Preparations for the 2015 general elections are now effectively on with INEC’s approval of open campaigns by political parties. This time around, contention for the presidency is largely between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the emerging All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview, a former minister of information and one time national chairman of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Prince Tony Momoh, is confident that APC will deliver the change Nigerians are yearning for, assuring that PDP would be sent packing from Aso Rock next February. Excerpts:
What do you make of the security situation in the North-east and the earlier announced ceasefire agreement between Boko Haram and the Federal Government?
Let us concede the fact that the Chief of Defence Staff meant well. He believed they were discussing with the group that had power to call the shots in Boko Haram. Experience is always the best teacher. We now know from what has happened that, indeed, there is no basis for a ceasefire since the person or group of persons they discussed with are not competent to speak on whether there should be a ceasefire or not. I don’t think the group the Federal Government met was in a position to work for an effective ceasefire. The Federal Government seems to have been dealing with the wrong people.
How then would you assess the capacity of the military to deal with the situation given the fact that Boko Haram has carved out a territory for itself?
For the first time in the history of Nigeria since amalgamation in 1914, we have an occasion when a group of people would carve out territory and plant their flag and say this is our territory. I am not talking of a civil war because when we had a civil war it was brothers fighting brothers. We knew our country included the area where there was war in the Southeast. But the fact is this is the first time people will defeat our army and take over almost six local governments in Borno State and a large chunk of land in Adamawa and other areas.
And to think that we have an army that has earned laurels all over the world speaks more of sabotage and indiscipline than incompetence. Our army is more than capable to win wars and to keep Nigeria one. But it seems to me that those who are in charge are more interested in being politicians than being soldiers. I think it is a disgrace to the Nigerian military. Our soldiers who are retired are hiding their heads in shame that this is happening in our military. I think Nigeria’s war effort has been sabotaged. Our army is not so badly equipped as to make civilian JTF more efficient in the war front. We must find out what is happening. Why our army is not winning the war must be investigated because it’s a disgrace to the whole country. There is more to it than meets the eye.
Do you also think that some foreign powers are behind Boko Haram insurgents?
No foreign power can intimidate Nigerian Army, unless they go nuclear. There is more to it than meets the eye. There is no army in Africa that can intimidate the Nigerian Army. None. I think we are playing politics with lives of Nigerians. We are playing politics with the integrity of Nigeria, and therefore, undermining the capacity of our army to perform. Our army has more than enough capacity to perform.
As the country appears to be drifting, what do you think is the way out?
A country drifts because of indiscipline. There is discipline when the laws of the land are obeyed. For instance, you have a country of laws and a country with laws. Nigeria is a country with laws, not a country of laws. United States is a country of laws. The UK and other advanced democracies are countries of laws. A country with laws is a country where you look at the laws and pick who they should affect. Nigeria is a country where you have people who are equal before the law and others who are above the law because they belong to a particular political group. That is indiscipline. So, Nigeria is a country with laws. Of course, applying the law is a political decision. But countries become so mature that you apply the law in the direction of those who breach it. In Nigeria, you apply the laws depending on who the person is and if the person is in the opposition and you want to apply the law and he joins the ruling party, then you stop applying the law. Is that a country? That is indiscipline which is unacceptable. Therefore, there must be change. Those who are fighting for change are doing so because Nigeria is being messed up through greed, indiscipline and corruption.
Who is blaming who here because the ruling party has also put the blame on the doorstep of APC alleging that where the party is in control violence prevails?
So, APC is causing violence? Is it not obvious that what I have just said is true? For instance, is it not defeatist if you politicize the army by using the army to rig election or politicize war by ensuring that where the opposition is in control there is trouble? But the country belongs to all of us.
Do you think the change which your party claims to represent is achievable?
