Former Minister of Information and Culture, Prince Tony Momoh, in this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO, takes a critical look at all the dimensions to the recent #ENDSARS protest in the country. Momoh, who is an elder statesman, says the #ENDSARS protesters meant well for the country, warning that the country could witness more agitation if a larger chunk of the country’s resources continues to be used to service governance structure instead of being channeled into development.
What are your reflections on the events of the last three weeks in the country that started as a peaceful protest against police brutality but later turned violent with many people killed and several public and private properties either burnt or looted by hoodlums?
I am giving a wider horizon explanation. There is a difference between people of knowledge and people of intellect. People of intellect are those who went to school and learnt everything they know on earth in their brain. People we say are intellectuals are materialistic. People of knowledge are those who accept that the author of creation is the God Almighty and that, that God has a hand in the growing of creation.
When I was writing Letter to my Countrymen, I said that Nigeria does not just have a future; it has a mission. And that Nigeria is a destination for man in the next few years because those who will rule the world in the next few years will be those who know God. There is nothing anybody can do about it. Now, there are end time happenings. There is nowhere in the world where people are not protesting against the indiscretion in their countries. So, Nigeria is not an exception. And in end time manifestation, those who are not committed by tongue, those who are not committed by religion are the ones that come out to attend to indiscretions in the polity and these are the young people.
The young people are pure. They are not committed to language; they are not committed to culture; they are not committed to colour. So, they are pencils in the hand of God to bring order to God’s creation. That is what is happening in Nigeria too.
So, there is nobody who belongs to the group of people of knowledge who will criticise what our young people were doing, because nobody sent them. You cannot say that someone sent them to embarrass the government; that someone was manipulating them. That is out of the question.
So, in the last two weeks or so, the first 12 days of the protest were days of purity. Nobody could interfere with everything they did; nobody could break into their ranks. Fortunately, whatever they asked for in the first three or four days were fully granted by the president. So, if for instance they did not want to risk incursion into their ranks, perhaps they would have stepped back and given government a specified period of time for the implementation since you cannot just start restructuring government without due process anchored in the constitution. So, they made a mistake by still continuing the protest, thereby giving room for incursion because it was a question of time before people who didn’t mean well would come.
So, I refuse to believe that these young people are the ones who broke into police stations to collect guns. No way! I don’t believe it because people who are end time crusaders don’t do evil. They act in good faith. So, we should look for those who broke into police stations outside these young people. We should look for those who destroyed houses and other assets outside these young people.
I am not saying there are no criminals among young people; but I am telling you that before criminality sets into their growing up, before cultism influences their growing up, they mean well in whatever they do. So, we must try to differentiate between those who mean well and those who came to disturb what they were doing.
I have sympathy for the young people who mean well. They are pencils in the hand of the creator in restoring order at this end time. And order must come; discipline must come. So, what I am saying in effect is that I support wholesomely what those young people were demanding and I support the president who granted them without questions. I have no sympathy for those who came in to disturb them. And no government will refuse to take action when violence sets in to disturb what people were doing with honesty.
So, a lot of things that people say happened seem to be schemed events, exaggerated events. That is why I support an inquiry into what happened. They must bring out the total picture of what happened so that those who are guilty will be punished and those who are not guilty will be compensated. That is my take.
You blamed the protesters for continuing the protest after government had granted their demands, which gave room for incursion by criminal elements. But do you think the government mishandled the situation at any point?
The government seems to have come in as at the time the governors started declaring curfew. As journalists, we are to monitor what happened. As at the time the governor of Lagos State, for instance, declared curfew from 4.00p.m, which was later shifted to 9.00p.m, the report was that a particular police station had been broken into and the arms take away. There had been total take over of the well-meaning protest of the youth by those hoodlums who had political scores to settle and so on. For instance, those people who targeted TVC, The Nation newspaper and some other properties were doing it to destabilise Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
So, if anybody thinks that it was the Igbo, as some people were trying to do, they are being unfair to Igbo people. No Igbo man will go and destroy Oba’s palace; none! And no Igbo man will burn down what he has invested. No sensible Igbo man will destroy his investment unless he is doing so by way of vendetta or reprisal. And that being the case, he will do so in his own state not in Lagos. So, we must look towards the Southwest in trying to unravel what happened in Lagos by way of massive destruction of public and private property.
