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Tony Momoh
In Nigeria, there is no gainsaying that many are now scared of the future. If it is not from the fear of the dreaded Islamist sect, Boko Haram, it is the pain following the removal of oil subsidy. And as it appears, every day comes with fresh challenges.

However, despite uncertainty in the land, one man who is not surprised with the development is national chairman of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and former Minister of Information, Prince Tony Momoh. In this interview, he speaks on a wide range of issues. Excerpts…

With the state of the nation today, how do you feel as a Nigerian?

I feel fulfilled as a Nigerian looking at the chaos surrounding us today and this is what many people foresaw. That was why we said we needed change, which has to do with the mindset. Change here includes the political structures that we have. We also talked about change in the politics we were doing.

We needed a change in mindset by looking at issues from a principled angle of putting God first. That would make you understand that whatever you are doing is registered for you to answer to God. That one would also make you accept that there is a conscience and that conscience is always knocking on your heart when you do anything. That is change of mindset. You would say who is my judge? My conscience is my judge. God almighty is my judge but the mindset we have is manipulate the people. But the manipulation of the people would only be some of the time and not all the time. So, the change in mindset was one.

Then the change in politics in Nigeria brought Attahiru Jega, chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). We thought he could effect the change within the arrangement we have; having an electoral law, a man of integrity. I can assure you as chairman of Congress for Progressive Change that we really celebrated the coming of Jega. But in spite of what everybody says now, Jega, Nigerians, their conscience and God almighty that they serve know that what we called election was not an election. We all know that what we are still doing with elections is manipulation of votes; win at all costs and celebrate that winning without remembering our conscience, God almighty and that you can only manipulate the people some of the time and not all the time.

Then the other one is structure. We must restructure Nigeria because Nigeria cannot work as it is. The earlier we come to that, the better. So, when you say you want to change the Constitution, you are wasting your time because you are looking at the people who are changing the Constitution and who are not willing and can never agree to undermine themselves by robbing themselves of what they are enjoying. So, if you really talk of restructure, though we are talking of such fundamental restructuring that would make us look at what it is that we have today; 36 states of the federation, all of them are enjoying the same structural adjustment as the three regions were doing in 1960.

So, we have a governor, a House of Assembly and then you have the civil service structure. It was three at independence, four in 1963 when the Mid-West was created; 12, then 19, 21, 30 and now 36. And it is the same structure. The abuse of that structure was reflected when the old Bendel State was split into two – Edo and Delta. They had 18 permanent secretaries when it was Bendel and when they split it into two, obviously, it ought to be nine permanent secretaries but Edo alone had 32 permanent secretaries.

And each permanent secretary in Nigeria earns the same as his colleague anywhere in the country when we do not have a unitary civil service structure. We need change. But what I say now is that Muhammadu Buhari cried and a lot of people started saying he was shedding crocodile tears. But Buhari knew the corruption in this system. He knew the fraud and indiscipline in this system and he cried. That is manifesting now with what we have after removing oil subsidy.

I would like to talk on the fuel subsidy, which everybody is compromised or ignorant of. But then I wish Nigeria happy New Year. Whatever happens is that Nigeria cannot be fixed by God. It is Nigerians that will fix Nigeria. Nigeria is a country to be fixed by people and these people have been endowed by God as human spirits to make or mar Nigeria. What we have been doing is marring Nigeria. But since God is the creator and must restore order through the law of sowing and reaping, we would reap what we have sowed.

You said you are fulfilled because what you predicted about the state of affairs in Nigeria is coming to pass but are you not scared that the nation may even break up?

I am fulfilled because what we have always stood for is blaring us in the face now. But Nigeria will not break up and it should not break up. Two hours after the New Year, I sent out a message to my countrymen through the Nigeria world forum and of course, it would reach about two million people and I said that the heavens have not fallen. People say the heavens would fall and I said the heavens would never fall.

The heavens have never fallen and the heavens would never fall. The heavens are permanent. Even the earth would never fall. The earth has a lifespan and the clock is ticking and when it comes to the end of its life, the clock would stop. Nigeria would never make the earth fall. Nigerians are the ones to fall or rise through what they do with the power God gave them as human beings to cleanse and affect their environment. We have refused to add value to our environment. Instead of doing things to grow the environment, we are doing things to deny growth to the environment. In the constitution, we chose to work on two legs since 1999-democracy and social justice.

That's in fact what we have been doing since 1979. Now, the thing is we have only one resource, a particular volume of money to grow democracy and social justice. It is for those who are in charge to know whether they would grow democracy at the expense of social justice or to grow social justice at the expense of democracy or hold them in such proportion to ensure there is growth. But what have we been doing? We have been growing democracy at the expense of social justice.

And that is why you would say according to what the clerk of the National Assembly was quoted to have told the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on the arraigning of former Speaker, Dimeji Bankole, that the senators take home about N360 million per annum. They are entitled to take home N11 million maximum but through all sorts of arrangement. That N360 million is given to each senator who empowers his people by buying shovels, wheel barrows, sowing machines, bales of cloth and, of course, buying motorcycles for thugs among others. After all that, he would say, I empowered my people.

