Prince Tony Momoh, a national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC ) and former Minister of Information in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI speaks on restructuring, the 2019 general elections and other crucial issues. Excerpts:
Few weeks to elections, there has been upsurge in the attacks by insurgents on our military. Are you not worried that we may have returned to the pre-2015 era where the elections were postponed by six weeks owing to raging insecurity especially in the North- East?
How can we return to pre-2015 era in terms of insecurity? Before 2015, Boko Haram was controlling more than 20 Local Government Areas with their flags flying in those places and they were also collecting taxes from the residents. According to the information we have now, there is no part of Nigerian soil today where Boko Haram has the audacity to fly a flag or start collecting taxes from citizens of Nigeria. So, we are definitely not in pre-2015 era. But one thing nobody can deny is that it is impossible to predict the flow of unconventional warfare. These insurgents watch your movements and attack when you least expect. Look at ISIS West Africa now. It is not only Nigeria that is suffering the war against insurgency, it is happening in most of Africa and other parts of the world. But that is no reason why there shouldn’t be peace in Nigeria. We should bear responsibility for the state of security in Nigeria. Security is not only the duty of the Federal Government or the military; it is the responsibility of everyone. So, while one accepts that in recent times, there have been unfortunate killings of our soldiers by insurgents, we cannot say because of that, the security situations is unmanageable or compare it to how it was before this government came in.
Some Nigerians are calling for the sack of the Service Chiefs by the President. Are you in support of this?
Those saying so are entitled to their personal opinions. But security matter is not a marketplace issue for discussion. Whoever is in charge of assessing the security situation will know what lapses exist and how to address them. The last option available may be changing the guards but if it is not necessary to do that, then they won’t be changed. Nobody should be rushed into taking decisions that will not be advised by the situation we have on ground.
The 2019 campaign has started. Do you think APC crisis which arose as a result of its primaries especially in Imo and Ogun will affect your party’s chances?
Every issue arising from disagreement has their positive or negative effects. One thing running through is that there is no state that has issues with President Buhari. All issues are internal but starting from the issue of the presidential campaign, there is no area where Buhari is going to lose as a result of the issues which are basically local. That is my assessment of the situation. I still believe that Buhari has done enough to win massively in the 2019 elections.
Do you see Atiku as a threat to President Buhari in 2019?
No! The fact is that Atiku is entitled to contest just like other presidential candidates. All the other presidential candidates believe they will win the election. I have seen people who ordinarily believe they cannot win their wards saying they want to be President. But I think that the critical challenge will be the PDP because it is a national party and it’s been on ground. Also, Atiku is a very experienced politician and he has been around since the 90s. He was Vice- President for 8 years and this is the second time he will be contesting for presidency at the national level, the first time being 2007 under Action Congress (AC). So, he has enough materials to be judged on and of course, I saw his Policy Documentation and I think his plans are good enough. I believe the election will be based on issues, not on individuals or name calling. One thing I was not excited about was when Atiku was presenting his documentation on NTA was when one of the coordinators said that since 2015, Buhari has done nothing. I think that is an area that a lot of people will question because those who are gaining from the school feeding programme from the farmers to the cooks cannot say Buhari has done nothing. If the chairman of the Rice Farmers Association said there were 5 million rice farmers in 2017 but now, they are 13 million which means 8 million additional farmers have been created, is that not a positive development?. So, how can anyone say Buhari has done nothing? The truth is that in the last three and half years, APC has done enough to grow Nigeria, stabilise the economy and diversify our sources of earnings. If all these things are true and somebody now says nothing has been done, then you have weakened your case. So, I believe candidates should base the elections on issues. Don’t be preoccupied with what others failed to do. Just tell us what you want to do and how to improve the situation on ground.
Do you think Buhari still enjoys goodwill with which he came to office in 2015?
There is hunger in the land but if you pray to be fed, the answer to that prayer is food. You either grow it or buy it. Look at what we are growing and how much we have saved fighting importation of food and growing food. We have also saved a lot with the school feeding programme through people in the area growing the food and women in the area cooking the food. All these are areas of meeting the hunger problem.
You admitted that Nigerians are hungry; do you think President Buhari’s economic policies are responsible for this?
No! I told you that the answer to the prayer to be fed is food. Yes, there is hunger in the land but do you know how much we spend in importing rice everyday and how much we save trying to grow the rice? You cannot say because you are hungry and today, you want to plant food today and then harvest it and eat it today. In nature, there is no accident. There is no shortcut in nature. I interviewed Fidel Castro when I was Minister and I also spoke to Jerry Rawlings, those two leaders mobilised their people for productivity. You know the sacrifices their countries had to make and the tough choices they had to make to be able to feed themselves. Then you will know that when there is hunger in the land, you do not go to the church or mosque to pray for food to come without growing it. You need to have money to buy the food or you have to grow the food to eat. Nobody can say that the Buhari administration has not faced agriculture frontally and that the harvest has not been commendable.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan said corruption has worsened under the Buhari administration compared to how it was three years ago. He said this is because EFCC has recovered more money under Buhari’s government than it recovered while he was President. What is your take on this?
Is it not money that you have hidden away that can be recovered? What about those who dug holes in their parlours and put money there? What about the ones they put in soakaways or graves? Is it not through investigations that EFCC can recover these monies? How much money was recovered in the time of Jonathan and how much has been recovered now is not the issue. The issue is, if I come to your office and I want to discuss business, do you tell me this is how much I will pay and I put my hands in my pocket or go and source for the money and pay you? When you talk of corruption now, you see people looking behind to check if EFCC is watching them. The awareness that corruption is evil is a great achievement by the Buhari administration. Nobody is bold enough now to sit down to discuss corruption. How many Nigerian leaders can boldly say ‘ I have integrity and I have never been involved in corrupt practices? They are very few. If the whole body of a nation is rotten, there is no way we can save that nation. But if the head is not rotten, there is hope that the body may be cured. Nobody has associated Buhari with corruption both here and in the international community and that is a very good plus for this country.
The presidency is saying Igbos should support Buhari and get the Presidency in 2019 while others are saying it is the turn of the South- West. What do you think is responsible for this confusion?
I shoot from the hip. Democracy has to do with votes. One thing is certain; in 2023 the presidency will move from the North to the South. So, it can go to the South-West, South-South or South- East but you earn it by providing the votes. If you don’t vote, who is coming to beg you? Nobody is coming to beg you to take freedom. I said it before in the South East, you have APGA, PDP and APC. In the South-West, you have PDP, APC mainly. In the South- South, you have PDP and APC mainly. Since the presidency will go to the South-South, South East and South- West, it is the zone that produce the bulk of the votes that will make the difference that will have it. It is the zone in the South that produce the bulk of the votes in 2019 who should be considered on the basis of what it has contributed. Nobody is being begged, nobody should be begged and nobody is going to be begged to take the presidency in 2023. You are to earn it. I have said it that it is better for the South-East to align with APC now and provide the volume of votes to qualify them for consideration in 2023.