Former Minister of Information, Prince Tony Momoh has identified the brand of democracy being practised in Nigeria since independence in 1960 as the major problem working against her development. Momoh, who said the cost of governance is too expensive in Nigeria, spoke on various issues in this interview.
As Nigeria marks her 59th Independent Day anniversary; do you think we have fared well as a country? Are we where we ought to be and is the celebration worthwhile?
The fact remains that life in every polity is a journey which we undertake individually, as a group and as a country, all in areas of movement, either forward or backward. But, it is how you manipulate through governance, the way you move and the road you take as well as how you maintain the road that determines progress. The people that talk about progress either look at it from the perspective of professionals or interested parties. We started with three regions in 1960 and later moved to four regions with the creation of Mid-west region. Today, we have 36 states and the only ones that were constitutionally created were the four regions; all other ones came into existence through military fiat. It is only from 1999 till date that we have had unbroken civilian rule. Most of the years between 1966 and 1999 were under military rules. So, we have had a journey where you had civilians in charge, the military in charge and now civilians are in charge again. But, I can assure you that the greatest danger we have had and until we attend to it, it will continue to set us back, is the brand of democracy we have adopted since 1999. We spend more money on governance than on growth of the country’s economy. We look at governance through the constitution because it is the constitution that spells out what everybody does and you know that power in the Nigerian arrangement is shared among the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. And then, the media, even though the media think they don’t have a place in governance; the media have a very major place in governance. We spend more money on governance than growing the polity. However, we can’t say we have not made progress. We started with three regions, but today we have 36 states, so in the area of expanding governance and penetrating the polity, we have made a lot of progress. In the area of growing the population, we are almost 200 million people now. In the area of growing institutions educationally, we had only the university college Ibadan at independence, but today we have almost 200 universities, and thousands of graduates in Nigeria. We have more graduates in Nigeria than in all other African countries put together. There are lots and lots of other good things that have happened, and of course, a lot of problems that we have created for ourselves. Today, we have the problem of insecurity. We also have problem with the economy, although it is world over, and lots and lots of other problems. There are more problems than we ever had in Nigeria and all over the world. It looks as if God is dealing with us or dealing with man in the way he has managed the opportunity to grow.
You talked about our major problem being the brand of democracy we have been practising since 1960. What brand of democracy would you recommend as best suitable for Nigeria as it is today?
Democracy is the luxury of development. Democracy is the freedom you grab to govern a polity. It is a way to travel a particular road and such democracy should not cost more than 35 percent of the money you generate in the polity. But, that is in the area of recurrent but what we have today is that we spend more than 80 percent of the money we generate in the recurrent to run our democracy. We have full time councillors, chairmen of council, House of Assembly members, governors, senators, House of Representative members and president. All these full time positions can be a luxury when you are developed. But, the fact is on the part of growing; you pick that quantum of freedom you need to grow the system. Here, what are we doing? We are spending the money we should use to grow the system to run the system. And that is the problem. If you look at the history of democracy from the time of industrial revolution all over the world up till now, the fact remains that people work to grow the system and then take that quantum of freedom they need to grow the system. In other words, you don’t spend the money you need to grow the system to run the system. In Nigeria, before you take part in an election, you must form a political party which must be registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and before any party is registered by the INEC, the party’s constitution and manifestoes must be presented to the election body. The party’s constitution must spell out how its organs at the local, state and national levels will be run, while the manifestoes capture how the party will grow and run the system to cater for the security and welfare of the citizens. And in doing these, your guideline is chapter two of the constitution, which looks at the social, political, educational, economic, and cultural as well as foreign policy objectives. So, you now capture what you will do for the citizens at those levels when you become a political party. And when you take these two documents to INEC, they read them and look at how they comply with the promise, vision and mission of chapter two of the constitution and register you as a political party, so that you can now ask for votes in an election. All these you are supposed to do but in doing them, the cost at all the levels is so much. We have no business making a local government councillor full time. Why not pay a local government councillor a sitting allowance? Now, within 18 months in office, a local government councillor buys a jeep and builds a house. He does that with public funds. This is not to talk about the council chairmen, the state assembly members, governors, senators, House of Reps members or the president. So, we must reduce the cost of governance and that is the challenge we face today in the system. That is why I said decongest the political space. When you decongest the political space, for instance, in the National Assembly, you have only one house instead of two. In the area of making law, the exclusive and concurrent lists contain 93 items where the National Assembly makes laws and the president must execute laws in those 93 areas. That is the most awesome burden any head of government can bear anywhere in the world and that is the load the president must carry.
In your explanation earlier, you pointed out that the two basic responsibilities of any government anywhere in the world are providing for the security and welfare of its citizens. Do you think the current All Progressives Congress (APC) government and successive governments in Nigeria have lived up to these two basic needs, looking at the situation in the country today?
Unless we change what we met on ground through due process, it will bind any government. Look at the top heavy concentration of people and powers at the centre; whoever you are, when you come, you have to work with that system unless it is changed. So, until we have the political will to change and decongest the political space, the president cannot do much. If you look at what this government has been doing, you find that it has been trying to see how it can decongest the political space. For an instance, during Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s era as governor of Lagos State, the state wanted to generate its own electricity, but the Federal Government didn’t allow that to happen. Now, state governments can generate electricity not because the constitution has changed, but because the government has bent over backwards to accommodate some areas of interventions at state level. So, if for instance we manage how we can walk the constitutional rope not to undermine the constitution, then we will all be better for it. I give you an example; look at the FG giving money to states; apparently the president thought it could help them, but he eventually discovered he could help the states.
