Nobody can displace Tinubu in the South-west
By Omoniyi Salaudeen
THE recent shocking allegations of corruption against the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal, and acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, confirm the insinuation that President Muhammadu Buhari might not have known some of his appointees too well before he appointed them to some key positions.
In this interview, a former minister of information and close ally of the president, Prince Tony Momoh, insists that Buhari is in firm control of the APC-led government. He also dismissed the alleged frosty relationship between national leader of the party and the president, saying “I know Tinubu is a key player at top caucuses of the APC. He himself will never say he is sidelined.”
How would you react to the insinuation that a particular cabal in the Presidency has hijacked the government of President Muhammadu Buhari?
The fact is that President Muhammadu Buhari was elected the President of Nigeria in 2015 for a term of four years in the first instance and he is entitled to two terms constitutionally. Anything that happens between 2015 and 2019 is his responsibility. The buck stops on his table. Whether power has been hijacked or not hijacked is a function of people’s perception of governance. I am close to the president and I know that at the highest level of meetings he has the loyalty and respect of people, be they leaders of the party, be they governors, be they elected representatives of the people. All of us kowtow to his preeminence position in the polity. So, if there is any area of hijacking, it is a question of perception of whoever is looking at governance. I think one mistake people make is their lack of understanding of what President Muhammadu Buhari makes with governance.
If you are a minister; like my friend, Prof Jerry Gana would say, he will allow you to minister well. If you are a governor, you will govern well. If you are a teacher, you will teach well. He allows you to do your work, but bears responsibility because he cannot delegate responsibility, he can only delegate power and authority. If the perception is that any of those he delegated power to is not working, then of course, the responsibility lies on him to either look at the person’s work and take a decision, which may be right in the view of those who do the perceiving or wrong. At the end of the day, the buck stops on his table. I know that nobody has hijacked anything because I am close enough. My knowledge of him (Buhari) makes me conclude that he can never abandon his responsibility.
The speculation was spurred by the interview granted to the BBC by the wife of the president, who is even closer, saying that some people influenced the appointments made by the president. Were the appointments not influenced?
Are you telling me that he must know all the people all over the country before he satisfies the constitutional demand that there must be one minister from each state? Obviously, he will seek advice. If he seeks advice from me and I recommend someone and that person is appointed, I am not the one who appointed that person. He is the one who appointed that person. It doesn’t mean I have hijacked power. What people are quarreling about is their own perception of the choice of people who should be involved in governance. Since the 70s, the president had been minister of petroleum, he had been governor of six states in the Northeast, he had been Head of State of Nigeria, he had been chairman of PTF, he had been presidential aspirant since 2003 to 2011. All these years, he had known a lot of people 100 times the number of people that his own wife would have known.
So, the question of the wife of the president knowing the number of people he appointed cannot be said to be the function of popularity or lack of popularity. Besides, there are 170 million Nigerians and there is no way he can know everybody. But there is no way his knowledge of people wouldn’t have spread. Out of four division of Nigeria Army, he commanded three. In view of that, he lived in Port Harcourt, lived in Enugu, lived in Lagos, lived in Abeokuta, lived in Jos, lived in Kaduna, lived in Kano, lived in Sokoto, lived in Makurdi and Maiduguri. He had met lots and lots of people in the commands. The wife of the president is not bound to know as much people as the president knows. We should start to retain values even when we discuss politics. The wife does not have to know everything the husband knows and the husband does not have to know everything in the polity as president. He must refer to people. Many people don’t know President Buhari. No matter how close you are to him, he will deal with you, if you go against the rules.
Would you say in effect that in distribution of patronage of office those who played critical role in his emergence as president as well as his other numerous supporters have been factored into his appointments?
We owe responsibility to 170 million Nigerians. Once election is over, governance begins. When governance begins, the temptation is there to replace all those people who are not in your party. But that is wrong. Everybody is a member of the country that elected one person to the highest position. But people are crying, saying he ought to have removed all the PDP people. There are some PDP people that are there statutorily. And Buhari believes in the rule of law. You can’t pull them out. Some of them need Senate’s approval to be there for a term. You can’t pull them out. And Nigerians think Buhari should throw them out and put APC people there. Even within APC, some people are saying so and so people are from the North, so and so people are from the South west or South-east and so on and so forth. The greed of man is insatiable. So, PDP and other party members are part and parcel of governance after the election. But that is what many Nigerians cannot accept and I agree with them. We struggled together and they should be looked at and pacified before any other person. But so long as we want to emphasize political appointment as a way of recognizing people’s contribution, so long we are going to be wrong because we cannot give jobs to 15 million people. I agree that you cannot attend enough to those who grew with us since 2003. I agree with you about the cry of those who think they have been deprived. I am even the direct target having headed CPC that produced the president.
