Statesman, author, lawyer, Journalist, Politician and former Minister of Information and Culture, Prince Tony Momoh took time off his usually busy schedule to grant Thisage a brief interview during which he shared his robust ideas on topical issues in the country. Excerpts:
Everywhere you turn in the country, there is crisis. Even the political parties, particularly the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress has crisis in 12 state chapters nationwide and the main opposition the Peoples Democratic Party, until recently was torn apart by leadership crisis for many months. What is going on?
During military rule, were there no crises in the country? What are you talking about?
What I am talking about is that political parties are supposed to mobilize and aggregate views of supporters and followers for resolution at the center and none of the parties; the ruling APC or opposition PDP is doing anything to that effect?
Well, at the party level, the cry of marginalization is the result of lack of internal democracy in the system. At the larger society, it is a result of injustice. For example, people in the Niger Delta feel that mostly outsiders in Abuja where a huge percentage of the budget is spent enjoy the resources from their region. So when nobody listened to them, they decided to take up arms. What about the northeast? The leader of an organization was going on peacefully but for one reason or the other he was killed extra judicially. Look at MASSOB. When the organizers thought the Ibos were being threatened in Nigeria, they decided to organize to protest against it. Now the leader of the IPOB (Independent People of Biafra) has revolutionized this protest. He was arrested and is being prosecuted, but he has radicalized his people. All these protests are as a result of injustice.
Look, 90 per cent of our laws are not working. We have to be just and being just means we have to be a country of laws and not a country with laws.
How do you mean?
A country with laws is one in which you have a lot of laws and there is arbitrariness in their implementation. A country of laws is where everybody is equal before the law. In America, for example, everybody is equal before the law, rich or poor. In Nigeria we are selective in the application of the law. A poor man or woman who steals a goat will be sent to prison while a rich man or woman who steals the country blind will continue to walk free on the streets.
The protests we have in the country is what people trace to injustice and their reactions.
And you think due process and transparency will solve the problems?
That is what I am talking about. For the political parties, for instance, the INEC, (Independent Electoral Commission) will register parties based on two main conditions; a Constitution and a Manifesto. So if a party brings its Constitution, INEC would look at how the organs at the ward, state, national and geo-political levels are peopled. These people have procedures to follow and on many occasions these procedures are not followed. In nine out of ten, decisions are taken outside the due process of what the Constitution of the party says. In the area of manifesto we have political, education, economic, environment and cultural areas and so on, in which Nigerians as a people want to be secured. So a political party must say what it wants to do in these areas. INEC will look at them and then register the party. So anybody who is a member of APC, or PDP, Labor and so on must accept the party manifesto. But what do you have?
We have abused the organs of the parties by imposing candidates. If you were in government and you provided borehole, built schools, constructed roads you would say it is dividends of democracy. But it is not. These are things you are supposed to do when you get into government. This shows that the party processes are kept in the breach than in their observance.
Democracy has to do with freedom, the way to govern. Nigeria is the only country in the world that puts democracy before development. Every country that wants to develop commits nothing more than 25 per cent of its budget to recurrent expenditure. In Nigeria, we commit 80 per cent of our resources to recurrent.
When is this going to stop and what is the way out?
If we want to develop, we must restructure the country.
Restructuring is yet to have a common ground among Nigerians. Some say just devolve power from the center to the units, other call for economic restructuring through the judicious redistribution of resources, yet others say political autonomy is the answer. Where do you stand?
What we can do is a rearrangement of what we have now as three-tier system government, that is the Federal, State and Local Governments. Now, we say we are a federation, but in reality we are not because at the center we have the exclusive and concurrent list with a total 93 areas in which the National Assembly has 93 areas of preponderant law execution. In a few areas in the concurrent list the state can make laws, but if there is a conflict, the law at the center takes precedence over that of the state. The federal government has preponderance law making power. There is no federal arrangement anywhere in the world that is this top heavy to the detriment of the federating units. So all we have to do is to decongest: Areas that unite us such as currency, aviation, security, foreign affairs should remain with the center. All other areas should go to the states and the regions.
Is that your proposal?
