Former Information Minister Tony Momoh
…Says money spent on elected officers enough to develop Nigeria
…Speaks on Buhari, OBJ, Jonathan
By Omeiza Ajayi
Prince Tony Momoh, a Journalist and Lawyer, was Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture (1986-1990). In January 2011, he became the National Chairman of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change CPC, one of the “legacy parties” which merged to form the now ruling All Progressives Congress APC.
In this interview, he said his party has done well and that if it organizes itself well, it would retain power in 2023. He also threw his weight behind restructuring and Unicameral Legislature. Excerpts:
So far, your party, the APC, has been in power since 2015. Would you say the party has been able to live up to expectations?
Yes. The party assumed power in 2015, promising three main things on which to hinge its operations viz: ensuring security, fighting corruption and reworking the economy.
As of the time they came, everybody believed that we had a boom in the economy where oil sold for $100 per barrel but immediately we came in, you saw what happened. We were welcomed by a recession in which the price of crude went below $50. Anybody who is in government knows that governance is based on a budget and the budget is composed of two things; what you spend on running the government and what you spend on developing facilities. In other words, unless you have the money, which is built up through taxation and other resources, you cannot achieve what you set out to achieve.
So, we came in crippled by a failing economy and so, if you want to look at what has happened in the last six years, if you look at the cost of governance and try and look at the 1999 Constitution through budgeting where we have full-time lawmakers, full-time everything unlike the First Republic when we had only part-time lawmakers; So, you discover that as of 2002 when I wrote “To save Nigeria, Let’s Talk”, we were spending more than 80% of our resources on recurrent, and you spend more than 20 to 25 per cent of your resources on recurrent because you are supposed to spend a large number of your resources on development (capital) and not on running the government (recurrent).
I have come out to define democracy which we chose as our path, as the luxury of development. Democracy has to do with freedom. Democracy has nothing to do with boreholes, hospitals, education etc. It is about freedom. How free are you? How much freedom is there in the polity and how much of it can you attain?
That is Chapter 4 of the Constitution, that is the Fundamental Rights. But since 2019, you would see that we have been pursuing the Fundamental Rights of Chapter 4 rather than the fundamental duties of Chapter 2 which is the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principle of State Policy. It is very clear that before you attain office, you must swear to abide by the provisions of Chapter 2.
It may be social, economic, environmental, educational, foreign policy and so on. And anybody who wants to attain office in Nigeria would form a group and apply to be registered as a political party. So, we came frontally to the facts on the ground, a whole economy that would run on borrowed money than on any statistics to grow the economy. Now we spend more on recurrent -two-time Councillors, two time Assembly members, two-time senators etc.
Everybody is earning full time and then everybody is also using the opportunity they have the full time to acquire things for themselves full time. There is a collusive constitutional arrangement to deny the hoi polloi what they are entitled to, which is their welfare and security. These were the challenges that confronted us when we came and we promised to address the economy, to address corruption and to address security.
With the facilities on the ground and then the problem we have with COVID-19 and all that, how much have we done? An unbiased analyst would say that Buhari has tried with the minimum resources. Look at all the levels. You are a monitor of governance and looking at then and now, you will not say that we have not passed. I said that in two years if we did not perform, stone me and a lot of people have been saying, “ah, Tony Momoh should be stoned”. I did not say go and carry a stone and come and hit me on the head. There is a constitutional provision for stoning me or any other person and that is through the votes. So, if we have not done well, work hard to vote us out. That is the stoning you are entitled to.
Are you now recommending a Unicameral Legislature?
Yes. For instance, there is nothing we can do from my analysis that is not going to be defeated by Restructuring. You must decongest the political space. When you decongest the political space, economic deregulation will be automatic. The constitution shares powers among all the organs of government- the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary.