That N360 million is obviously for democracy. For instance, you could say, you people should work part time because in the First Republic, it was part time. Why can't we work part time now and make more laws like we were doing in the First Republic unlike now that we are working full time? We could say instead of giving them N11 million like we are officially doing now, let us give them not more than N3 million. Today, a senator takes home N360 million per annum and works full time as a senator and also works full time in his private business. He uses his senatorial contacts to help his private business.

You see the abuses. We are funding democracy. If you put that N360 million in a senatorial district, you would have four hundred boreholes and everybody would have water to drink. That is the choice we are making. If you grow social justice, that is reflected in the welfare and security of the citizens, you create jobs, build schools, hospitals and so on and so forth. And the government is there because of security and welfare of the people. That being the case, why not put money into education and other social services?

Now, the choice is clear that we must restructure Nigeria so that you have social justice or you have an agreement where you put more money in social justice and have less available for growing democracy. In Nigeria, we have democracy before development. It does not happen anywhere in the world. There is no place where you fund democracy more than social justice. A councilor is in full time making law for the council, House of Assembly is full time and National Assembly is also full time.

All these people are earning big money. The president, governors and chairmen of councils all have security votes. The governor has about four to five billion naira for security vote that nobody can audit. What are you securing when as a governor you do not even have power to secure the state even though you are the chief security officer of the state. This is because the police are responsible to the President, Inspector General of Police and Minister of Police Affairs.

What type of country is this that is growing democracy? But the fact is if you want to take that quantum of democracy that would grow Nigeria, you cancel the executive governor position and have parliamentary legislature with part-time legislation.

The party with the majority would pick a premier or whatever you call him and then the ministers or commissioners would come from House of Assembly elected. Now, what you have is that the people who are commissioners are those compensated for failing primaries. It does not make sense. And they owe no allegiance to anybody. Those people worry more than the elected people. They hear all kinds of complaints – my children want to go back to school, my wife put to bed. They also go to the elected people and you know they do not get more than the money allocated to them. They go to ministers and commissioners who were appointed because they lost primaries to beg for contracts. So, what is wrong with us? I am fulfilled because I have been speaking about these things over the years and nobody is listening.

On fuel, why I am fulfilled and laughing and Buhari should be fulfilled and laughing and CPC people should be laughing is that we said there is nothing like subsidy.

The amount of money we are paying for fuel is the amount that is paid by a country that does not produce fuel or petroleum resources at all. How much does it take to bring one barrel of oil and then refine it in Nigeria? This is so that when you refine it, you would have so much volume of premium motor spirit, kerosene, diesel and so on and so forth and even the residue that is used for heavy industries. All these would give you employment. How much employment have we created in using the old refineries to access those kind of resources? We give the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation 445,000 barrels a day.

They know how they distribute it for refining abroad and they send it to us to buy at a rate as if we did not send oil to anybody for refining and as if we have no oil at all, and as if we have no refineries. Even at that, it costs N34 to land a litre of fuel. We sell for N65. So, who is subsidizing who? But because of the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency and PPMC, we have found ourselves doing more arithmetic than looking at the facts on the face. Every month, PPPRA would just tell us how much they have used for subsidy and then the rest is given to be shared and there is not enough to be shared.

Then we go and borrow from excess crude account. If there is no excess crude account today, Nigeria would collapse. So, instead of attending to the fraud and corruption in the sector that generates funds for us; in the Nigeria Customs Service they tell you that they generate N70 billion every month and we start congratulating them, when as a matter of fact they make a N100 billion and share N30 billion. Then you go to Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) where they give you a lot of wrong figures because there are banks abroad that are supposed to be collecting money for us and are collecting money outside what they are entitled to. Or you go to NNPC that is supposed to have 445,000 barrels a day, refine some, distribute some and they are not accounting for what comes in the area of the byproducts from petroleum. Nobody knows what is happening there.

Everywhere that money is generated in this country, there are entrenched abuses, corruption and fraud. President Jonathan knows this and in fairness to him, all these people helped to run his election. But now, what are they doing? They want to recoup and this man cannot stop the fraud and he knows that. In fact, Nigeria is broke. But what does Jonathan do? Instead of attending to the problem and dealing with people who are doing it around him, the only way out is stop PPMC giving out to anybody. Having done that, he now leaves all the money that they have been paying, which is part of the fraud and corruption, he now puts it on Nigerians through the pumps. But the fact is, where is the money going?

Where is the difference between N65 and N150 going? Do you know that many people like you think that the money would go to government for the Kolade committee and other people to use in growing the alternatives? It is not so. These monies go directly to the marketers and not into the coffers of the government. The only thing government may be gaining are the NNPC mega stations. What they generate in this rip-off would go to government and nothing else. So, all these things they say would be done like rail and so on, where is the money going to come from? The money must come from supplementary appropriation because the 2012 budget is already here where you have over N900 billion for security and you spend N3 billion on security, including Saturday and Sunday. What are you securing? We have not had much problem of security since the Nigerian civil war as we have now. We have not deployed armed forces as much as we are doing now since civil war. So, security as far I am concerned is part of the problem.

