‘Development may remain elusive unless we make politics a service, not business’
During his first three attempts at presidency, one man who stood like the Rock of Gibraltar with President Muhammadu Buhari was Prince Tony Momoh. The former Minister of Information and Culture under Gen. Ibrahim Babangida who dethroned Buhari as Nigeria’s Head of State in August 1985, is perhaps today the closest ally of the President. But the relationship was built on the maxim that ‘one good turn deserves another’. As he clocks 80 today, Momoh, in this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO, reflects on Nigeria’s political system declaring that, rather than the current presidential system, the country is better run with the parliamentary system, otherwise development will remain elusive. He also speaks on Buhari’s ‘Next Level’ campaign promise to Nigerians during this year’s presidential election, saying the promise means that things will be tough as there will be no sacred cows.
At 80, one of the things that surprise some Nigerians about your political life is your attachment to President Muhammadu Buhari. You have been in the same political camp with him since 2003 and continued to defend his policies when almost everybody else is condemning him. Why has it been so?
I operate from the position of the moon not the position of the crescent, because when you look at the movement of the moon in the sky from a crescent until the full moon, you seem to lose sensing that it is a movement. In other words, that the moon is always full; it is only the movement that makes you see phases of the moon. Since the 80’s, I have been speaking about the future, not just the future of Nigeria but also the mission of Nigeria. I was writing ‘Letters to my Countrymen’ during the Babangida administration, where I was saying that Nigeria does not just have a future; it has a mission.
In 1999, Sam Amuka of Vanguard Newspapers asked me to write something in the Vanguard and I discovered that an area of neglect was the monitoring of governance, which the media has the constitutional responsibility to do. So, I started writing a column, ‘Point of Order’. I did it for 12 years and if you look at the three volumes I published from November 1999 to January 2011, you will see a thread running through, looking at what those who perform legislative, executive and judicial roles have done since 1999. There is a thread running through and there is nobody who has not been held accountable and responsible to the Nigerian people using the constitution as the regulating document.
So, if I have been this pre-occupied with not only the future of Nigeria but also the mission of Nigeria since the 80s, then you will not think that I’m doing the unusual by coming to identify with someone who is part of the programme of a mission to lay the foundation for what Nigeria will become in the next few years, and there is nothing anybody can do about it. So, my attachment to Buhari has to do with the mission. He is supposed to be part of laying the foundation for a Nigeria that must make a statement to the world in the next few years and I repeat that there is nothing anybody can do about it.
So, when people think I have an attachment to Buhari, yes I have been with him since 2003. Some people even said I was following a stupid man who would never win election. It’s now they know that I was the one right because I was seeing beyond just the horizon and it’s not an emotional following. It is a cosmic following. He is more prepared to rule Nigeria than any other person.
Since the 60s, he has lived virtually everywhere in Nigeria in the course of his national assignments. He has performed in all his roles and he has never been found wanting in any role he performed. He has been very disciplined. This is the type of people who will grow the world in the next few years and the foundation is being laid and there is nothing anybody can do about it.
The same way you are defending Buhari today was the same way you defended Gen. Ibrahim Babangida when you served as Minister of Information and Culture under him and dominant verdict is that he didn’t end well. Don’t you think you have embarked on a similar voyage with Buhari?
No! You people miss the point. When you stand on a particular position when you are analysing issues, you just discover that you try to defend that particular situation. IBB had his own lapses and I spoke bluntly about those lapses. The most authoritative work on IBB regime was Experiment With Disintegration. I wrote it between June and October 1993, where I said that the annulment of the June 12 election would be the thing that would destroy whatever IBB did. And I wrote to him to de-annul the election if he did not want to be messed up by the future. He is messed up by the future now because of that annulment, not because he did not spring revolution into Nigeria.
