- Says let’s consider it and move forward
Prince Tony Momoh is the Pro-chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council of the University of Jos. A strong supporter and associate of President Muhammadu Buhari, he believes that the rising tension and echoes of disintegration currently bedeviling the country is the consequence of the recession occasioned by successive failure of leadership. The former Minister of Information is optimistic that the nation would not be consumed by the problem but would come out of it stronger and take its pride of place in the comity of nations. He spoke to WILLY EYA on a wide range of issues.
There is so much tension in the country today with echoes of disintegration reverberating from one end to the other. In your view, what is the cause of the sudden upsurge in the level of discontentment in the country?
The country is in a recession and being in a recession, things are difficult for everyone. There is loss of employment; a lot of people are hungry; a lot of people who have been in employment are out of employment. But the situation is not peculiar to Nigeria; it is a worldwide event and when you have a situation like this, the devil finds job for a lot of idle hands. Many people look at what is happening and which they feel is injustice and react to it in their own way. They make all kinds of speeches and the hate speeches we have now could even turn to violence. In the situation, what you do is provide the needs of the people and everybody would be back to order. If everybody is working from morning till evening, they would not have time to go and be disturbing anybody. If our industries are back and things are working, people would earn a living and they would not disturb anybody. So, it is the denial occasioned by the recession which came by and large through mismanagement that is the problem. We have mismanaged our economy over time and the money which was supposed to be used to grow the economy, was mismanaged and we do not have anything on ground to show the money we have been making.
But looking at where we are as a nation, at what point did we get it so wrong that we are so down today?
The reasons are obvious. Take for instance that you collected money to construct a road and you share it and no road is constructed; you collected money to fight insurgency and you divert the money into personal pockets, the fight against insecurity of lives and property would be denied because you have diverted the money. What do you expect to happen in the circumstance? You pad the budget for selfish gains. If someone says that he needs N1.5billion for a project, you say no, take N5billion and collect the other N3.5 billion and give it to us. All these things destroy the basis of our existence. What we should do is to ensure the security and welfare of the people but we are not doing that. This government has been tackling the problem to ensure that we are out of the situation. We would get there but it would take time.
You sound optimistic that things would get better but the majority are likely to feel otherwise. Many seem to be frustrated with the present government; what is the problem? Do you think there is a breakdown in communication and why do you think the people are finding it difficult to buy into the effort of the government?
You know communication is everything but there has to be adequate and effective communication. The language that hunger understands is food and since we do not have the money to buy the food because of the recession and so on, you must grow the food. And there is no denial now that there is food in this country. We are even exporting yam and we are importing less of rice and so on. As long as there is food on the table, you have satisfied the communication in respect of satisfying the hunger. For instance, the communication that the jobless people understand is about jobs and not words. Many people think that communication is effective only in words. Communication has a lot of dimensions. If somebody is thirsty, you satisfy him with water and he would not complain about water again. So these things have to be provided at the same time in order to establish a connect between the people and the government.
You are an insider in this government, what do you think the present administration is doing that would give the people hope for a better future?