Change is not just a dream, it’s a fact and you work to achieve it. For instance, we said the only way to tackle corruption and indiscipline that PDP represents is to merge. Consequently, the CPC which I headed, the ACN which Bisi Akande headed, and the ANPP which Ogbonnaya Onu headed coalesced into APC despite our differences. Although APC is a new party, each of the groups represented in the party has members who have been in the political space since 1999. The ANPP has members who have been there since 1999. The ACN has been in control of Southwest and Edo State. So also is a wing of APGA headed by Owelle Rochas Okorocha, the most progressive governor in the Southeast. We did what no political party in Nigeria has ever done.
We registered people at INEC’s polling units’ level. At least 100 people registered in each polling unit for us to have the convention that we had. That alone represents at least 12 million members of our party. Today, there are more than 30 million registered members of our party. Let us see the register of the PDP that has always claimed to be the largest party in Africa. We are everywhere in Nigeria today. There is nowhere PDP can terrorize APC. Before, they could terrorize ACN where it had no hold. They could terrorize CPC where CPC had no hold. They could terrorize ANPP where it had no hold. And, of course, APGA too where APGA had no hold. But now with APC, we are now one huge big and indestructible family. They wanted APC as a slogan, they failed. They said APC cannot do polling unit registration, we did. They said APC cannot do congresses, we did. They said APC cannot hold convention, we did. In fact, someone said if APC had a successful convention, he would change his surname.
I met him at the airport in Abuja and we greeted and I called him his name and he answered, which means he has not changed his father’s name. People are saying we would not have successful primaries, we are going to have successful primaries and whoever wins, others will campaign for him. Asari Dokubo said whether or not there is an election, whoever is there must remain president. How can such a person speak and he is not arrested? The fact is that we have a democracy. Whoever wins, wins. It is a question of numbers. Change will come because I know that Nigerians want change and heavens will not fall.
Talking in terms of successful primaries, how are you going to achieve that with the giants struggling for the tickets of your party?
That is what I am saying. We are going to pick only of them. The one who wins the primaries is the one we present.
Even at that, how do you think you can go around the power of incumbency?
In Kano in 2003, incumbency was there and the presidency said declare it for PDP. They couldn’t. In Bauchi, they couldn’t. In lots of areas, they couldn’t. Now, I am telling you, it’s going to be eyeball to eyeball. Nobody is going to be as arbitrary as they have been where weaknesses have been visible. It is up to our security agencies to ensure a level playing field. INEC should ensure a level playing field. Where we have had in the past, the security agencies as a department in PDP, Nigeria will no longer accept that. Everybody will vote and ensure the votes are counted. Anybody who thinks he can bring out votes outside of what happens in the polling booths should think twice because nobody will allow it to happen.
What happens if the government in power decides to deploy security agencies to intimidate voters?
Security agencies are Nigerians and they are more for the change than you think. How many security agencies have we? Don’t think of Ekiti or Osun states where they sent 73,000 security personnel. We are talking of 37 states now including Abuja.
Does it not worry you that your party lost some ground especially with respect to Ekiti State?
We are still trying to find out what happened in Ekiti State. It is not over yet. They wanted to ensure they get Osun too but fortunately for us, Ekiti happened before Osun. They arrested about 700 of our party leaders in Osun but we had a back-up for them. So, they couldn’t break the backbone of Osun people.
But Osun election is still in contention. Isn’t it?
What is in contention? They went to tribunal and they have a right to go to tribunal. Ekiti too is still in contention by your definition because we went to tribunal in Ekiti too.
You’ve been watching the drama in the National Assembly with the defection of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the withdrawal of his security details by the Inspector-General of Police… Although the Inspector-General of Police bears the responsibility, but you cannot punish him for obeying the order from above. Was Tambuwal the Speaker of PDP? He is the Speaker of the House and a PDP elected member from Sokoto State. That is where the story ends. The House picks its own Speaker. PDP had a candidate but the House picked Tambuwal as Speaker. Now, they have withdrawn his security aides because he is the Speaker. Ondo State too has a Speaker who was elected on the platform of the Labour Party and went to PDP but they have not withdrawn his security aides. Can you see how PDP is trying to undermine the law of the land without shame? Only the court can interpret. The IGP is quoting constitution. Can you see the level to which we have really sunk?
