In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Michael Abimboye, journalist, social critic and former presidential candidate, Dele Momodu, speaks on the coming presidential election, the Goodluck Jonathan Presidency, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and other sundry issues. Excerpts:
You are one of the critics of the Jonathan administration, what do you think it could have done better?
For a man with that kind of background similar to mine, he should have been president of the people. Jonathan became an elitist president and the moment you are elitist in nature, outlook in attitude, you are bound to fail. Nigeria requires a selfless leader and reduces personal comfort for overall comfort of the people. The moment you gallivant all over the world, drive special jets, go to Jerusalem with entourage of people and people are lying to you that you are the best thing that ever happened to Nigeria, what nonsense.
The mistake he made was that he did not come as a leader who was ready to serve his people. You look at their budget in a year they are budgeting billions for food in Aso rock. If the president is ready to downgrade his personal lifestyle, you will see that people will follow him.
The key element of leadership is trust. If you are coming to Lagos, you lock down everywhere; you cannot be a man of the people, you cannot see anything and that is why the Benin-Ore road they are making noise about is still useless. They have repaired some parts of it but did not do it all the way to Sagamu. Jonathan does not see all these because when he moves, they shield him.
Look at the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the most important road linking the heartbeat of Nigeria to the rest of Nigeria. The PDP has not been able to complete it in the last 16 years. There is headway in the railway, looking at Sijuade and the rest, but the government must be more serious than ambitious. If you just want to do one rail from Lagos to Kano then make it the best quality. When are we going to start doing quality projects?
Look at the international airport, the first point of contact with foreigners. I will expect the renovations that they are shouting about. I do not know how much it cost but the airport is one of the worst in the world today and that is why I took some pictures to show the world.
If I were in his shoes I would have merged all the universities so that it will reduce the overhead cost. In those days, University of Ife started from University of Ibadan. The Adeyemi College of Education was in Ondo but under University of Ife. If that is done we will have a single vice chancellor manage them well and standardize them.
I was made to know education is the bedrock of any great nation. Any nation where you do not make education as priority, you are going to have glorified illiterate. If we switch to economy, to create jobs is not difficult. It is for you to reduce cost of running government. If you reduce cost of running government you will be able to use money for the health of the nation. He should approach the National Assembly and tell them he is reducing the cost of running the government by 25 per cent or 50 per cent. If the National Assembly sees that he has reduced the cost by 25 per cent and plead with them to reduce the cost and they say no, then we will now take them to the court of the public. But when they see you are living lavishly, you cannot tell others not to do so.
The cost of running the Federal Government is outrageous. Imagine Nigeria wanting to go and borrow $1billion to fight Boko Haram. If corruption is reduced you will see that Nigeria will be top all around the world because we are the most brilliant people in the world. If it is seen that we have a good president, people will come back home to be among the best in the world. I interacted with them – our military as far back as 2001 in Sierra Leone, later in Liberia. As a matter of fact, Nigerian military was controlling 10 out of 15 states in Liberia. They were well equipped, motivated, well protected. Until that is done we are going to continue having the security situation. Our secret service has been politicized. I have never seen where FBI, CIA……..They should be well equipped so that they can carry out their job of spying, which is one of the important jobs in a country. That is why in France when the enemy strikes before 24 hours, they are tracked. Our men can do it but everything in this country has been politicized. We now have to choose based on ethnicity. Nigeria has brilliant people who can lead this country.
A lot has been said about governance in Nigeria, what actually do you think is Nigeria’s problem?
Our problems are multifaceted. They are not problems we have not seen elsewhere. They can be solved by one man. People think it can be solved by all of us. I disagree with them and that is why I ran for the presidential race. The day we get the right president with the right mindset, a lot of things will go away because everybody is looking at the man at the top. If you see that the man at the top is not corrupt, even if you are corrupt, you will be more careful. People will say they are many corrupt people in APC, but I can tell you because I have good relationship with top characters in APC that they have maximum respect for Buhari. That is why I will call Buhari the Mandela of the nation. Once there is respect, we will not want to tarnish his image.
Former President, Olusegun Obasanjo has been criticizing President Jonathan. Don’t you feel he is one of the people that created the problem in Nigeria?
He has been a critic of the government but if he makes a mistake, it is good for you to admit. I believe what Obasanjo is doing now is a way for atoning for his sins. He must be feeling bad and guilty that this problem is on Nigerians. So whether he is doing it for selfish reasons, the reason is best known to him. We must listen to him. He is one of the best we have in Nigeria, against all odds. He was able to fight for Nigeria, hold Nigeria together, went to prison, came out, and became president though he is not perfect. By now, I am sure he will be regretting some of these things that happened under his administration. He has his followers too and he is respected, internationally.