The fact is that every party has its own manifesto and the manifesto addresses what you want to achieve; it could be educational, political, economic, cultural, environmental and foreign policy. They are all documented. We said we would fight insurgency, in other words, we would secure the terrain; we said we would fight corruption; we said we would address the economy. You would agree with me that the government is on course. You know how many local governments the Boko Haram sect was controlling before. Although you still have activities of Boko Haram but there is no place in the North East where you have the flag of Boko Haram. Also, the economy is being attended to and corruption is being fought so forcefully that corruption is now fighting back. So, the government is attending to the promises they made to the people of this country. But what is worrying a lot of people is the hate speeches and some people threatening to leave this country and that is their own reaction to what they consider to be injustice. But there is no part of this country that people are not complaining. And the fact is that Nigeria is the only country with a federation among all the federations established in the first quarter of the last century that is still standing. It is for a purpose. Spiritually, there is national anointing for Nigeria. God has a purpose for Nigeria and I can assure you that we can quarrel and quarrel but Nigeria would not break up. Nigeria would continue to live together. But what people are asking for is to make governance more effective. I have a book that talks about ‘To save Nigeria let’s talk’ since 2002 and I sold 400 copies of that booklet to the Obasanjo Constitutional Reform Conference in 2005 and I sold 600 copies to the Jonathan National Conference in 2014. I believe that all we need to do is to rearrange what we have now. I do not see why we should not have a part time legislature. We had a part time legislature in the First Republic and what we did then was more profound than what they are doing now. I do not see why the geo-political areas should not be regions. The 36 states are too many; and not that anybody would want the state to be dissolved but if you have the states built into regions, they can work together within the regions and know what they want to do with the power that is decongested at the centre. The powers at the centre are too many. Give them to the region and let people move at their own pace. And they now contribute to running the centre. It happened before; we can do it again. There is no geo-political zone in Nigeria that cannot feed the country. It is only that some people because of the oil from the Niger Delta are depending on Abuja to go and collect their allocation every month. There is no geopolitical zone that cannot feed the whole country without petroleum resources. And in any case, there is nowhere in the country where you cannot find mineral resources. The derivation people are looking for, once you have the mineral, you have 13 per cent derivation. I do not see why we should have two chambers of the legislature. We should have one; so it is very easy to decongest the political space because there is nowhere in the world where you have democracy before development. It is only in Nigeria. Here we have democracy and we are not growing because 80 per cent of our budget is on recurrent whereas we should not spend more than 20 to 25 per cent on recurrent.
There is a growing consensus on the issue of restructuring the country, do you think it is the solution to the many problems confronting Nigeria? Again, what is your view on the report of the 2014 National Confab which many including the National Assembly are calling for its consideration?
The fact is that there are many suggestions. We have the 1979 constitution. We have the 1989 constitution of former Head of State, Ibrahim Babangida, we have the 1995 proposal that did not come into effect, we have the 2005 constitutional reform of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. We also have the 2014 dialogue of Goodluck Jonathan. This government has also set up a committee being chaired by the former president of the Senate, Ken Nnamani to get the input of the people across the country for a better relationship. But the fact is all these things are there. In the 2014 dialogue, they recommended about 50 states; what are we doing with too many states when we should be talking about even collapsing the states under regions? It was an attempt to divert attention of the programme of the government then and that was why Jonathan apparently did not act on it after the report was submitted. But I do not agree that we should not look at that report. We should look at everything and see how Nigeria can move forward. Every position here is full time. That is not correct. We do not even need executive governorship position. We need a parliamentary system. We did it before and we can do it again.
If you are asked to develop a template to engender national unity and instill that sense of patriotism in Nigerians, what would be your recommendations?
I wrote a book entitled, ‘To Save Nigeria, Let’s Talk’ since 2002 and as I said earlier, I gave 400 copies to the Constitutional Conference of 2005 and the Jonathan conference of 2014, I gave them 600 copies. Everything is there but it is the political will that is the problem. We need to create a vision that would make Nigeria work because as it stands now, Nigeria cannot have a future without a vision.
Ahead of the next general elections, what do you think are the chances of the APC, your party? Do you think that Nigerians would enthusiastically vote for them like they did in the last general elections?
In the early 2016, if there was an election, the APC would have lost but now, if there is an election, the APC would have more than 75 per cent because the farmers are now smiling to the bank. We have better chances now than we had a year ago.
Do you think the general elections would be smooth considering the growing tension and discontentment among the people?
Why not? The election would be smooth. There is not going to be civil war in Nigeria because everybody has learnt a lesson from the past civil war. Those who are agitating now are doing so because of the issue of restructuring.
But what are your greatest fears for this country?
I have no fears at all. I have no atom of fear for Nigeria because I know when I was writing letters to Nigeria, I said Nigeria does not only have a future, she has a mission. Now, I know the mission. Nigeria would fulfill the intention of God for its creation. Nigeria will be dominant in ruling the world in the nearest future and there is nothing anybody can do about it. So, I have no fear at all about the future of Nigeria.