I think they generate fear for Jonathan who said is not a General when in fact he is a Field Marshal being the President and Commander-in-Chief. Unfortunately, Jonathan does not have the mindset of even a Sergeant. He does not have any military mindset. Being the President of Nigeria, he is the Commander of the Armed Forces but he is easily frightened by what is happening. When Obasanjo came in 1999, the National Security Adviser told him the security implication of his traveling but Obasanjo threw away the security report and traveled. He spent a total of one year traveling in the four years he was here.

We are always frightened by all these security reports and these are the reports frightening Jonathan everyday that he is now taking cover in Aso Rock and celebrating independence in Aso Rock. What type of country is this where the President, who people should look up to, is frightened and he takes cover? All the gates to Aso Rock, only one is open. Our president should be all over the place. The Madalla explosion, he got there after about a week or so. After the United Nations building explosion, he did not go. He said on Facebook that he was sorry, he did not want to go and disturb people who were working there. What type of country is this? The police headquarters bombing, he went there and was smiling. He shook the IG's hands and said they were after him (Jonathan) and not after him (IG). What kind of country is this where the leader of the country puts his safety first? So, we are the ones laughing now.

Like I said, the money from fuel subsidy is not coming from anywhere. If they had put the subsidy money in the budget, you would say that the money would be diverted to these areas. So, I am emphasizing it now that the difference between N65 and the N150 per litre we are paying now will not go to government but to private pockets of those who are selling the fuel. I say it that the President is not able to deal with the 'strong men' in the business of oil. Someone said that the government is dealing with the poor men because it is not able to deal with the rich man.

From your vantage position, how do you feel about activities of Boko Haram?

I laugh too because I celebrate our innocence. If CPC had been formed before Boko Haram, people would say that Boko Haram is the military arm of CPC. In spite of the fact that Boko Haram was there, doing its thing before CPC was formed and before CPC became active after January 2011, people still associate Boko Haram and CPC. I am the national chairman of CPC; in other words, the executive chairman of CPC and I can assure you that we have nothing to do with Boko Haram.

We would have nothing to do with any religious organization or anybody that wants to address injustice his own way. We would address injustice in our own way as a political party by confronting injustice. They say if you cannot beat them, join them. We stand on a pedestal where we know injustice is and we will confront injustice and we will not join the unjust. People confront injustice in different way. For instance, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) is confronting injustice to the South East, the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) confronted injustice, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) confronted injustice in the Niger Delta and whether you know it or not, Boko Haram is confronting injustice. But the fact is that they have always said what they are doing and that what people say they are doing is not what they are doing.

They say that they have killed their leader. Those people who killed their leader must be brought to book. They say they will target Police, Army, other security agencies and government institutions. They said they would target their own governors who are Muslims and refuse to rule according to Islamic law – Sharia. They say their governors are corrupt and that they would target them. It was there on their video and they even published the full report where their leader was sitting down with two people holding AK-47 rifles sitting by them. It was published in the Blueprint newspaper. The new newspaper, they seem to have faith in it and they tell them their own angle. They said they have never bombed any church. So, if you hear a church has been bombed, it is not them.

They said they have never robbed any bank because they have money to carry out their operations. But they did not say where the money comes from. If you go to Taraba, Bauchi, Yobe, Maiduguri and see what they do, you would be shocked and you cannot put them in the papers. How many can you report? The thing is that late President Umaru Yar'Adua went to the Niger Delta and after discussions he started empowering the Niger Delta youths. They are all over the world today. Let Jonathan also empower the youths and all those involved in Boko Haram. Let him reach out to them and if possibly grant them amnesty. Let him start adding value to the youths in the North. Today, I think the World Bank has said that the poorest group of people in the world today are youths in the North.

The Supreme Court recently confirmed President Jonathan's victory in last year's general election, what's your take on that?

Well, the Supreme Court is the last court in the land and is the last person to speak on issues of law. We accept but we do not agree. Anything you say about that judgment becomes intellectual exercise, which can only help to illuminate issues but it is to no effect. For instance, we do not agree because at least we had 12 appeals from the rulings of the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court did not look at them. If they were time bared for no fault of ours, why did the Supreme Court not refer to those matters.

They could have said even if they are time bared, there are issues raised therein. You cannot prove that INEC conducted election unless you have access to the material. We were denied access to that material. Justice Salami agreed access to that material with the cooperation of the INEC lawyer, the PDP lawyer, President's lawyer and Sambo's lawyer. All of them agreed that the request of the CPC should be granted. They granted it and it became a judgment of the court. When they saw what was going on, they removed Salami. They had no right to remove Salami. The only body that can remove Salami is the Senate.