Monday, 14 December 2015

Lawyer, veteran journalist, politician, royal dignitary and former Minister of Information, Prince Tony Momoh was a central player in the political change that eclipsed the dominance of the former ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, having been national chairman of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change, CPC. 
Having related with Buhari at close quarters, he speaks on the evolving changes in the country, expectations from his party stalwart, President Muhammadu Buhari and some other sundry national issues. Excerpts:
What is your idea of democracy in Nigeria? 
The road map in Nigeria is the Constitution and Section 14 of the Constitution says, “Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria.” And from the Constitution, government derives all its power and authority, which means that the Constitution, as I have always said, is a documentation of delegated power.
During military rule, there was no politics. We have chosen democracy as our highway. Therefore, we must obey the rules of democracy.
So, once we say we have chosen democracy, then there must be election because all the people cannot go to parliament and all the people cannot take decisions. Therefore, in our way of doing it, we structured Nigeria into three: the national level, the state level and the local government level which is why we say we have three tiers. In these three tiers, elections must be conducted to the National Assembly where you have the Senate and House of Representatives, to the state assemblies, to all the executive offices including the 36 governors and, of course, the local government chairmen. And section seven of the Constitution is clear that all local government officers must be elected.
But in many states instead of elected local government chairmen we have administrative secretaries or caretaker chairmen who are appointed? 
That is indiscipline. There is no provision for administrative secretaries or caretaker committee chairmen for local government administration. So, you can now see that because we are practising democracy, we have political associations that are registered to canvass for votes. Having been registered to canvass for votes and you will now be called political parties then you must play politics.
Then you must have a manifesto where you make promises, and the Constitution itself in Chapter Two gives you how to package your manifesto. You must state what you want to do for Nigerians since sovereignty lies with them and, therefore, you will have to make the promise of what you will do for them if you are in government as a political party. What will you do for them politically, educationally, economically, culturally, environmentally, and in the area of foreign policy? There is a guideline in the Constitution. As a political association you will say what you want to do, and that is what you package as your own manifesto.
Are you satisfied with the way the new opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP is challenging the new government? 
It is all politics. You don’t expect Olisa Metuh to be singing the praises of APC. That is not the objective of opposition. What Metuh should be doing as PDP publicity secretary is to criticise APC government.
And what APC was doing as the opposition party is precisely what PDP is now doing. Just like what many of your colleagues do as spokespersons for governors.  Let us take Reuben Abati as spokesperson for former President Goodluck Jonathan. Some people were criticising Reuben saying, “Look at what he was writing in Guardian and look at what he is doing now in government.” But Reuben Abati had no obligation to what he was doing in The Guardian when he was with Jonathan. When he was with Jonathan, he was his spokesman, image maker and his duty was to defend Jonathan. He would not be objective if he criticised Jonathan.
Jonathan did not appoint Abati to come and criticise him, just like General Ibrahim Babangida did not appoint me as Minister of Information to criticise his government.
Many of my colleagues raised issues, but I said, “Oh, I am not the spokesman of the NUJ. I am the spokesman for the government of IBB, and I know what I am doing.” I was spokesman for the government, and Duro Onobule was the spokesman for the President. Until we know all these, we will be thinking that some people have sold out.
This question arose from the way the PDP minority leader mocked the presentation of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework causing fear that they could also have derailed the Supplementary Appropriation Bill? 
The fact is that PDP could not have struck out that supplementary bill. Only majority can strike it out. PDP may have tried but at the end of the day there was voting. Although they are in the minority, the PDP had their say but the majority that is APC had their way.
But during the ministerial screening of Amaechi they had their say and still walked out? 
That is the opposition for you. If you walk out, the people sitting will still pass the bill. You can walk out as many times as you like, as long as you form a quorum you pass the bill. There are different definitions of quorum. There is the time the quorum will be one-third of the people present, but the major quorum is one-third of the population of the House. So, if it is 360 in the house, one-third will be 120. As far as the house is up to 120, they have formed a quorum, and they can do business.
Given that Gen. Buhari as head of state appointed you as General Manager of Daily Times what was your experience working under him? 
Many people don’t know General Muhammadu Buhari. At the time Tunde Idiagbon was the second-in-command and because of the free hand Buhari gave Idiagbon, people thought Idiagbon was the man in power. I am giving you this so that Nigerians would begin to watch Buhari. From what I am telling you now, I am making a statement that the most predictable man in the world is Buhari. Do you know why?
If you want to know what Buhari will do, look at the rules guiding the decisions he takes. Read the rules and, since you know what the rules guiding those decisions say, you can predict him because Buhari will never bend the rules. Having said that, I am saying that Buhari will never interfere with the decisions of people and institutions he has delegated assignments, for example, INEC. He won’t interfere with the decision of the INEC. He won’t interfere with the decisions of the National Assembly in its power to make laws. He won’t. If the Constitution gives you power to do one or two things, Buhari will never interfere with the operation of the law that set you up. You can, therefore, say that he will turn out to be one of the most democratic leaders Nigeria has ever had because he won’t interfere with the institutions.
