interviewBy Bashir Adefaka
Prince Tony Momoh, 72, is a journalist, lawyer and politician. He was the Minister of Information and Culture (1986-1990) during the military regime of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, when he concurrently operated as Chairman, African Conference of Information Ministers (1988-1990). He became the Chairman, Board of Directors of Nigerian Airways (1991-1993) and was elected National Chairman, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in January 2011. Momoh, an Auchi, Edo State-born author, for two hours, spoke to Sunday Vanguard in his office in Abuja on his new book, "Echoes From The Past", the ride by the opposition parties toward the formation of a mega party and rounded it off by saying, "2015 elections will be fought at the polling units not in courts." Excerpts:
You have just put a book together and titled it, Echoes From The Past. What would you say informed the writing of the book?
It is written to climax what I can say my friend and former boss in Daily Times, Sam Amuka-Pemu, Sad Sam, started in 1999. You know, Sam puts his fingers on something that is in need for a particular environment. He looks for the person who can provide that need and asks him to provide the need. That was what happened in November 1999 when he said I should write for Vanguard and I said, "There is something I can write for the Vanguard. That was how 'Monitoring Democracy' began.
Section 22 of the Constitution is very specific that the media has an obligation to monitor governance. Those who make law, those who interpret law, those who execute law; all of them must embrace and conform to the provisions of chapter two of the Constitution, which are really documented: political, social, economic, educational, cultural, environmental, foreign policy, they are all there. So, before you assume any office, under the seventh schedule, the oath of office says you would conform to and abide by the provisions of chapter two. And chapter two is not justiceable but the courts do not really address the amount of the fact to why chapter two is not justiceable. Chapter two is not justiceable because the Constitution says so. If you look at the sharing of powers, section six of the Constitution gives judicial powers to the courts and the courts are responsible for adjudication. The Constitution says there are two areas where the courts cannot adjudicate. But chapter four spells out the fundamental rights. So, all the rights: freedom of expression, fair hearing, association, all these are supervised by high courts in a state. If your rights are infringed upon, you go to the high court. Under section 22, the media can look into the infringement of those rights. So the media has the obligation to monitor what is happening because the Constitution says that sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria and, through the Constitution, government derives all its powers and authorities. Although under chapter four of the Constitution, that is, section 39, the ownership of the media is guaranteed; so you can own, establish and operate a medium to pass ideas and information to anybody you want to receive such ideas and information.
So, when you look at these areas and they say you must monitor governance on behalf of the people and hold governments accountable, you, yourself, the media have an obligation to abide by the provisions that are there in the Constitution. The media, therefore, because of the power to monitor, constitutionally, becomes the Fourth Estate of the Realm. These areas I'm aware of, as a lawyer and I have been doing a lot of researches in media law and I thought I should provide a service and to fill that vacuum that was missing and Sam said, "Go ahead."
So, in 1999 November, I started writing, Point of Order, in Sunday Vanguard. And I did it with a view to packaging it for the future. As at 2011, over 12 years, I wrote Democracy Watch: The Monitor's Diary, that's the title. So, the first volume 1999 to 2003; the second volume updated to 2008 and the third volume 2008 to 2011. And I stopped writing when I was elected National Chairman of CPC, Congress for Progressive Change, in January 2011. So, there are three volumes now of Democracy Watch: The Monitor's Diary. The climax of that effort, Monitoring Democracy, is Echoes From The Past.
There appears to be more to this name, Echoes From The Past, than what we can claim to know. Can you give us some insight?
There are issues I raised in the past as a reporter, which maybe the controversies of that present, which is now the past, had diluted. I bring them now to the front burner as they were at that time. So, you see, in 1983, I interviewed General Yakubu Gowon in London for five hours because he had been pardoned and was to return to Nigeria. I packaged the interview for Sunday Times. I was an executive with Sunday Times, but the government of the day pulled out the interview: five hours interview. It is a chapter in this book.
