 per delegates. Yet, despite not giving out money, Buhari still won. This monetising of politics is what a lot of people are fighting against when they said there should be direct primaries instead of indirect. In Osun state, some delegates were even demanding N750,000, so we had to have a direct primary where all the party members voted. So, making politics less expensive is a task that we must attend to but as it is right now, it is a very expensive business.
You said we must work towards making politics less expensive. As a national leader of APC, what do you make of the sale of your party’s presidential form at N55m before it was reduced to N45m after public outcry? Even President Buhari had to cry out saying he can’t afford the money as a salary earner compared to the N27m he paid in 2014. Are you not concerned about that?
Even if they say the form is N200m, don’t forget that technically only one person is there to buy the ticket.
Who is that only person?
President Buhari of course!
But others want to contest, was the price to scare them away from slugging it out with him?
Do you want to contest? Do you have N40m? I am not aware of any other person. I think many who would have contested knowing that they may not be able to get far moved out to PDP. We have about 15 aspirants in PDP now. Apparently, Ahmed Makarfi was so embarrassed with the large number that he said ‘How can people come into a house and instead of going into the guest room, they want to go into the masters bedroom? Many of them who left APC obviously left because they thought they had brighter chances outside APC than in the party where they will pay N45m to purchase the forms and eventually lose. So, if you look at what APC will realise from the sale of presidential form, it is less than N50m because it is only one person who has purchased the form. Then you look at PDP who sells their nomination form for N12m. N12m multiplied by 15 aspirants that is N180m just for presidential aspirants. So, who got more money between APC and PDP? It is definitely PDP. I think these things ought to be very, very cheap but like Asiwaju Tinubu will say, power is not served a la carte. If you want power and authority, you work to take it. You don’t sit down in your bedroom and you think people will say come and take. Nobody will tell you to come and take power.
If it is only President Buhari that is contesting for presidency on the platform of your party, why then is your party talking about direct primary for presidential election?
Why not? For instance if we say direct primary, it is an opportunity to show strength. And I can tell you everybody is happy about it. People want direct primaries but where there are logistics challenges, such areas may have indirect primaries. That is why stakeholders are asked to sit and agree on what they want in the light of the circumstances that your environment may not allow for direct primaries. That is why many states have been meeting to see whether they will have direct or indirect primaries. Kano, Lagos and or two other states have said it is direct primaries. Many states like Imo, Adamawa and a couple of others have said it is indirect. But you must explain the circumstances in your environment to warrant indirect primaries.
But there seems to be a disconnect between state governors elected on your party’s platform and the party leadership over the mode of the primaries. Are you not worried about that?
It is the same thing. The party is saying direct at all levels, but the others are saying we want direct for presidential election and then direct at all other levels except circumstances does not allow. One thing is certain: direct at presidential level. The other one is direct at all other levels except circumstances does not allow or indirect at other levels except for circumstances. So, we are saying the same thing.
What is your perspective on the long adjournment by the National Assembly when there are pressing issues of national importance to attend to?
It is a question of mindset. The officers of the national assembly may say ‘ Look, this is urgent. Let us come together and attend to it’. The American congress, even if they are going on holiday and there is anything urgent they need to attend to, they will wait. So, if our lawmakers in Nigeria don’t think the issue is urgent, they will go and there is nothing we can do about it. We are not going to replace them. So, it is their choice that the issue at hand is not urgent for them to come.
You once said President Buhari will score more than 25 percent votes in the South- South and South- East. Given recent defections by key stakeholders in the region to your party, do you see your predictions coming true?
I have always told you that there are indicators to assess now so that by the time the results are declared, nobody will say the election was rigged. In 2015, it is only in my state, Edo that Buhari scored more than 25 percent. He had 46 percent of votes. All other states in the South- South and South- East, he did not get up to 15 percent votes anywhere. But this time, he will have more votes in those regions than he had in 2015. First of all, the results in those places were packaged; they were just written up and I know that.
How do you know that the results were written up?
They were written up. In the case of Anambra, Imo and other places, how can the president have 98 percent votes? There was no state where he had less than 97 percent votes yet the governors of those states did not have up to 60 percent votes. That is because the results were written up.
But people have always contested the results Buhari got in the North too that the result in Kano was written up. What is your perspective on that?