The Legislature makes laws in two areas, that is, the Exclusive List and the Concurrent List at the national level and at the state level. So, the National Assembly makes laws in the Exclusive List while the National and State Assemblies make laws in the Concurrent. The fact is that if there is any law at the national and state levels, the law at the national level is paramount. For anything not listed, the state assembly can make laws but there is hardly any area that is not listed. So, the federal government makes laws in areas including Agriculture, Roads, Water, Health and everything.
This is unacceptable. Look at the 1999 Constitution which the then President Obasanjo latched onto when Lagos wanted to bring its own electricity and the federal government said no because it was in the Exclusive federal list. There are a lot of other areas where the federal government will say are exclusive to her.
But you would see now that in a bid to ensure effective governance, the federal government has been very cool and not too strict in implementing the Exclusive List in the Constitution. People can now generate electricity, people can do a lot of things that are there in the Exclusive List. Although Police is supposed to be central, even now people (states) are attempting to have their own secure network.
So, we must decongest the political space by reducing the powers at the centre which are 93. The federal government oversees 93 areas of laws that have been made by the National Assembly. We have to reduce them to less than 24. That is how Federations work. A federation is not a centralised government.
We are running a centralised government in the name of a Federation in Nigeria. Where you have regional governments as we had in the First Republic which had powers and part-time legislature, now everything is a full time, it cannot work. We must look back, have one lawmaking arm at the Centre because that is what we need now and lawmakers will be part-time. Then perhaps, in the regions or so, we have a Parliamentary system because in the states, for now, only the governor is elected, the deputy governor is a spare tyre. The governor has all the money coming to the state, he pockets it and decides what to do with it. But if we have a Parliamentary system in the states, for instance, the majority would form a government and execute the programmes of the zones.
So, we have six federating units that the powers at the Centre would go to and then the regions can make arrangements for security like Amotekun. If you have Amotekun in six zones, within six months there won’t be kidnapping, there won’t be banditry. What we have now is that our federal government is struggling with activities it cannot supervise or even effectively monitor. Until we have the will power to decongest the political space, I do not think Nigeria can work. I do not think so. The lapses we see now in fighting corruption, fighting insecurity and reworking the economy are all traceable to the constitutional provisions of budgeting and putting structures that are ill-advised.
In using the zones as federating units, what then happens to the states? Won’t there be a backlash?
Yes, let us have zones as federating units. The states are within the zones. There were three regions before. It was the splitting up that made them 36. Even the 2014 arrangement of Jonathan, suggested 54 states. If you create one more state now, you will have many more things coming. We had, for instance, Bendel state with 18 permanent secretaries but they split Bendel state into Delta and Edo. Now, Edo state which used to have eight permanent secretaries now has 30. Creating more states and more federating units only opens up opportunities for sharing and then deny the opportunity of growing the economy.
Would you recommend a single term of six years for the legislature?
There was no tenure before, but later when we had the presidential system, they said two terms for elected officials at the executive level. If we believe that that is what we need, we can go for it and change the constitution. The thing is that we see tenures as opportunities to take, but the fact is when you decongest the political space, you will discover that many people will be going after others to come and work.
OBJ threw Confab report away because of 3rd term
For instance, at the local government level, people would beg retirees to come and work, not now that people with school certificates are in charge. If you say, for instance, come and take an allowance of N10, 000 per week, it is those who have retired that you would beg to come and sit down. But now, the returns of political office are such that they would do anything to access those vanities. RMAFC budgets about N13 million for the Senate President per year but the fact is that Sen. Shehu Sani told us that they take N13 million every month to go and spend and make returns.
They have not opened their books for us to know how much they spend. There is so much spent on the remuneration of elected officers that if we were to channel the money to development, Nigeria would have been more developed than what it is today. So, the part-time legislature is inevitable but the thing is, where is the willpower, the political will to do so? And that is what is obstructing restructuring. No two zones in Nigeria have the same definition of Restructuring. Obasanjo was there for eight years and he was fighting for a third term. But because the third term didn’t come, he threw away all recommendations of the 2005 National Political Reform Conference. In 2014, Jonathan packaged it as a diversion and when they got their report, they didn’t take it to the National Assembly. They left it there. There are a lot of suggestions in both reports but the fact is that those who set them up had some other reasons to do so than improving the quality of life.