Look at all the people who have made it now in Nigeria — the new generation banks, the Dangotes and so on. Who brought the economic policies that made these things happen? He brought them. I was the one who ran around promoting the then National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) as Minister of Information. Those were two revolutionary parties. Unfortunately, we messed them up. Now we have 100 parties and we are talking about fewer parties. IBB did a great deal. Who built Abuja? IBB built Abuja. Who populated Abuja? Sani Abacha populated Abuja. Who took the decision to come to Abuja? Murtala Mohammed took the decision. You must give credit to whoever credit is due. So, if people just start criticising the military or any other group of people for the sake of criticism, then I don’t deny them the right to freedom of expression.
I didn’t like Buhari initially; I criticised him. He promulgated Decree 4 as military Head-of-State and I said we must disobey Decree 4 that time, that if for speaking the truth they want to send me to jail, I could go to jail. When they said that he said they shouldn’t vote for Christians, I criticised him until I discovered that Matthew Kukah said it. It wasn’t true; he didn’t say so.
I was Alex Ekwueme’s media director in 1999 but in 2003, because of what Tony Anenih was doing, trying to undermine those who worked for Ekwueme in the same party, I left. And my community said Buhari has joined politics, go and join him because of what he did for us when he was in the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF). He promised to do erosion control for the community, provide water and construct 23 roads for the community. He had never known anybody from my area. They said that if he could promise to do those things for us when he didn’t know anybody from my area, if he now knows someone from my area, he would do something for us if he wins. That was why I joined him since 2003.
I am one of the ‘tallest’ standing with him because lots of others have left. Some people believed that he could make it but I told him point blank that, ‘if you hold anybody’s hands up in the North, he wins election but until someone holds your hands up in the South you can’t win. And the only way we could do so was not through alliances but through merger. So, we must dissolve our party.’ So, I worked for the dissolution of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC); Bisi Akande worked for the dissolution of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN); and Ogbonnaya Onu worked for the dissolution of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). After dissolving them, we championed the signing and the merger of the three political parties into the APC. That’s why they refer to us as national leaders, because once you dissolve you cannot say you want to go and bring back those parties. They are gone and gone for good. The last set of people to walk out of APC are Buhari, Bola Tinubu, Akande, Onu and myself because there is no other place to walk to. None!
So, we brought those parties together. Anybody who really wants to fight like the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) wanted to do the other day…I said dissolve PDP and all other parties and form one party, then you will be more potent. But if you say you will retain your names, then at the appropriate time you will just discover that it will collapse.
What I’m therefore saying is that my eyes are open materially, intellectually and spiritually to know what is happening in God’s creation; and I don’t take any step blindly. So, those who think that I am following anybody blindly or ever followed anybody blindly should really think twice and look at the steps I have taken. I have no human hero.
You spoke about Babangida’s two-party prescription for Nigeria during his era and how you mobilised the citizenry then. Do you still hold the view that two-party system will serve Nigeria’s democracy better?
First of all, let me make a statement about democracy. Democracy is the luxury of development. There must be development before democracy. But Nigeria is the only country I know all over the world where there is democracy before development. And so, there will never be development.
Having said that, anything we propose has to be in position to be a growing weapon for the polity. In other words, look at what you want to grow in the polity and take that quantum of freedom you need in growing it.
So, the party is in promotion of democracy and democracy should be the luxury of development. And we are not pursuing development the more parties we have. The more parties we have the less we are ready to pursue development because you cannot spend so much money on democracy — full-time councilor, full-time House of Assembly, full-time governor, full-time National Assembly — and expect to grow. This is a country where senators take N13 million per month and you can’t afford to pay N30,000 a month to workers. So, the fewer the parties are, the better. The way to do that is to make politics a service not a business.
So, as far as I am concerned, we should restructure Nigeria and ensure that we go for what we are ripe for, the parliamentary system. That is what we are ripe for not presidential system. And if it has to be presidential system, then law making should be part-time.
From your account of how you left PDP in 2003, is it apt to say that Anenih drove you out of the party?
