A former Minister of Information and a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Prince Tony Momoh, in this interview, speaks on 60 years of Nigeria’s independence and calls for restructuring, among other issues. FELIX NWANERI reports
Nigeria will be 60 years on October 1, how far do you think she has come as a nation?
We have made progress and retrogressed at the same time. This is because when you move from one point to the other, there are challenges on the way. The way you attend to the challenges is what you see as either progress or retrogression. Experiences that human beings encounter in their living are what make them grow. We have had lots of challenges.
Imagine that we started at the same time with South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, India and Brazil; we were all at the same level. We had industries and assembly plants like Mercedes Benz, Peugeot, and Volkswagen like all these countries I mentioned. Brazil now produces those luxurious buses and vehicles whereas Nigeria’s own packed up. We were exporting a lot of things including petroleum products, now we import everything.
Until recently, we were even spending most of our money on buying the food that we eat, instead of growing the food that we eat and eating the food that we grow. We have had lots of challenges as a nation. Prof. Wole Soyinka referred to those periods as wasted generation and I think he was correct in saying so. Also, when you consider the amount of resources that came our way and what we were able to achieve, it is also fitting to describe them as a wasteful generation. Since 1999, we have been practicing democracy in Nigeria. Democracy is a way you chose to grow the polity and it has to do with freedom.
In our traditional society, freedom is earned; not donated. Even in developed countries, freedom is given as a function of growth. In other words, democracy, which is freedom, is the luxury of development. When you are developed, you enjoy. That is so in our societies. In Igbo land, it is what you do that makes you to have a red cap; it is what you do that makes you have a feather on that red cap. It is also what you do that makes you an eze or igwe. In other words, you work to be entitled to what you do. In Nigeria, we have two chapters of the constitution. Chapter 4, which documents our rights as citizens and Chapter 2 anchors our duties. But here, we ignore chapter 2 and pursue chapter 4. Everybody is talking of rights but running away from their duties. So, in walking the highway from independence till now, we have really degenerated and retrogressed but we cannot say we have also not progressed as a nation.
What do you think will be the reaction of the founding fathers, who fought for Nigeria’s independence if they have the opportunity of witnessing the country’s situation today?
The fact is that they came, worked during their time and left. Some of their children came, worked and left. Their grandchildren are still here, working. Everybody manifests in the environment he or she finds himself, grows in that environment, contributes what he or she can to that environment and leaves. People come and go and every person coming has an opportunity to improve on the situation he meets. I never agreed that the older ones are more matured than the younger ones.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo few days ago said Nigeria has been more divided under President Muhammadu Buhari’s government. Do you agree with him?
We have been experiencing it since independence. Everybody has been coming with problems and trying to resolve them. What Buhari met in 2015 was the accumulation of the problems we have had since independence. Everything simply collapsed. We were earning more than $140 per barrels and yet, there was nothing to show for it.
All the roads, railways and airlines collapsed. Money budgeted for arms for our military were routinely shared. But right now, all these are being handled by someone who is more disciplined than any other average leader in Nigeria. Buhari came into politics because he wanted to help lead Nigeria.
This leadership trait showed from the time he was born; through secondary school, military school and all type of services up till now. He is one of the most disciplined leaders Nigeria has ever had. The only people you can compare with him are those in the First Republic such as Sir AmaduChief, Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Abubakar Tafawa- Balewa. Obasanjo should be commended for being interested in Nigeria’s affairs. He is one of the most hardworking presidents Nigeria has ever had but he also has his lapses one of which was the fact that he is so straight-jacketed; believing that he was Nigeria and Nigeria was him. In 1999, he undid all what he gave to Nigeria in 1979. In 1979, he ensured that all of us use Peugeot as official cars. In 1999 when he became President, he brought Jeep and even sold Peugeot to a car dealer.
All these are irresponsible show of leadership. All the extravagant living lives, he introduced them after 1999. Yet, in 1979, he gave us a strict code of behaviour which nobody changed. Obasanjo did not want to come back as president. All he was praying for was to be freed from prison. However, as luck would have it, he came back because of the denial to MKO Abiola. I expected such a person to be grateful and restore Abiola’s credit but he never did throughout his eight years in office. It was Buhari who restored June 12 as Democracy Day. That is not my idea of discipline and gratitude. During Obasanjo’s tenure, he made six people out of 25 lawmakers to impeach governors.
He used forced to remove state governors. He seized the federal allocation to Lagos for years which he has no constitutional rights to do. ENRON wanted to generate power in Lagos, but Obasanjo refused. But Buhari has done so much trying to restore order to the chaos created by former leaders, including Obasanjo. Anybody who doesn’t want to do what Obasanjo wants, he will work against such a person. He tried to control IBB, he tried to control Umaru Yar’Adua; he tried to control Goodluck Jonathan and even tried to control Buhari. When they say no, he moves against them. That is selfish manifestation of greed. But as a hard worker, I give it to Obasanjo.
Don’t you think there is an element of truth in what Obasanjo said, considering the fact that his views were re-echoed by Prof. Wole Soyinka?
I’m not saying there is no problem in this country; there is insecurity, economic challenges, unemployment and so on. But what I’m saying is that without the discipline that has been brought in by Buhari, it could have been worse. There is hunger in the land and we ought to have gone into recession already. Buhari is struggling, so that we don’t go into recession. Britain is currently in recession; Canada is in recession. Most countries today are struggling not to go into recession. A lot of people are hungry and angry today. Anybody who denies that there is hunger in Nigeria must be living in a closed house. But the question we should ask ourselves is: What is government doing? Nobody can say the government is not trying its best. We are managing the COVID-19 pandemic well, we are also managing the economy and security well.
On the issue of insecurity in the country, there are calls by some Nigerians for the President to sack the service chiefs. What is your take on that?
I don’t believe in all those saying that the service chiefs should go. The President is the one who appointed them, he is also the one who will remove them when he deems it fit. If they go today, what improvement are we going to have in the fight against insurgency if we don’t have enough funds to buy arms? Some countries are assisting ISIS and other terrorist agents in destabilising the polity and they are fighting all over the place. The world knows the potential of Nigeria and it is clear that not all of them are in love with us, so they want Nigeria to disintegrate.
Do you think restructuring will address some of these challenges?
Nigeria will not work unless we restructure. We must decongest the political space. By so doing, economic deregulation becomes automatic. That is what I have always said
Having failed to implement the report of the 2014 national conference, why is the APC not doing anything on the report of the Governor Nasir el-Rufai Committee on True Federalism?
When you have a lot of preoccupied challenges, how do you restructure? When there is no peace, how do you restructure? That is the issue. This insurgency, economic challenges and other issues are preoccupied issues that the government is trying to address first. Another thing is that you cannot restructure on the volume that will help Nigeria if you do not have the support of the National Assembly. Also, state governors take almost N600 million a month yet they cannot pay civil servants N30,000 minimum wage. Why will you blame senators for taking only N13 million? There is so much avoidable distractions in the polity.