The Vice President has been accused of taking N90 billion from the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) to fund the 2019 election. He has denied it and even said he is willing to waive his immunity for proper investigation to be carried out on the matter. What is your view on that?
First, there is nothing that leaves government undocumented. The FIRS has said nothing like that ever happened and the vice president has said he is ready to waive his immunity, but I want to say that he has no immunity to waive because the immunity does not belong to him. There are 74 offices that enjoy immunity in Nigeria and those are the offices of the president, vice president, governors and deputy governors. The governors and their deputies are 72 in number plus the president and the vice president, bringing the number to 74, and these are offices that enjoy immunity under section 308 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And in that section, there is no absolute immunity. Although the court said there is; there is no such. The immunity is that you cannot take the president or a governor to court, sue him or serve him court process. Section 308 said the immunity exists during the period of their office when they are expected to perform the functions of their office as contained in schedule seven of the constitution, where they take the oath of office and there is no way in the oath of office where you swear to be corrupt, engage in money laundering or commit murder. So, if for instance, there is allegation of corruption, the case of Gani Fawehinmi and the Attorney-General of the Federal Republic of Nigeria showed that you can be investigated even while still in office. So, Osinbajo does not have to waive his immunity before he is investigated. Investigation can take place on those areas and he sits down to do his work instead of talking of waiving his immunity. But, there is only one way he can do so, and that is by resigning but we didn’t invite him to resign because we have not accused him of anything; he can sue those who accused him. Secondly, in spite of what people think, immunity does not cover wrong doing because he is a public officer and he can be disciplined under sections 172 and 209 of the constitution. Section 172 deals with public officers at the national level, while 209 deals with public officers at the state level and those who are employed at those levels are bound by the fifth schedule which is the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). Any officer who goes against the fifth schedule is tried by the CCT and those who are affected and can be dealt with are the president, vice president, and senate president down to the local government councillors. So, if you are in office, you can be dealt with if you do things that are not consistent with the oath of office you took. Secondly, whatever you do that is wrong can be packaged and sent over to the House of Representatives and Senate to impeach you. These are areas you can be dealt with if you go against the constitution while in office. So, you can see that it is not total and the issue of saying I want to waive my immunity does not arise at all because he cannot waive his immunity. It is not immunity for Osinbajo; it is immunity for the vice president. Another thing is that this is all about politics, and politicians, as you know, can say anything. So, let whoever that made the allegation approach the court because he who alleges must prove.
There are rumours that there are moves to remove the vice president from office? Have you heard about that and what is your reaction to that?
Look, Osinbajo is not a house boy that can be removed from office just like that. The way to remove Osinbajo is the same way you remove the president. First, you package what you have against him to the National Assembly and you know that the procedure for doing that is very tight. When everything is ready and impeachment is about to happen, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) will constitute a team that will look into all the allegations against him and he will be there to defend himself. At the end of the day, if the committee does not find anything wrong, then that ends the matter. If it finds anything wrong with him, the matter will go to the National Assembly where only the majority votes can remove him.
There are insinuations that the disbandment of the Economic Management Team, which the vice president was heading and the establishment of Economic Advisory Council, which now excludes him are all part of the grand design to render him useless ahead of 2023. What do you make of that?
What promise did we make? We promised to grow the economy, ensure security and fight corruption. We have done four years and we are talking of the next level. The VP constitutionally heads the Economic Council, which has state governors as members, but the Economic Team that was replaced with the Economic Advisory Council is an internal arrangement which Osinbajo has headed with some ministers in other areas, not economics. Now, in going to the next level and growing the economy, the administration packaged economic advisory council made up of seasoned economists. In constituting that council, there is no way the packaging of that council will not have involved the vice president, so, if you have that council and the names there are those who are technocrats and experts and should advise us on the economy, which we have not been getting right all along, why would anybody have problem with that?
Ahead of 2023 presidency, some people are insisting that power must remain in the North. Some interested parties in the South West are also scheming while the Igbo in the South East are saying that for equity, justice and fairness, it is their turn? Where do you stand in all of these?
As a public affairs analyst, I stand with the constitution which says what should happen. The mode of accessing power in Nigeria is through the votes and vote has to do with numbers. Attending to the country, anybody in Nigeria who is of age can stand election and that must be done on the platform of one of the 91 registered political parties and if you win majority of the votes, you form the government. It is that simple. Now, we have the APC forming the government and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) being the next party with the largest number of votes in opposition and that is what happens. The party that wins the majority, if the candidate is from the North, will access power. If he is from the South, he will access power. But, if the APC or the PDP believes in zoning, that is just an internal party arrangement, which is not constitutional. Although, the constitution says access to office should reflect the federal character but the fact is when APC zoned the presidency to the North, people in the South contested. When PDP zoned the presidency to the North, people in the South also contested. So, it is not every member of the party that will agree with zoning arrangement. You go for primaries and whoever wins, will stand for the general election. The South East saying power must shift knows the route to accessing power. They have been in PDP. I was Alex Ekwueme’s media director in PDP; he contested primaries in 1999 and lost to Obasanjo. The same thing happened in 2003; he stood and Obasanjo won again and during that time, even though presidency was zoned to the South West to pacify them for Abiola’s loss, many people from both the South East and the North contested. So, I am saying that zoning has never been totally accepted by members of the party but the party knows where it is going to.