Prince Tony Momoh, veteran journalist, editor, publisher and media administrator as well as erudite legal luminary, the man who, as editor of the Daily Times, took on the Senate of the Second Republic and fought the distinguished senators to a standstill, former Minister of Information who took public letter writing to art form, former national chairman of Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, and …. Oh! Come on. Who does not know Tony? The Prince of Auchi, the one who played a major role in the amalgamation of diverse opposition political parties into the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC. Now our dear Tony, as this embodiment of humility prefers we call him, appears content to be simply regarded as a chieftain of APC, the commonplace title he shares with any card wielding member of the party either of the high or of the low calibre.
Last Sunday, Tony spoke to The Guardian on Sunday and mounted a solid defence of the party and the Buhari government against the backdrop of equally mounting public criticisms of the handling of some key national issues, especially the economy, the fuel scarcity and the paralytic power supply. He explained that most of the challenges facing the APC government are the results of the “monumental rot we found when we assumed office.” He assured Nigerians that the government was laying a solid foundation for a new and better Nigeria. But he did not fail to throw the questions at the critics whose tribe is multiplying by the day.
“Nigerians,” he said “are complaining of bad roads. But what happened to the several billions of money voted for road construction and rehabilitation under the Jonathan government? If we complain about security challenges, what happened to the billions of dollars voted to fight insurgency, which some people mismanaged, the same with power and other necessary infrastructure?”
And then his challenge, which is the main thrust of this piece. After swearing and assuring that the change mantra of the APC is not a fluke, alias 419, this former editor and former minister challenged Nigerians thus: “Stone us if within two years the current government does not reverse the situation.” I have a more than passing interest in this matter. Not because I doubt his robust energy and capacity to defend this government. Not because the Buhari administration lacks people with adequate zeal and commitment to defend the government and explain why the APC promises have not been kept fully thus far.
All said, I still regard Tony’s stone throwing as metaphor for the voters’ inalienable right to vote out a non-performing government as they did to Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party, PDP
My interest in this challenge is anchored on nostalgia. Some 30 years ago, a fellow journalist who hailed from a village in the backwood of Auchi but who lived and practised his trade in Lagos – somebody eminently qualified to be called Tony’s kinsman – had, in his column, advised the government of the day – the military government of President Ibrahim Babangida – of which Tony Momoh was the Minister of Information, to ensure that the Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, it had just introduced succeeded and met the yearnings and aspirations of the people. Failing to do so, he warned, the government must brace for the inevitable anger of the people who might even stone its officials on the street.
The journalist in question is the late Dele Giwa. In September of that year I had written my column in Newswatch. Against the backdrop of the rising anger of the people who were fuming and complaining that the government had bowed to the pressure of the International Monetary Fund, IMF, I had said that since the government had been forced to swallow IMF’s bitter pills, it must see to it that the people enjoyed the dividends of SAP. I said that government had no choice but to succeed. Apparently not satisfied with my conclusion, Dele took it up the following week from where I left off by alerting the government to the possibility of angry people stoning government officials on the street as a consequence of failure.
Security goons hit the roof. They thought it was an abomination verging on treason for Dele Giwa to warn government of a clear and present danger arising from the anger of the people and invited him to come and explain the basis of his impetuousness. That was part of the travails of this rather iconoclastic journalist and editor-in-chief of Newswatch, the magazine we, Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and I, co-founded with him in 1984 and which made its debut in January 1985. It was one invitation after another until he was killed by a parcel bomb that was delivered to his home on October 19, 1986.
The interesting point here is how times have changed. Yesterday’s treason is now today’s profound reason. Clearly, journalists are enjoying what I regard as the veritable dividend of democracy, the freedom to practise their profession unfettered, even if in the process some people try to stand the truth on its head and manipulate fiction which they push into the public domain as facts.
All said, I still regard Tony’s stone throwing as metaphor for the voters’ inalienable right to vote out a non-performing government as they did to Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. That is the beauty of democracy in its pure and unadultrated form.
There is an Igala saying which, I think, is apt here: if the person in front accidentally hits a dangerous object, those behind him must take precaution against the same fate befalling them. In this vein, I find Dan Agbese’s intervention last Sunday very timely. In his column in The Guardian, he painted the ugly trajectory of PDP power, the behemoth of a party which claimed to be the biggest in Africa but which fell despite its abiding faith in the belief that it was too big to fall. Of course, it fell and was swept out of power, victim of its own characteristic impunity and arrogance, not to mention its egregious capacity for good and ill.
But writes Agbese: “APC is not immune to what is happening to PDP. Its time will surely come in the near future if it does not take the necessary steps now to build itself into a formidable political party with clearly defined leadership structure.”
In less than two months from now, the Buhari administration will be one year in the saddle, a short time to measure realistic achievements given the huge piles in the Augean stable that needed to be cleaned up but long enough time to chart a realistic course for recovery. The narrative of that recovery programme cannot reasonably be devoid of what went wrong that must be corrected. But after one year in office, the narrative ought to dwell less on the ills of the past and lean more on what should be done in the short term, medium term and the long term to take the country out of the woods.
The onus of charting that course lies squarely on the shoulders of President Muhammadu Buhari. Given the rot that characterised the Jonathan administration; its trademark kleptocracy, mismanagement and plain maladministration arising from sheer ineptitude, Buhari’s coming raised so much hopes that the aspirations of the common people for decent living, constant power supply, good roads and of course fuel supply so the economy can boom again would be met almost seamlessly.
But as we can see, it is a tall order to get the damage repaired overnight. There is no gainsaying the fact that it is easier to destroy than to build. The good thing is that Buhari’s confidence in his own ability has not waned and he has three more years to do the needful. Tony Momoh’s metaphoric stone throwing as a consequence of failure is not even something to contemplate for the sake of the common people who have been bearing the brunt of bad governments and are now crying out for redemption and salvation.