But your party also set up the Nasir el-Rufai Committee on True Federalism which report has not been transmitted to the National Assembly…
The fact is that the recommendations are there. Anybody can pick them and set the ball rolling through the National Assembly because you must go through the lawmakers. The committee really addressed the issues down to the grassroots. They are public property. Anybody can pounce on them and initiate actions.
You have scored your party so high. Do you see the APC retaining power in 2023?
Yes, with good organization. We have several political parties and each of them can attempt power through due process. Pick your candidates, follow through with campaigns across the country and whoever has the required spread and highest votes during the election becomes the president. It could be any party, including my own.
With what we read and see in the media, complaints from people, the #EndSARS issue, are you not worried that the APC would lose much of its electoral appeal during the next general elections?
It is not only APC. Every seat that is supposed to be elective is open for contests. How many people will be returned unopposed? It will be a public contest and people will vote in accordance with INEC guidelines and the majority will form the government. And I do not claim that APC must be the one that must be there. If APC is organised enough as I think it will, then it will have a chance. If it is not organised enough, it will lose. I have no sentiments about that.
Some people, including APC chieftains, have expressed fears that the party would disintegrate by the time President Buhari leaves office. Do you share the same concerns?
I am very close to Buhari. I have been with him since 2003 and I was in The Buhari Organization TBO which had a document called, “Project Nigeria”. It spelt out what Nigeria needed to be governed properly from the grassroots to the national level. Those who packaged it gave it to Buhari and some other leaders. When they gave it to Buhari in the North, he accepted and requested for some time to look at it and make amendments.
Buhari only Nigerian determined to be president
He came and registered in his own Ward to join the ANPP to prosecute this Project Nigeria. I came in 2003 as Media Director and we have been prosecuting it and that handbook is what he has today. He knows Nigeria at all levels. He has lived everywhere in Nigeria. He has occupied positions in all areas and he knows the South, the North, the East and the West. He was instrumental to the laying of pipelines and then the three refineries. He fought in the war and was the only soldier in the Nigerian Army who commanded three of the four divisions of the Nigerian Army. He lived in Enugu, he lived in Port Harcourt. He lived in Owerri, Onitsha, Lagos, Abeokuta, Makurdi, Jos, Maiduguri, Kaduna, Kano and Sokoto.
There is nowhere he has not lived in Nigeria and knows Nigeria inside and out. He was detained in Benin for two and a half years. So, he knows Nigeria more than the other average Nigerians. And he is the only one who came into politics with a decision to be president. Tafawa Balewa wanted to be a broadcaster but he became the Prime Minister. Shehu Shagari wanted to be a Senator and he became president. Obasanjo was in prison praying to leave prison in one piece and he came out and became president. Yar’Adua was governor and he wanted to go and lecture whenever he left Government House but he became president. Jonathan was in Bayelsa enjoying himself as governor, they went and brought him to Abuja.
He became vice president and later president. This is the only man, Buhari, who came into politics and said ‘I want to be President’. He tried in 2003, 2007, 2011 and finally 2015 and became president. Why do you think that such a person will come empty-headed? He has a contract with Nigeria. This man has never attended meetings of the so-called northern elders and the Kaduna mafia. He is Nigerian and he knows what he is doing and has done his best and those who are fair would say that all areas of promises he made that he has executed them. People believe that he ought to be terrorizing people, but he doesn’t terrorise anybody.