As a former presidential candidate, why did you decide to support Mr. Buhari for presidency in the coming elections?
Well, the mood of the nation favours a change in our state of affairs. The average Nigerian, except maybe those who are profiting from the government, believes that government has not performed. So I have looked at the political situation, based on my vast experience working with late Chief M.K.O Abiola, working with Chief Olu Falae, and working for myself and I can see that the only way to dislodge the PDP is if we all join forces. I’m not a member of the APC, I’m a member of the National Conscience Party and I never thought a day would come when I won’t support my own presidential candidate. But the reality on ground is that we have to face the reality.
I now know what it takes to win a presidential election. I went through it. All the idealism that I had has evaporated. I was one of those who felt that Nigeria was ready for change in 2011. They would look at the track records, merits and they could see that I was one of the best candidates that was available in the country but the truth is that it takes much more than your personal character, achievement, popularity to win a presidential election and that is why I’m humble enough to say enough of contesting and let me find one of the candidates who has the ideals that I had in 2011. Unfortunately, I can’t find any other person than Buhari. It does not mean Buhari is a saint; it does not mean Buhari does not have his own faults because he’s human being and we are all mortals. But if I have to choose between Buhari and Jonathan, I will go for Buhari.
So you are sure of Mr. Buhari winning the election?
Oh, I have no doubt that General Buhari is set to create an upset in Nigeria’s political configuration.
Despite the violence-free peace pact signed in Abuja by President Jonathan, Buhari and others, there are still cases of electoral violence. Do you see a violence-free election in February?
Oh, we can. What usually happens is that once a particular candidate is overwhelmingly popular and the mood of change permeates the entire society, it becomes difficult for people to fight because it becomes oblivious that one candidate was more popular than the other. That’s what happened in 1993. Nobody fought when Chief Abiola won. People expected that there was going to be violence, but there was no violence because it was clear that Abiola was way ahead of Tofa. How will you fight when your own people are supporting your opponent?
If Buhari wins this election, it is not going to be a close election because he is going to win by a wide margin. Jonathan’s supporters who think they can fight now, by that time, it would have dawn on them that even in their own village, Buhari has supporters and in situations like that who are you going to fight?
There have been attacks on candidates as the elections get closer. What do you make of the advertorial by Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose on Buhari?
I will describe the advert as very satanic, extremely satanic. It is probably worse than the cartoon that caused problem in France and this is where you know that Nigerians are not really violent. In other places, that would have caused violence. What he did was to provoke anger in the people against the PDP and against Jonathan. If I were Jonathan, I will distant myself from Fayose immediately because that advert was totally reckless and irresponsible. I will appeal to us to tread carefully. Who knows tomorrow? Nobody has the power to life and death. Old age doesn’t mean you will die before a young man. I think he carried it too far. I’m sure by now he is regretting it but might not admit it. If I were him, I will run another advert on the same pages and apologize. If he carries on with this recalcitrant approach to life, he would not like it in future. We must all guide what we say and do because we need peace in Nigeria.
There are reports that elections might not hold in some areas within the troubled north-east region. If elections do not hold eventually in those areas, do you think this will affect the outcome of the election?
I do not know what will happen. The elections are still over 20 days away. I don’t know what INEC’s decision is going to be. I’m sure the candidates will agree before a decision is reached. If the candidates agree to exclude those affected areas, so be it. The governors in those states are insisting that election can be held. Maybe what they have to consider is to do special election for the affected areas so they can concentrate more security. If it is just a one day affair, whatever it will take for those people to exercise their voting right must be done.
The Federal Government announced reduction in price of petrol, what can you make of this?
My reaction when I heard this was that it was a little too small and a little too late. I wrote in my column in ThisDay that what has been done in Nigeria is wrong and that it is different from what is done in other countries. You use to tell us that you were paying subsidies. If the price has fallen, so what subsidies are you paying? Removing N10 naira is an act of ‘tokenism’ and I’m sure it is because of election, which is sad. It is something you should have done under normal situation. You (Jonathan) went to Borno also. It is something you should have done on a normal basis. If sufficient interest has been shown, even the military would have driven into action but his body language is ‘I don’t care.’
What is next for you?
Well, you know I have always been a media person and I hope we will be able to achieve more aims because as you know that is my lone interest. I have been working quietly. My attitude to business is that – if you cannot make a difference do not bother investing. Whenever, you see me bring any media thing it has to be top notch.