I can assure you there is massive voting in the North. In our area, during the 2011 presidential election, information came that the political leaders have decided that the region should be delivered to Goodluck Jonathan. I was the national chairman of Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) that time. Then we agreed that let our people vote according to their conscience. So, the writing up of results did not affect our area and we had the highest vote for Buhari in the whole of the South. We had about 29,000 votes but in all other places, they just wrote up the results. The whole of the South- West was overrun by the PDP because there was an agreement between CPC and Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) but it did not bear fruit. Even ACN then did not support their presidential candidate, Nuhu Ribadu. It was only Osun state that supported Ribadu. Even in Adamawa, Ribadu lost. We didn’t have money to have agents in the South-West, so many of CPC votes were packaged in Ghana-must-go bags and thrown away. PDP overran the South- West because in fairness, if there was an agreement between ACN and CPC, ACN had no obligation than to protect our votes in the South West because they didn’t even pay agents to protect their own votes. They abandoned Ribadu. Later, after the 2011 election, we decided that the only way to achieve meaningful results is not through alliances but through merger. I, national chairman of CPC we dissolved our party. ACN also dissolved their party, ANPP also did the same and we merged into APC. That is why I tell you that PDP forming CUPP, it cannot work unless they dissolve and call themselves CUPP; one party with one symbol. You will see, when primaries start, everything will scatter. Alliances can be broken even on the eve of election. So, it is a big sacrifice to dissolve yourself and merge into one group. That is why I said all these talks about youth coming together in 2019 is a fallacy, they won’t come together. PDP has about 15 aspirants but only one will emerge and I am telling you that one who emerges will have to look for money to prosecute federal election. None of them is going to bring his own money to say they want to support him. Again, the centre which PDP controlled and were raiding as the ruling party is no longer there to control now. In the South- South and South- East, people of high caliber are moving into APC. So, what we expect is that Buhari coming and winning in 2015 is because of the massive contribution of the South West which allow for the presence of 25 percent spread. We are going to have at least 25 percent votes because there is hardly any state in the South- South and South- East where Buhari will not have up to 25 percent. That is certain. And if there is going to be any rigging, it will not work because Buhari has said nobody should rig for him. if there is going to be any rigging, it will be in the favour of the incumbent, so we don’t have a disadvantage. Those who were rigging before and writing up results cannot now write up results for anybody and if they do, it will be for Buhari but the President have said nobody should write up results for me. If I lose, I will go. ‘
In the North, in spite of what anybody is saying, since 2003, Buhari has been winning the North even when there were PDP governors. So, why do you think it will change now that majority of the Northern governors are APC? They said they are fielding a northern candidate, what difference will that make?
So in essence, are you saying all the votes President Buhari scored in the North during the 2015 elections were legitimate, none was written up for him?
Yes, all his votes are legitimate. None was written up for him. In fact, his votes were deducted in 2011. I protested to INEC. They had in the computer a programmed to deduct votes and they said it was a mistake. In Kano, 10 percent of the votes were deducted especially when there was counting. We said they should count physically. They did that but votes counted physically were different from the others. In Katsina, it was the same thing. INEC admitted it was a programming error. The 2011 election was rigged yet we had that number of votes. Let me say this with all sense of responsibility that the Northerners, you can say they are illiterate but they are more politically enlightened than the average Southern voters. If you see the Fulani herdsman, one thing he has apart from his stick is a radio and he is listening to Hausa service. You have Hausa service in BBC, Radio France, Germany, Russia and America. The Northerners listen to radio more than they watch television or read newspapers. It was Maiguard (security guard) here in Lagos who told me that MKO Abiola had died on July 7 1998. I said no, they were talking of the man being released. He said BBC said Abiola has died. And it turned out to be true. That is my own maiguard. In the whole of the northern belt, from Cameroun down to Senegal, they speak Hausa. When I was Minister, I used Radio Kaduna short wave to reach Voice of Nigeria. So, let us not deceive ourselves, these people are more politically enlightened than the average Southerners. When it is time for voters registration, they go home to register. When it is time for election, they go home to vote. How many of my people here travel home to vote during elections? Look at social media for example. A lot of our people are very active on social media but social media don’t vote. Those who manage social media should go and have their PVC. It is only PVC that gives you what you want through expression of your civic right by voting. On the day of election, some of the elites don’t even get out to queue and vote. We sit down in our house and watch televisions. More than 80 million people have been registered by INEC to vote but I am telling you, not up to 40 million people will vote nationwide. So, northerners are more politically enlightened than us.