But I know the problem; they are not in the position to know the problem. Where is the money to pay political appointees? More than 30 states cannot even meet their salary bills. If you add political bill to salary bill, how are we going to stablise the country through infrastructural development? We spend more than 80 percent of our earning on recurrent. Anywhere you spend more than 20 or 25 percent; you go back to the drawing board. My solution is restructuring. But we are not ready for that yet. We are top heavy politically; we must decongest the political space and then economic deregulation will be automatic. That is why at the end of the day, we must restructure the system and address the political issue and the structure of the country
As one of those acting behind the scene in this government, how do you feel listening to people’s comment about the economy that seems to be nose-diving?
I feel in their shoes. But I know that the only answer you give to hunger or to the hungry is food. I can’t tell you to be patient when you are hungry. We have been importing expired rice from Thailand spending billions and billions of dollars. We don’t have money for all these things now. Lots of West African countries now come to buy grains from Nigeria and people are crying it is too expensive. Are we not happy that farmers have access to money? In my area, I hear of Agbede rice, Ekpoma rice, Ebonyi rice, Anambra rice, Ofada rice. That is what I eat in my house now. Yes, it is expensive but I prefer food grown in Nigeria that has more value to rice from China which is of no value. Discipline is returning through loss of unearned incomes. If you are hungry, you must grow food. And that is why the budget of the president should be looked at very critically. We should eat what we grow and grow what we eat. There are no other solutions. Manna does not fall from heaven any more.
We have many hactares of land and people are growing food now. We must use this recession to take tough decisions and these decisions are being taken. So, the recession with due respect is a blessing.
But to some people, this recession came because this government didn’t act early enough to put certain things in place. Isn’t it so?
Recession has been on since 2014. Okonjo-Iweala was begging us then to save, we refused. All the governors were shouting, share the money. What the government left behind we cleaned it up. So, who is to blame? People saw the recession coming. In fact, if not for what Obasanjo did by forcing us to have excess crude oil account, we wouldn’t have had money. Iweala said let us start Sovereign Wealth Fund, everybody was opposed to it. 80 percent of our earning goes on recurrent. Now, you are blaming Buhari for what had happened over the years. Unless we really sit down and address the political issue, we will find it difficult to take care of hunger at the end of the day.
Every successive government had always found an escape route for non-performance by blaming past administration for one damage or the other. Did Buhari carry out intelligence study of the economy before he took over the mantle of leadership?
Let me tell you, Buhari did the story of what Nigeria needed before he entered politics in 2003. The Northern intelligentsia were embarrassed that allegations were being made that those from the North who governed destroyed Nigeria. So, they went out looking at every aspect, political, social, economy, environmental and foreign policy of Nigeria and they came out with a book which they called Project Nigeria. They gave it to Buhari and he looked at it. After two weeks, he brought his own suggestions to the document and they accepted it. Then, he entered into politics to become president to execute this programme. The thing is: secure the land and then stabilise it through infrastructural development and prosperity will emerge. When you say hit the ground running, you hit the road after two steps you will be blown up by mines. What are you going to do? You restore discipline. And that is being done.
Why is the present government not favouably disposed to restructuring?
Who told you? The question of structure is according to law. The president cannot just get up and say Nigeria is restructured. The only area restructured when Nigeria had three regions was the Midwest region. All others were by fiat. Even the last dialogue was asking for 52 states. Politicians are always demanding how to share. But until we address the political structure like the six geo political zones becoming the federating units, and reduce the power of the National Assembly from 93 areas to less than two dozens, and resolve that the House of Representatives should go to their regions to be the regional and cancel the governors’ executive position, we are not going to reduce the recurrent. We are even going to increase it the more, if we say we want to do what the dialogue of Jonathan recommended. Buhari is trying to see how much we can put into the system to grow infrastructural development. I don’t think there is anybody who would have done better.
The allegation involving SGF points to the fact that some of the appointees of Buhari are working at cross purposes with this government. Don’t you think so?