On September 13, 1993, I wrote a letter to General Sani Abacha, who was the most senior military officer in Shonekan's government and most powerful man, saying, "Revisit this annulment (of June 12,1993 election) because the future will not be kind to us if we think that we can just annul the election." I said call (Chief MKO) Abiola and revisit the annulment. And I now sent copies of that letter to all the governors; they were 30 at that time. I sent same to the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and some other people. And I wrote a letter in November 1993 to those who were born in 1993 and I postdated it 2024, that, in 2024, they should read that letter when they would be 30 years old, and look at what we have done to the Nigeria they meet and judge us. And I say,' look at my attempt; I wrote a book, Experiment with disintegration. I say I'm not guilty and what is in this book, Echoes From The Past, is my proof of evidence.' That letter of 1993, is in this book. So, when you read that letter on the annulment of the election and what I told Abacha to do, then you can know who was talking sense.
You know, in 2005, we paid $12 billion to Paris Club to forgive us our debt of $30 billion. And that debt was of doubtful origin. We borrowed $17 billion at N1:$1.50. Over the years, we paid $22 billion at $1:N84 and then you say we owed over $30 billion. How come you are asking us to now pay $12 billion where you ought to be forgiving us that debt? So, I wrote a series, The Debt We Owe, and, in it, I said we shouldn't pay that money. Obasanjo, who was President then, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and everybody were saying if we pay that $30 billion, we would not owe again. And I said we were going to borrow again because by paying that $12 billion, which you should have used to empower the people, you are denying that empowerment.
As at the time I wrote this book, we had borrowed $5 billion external debt and $44 billion internal debt. And to owe people internally is worse than owing them externally.
Because when you owe them internally, you destroy their collaterals, destroy their families and you destroy those hangers-on who are not in employment and so on and so forth. But with external debt, they will just look at the debt and say they penalize you for owing and they reschedule. But with internal debt you destroy families. We now owe $44 billion to local contractors. And we gave out $12 billion for $30 billion debt of doubtful origin to be written off. That one is here and I wrote the series in 2005.
So, that's what you have, packaging all the materials over the years. That's why I call it Echoes From The Past.
By next year, 2014, Nigeria will mark its 100 years of amalgamation. What is your attitude to the journey so far as an amalgamated country?
Yes, in 1914, we had an amalgamation. Now, in another year, we will be 100 years as an integrated space. Do you know we are not even preparing? What are we going to tell Nigerians next year that we have done with integration since that time? What we have done is to split up the space that was integrated. First of all, one solid whole that was packaged by Lord Lugard in 1914, then later, three regions, then later, in 1963, four regions, then later, 12 regions, then 19 regions, then 30 regions, now 36 regions and we are even asking for more regions called states to be created, just splitting up the space.
What we have is disintegrated space. Nigeria has 97,000 communities. You know we have split it into what we call 36 states now and 774 local government areas. But that does not mean that the people who were there as 97,000 communities, that were there when the British came, are not still there. So, there is no way Nigeria can break up. Those communities; the Hausa, the Yoruba, the Igbo were trading before the British came. They are still there and so there is no way you can say Nigeria will break up. Nigeria will not break up. And in this book, there is a chapter, "Will Nigeria collapse?" Nigeria will not collapse.
But a paper from the United States of America predicted that Nigeria's unity would collapse meaning that the country may break up at a certain period. How would you reconcile that with your claim knowing Americans for their ability to forecast based on facts and figures?
Americans are correct, but they are looking at the material aspect of the equation, not the spiritual. God Almighty has a mission for Nigeria and that mission must be achieved. The darkness is at work to subvert this nation, but darkness cannot win against the light. And one thing you must know is that evil has a life span. All that is happening, which is causing problems presently for our country is evil with a life span. Nigeria is going to shine. The whole world will stand for Nigeria in the next 20, 25 years.
So, you, young ones, have a responsibility to grow Nigeria. You better get ready for how you are going to grow Nigeria and not be talking of a Nigeria that will collapse because it won't collapse! It's all here in Echoes From The Past.
Why have you decided not to launch the book?
Now, for instance, when you launch a book, people would say,' I pay ten thousand naira', 'I pay one million naira' and so on, for one copy. I want this book to be read. So, I packaged the book and said everybody should come and buy it five thousand naira per copy and, when you buy, read and let your children read. Our children, read and let everybody read. This is something inspired; they are just facts, facts, facts. This is the fact I document in 1983 and when I look at it now, it reminds me of a lot of things: 1983, 1993, 2003 and more.
