Prince Tony Momoh, a former Minister of Information and one of the national leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, speaks on the renaming of the National Stadium, Abuja, after the late Moshood Abiola, June 12 as Democracy Day and other issues. Excerpts:
Why do you make of the renaming of the National Stadium Abuja after the late MKO Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the June 12 1993 presidential election by President Muhammadu Buhari?
I congratulate Nigerians and all of us who have always believed that Abiola was entitled to be remembered and renaming the National Stadium Abuja after him as Moshood Abiola National Stadium is a befitting monument to his memory. The stadium was built during the tenure of Obasanjo in 2003. There was appeal by Nigerians to Obasanjo to name the stadium after MKO Abiola, but he refused to do it for reasons best known to him. Jonathan on his part had an opportunity to name a monument after Abiola and he did by changing the name of the University of Lagos (UNILAG). By doing this, he was localising the status of Abiola and in a way, ethnicising it.
UNILAG is located in the South-West which is populated by the Yoruba which is Abiola’s tribe. So, it was inevitable that renaming UNILAG after Abiola will be interpreted as portraying Abiola as an ethnic champion, when as a matter of fact, Abiola won a national or presidential election in which all Nigerians voted. He even defeated Bashir Tofa his opponent in his polling booth. That election was the freest and the most popular in the history of Nigeria. Because of the greed of some military officers was annulled even without the permission of Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB), the then Head of State. It was announced through the office of Vice- President Augustus Aikhomu not through even Duro Onabule, who was the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to IBB.
Don’t you think IBB should take the blame for the annulment?
Why not? He took the blame because the bucks stop on his desk.
If he took the blame as you said, why hasn’t he apologised?
No! I don’t know whether he has apologised or not apologise but the fact is that it was the heavy duty pressure from people who said Abiola becoming President will be over their dead body just like some people said Buhari’s swearing –in will be over their dead body and I understand that they are still breathing now that Buhari has been sworn-in. Anyway, it is neither here nor there but the fact of the matter is that nobody immortalised Abiola until the person they thought could not do it did it and that is Buhari. Though Buhari recognising June 12 as our own Democracy Day is worthwhile, he even did more by renaming the National Stadium Abuja as Moshood Abiola National Stadium. I am very happy with that type of recognition because Abiola, during his lifetime was known as the pillar of sports in Nigeria. So, it is very befitting recognition.
What lessons can we learn from June 12?
June 12 will inspire us to achieve poverty alleviation through democratic means. June 12 will also let us sort out ourselves to know what quantum of freedom we need to drive growth because the essence of any system is growth. Chapter 2 of the constitution said government is there because of the welfare and security of the citizenry. So, welfare and security is at the top of growing a nation and the means of doing so is by achieving our democracy. So, we must look at our democracy and see whether we need democracy full-time to grow our nation or we need part-time to enhance the growth of our nation. For me, I think part-time legislating and decongesting the political space will help us grow Nigeria faster. We must revisit our democracy structures so that we can spend the money we gain in taking our people out of poverty level.
Afenifere said Buhari has shown half-commitment to June 12 and that they only use it to get votes from the South-West. What is your take on that?
What did Afenifere say about Obasanjo and Jonathan for refusing to honour Abiola? I don’t think Afenifere said that but if it is true they said that, then Afenifere is degenerating into playing politics that will lead to not recognising those that matter. Every decision in politics is a political decision. Even to prosecute a case is a political decision. Why didn’t Obasanjo or Jonathan not do so? If indeed Buhari did it to gain South- West votes in 2019, is he still looking for votes in 2023? All he would have done having recognised June 12 as Democracy Day is just to ignore it and then we continue celebrating democracy day on May 29. For instance, Buhari didn’t deliver any speech on May 29 but on June 12 he addressed the nation. Let people now start analysing his speech. He addressed every aspect of our national life be it social, economic or political. So, nobody can say Buhari didn’t speak. He spoke confidently and sounded like somebody who is ready to hit the ground running.
Do you still hold the view that two-party system will serve Nigeria’s democracy better?
First of all, let me make a statement about democracy. Democracy is the luxury of development. There must be development before democracy. But Nigeria is the only country I know all over the world where there is democracy before development.
And so, there will never be development.
Having said that, anything we propose has to be in position to be a growing weapon for the polity. In other words, look at what you want to grow in the polity and take that quantum of freedom you need in growing it.
So, the party is in promotion of democracy and democracy should be the luxury of development. And we are not pursuing development the more parties we have. The more parties we have the less we are ready to pursue development because you cannot spend so much money on democracy — full-time councilor, full-time House of Assembly, full-time governor, full-time National Assembly — and expect to grow. This is a country where senators take N13 million per month and you can’t afford to pay N30,000 a month to workers. So, the fewer the parties are, the better. The way to do that is to make politics a service not a business.
So, as far as I am concerned, we should restructure Nigeria and ensure that we go for what we are ripe for, the parliamentary system. That is what we are ripe for not presidential system. And if it has to be presidential system, then law making should be part-time.