africa

‘We won’t allow cliques to hijack APC’


Prince Tony Momoh is the Yerima of the Auchi Kingdom and a National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He was National Chairman of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), one of the legacy parties that merged to form the APC in 2013. In this interview with Deputy Editor EMMANUEL OLADESU and Deputy Political Editor RAYMOND MORDI, Prince Momoh speaks on a wide range of issues, including the performance of the Buhari administration in close to six years, why the administration is reluctant to restructure Nigeria and challenges confronting the ruling party

 

What is your assessment of the state of the nation, as one of the founding fathers of the party that gave birth to the present government?

Nigeria started its journey on the democratic highway in 1999 through a document called the 1999 Constitution, which was given to us by the military. Democracy has to do with freedom; it has nothing to do with boreholes, hospitals, roads and so on and so forth. We often make the mistake of referring to things like schools, roads, infrastructure, etc. as dividends of democracy. The only dividend of democracy is freedom. Since 1999, I discovered that we have spent more on democracy than on development. Yet, if you look at that document, which is our roadmap, it is specifically stated that the government is there because of the welfare and security of the citizens. So, if there is no welfare and there is no security, then the government has failed. What is responsible for the non-realization of the goals set for the welfare and security of the citizens? So, it is a key strategy we must look at, to see to the welfare and security of the citizens, which is the focus of governance. We look at the fundamental rights in the constitution and ignore the duties imposed by the same document. So, we have performed in the area of sustaining democracy, but this is at the expense of development. That is the state of the nation, which is not the fault of any government but could be attributed to the system that we are using to travel on that democratic highway. That is democracy for you. Unless we restructure, to make governance less expensive, we are likely to continue on the downward trend in the affairs of the nation.

The APC made campaign promises to the nation in the area of security, economy and anti-corruption.  How would you assess the performance of the Buhari administration in these three areas?

We cannot analyze anything outside what we have chosen as the guidelines, as we travel on democracy highway. What is the cost element of security? What is the cost element of fighting corruption? What is the cost element of promoting an economy? You cannot go outside the constraint imposed by the budgeting system. Any government that spends more than 20/25 per cent on recurrent expenditure cannot develop; fight corruption, fix the economy and secure the country. By 2002, I discovered that we were spending 80 per cent of our earnings on recurrent. In other words, we have only 20 per cent for development. So, if you want to fight corruption, if you want to develop the economy and secure the land, it must be done through budgeting. So, you can see that unless we change the system by restructuring, Nigeria cannot develop. In spite of the challenges, this government is trying because if the PDP were still in power Nigeria would have collapsed. This government can be credited for managing the economy properly, for attending to infrastructure and security the best way it can. Comparatively, this government has tried in the areas it set out to do, with the challenges of inadequate funding confronting it. Unless we decongest the political environment through restructuring, Nigeria will not grow; in spite of the promises we made. The Exclusive List and the Concurrent List give power in 93 areas. It means that the President has important functions to execute in 93 areas. There is nowhere in the world where you have such a concentration of powers in one man. Yet, we are supposed to be a federation, where you give powers to the federating units so that the Federal Government can attend to areas of common heritage. But, the Federal Government has been saddled, unnecessarily, with some responsibilities that can be better handled at the local level. Lagos is a typical example when former Governor Bola Tinubu entered into an agreement with an American company to set up an independent power production company to give us power. But, the Federal Government pounced on him and said you have no powers to generate electricity. Now electricity is being generated, not that states have the power to do so, but because this government has attended to certain areas to enable them to do so. But, another government may come and say, no that is our responsibility. So, unless you change the constitution and reduce the 93 areas of lawmaking to less than two dozen so that you allow governance at the level of the regions or states, we are not going to move forward. What I’m saying is that power is so centralized that there is nothing anybody can do to develop this country. For instance, we cannot secure the land effectively with the kind of policing system we have. We have only one police force in charge of the entire country. The commissioner of police is not answerable to the governor of the state. If we have regional police force all over the country, like Amotekun, within six months there won’t be insecurity. The military has even been brought in to assist in internal security; even at that, we don’t have enough men on the ground. Do you know that we have less than one soldier to 100 Nigerians? We are fighting a war in the Northeast, how many soldiers do we have there? Nigeria is one of the least under-policed countries in the world; about one policeman to about 400 Nigerians. We have a 200 million population and less than 400,000 policemen. So, there are lots of problems.

Why is President Buhari reluctant to commence the process of restructuring?