No, no, no! Nobody can drive me out of any place. It’s what I believe in that I do. I was a foundation member of PDP. I conducted the primaries in Kano that brought in Kwankwaso and Ganduje in 1999. When I left PDP and my community donated me to Buhari, I didn’t join ANPP; I joined The Buhari Organisation (TBO). Lots of people were in TBO because they believed he could provide the leadership Nigeria needed. They were not necessarily party men. When I was in PDP, I was the media director of Alex Ekwueme Campaign in 1998 in Jos. You know that the election was rigged otherwise Ekwueme would have won. In 2003, I was again the media director of Ekwueme’s campaign in Abuja. Unfortunately, they were trying to frustrate those who were anti-Obasanjo and I had to leave; but not because of that alone.
If you look at the nitty-gritty of all those happenings, Ekwueme was totally undermined in the South East. Those who were car washers became the kingpins in South East politics and it was not fair. At the end of the day, even people who were pro-Ekwueme that were appointed as ministers were ignominiously removed. Ekwueme was just being disgraced right, left and centre. So, I thought I had had enough and left. Besides, there was no forum to discuss ideas. That is the main reason I left.
As I said earlier, when I left, my community said I should go to ANPP and work with Buhari, because he remembered us without knowing us when he was in PTF. That was why I went to him. I didn’t like him. He wasn’t my type of man. But when I got close to him, I had to study the man I was asked to work with. And I discovered that he was more of a principled man than a rigid man. His type of person is, look at the rules you have set and follow the rules. I discovered that right from his time in school, he has been principled. He believes in his own religion and respects other people’s religion.
So, while I was writing my columns, I began to see more sense in the orderliness that was coming to the world, not just Nigeria. There is an orderliness coming to the world, which is more cosmic than just material. My studies are in this area of seeing the moon rather than the crescent. And so, I have seen that he is an agent of change. You may not know it but he is one; and these agents are coming all over the world to change things; and all those who want to promote competition rather than cooperation are not men of the future. The future is going to be driven by cooperation because cooperation is more cosmic. You can say that cooperation is the law of giving, not the law of taking. For Christians, cooperation is in the law of Jesus Christ; it’s the giving that Jesus does including his own life. So, those who want to take have a short span of life to live because those who take will meet their end faster. Only those who give will grow. This is a dimension I have given my life to. And the gentleman I’m talking to you about fits it.
Many Nigerians are very skeptical about Buhari’s promise to take Nigeria to the ‘Next Level’ in his second term given his performance in the last four years. As his close ally, what do you think he should do in the coming months to win the confidence of majority of the masses?
You know that things are really very tough and rough. And someone said that when the going gets tough, only the tough gets going. Everybody will have to be tough to get going. Buhari is not going to relax his hold on getting tough. He is not going to give National Honours to those who want to ruin this country. Anybody who owes this country a dime will repay it. Are you not aware that the first battle has been won?
What was the first battle?
The first battle was, those who have nine lives laid down their lives to destroy this man and discovered that you can count up to nine but not beyond nine. How can military men who don’t belong in the same party with you tell you not to contest election? Is that democracy? The answer is no. And many of your colleagues were supporting them. You are members of another party; here is someone who wants to contest election in a particular party and you said he shouldn’t contest because you want oil blocs with no commitment. You want national assets to be given to you. Who do you think you are?
So, this man takes decision even if it affects his family. Is that what you are against? Things are going to be tougher my friend. That is the next level in the area of fighting corruption, rebuilding the economy and curbing insecurity. Are you aware that some top people are responsible for what is happening in Zamfara State? Do these herdsmen who kill people here and there have money to buy AK47 rifles? It’s the owners of the cattle that buy those weapons. So, this man is going to tackle anybody who thinks he has more right to exercise than the average Nigerian. Nigeria belongs to all of us. No sacred cows. That is the next level.