There is nobody working at across purposes. If what you are doing is against the constitution, you will answer your father’s name. Buhari himself is following the guideline of the constitution. I am not saying everybody is clean. The temptation is there. I learnt that the SGF left the company he was accused of running in 2015 before he was sworn in. But the Senate’s report said he left in 2016. Obviously, he will be a fool to be running a company in 2016 when he is SGF. The proper thing to do would have been to leave that company which somebody defending him on television said he did in 2015. Someone may be trying to embarrass him, if what he did was in 2015 and not 2016. But I tell you, anybody who is at fault will bear his father’s name.
There is this speculation in the media that the president is trying to sideline the national leader of the APC, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu. What is your take on this matter?
What is the structure of government? You have the president and the Federal Executive Council. The federal executive meets and takes decisions on a day-to-day basis. The president is elected. Having been elected, he chooses people who will run the government with him. You also have the vice president, ministers and agencies that run the government with him. Are you telling me that the national leader ought to sit in cabinet or ought to sit with the president? I don’t understand what you mean by being sidelined. I know Tinubu is a key player at top caucuses of the APC. He himself will never say he is sidelined. So, who is throwing this thing about him being sidelined to the extent of saying he is even going to leave the party? He is a foundation member of the merger. He has been pursuing merger since 2005. ACN was a regional party in spite of all the trials of Tinubu. And Buhari believed that ACN in the South-west and his own party CPC could win the election if they come together. It was with a lot of persuading that we even had ANPP there. When I reached out to Tinubu, I asked: What do you people want from Buhari? And he told me they meant well and the circumstances they had been trying to reach out to Buhari. Buhari said he trusts the South-west, he trusts the Yoruba because they have the type of discipline that he likes and that we should work with them. I said alliance won’t work; it is merger that would work. Tinubu was involved, proactive and digital.
And you think Tinubu will abandon what he has built to go back to a regional club? What do you take Tinubu for? There is no way Tinubu will leave APC that he helped to build or let me even say that he built. Tinubu is very digital; he is a futuristic man. He looks into the future. I, Tony Momoh, said he will never leave APC. What would he have eaten that will influence him to destroy the national edifice that he helped to build? Then, we should examine his head. He will never do so. A lot of people who are saying so are just speculating. There is no problem in APC today that cannot be resolved. The merger was the first in Nigeria. APC is made up of individuals. We dissolved our groups. If anybody wants to go out now, he is not going to ACN because there is nothing like ACN again, he is not going to CPC because there is nothing like CPC, he is not going to ANPP because there is nothing like ANPP again. You have to go and start from the scratch. How much money does Tinubu have, how much national support has Tinubu to go and start building everything from the scratch? You think he is a fool? I think some people should respect Tinubu the way I know him. He is very digital, he is very proactive. If there are issues like when he wrote letter to the chairman, it is just a storm in the tea cup. We are back as a family and we can only grow as a family. There may be attempt to brand APC as ACN, CPC, ANPP or APGA. This thing will wear off as time goes on. We have challenges that APC must resolve as a family. Why shouldn’t there be disagreement? Are we not in a democracy? On this question of a mega party, tell me who can fund a mega party? Do you know what it is to be at the centre and to be in a position to offer patronage? The whole institutions are under you. Do you know what it takes?
You probably must have heard also that some of the people serving in this government which Tinubu helped to grow like Fashola, Fayemi are being positioned to take over leadership of the South-west from Tinubu.
(Cuts in…) Tinubu will laugh at you because I don’t think you know Tinubu. Many of us didn’t know Tinubu when he was in NADECO. Many of us didn’t know Tinubu when there were internal struggles in Afenifere. Many of us didn’t know Tinubu when there were primaries within Afenifere and Awolowo family in Lagos. Many of us didn’t even know Tinubu when he emerged. Many of us didn’t know Tinubu when it was time for succession. Many us thought Tinubu would bring up Afikuyomi because of his closeness to him when he brought up Fashola. Many of us didn’t know Fashola, but for Tinubu. And look at Lagos, Lagos is the neatest and most organized state in Nigeria today. Many of us didn’t know Ambode. Look at the 25-year-programme from 1999 till today, which is all being pursued. Unlikely people emerged, but those who emerged are success story. Who do you think will come and say he wants to take over from Tinubu? Tinubu has a success story. He should thank God that he built people who can take over from him. He won’t be there forever.