How ready are you to restructure? For instance, the Yoruba Agenda, a document on restructuring, would have allowed for regionalism, which we practised in the First Republic. Each region during the First Republic had its own parliament and then lawmaking was part-time. People who served in the National Assembly went there for about three months a year, passed the laws and returned back to their full-time job. The prime minister and his cabinet were the only officials working full-time. Today, we have full-time lawmakers at local government, state and national level; full-time local government chairmen, full-time governors at the state level and a full-time president. All of them have their cabinets working full-time. All these have a negative impact on the system. We must go back to what worked for us in the past because the present system gags development. If we have democracy without development, as we have it now, we will never develop.

Today, there is no consensus about what restructuring means. There was a National Conference in 2005 under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, but with the failure of his third term agenda, the recommendations were thrown overboard. In 2014, there was another conference under Goodluck Jonathan where they talked about Resource Control among other things. But the recommendations never saw the light of day. We are talking about restructuring today because a northerner is in charge. What is our definition of restructuring? Different parts of the country have their own definition and we have not agreed on its meaning. Of all the leaders since 1999, President Buhari was more prepared to lead because he had contested the presidency three times before he eventually succeeded; unlike his predecessors. Do you think he doesn’t know what he is doing? He knows what he is doing. So, in terms of management of Nigerian affairs infrastructure wise and all other areas, with the little resources we have, after we have wasted it on full-time jamboree for everybody, no other person is more qualified than him.

As your party prepares for the national convention, what are the challenges that it should be ready to confront?

A national convention is the highest organ of the party. At the national convention, we elect the party’s candidate for the presidential election. In this case, since we have dissolved the National Executive Committee (NEC), we must also appoint a new national chairman and other national officers, to run the affairs of the party. We would also appoint a National Working Committee (NWC), which will be replicated at state, local government and ward level. So, it depends on what you want to do.

How united is the APC?

What do you mean by that? If you are talking of unity as a lack of division, then you are not speaking of a political party because there is no political party without division. I asked Audu Ogbeh the population of the PDP when it declared itself the largest party in Africa. He told me the party was 12 million then. Now, I am telling you, Bisi Akande who was Interim Chairman of the APC operated the 14 organs of the party with 12 million people who registered initially from the polling unit level. As I talk to you now, we are more than 15 to 17 million. If you have such a large party, which is obviously the largest party in Africa today, do you expect them to be singing the same song every morning, without divergence and without division? There are different bodies and these different bodies would express their needs, their fears, and their divergences and so on and so forth.

Nigeria’s political parties are still grappling with the problem of internal democracy. We saw it in the PDP and we are now seeing it in the APC. What do think of an appointed body dissolving elected bodies as we witnessed in the APC recently?

The APC has not done anything outside its constitution. The constitution of the party provides for the national convention as the highest body of the party. It also gives executive powers of the national convention to the National Executive Committee (NEC). The NEC has powers to discipline anybody below the national convention, including the National Working Committee (NWC) and all other organs. The NEC has powers to elect a committee to run the affairs of the party in defined areas. So, the NEC appointed the structure we have now, following the dissolution of the NWC.

What is your position on presidential zoning?

The need for zoning or rotation is determined by a structure. In the parliamentary system, you elect people from their parliamentary constituencies. The late Tafawa Balewa was elected in Balewa in the present Bauchi State and the party with the majority in parliament would appoint a prime minister, so there is no need for zoning. But, when you widen the base of the contest like now you have the whole country being the constituency of President Buhari. Since the constitution says there must a president and a vice president, you cannot have the president and the vice president from the same zone. There is something called segmented loyalty. It is at the level of competition and interest that determine where you belong.  If it is your family and other families, you stand by your family; if it is your local government and other local governments, you fight for your local government; if it is your geopolitical zone versus other geo-political zones, you stand your geopolitical zone; and if it is Nigeria versus Ghana, you will support your country. It is the same in politics. Since you have presidential zoning between North and South – and I am a southerner — I will fight for a southerner to become president. The merger that brought the APC into being was to make Buhari president and we cooperated. People contested from all over the country, but we had a mind to give it to Buhari. So, as a southerner, it would be unfair for me to support a northerner to become the presidential candidate in 2023, instead of a southerner.

How functional is your national caucus and why is your party refusing to inaugurate its BOT?

I am not the chairman; the chairman has the responsibility of inaugurating the BOT. I am not a member of the NWC and the NEC. So, that is a question for them, not for me. I am in the background and I cannot tell you what we are discussing in the background, just as you cannot tell me what you are discussing in your Editorial Board.

There is an allegation that those of you who are founding fathers have been relegated to the background and that the party is being hijacked by a clique…

What is wrong with that, if they are able to do so? It would be a failure on the part of those who are founding fathers to allow it and we won’t allow it. If we allow it, then we will suffer the fate of the PDP. But, I don’t pray for it.

 



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