So, I said I have been with him since 2003 and why I am saying this is that when we formed the CPC, I became National Chairman in January 2011. He was the Chairman of the Board of Trustees BoT and the presidential candidate. After the election, people were going to him to make complaints and he said: “look, I am a presidential candidate and now a party man. Go to Tony Momoh, the Chairman of the party for whatever you want. Don’t come to me”. I am telling you this because when Buhari leaves in 2023 as president, he is going to be a loyal party man in Daura or Kaduna and will contribute to the growth of the party that he joined and which gave him that opportunity to lead the country. Also, he is the national leader of the party, a founding member of the party. He owned CPC. Tinubu owned ACN. Ogbonnaya Onu, ANPP and Okorocha who came in with a faction of APGA. So, what we have as the” Legacy Chairmen” are Bisi Akande of ACN, Tony Momoh of CPC and Ogbonnaya Onu of ANPP. We, as founding members of APC, are there to ensure that APC does not go the way of PDP where the party members were denied, dislocated and then dismantled.
What is your position on the zoning of a presidential ticket?
The type of government you run determines the type of arrangement you make. In a Parliamentary system, your contest at the constituency level of Parliament. Tafawa Balewa contested in Balewa and the party with the majority, NPC, formed the government. In a presidential system, it is wider. In a gubernatorial election, the whole state is your constituency but you must have a deputy from a different Senatorial District. In a presidential election, you cannot have a running mate from your own part of the country. It is between the North and South. So, in a presidential system, zoning is inevitable.
In the segmented loyalty theory as propounded, where your interest lies is where your support lies. If I am from the South and it is between the South and the North, I will support the South. If I am from Edo and it is between Edo and Delta, I will support Edo and so on. So, because it is only one constituency, the zoning must be between the North and South. Several other interests have also come up with regards to religion and even age considerations. Zoning is inevitable in a presidential system. You cannot have two candidates from the same area in a presidential system. The parliamentary system does not allow for zoning, unlike our current Presidential system.
As a founding member of the APC, was there any time that the party agreed on zoning whether formally or verbally?
Zoning is not in the constitution. Zoning or any other power-sharing mechanism is an internal arrangement of the party. We had an interim administration headed by Bisi Akande and then we went to the National Convention that picked John Odigie-Oyegun as the first Chairman. Later, Oshiomhole came and now we have a problem in our hands and we came up with an interim body that will later organise a national convention to pick officers. There is nowhere in the constitution where they talked about zoning. In our first outing, we zoned the presidency to the North but some people in the South contested. Even in PDP when Obasanjo was picked, people like Abubakar Rimi and others contested. Zoning is an internal arrangement of the party and what we discussed or did not discuss is not for public knowledge but I know what we discussed and I know that zoning is inevitable in a presidential system.
Are you satisfied with the Gov. Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker Committee of the party?
The fact is that we populated the organs of the party at the interim level with about 12 million registered party members. Now, we are about 16 -17 million, the biggest party in Africa. And where you have two or more parties, you have vested interests. You cannot have people singing only one song. Everybody is in a political party or any arrangement because of what he can get and so you are bound to have divergent views. All these things are there and manifesting everywhere and the Buni committee is attending to them to the best of its ability.
Recently, Sen. Rochas Okorocha said there are bad people in both the APC and the PDP and that the good ones in both parties should come together to liberate the country in 2023. Do you agree with him?
I don’t comment on opinions. That is his opinion. That is his conviction and he has a right to it. I can even say he is correct because there is no concentration of good people in one group and concentration of bad people in another group. The earth is a combination of the good, the bad and the ugly. All of them live together. Outside here (earth), you have homogeneity but not on earth. So, people gravitate towards one another to resolve or pursue their vested interests either in war or in peace. The choice is always theirs and the consequences theirs. Okorocha was one who came into the merger from APGA and did very well as was our own governor in Imo and he contested to be the presidential candidate of APC and even promised to contest again. So, it is only fair for him to move around and meet with like-minds to be able to have a forum if he is still interested and he is a very solid figure for any office in Nigeria.
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