There are here, 75 powers of the National Assembly. The National Assembly people have more powers than we think. All of them are here. So, even governance without tears is here. There was something I discussed with (former President) Obasanjo in August 2000 and he was very excited and ,with due credit to Obasanjo, he started the constituency projects that people are messing up now and all those constituency projects are on the basis of lots of things I said here, there is a chapter on 'governance without tears.' In section 172, federal public officers will abide by the provisions of the Fifth Schedule. Under section 209, state governments' public officers shall abide by the provisions of the Fifth Schedule and swear to your oath of officer, "I promise to abide by the provisions of the Fifth Schedule" and the Fifth Schedule is Code of Conduct. And the Code of Conduct Bureau, which is in charge of this, you must fill form, declare you assets and update it as your assets increase and then update it every four years and you also update it when you want to leave office. It's all there. It's obligatory. It's constitutional. You can't take office without filling this form.
If for one reason or the other someone alleges that you misinformed the bureau or that you did not fill your form adequately or that you breach any provision of the code, they can call you and then discipline you at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Those who can be disciplined by the Code of Conduct Tribunal are listed in part two of the Fifth Schedule: The first is the president, second is vice president and then the governors, down to National Assembly people and so on and so forth and to councilors. The list is about sixty something public officers who are subject to the provisions of the Fifth Schedule.
Now the governor will now say' because I have immunity you cannot take me to court.' He's correct. But the Code of Conduct of Tribunal is not a court. It is a disciplinary body. Like Gani Fawehinmi once said, "You can investigate the governor when in office, but you cannot prosecute him." It doesn't mean you cannot discipline him because section 308 of the Constitution says those who can enjoy immunity are the president, the vice president, the governors and the deputy governors during the period of the office when they are expected to perform the functions of the office. It's a function of office corruption? It's a function of office money laundry? You are even barred from operating foreign account. If you operate a foreign account, the discipline is that they seize the money and give it to government.
When the courts vested with the power of adjudication now fail to tell either the president or the governor that he can be taken to the Code of Conduct Tribunal to answer questions on those areas of wrong doings not having criminal content, who can do that since failure to put such thing straight is capable of rubbishing the Constitution?
The one to terrorize the governors and ensure that they go to the Code of Conduct Tribunal is the press. So, the press must stand up, monitor these people and get them penalized and disciplined while in office. These things are so clear and they are all here.
In America, it doesn't matter who occupies the White House as president. The system is always there which influences the person in power to perform in the interest of the state. But here in Nigeria, it appears such thing does not exist...
(cuts in) We have.
Then why is it not working?
That is the thing. You just asked me, why is it not working? And I now tell you, it is because of indiscipline. For instance, section 14 is clear where it is said that sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria and, through the Constitution, government derives its powers and authority. It means that the Constitution is a documentation of delegated powers. What you do, if it is not in the Constitution, you have no power to do it. It is as simple as that! And then different bodies: the courts, disciplinary bodies like Fifth Schedule and so forth; they are all there, police, security agencies are all there to moderate the performance of the duties. Even the National Assembly, which is the reason sometime when the President commits any impeachable offence, he can be impeached; same with State House of Assembly in the case of the governor. So, section 14 is clear, sovereign belongs to the people of Nigeria. And that section 14 says, we have chosen democracy as social justice; as our legs on which to walk.
Democracy is a system of government that people choose to regulate the management of their affairs. A system of government could be military rule, it could be other forms of dictatorship, but democracy is what Nigerians have chosen. And democracy is democracy because you have the participation of people in governance through those who are 18 and they have no age limit. And then when election time is there, they are accredited to vote; the votes are counted and the votes count. Get that clear; the votes must count and that is why democracy is democracy.
If you register and you are accredited as voters, after counting, they announce the votes at the polling units; in the presidential election, there are more than 120,000 polling units; you now go to eight thousand ward collation units and collate the results for 120,000 polling units and then move from those collation units to 774 local governments' collation units; then from there to 37 states (including Abuja) collation units and then you now start seeing Jega or Iwu announcing the results as a result of the collation at the states' level.