But will that stance not deny him and his party of advantages they could have taken through interference with institutions? 
There is division of labour, separation of power. The lawmaking arm of government refers to the National Assembly and the state assemblies. The law executing arm is the executive; the president, the governors and chairmen of local councils and law interpreting arm is the court of the land from the Supreme Court down to the magistrate court including the customary court. That is separation of power. The National Assembly makes law and cannot interpret the law. The judiciary interprets the law and cannot make or execute the law. The executive executes the laws made by the lawmaking arm. So, that is division of power and separation of power. Now the person who obeys that arrangement is a democrat not the one who wants to control the National Assembly. Why do you want to control the National Assembly? So, people were criticising Buhari that he is weak, he ought to have dictated to the National Assembly what would have happened. He said at the party meeting, let them go and sort themselves out because they are an arm but that they should stop individual interests for the collective interest of the nation and also the supremacy of the party in the area of taking decisions in the National Assembly and so, the party must be taken into consideration.
And I am now telling you that Buhari’s tenure will be marked by respect for the institutions and then the respect of not only the facts that I have cited but also the import of their separation.
How do you compare the gains made in the war against insurgency in the Northeast with the renewed agitation for Biafra in the Southeast? 
Let me also tell you another thing Nigerians should look up to in trying to understand Buhari. President Muhammadu Buhari will do anything to secure Nigeria, which he is ruling. He will never allow any part of the country to cut off. This is so because the Constitution says Nigeria is a country indivisible. You can’t divide it, and so Nigeria must remain one under Buhari. One is advising therefore that in line with the Constitution, which Buhari will enforce, anybody having a grievance should settle it within Nigeria. And people have the right to express their grievances and have them settled. Running or breaking away from Nigeria is not an option, and it is only in securing Nigeria that there will be peace.
It is believed that there is mutual distrust between the people of the Southeast and the president? 
The fact is that it is misplaced. Buhari does not hate. He is not a tribalist, and he is not a sectional leader. I am not praising him for being like this, but the truth of the matter is that he has never said he is going to attend elders’ forum meeting or any Arewa meeting in the North. All those meetings that they hold in the North he is not excited by them. So, anybody who has seen him in a sectional meeting should say so and then say when.
What of religious meetings? 
No. He practices his religion faithfully and allows you to practice your religion the way you know it. His position is nobody should interfere with the other.
File Photo: Momoh and President Buhari at a function in Ed State
File Photo: Momoh and President Buhari at a function in Ed0 State
Are you not worried that Southeast governors with the exception of Owelle Rochas Okorocha were indifferent to the pro-Biafran marches? 
There is no proof that they backed it.
Who says they are not talking? Or must you talk before you are known to be reacting? For instance, I don’t know why people are so agitated. People are agitating for what they believe they want to do. We are in a democracy and free speech is guaranteed by the Constitution. But when you go beyond exercising your right to speak, then you will know whether or not there are institutions that will check you.
Which the military has done by giving them warning? 
No, the fact is, the military doesn’t have to give anybody warning. Everybody knows that when you exceed the limit of your rights, someone in charge will intervene. So, what they are doing as far as I am concerned is okay as long as they don’t exceed the limit. They know it is specified by law. If people start breaking people’s vehicles, then people will be arrested and heavens won’t fall! If people take up arms, they will be confronted, and heavens won’t fall!
Look at the North East now and imagine the weapons being used on our military. The insurgents have very sophisticated weapons and people are dying.
So, those who are agitating for Biafra are reacting to their perception of injustice. You won’t believe it but these ISIS people are reacting to their perception of injustice. There is so much trouble in the world today. People are not mad. They are reacting to their perception of injustice, and the Holy Books say that God will forgive everything except injustice. Man’s inhumanity to man must be attended to. People don’t have conscience any more. That little voice that tells you, “What you are doing is wrong,” is silent, yet at our level of maturity spiritually, that voice ought to be booming in our minds, from our hearts. It says, “Take care of the orphans.” What do we do? We deny the orphans and starve them to death.
The law of taking has taken over from the law of giving. The law of taking is the law of Satan whereas the law of giving is the law of God. Love is the manifestation of the law of giving. Hatred and greed are manifestations of the law of taking. Satan is behind all these. God is behind all that is good and God is justice. Justice must come to the world, otherwise, the world will not have peace.
So, internally, when we have people coming out like this, we attend to their agitation, peacefully. But when they exceed the level of free speech, then they will be tackled, and I pray we don’t get there.


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