My proposal is to leave the Federal Government to 18 areas instead of the current 93 and leave the rest to the six geo-political zones which would have to be constituted as regions and federating units. That is the rearrangement. Do we need two legislative Houses at the center.? No. The House of Representatives is based on population, so it would go to the regions, which is the six zones that we currently have as geo-political zones. In the proposed arrangement, the only law making body for the country would be the Senate. It should make laws on those 18 areas I mentioned earlier on. The regions will be constituted by the 36 states in the current geo-political zones and for equity; the Southeast would be given one more state. The states that comprise a geo-political zone would also become economic bodies to execute common development plan. In this structure, we do not need governors as presently constituted in the 36 six states because the system would be be parliamentary in which case the party that wins the majority forms the government. Each region would be presided over by a governor. So you would have six governors. Currently, governors have security votes to the tune of about N500million and yet they cannot pay salaries.
Then Commissioners would be drawn from elected Assembly members. The situation we have now is that elected members in the Houses of Assembly; for example, go to beg for contracts from Commissioners who by nature of being appointed preside over the award of contracts.
In the proposed structure, elected legislators should work part-time and earn allowances. So if you remove executive governor position, have parliamentary system and eliminate the position of full time legislators, councilors and chairmen, the system would be healthy for us.
Perhaps we could have started the restructuring process if the National Assembly had voted for Devolution of power during the recent Constitutional Amendment-?
(cuts in) Constitutional Amendment by the National Assembly is meaningless
I am talking about devolution of power from the center to the units?
There are not addressing matters. Did they reduce their pay? Would they agree to seat part-time and collect allowances? Would they agree to cancel executive governorship position? They won’t. Yet there is more ongoing agitation now.
Are you surprised that it is the youths often referred to as leaders of tomorrow are the ones championing the current agitation?
Yes. It is understandable. When the youths champion it the older ones would change
They may become violent if their demands are not addressed?
That is their language. They are impatient, assertive and in that ways they will heat the older ones up and let them know that they are not for business as usual. They will not rest and will make things so hot for us (the older ones) that something would have to be done.
Don’t you think the country appears to be seating on fire as October 1 deadline approaches for the Arewa Youths to make good their quit order notice on Igbos living in the north to relocate?
This country has so manifested the art of compromise that it will survive. Nigeria is the only country that was started in the last quarter of the century that is still standing. The reason is because it has a mission. In 2015, it was predicted that Nigeria would collapse. Look, there is a spiritual dimension to life and because of the future Nigeria has, it will not collapse.
When I was Minister, I wrote a ‘letter to my countrymen’. I said that Nigeria has special anointing. All the children being born and downloaded to Nigeria today have special spiritual endowments that will make it lead the rest of the world. Nigeria has 60 per cent youth population and they will have to be mobilized to help govern the country and the world. The truth of the matter is that where God has a plan, darkness also has a plan
But sincerely, don’t you think the real problem lies in the lack of vision of who we are as a people, what we want and where we want to go?
You are correct. I agree with OBJ, (former President Olusegun Obasanjo) that we should make the teaching of history compulsory in our schools. If you don’t know your past how can you go to the future? The Vision 2010 proposed by Chief Earnest Shonekan during General Sani Abacha’s regime is the most comprehensive document on Nigeria, detailing where we are and where we want to go. But do you know we have thrown it away?. The OBJ 2005 National Constitutional Conference and President Goodluck Jonathan’s 2014 Confab were more political than economic. Vision 2010 is a more comprehensive document to get Nigeria out of the woods. If we had followed it, we would have developed the country. OBJ said he did not believe in Vision 2010 because the person who did it had no sight, had no vision, because Abacha was blind. But that was wrong. Visioning is spiritual. Your soul sees things. Abacha only supervised it. It was Shonekan that packaged it. That means there is a vision there.
Don’t you agree the country’s problems are traceable to bad leadership?
We have to restructure. What we have now is that it is only people with money that can rule. There will be leadership failure if we don’t restructure. President Muhamadu Buhari had no money but came to solve the problem. If he had not come and fight corruption, things would have got out of hand. And corruption is fighting back. There are people now who say the President should die but God will not hear the prayer of the wicked. We have to restructure.
The Presidents’ illness has slowed down things and the country seems to be moving nowhere?
No, you cannot say the country is not moving. Even one thousand Buharis will not solve the problems fully. The country would slow down because we are spending 80 per cent of our revenue on recurrent expenditure. A country that spends such an amount of money on recurrent expenditure cannot grow. We are eating the future of our country. Iweala ( Ex- Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Okonjo Iweala) urged us to save for the future but we refused.
People are busy struggling for power. Look at the National Assembly members voting for privileges for themselves, voting for independence candidacy. That is how to grow democracy and not the economy. That is how to spend money-promoting freedom when you cannot grow the economy. But I know that Nigeria does not only have a future but a mission.