Take, for instance, what happened at the 120,000 polling units is the aggregate you are announcing at the states' level, someone will say,' congratulations'. But what happened is, first of all, in almost 60 percent of the voting areas, there was no voting at all. People just mismanaged what happened there, then at the eight thousand collation units, you have people just come in to manipulate. Then, at the local governments' collation units, they manipulate and then, at the state collation unit, they now announce the result of the manipulation, maybe what they have written and you call that democracy? So, the first leg democracy you are talking is not practised in Nigeria. There is too much manipulation.
Then the other one is social justice. Social justice is reflected in welfare and security of the citizens. Once there is no welfare, there is no security.
You became the National Chairman of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), which has General Muhammadu Buhari as its presidential candidate for sometime now. He is considered as about the only man standing after those materials in the PDP. In a country where people want alternative leader in government, why do you think your candidate did you make it at the last election?
I have said it. I said what you have at the polling stations is not what you have at the announcement stage. That was why I illustrated with the presidential election. Al-Jazeera (Television) came here and took photographs of some INEC forms that were manipulated. The doctoring by the PDP was there and we have them here. When they took things from the polling stations to go to ward collation stations, they doctored them. From one collation centre, they go to the next. In fact, the perfecting of the rigging process is that as at the time you get to the ward collation centre, they just tear what you have brought and bring out what they have already written on. So, all they do is that they just produce what they have written up by the time you come and what you are bringing is of no use.
So, in other words, go and ask: General Muhammadu Buhari has never lost any election since 2003. Even one of the Court of Appeal judges said he won.
What you are saying is that, Nigerians have actually been voting for General Buhari?
Nigerians have always been voting for Buhari. The managers of chaos have been the people in charge. But, like I have said, evil has a life span.
The proposed merger between CPC and the ACN is thought to be a way out of the electoral manipulations that you have enumerated. Now hearing from the horse's mouth, what is the exact position of the CPC on this merger?
On the 16th of January this year we inaugurated our team presided by the former Deputy Governor of Bauchi State, Alhaji Garba Gadi, and the inauguration was done by General Buhari. They have terms of reference and we are not into merger for the sake of merging. We are re-enacting the profile of the progressives: those who believe in democracy, in promoting, presenting and, you know, funding democracy; those who believe in the brief in the Constitution that sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria. In other words, elections under the progressives will be free, fair and transparent. It's not saying something and doing another. Rigging will be a thing of the past.
That is the message we, the progressives, want to sell. We believe in devolution of power and the progressives will work for the devolution of power. The central is too.....
We believe, for instance, that elections should be held in one day. Why are you staggering elections? We believe that security and welfare of the citizens is what Nigerian people want because that's why they chose social justice. We believe in provision of jobs, facilities and so on and so forth. And all these are packaged things that we want Nigerians to accept and buy. We believe in discipline and don't believe in corruption. Corruption is destroying Nigeria. And those we want to present to Nigerians are those who would fight corruption. So, when you have this type of package and package it as a political party and all the parties will dissolve into that party. That's the merger plan.
Not because we just want to merge. No, no, no. Nigerians are entitled to better way of governing. What is happening now is not even Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). PDP is the party in government but those destroying Nigeria today sharing all the money are less than a dozen.
You know, there are even PDP people that are deprived as any other Nigerian today. Go and ask people in PDP. Many of them don't know what is happening. A few people just sit down and share.
For instance, we have to address the issues frontally and let people of Nigeria look at those in government as servants, rather than masters. It can be done.
Finally, as a party that all of you plan to dissolve into, you still remain in the opposition and don't hold the machinery of government, which, as you alleged, was used to rig past elections against your candidate. How do you ensure that votes at the next voting season count?
Actually, you will see that in some areas, in spite of the rigging they do, you still win because you monitor and secure your votes. Where you have, for instance, ACN - anybody can say whatever he likes - can be seen as a South West party; CPC can be seen as a party in the North; APGA can be seen as a party in the South East,but as you have these regional parties coming together, you now see that if CPC and ACN come together; CPC can secure its own votes in the North, ACN secure its own votes in the West. You see now that there is more solid opportunity to secure votes so that the votes can count.
We are saying that the 2015 elections will be fought at the polling units not in the courts.
Note: This interview was conducted before the formation of the All Progressives Congress (APC).