Prince Tony Momoh, a national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and former Minister of Information, in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI in Abuja, spoke on the forthcoming national convention of the party, June 12, and other issues. Excerpts:
With just a few days to your party’s national convention, it has been reported that President Muhammadu Buhari has ruled out meeting with aggrieved Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) bloc, otherwise known as New PDP (nPDP). Don’t you think this will further worsen the situation in the party?
One problem I have with Nigerians is that they will read headlines and jump into conclusion. The president did not say he is not interested in meeting with NPDP members. What he said was that there is a party structure and the issue at hand is a party matter. Let the nPDP members meet the party leadership and of course, they have been meeting with Vice- President, Yemi Osinbajo and the president said that can continue.
Let me tell you what happened when I was national chairman of the Congress for Progressives Change (CPC). The Leader of the party then was Buhari and he was also the chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) as well as our presidential candidate. Lots of people always prefer to go with him to tell him about their grievances and so on. But he did not agree to attend to any of them. He will say ‘yes, I am the national leader of the party, I am the presidential candidate but I am a member of the party and my chairman is Tony Momoh. He is the national chairman of the party to go and meet him.
In 9 cases out of 10, everybody who came to me had earlier gone to meet Buhari who told them there is a structure in the party. It is just like Court structure. We have the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. If you have a case, you cannot jump to the Supreme Court. There is a structure in our party. Why are they trying to undermine the national chairman of the party? We have a national chairman, who is Chief John Odigie- Oyegun and he will remain until the convention when another chairman will be elected. Even if a new chairman is elected, he will take off where Oyegun ended.
President Buhari recently honoured the late MKO Abiola and also apologised on behalf of the military for the annulment of June 12 elections. Some Nigerians have said why didn’t he speak out in favour of Abiola while he was in detention under Abacha?
What obligation does he have to mention it? He has no obligation to mention it. If you are in a position to do something, that is the time you can be associated with doing it or not. What obligation had he? When he was Head of State in 1983/84, had Abiola contested election then? Was it the time he was toppled in 1985 and he was detained till 1989? Is that the time he would have mentioned that Abiola is released and by that time had the event happened? The election took place in 1993 and by then Buhari was not the Head of State. Later, he was in Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF)? Is it when he was in PTF that he would have campaigned for the release of Abiola in detention? Why will he do it? Abacha was the person in a position to do it. Do you know that Abacha and Abiola agreed that Abacha will only stay in power for six months and then hand over to Abiola? Abiola was against Ernest Shonekan so he was supporting Abacha. He said Abacha was a gentleman. That was why people like Jakande, Babatope and the late Olu Onagoruwa agreed to serve in Abacha’s government because it was agreed that they should cooperate and that was what happened. Later, they said there was a meeting attended by many of them with Abacha and they told him that ‘but you made a promise to handover in six months’, Abacha replied that he has changed his mind. So, he was not going to leave. Abiola then started fighting the battle on his own that later led to his declaring himself as president, his arrest and then died there. Since that time, we had this challenge. NADECO and lots of people started fighting for the actualization of June 12. At the end of the day, to pacify the South- West, it was agreed that something had to be done. That was why IBB handed over to Shonekan but that didn’t work. IBB championed that so one cannot really say that IBB who annulled it did not try to make amends. It was because of making that amends that Obasanjo was brought out of prison. They worked for him to win, he won. I think it is a question of opinion that what Obasanjo would have done is to say ‘Since it is because of this my kinsman that I became president, I was in prison, perhaps I would have died there, let me thank God by immortalising him. But he didn’t. In fact, the National Stadium in Abuja, when he built it, a lot of people said he should name it MKO Abiola Stadium, but he didn’t do it. So, apparently, he didn’t want to hear anything about Abiola during his presidency.
Now, Buhari is the one who did it. Buhari is not forced to do anything. Some said the decision to make June 12 Democracy day is political. What decision is not political? Do you know that to prosecute anybody for a criminal offence is a political decision? So, every decision you take, the exercise of your free will is a decision which is political. It is only later that you can say maybe it was towards the economic end or social end. Do people contest election for fun? Anything you want to do that can win election for you, why not do it? People have been president for eight years, people have been president for six years but they did nothing about June 12. Even a person like the late Umaru Yar’Adua tried; it was just that it wasn’t acceptable to the family. What I am saying is that at a particular time a decision is to be taken is taken. If you read any meaning to it, it is your expression of opinion.
Afenifere said honouring Abiola is not enough and that the President must restructure Nigeria to get their support in 2019. Do you agree with this?
Afenifere has been a leading light in the South West and in this area. I accused them in one of those years when they were celebrating June 12 in 2005. I said that they are a disgrace. I said there was a programmed on restructuring which they called The Yoruba Agenda. In 2005, they went to the Constitutional Conference convened by Obasanjo. In that year, I wrote ‘To Save Nigeria, Let’s Talk’. I sent 400 copies to the conference. Do you know that when Afenifere leaders got there, Obasanjo as president then told the governors of the South West who were mainly PDP to forgo the Yoruba Agenda and they abandoned it. So, during the June 12 commemoration, Fasehun faction and Gani Adams faction usually organised events for June 12. I always attended the one of Gani Adams because it was more revolutionary and Gani Adams is my very good friend. So, I went there and I took along one Dr. Kurfi from Katsina along. He was President Buhari’s right-hand man and he spoke about June 12, 1993, election and how in the North, they organised for Abiola to defeat Bashir Tofa even in his polling unit. He told the story and everybody was excited.
On my part, I said Yoruba leaders are a disgrace. Tunji Otegbeye was there and lots of other leaders. I said ‘you are a disgrace to those who believed in you. You who promoted True Federalism, the opportunity to execute it came and you went to the Conference and abandoned it. Otegbeye said they will send a message to me. The following day or two, three people from Afenifere came to my office in Lagos and brought me that publication, Yoruba Agenda. They said those who did what they did in Abuja by abandoning the agenda were not promoting the interest of the Yoruba. I read it and discover that it was the perfect document that will really restructure Nigeria. The agenda is the geopolitical zones should develop at their own pace and then contribute 50 per cent of their earnings to the Centre. That is all. It is not a big thing that we cannot do. To restructure Nigeria is still possible. But it will be difficult to restructure the country when we have all these diverse problems facing us. You structure when you have peace. I believe it is because of the problems we have that we have not restructured the country. But I can assure you that Nigeria will be structured.