Don’t let anybody deceive you; anywhere in the world where is there is a protest and anybody touches any property, the person is shot because every property in any country is part of national asset. And nobody should make the mistake of thinking that the youth destroyed those properties. The youth were not agents of anybody. Hoodlums took over and destroyed things they targeted.
There is also another dimension where people started targeting warehouses where there was food. The Federal Government voted money for palliatives and the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management was going from state to state delivering truckloads of food to governors who were mandated to distribute them to their people. Why would they go and store them in warehouses and not distribute them? You remember that some people were even claiming that the minister was given money and she squandered it. It is now obvious that some other people should be blamed for what happened. The Federal Government bought food to be given to people and some people stored them in warehouses, to what end? No, no, no… There are some people who don’t have a heart, who don’t believe in God and are in positions of authority. Such people will never go free.
So, we have three sets of people – the youth who started the protest, the hoodlums who took over and those, whether hoodlums, youths or whatever, who joined in raiding warehouses. Those I blame are the hoodlums who burnt properties, who burnt police stations and took arms. I have sympathy for the youth who mean well for the country apart from the fact that they should have taken the initiative to step back after government had granted their demands. I don’t blame those who went to warehouses to take food. I have sympathy for those who joined in looting warehouses where food was.
Some people are now saying that the structure of the country had a hand in what happened and as such true federalism is the way to go. What is your take?
You know I wrote Letter to my Countrymen between 1988 and 1990. I wrote 11 letters and out of the 11 letters, four of them had to do with restructuring. And I have also written To Save Nigeria, Let’s Talk since 2002; it also has to do with restructuring because the cost of governance is too high. Anywhere you spend more than 20 per cent of your revenue on recurrent, go back to the drawing board because the emphasis is on development, on growing the polity. We spend over 75 per cent now on recurrent; Nigeria will never grow with that type of structure. Imagine what we spend on public officers. Seventeen thousand five hundred public officers all over Nigeria take up more than 75 per cent of our resources.
For instance, law making. What are we doing with full time lawmakers? What are we doing with executive governors in 36 states exercising the power that premiers were exercising when we had four regions – the Western Region, Northern Region, Eastern Region and Mid-West Region?
We really need restructuring; we must restructure. We must decongest the political space because Nigeria does not just have a future; it has mission.
What lessons can Nigeria learn from all that has happened with the #ENDSARS protest?
Experience is the best teacher. The concentration of power at the centre cannot be sustained. We have millions of people all over the country and the country is being dominated by the giant three – Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo. They are the ones struggling to present president, to occupy office. What of the other people? We have 35 nationality groups in the North out of the 62 that Awolowo identified and yet we say North and South. There is nothing like North; you and I know there is nothing like South. Those in the Northern Province at amalgamation are the ones we say are northerners; those in the Southern province and Lagos Colony at amalgamation are the ones we regard as South. And so, people say that amalgamation was a mistake. Amalgamation was never a mistake. Fact is the concentration of power in the so called big three and their refusal to recognise that we must decongest the political space through restructuring so that we can reduce the struggle for the key positions at the centre is inimical to the development of Nigeria. But decongesting the political space is what will make Nigeria grow and be the destination of the whole world because Nigeria has an anointing given by God. Only God can give an anointing and Nigeria has it. So, I believe Nigeria does not just have a future; it has a mission. Where you have a structure that creates more poverty than wealth, then we should wait for more agitation. But Nigeria cannot break; it won’t break because it has a mission to fulfill.