That still boils down to the politicization of the national institutions in the country….
That is what I am saying. You don’t politicize the law. You swore to protect the constitution. When you obey the law in the breach than observance, then your head should be examined because where there is a breakdown of law and order, all of us will be swallowed. When people start marching, who will stop them? I was the minister of information in this country when there was May riot. The police had to remove their uniforms. I went to somewhere in Iju, I had to abandon my official car there and took one rickety car to Surulere and later to Ikoyi. There was nowhere to pass. No official vehicle could pass. People should not play God in this country. When there’s explosion, nobody will be at peace.
When I was the editor of Daily Times and we wrote the Ali Must Go editorial, in a spontaneous reaction, there was rioting. Ikorodu Road was impassable. One of my sub-editors was going to Ajegunle that night in a cab and a man who was among the people who put dynamite on the immigration building said Ali Must Go. He asked what has this Ali done that you said he must go?
The gentleman who helped to blow down the building said ‘Imagine with all the money he has been making, why should he still stay there? He thought they were talking about Muhammed Ali, the former world heavyweight boxing champion. That is what I am talking about. When things explode in our faces, people join in the destruction. They won’t even know what they are doing.
So, let nobody think they are safe. I had to abandon my car and trekked because only those who trekked were safe. Anybody in a car was beaten up. Since I was trekking and I saw what was happening, I myself carried a stick and started harassing people until I got home. When there is unrest, nowhere is safe. People will march to Aso Rock in their thousands. People who are shooting will join them. Nobody should risk a breakdown of law and order in Nigeria. And the only way we can prevent it is to look at the laws and apply them appropriately. The IG has no right to interpret the law.
The PDP has always accused your party of being too critical of the present administration. Is that not part of APC’s desperation to take over power?
What is the opposition supposed to do? Have we not mapped out how things should be done in education, in health and security? There is discipline in APC states. We tell them what government should do and they obey. Should we encourage government to encourage corruption? Should we encourage government to encourage fraud? Should we encourage government to encourage indiscipline? If we see what is wrong and we are not critical, are we a serious opposition?
We are going to take over power through due process. They bandy figures front, left and centre and there is nothing to show for it. They tell us there is 20 hours of light in Lagos and Abuja. In Abuja where I stay, we don’t have up to four hours of light. As you are interviewing me now, my generator is on. NEPA is standby and they increase bills arbitrarily. What type of country are we running? You lie and lie and lie because you have money to spend on television. You show trains that are derived from the internet as the ones we are using. There are about four or five graduates in my house with no jobs. If you say you employ people, is it because I am a member of the opposition that those in my house can’t get jobs?
What is APC bringing to the table as an opposition party that is waiting to take over power?
Government is there because of welfare and security of the people. There is no security. This country must be secured. I saw it in the papers that 300 of our soldiers ran into Cameroun. What type of country is this? It has never happened. What have we made of our army? There is more to it and the government is to blame.
But this insurgency has been there before the present administration….
It’s true it started in 2002. The late President Umar Yar’Adua tackled them in 2009. Since they resurfaced, what have we done? When Chibok girls were taken, for two weeks, they refused to admit that the girls were kidnapped. They said it was political. They read politics into everything even when the country is in danger. Is that the fault of the opposition? Discipline will come when change comes.
February. Is it not February we are having election?
What’s the basis of your optimism?
The merger. Unfortunately, PDP is not ready to accept the reality of what is happening. Instead of PDP to re-strategize and see what it can do for Nigeria, they want to stop APC. They can’t stop us because APC is not just a party, it is a movement. You can’t stop a movement. They have been there for 15 years. What have they done?
Nothing. The only toga PDP has to wear is that of fraud, indiscipline and corruption. There is no welfare and security. Nigeria has not been this insecure since the civil war. No safe place in the country and we say we have a government. Even the president’s relative was kidnapped.
(Published by Sunday Sun, 23 Nov 2014.)