“This was the noblest Roman of them all. His life was gentle and the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, this was a man.” William Shakespeare placed these exact words in the mouth of the character, Marc Anthony, in his chef d’oeuvre, “Julius Caesar”. Anthony made the statement upon the death of Brutus. The same can be said of Tony Momoh whose demise was announced in the late hours of 1, February 2020. His picture of a better Nigeria and solutions to her avalanche of challenges were captured in the different newspaper headlines only a few days ago. When news spread that the veteran journalist and ex-minister of Information was dead, the world was struck. The news of his death elicited responses in sympathy from various quarters. Many were left distraught at the news given his role and contributions in nation building.
In a statement issued on his 80th birthday in 2019, President Buhari had described him as a progressive and visionary personality whose “sacrifice for the growth of democracy and journalism in Nigeria will be remembered by posterity.”
Born on April 27, 1939 as the 165th child of king Momoh the First of Auchi Kingdom, Etsako West Local Government, Edo State, Momoh attended Government School, Auchi (1949 – 1954) and Anglican School, Ubuneke, Ivbiaro, Owan West Local Government Area of Edo State (1954). He later became Headmaster of Anglican School (1958 – 1959) after teaching in the school for a while.
Afterwards, he proceeded to Provincial Teachers College, Abudu, Edo and Government Teachers College, Abraka, Delta State (1960 – 1961). He kicked off his journalism career in the DAILY TIMES as a trainee Sub Editor in 1962. He went to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka to read mass communication and completed the course at the University of Lagos.
He later studied law at the University of Lagos and was Called to Bar in 1975 after attending the Lagos Law School (1974 – 1975). He occupied various editorial and administrative positions in the DAILY TIMES before he was appointed Minister of Information and Culture in 1986. He was one-time Secretary and later President, Nigerian Guild of Editors, Chairman, National Registration Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists and also, at a time served on the Board of the Nigeria Airways. He is a fellow of the Commonwealth Journalists Association. He was equally the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council of the University of Jos.
His foray into politics would change Nigerian politics forever. To his credit, he is the mastermind behind the merger of the three main political parties that formed the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC). The three merger parties include Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), and All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) with a faction of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and the New Peoples’ Democratic Party (N-PDP).
The result of the coalition defeated the incumbent government of President Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP, thereby ushering in President Muhammadu Buhari as the nation’s leader in 2015. He had earlier in 2011, assumed the position of the national Chairman of the CPC, thereby surpassing the achievements of his idol as a young man – the late Chief Anthony Enahoro. It was said that his admiration for Enahoro was the reason he decided to change his name from Suleiman to Anthony.
Although a loyal party man, Momoh as a politician has found himself working closely with individual politicians as a result of their character rather than the political parties they belong to. Thus, in all his political career since 1998, he has professionally handled the media and publicity campaign of only two politicians – Dr. Alex Ekwueme and President Muhammadu Buhari.
Momoh was quite articulate and outspoken about national affairs. He was well known for his bluntness and was committed to any cause he believed in. He carried it out without fear or favour. Perhaps this is why President Muhammadu Buhari describes him as a rare breed. He was a progressive and represented the idea of a true statesman.
Sanwo-Olu, Governor of Lagos State, in his condolence message, described him as one who advocated for a better Nigeria during his lifetime. This is reinvigorated in the condolence statement by the Secretary Caretaker/Extra-Ordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) of the APC, Senator John James Akpanudoedehe in Abuja on Monday night which reads in part:
“The late Prince Tony Momoh was a strong advocate for internal party democracy which allowed for open, consultative and fair party processes. His mindset and approach to politics was that of service, not business.
“As CPC National Chairman, he made clear the defunct party’s resolve to bar any of its aspirants to become candidates if they engaged in corrupt practices or thuggery during the primaries.”
The statement by the Secretary Caretaker described the death of Momoh as a monumental loss to the progressive fold, his immediate family, the President, government and great people of Edo State.
Just a few days before his death, Momoh was very assertive in an interview where he was of the position that Nigeria needs a lot of overhauling in order to attain its full potential.
One of the overhauling he cited is the Nigerian political space which Momoh described as being too congested with many elected officers. He argued that that money accrued to these politicians was enough to develop Nigeria. He averred that such problems as Nigeria’s rising debt profile and the Federal Government struggle with funding can be abated if the political space was decongested. In an interview with newsmen, he noted that “You must decongest the political space. When you decongest the political space, economic deregulation will be automatic.”
“The thing is that we see tenures as opportunities to take but the fact is when you decongest the political space, you will discover that many people will be going after others to come and work.”
Momoh, like political analysts and experts have observed over the years, maintained that the cost of governance was a major bane to the economic progress of Nigeria. His words: “If you look at the cost of governance and try and look at the 1999 constitution through budgeting where we have full-time lawmakers, full-time everything unlike the First Republic when we had only part-time lawmakers. So, you discover that as of 2002 when I wrote, “To Save Nigeria, Let’s Talk”, we were spending more than 80% of our resources on recurrent, and you spend more than 20 to 25 per cent of your resources on recurrent because you are supposed to spend a large number of your resources on development (capital) and not on running the government.”
Momoh weighed in on the idea of restructuring for Nigeria and threw his weight behind the idea of unicameral legislature. He was of the belief that it would cut down costs of governance and provide an effective one at that. The ex-Information Minister stated that, “We are running a centralized government in the name of a Federation in Nigeria, where you have the regional governments as we had in the First Republic which had powers and a part-time legislature.
“Now everything is full time. It cannot work. We must look back, have one lawmaking arm at the Centre because that is what we need now, and law-makers will be part-time.
“Then perhaps, in the regions or so, we have a parliamentary system because in the states, for now, only the governor is elected, the deputy governor is a spare tyre.
“The governor has all the money coming to the state. He pockets it and decides what to do with it.
“But if we have a parliamentary system in the states, for instance, the majority would form a government and execute the programmes of the zones.”
The veteran journalist further stressed on the need for devolution of power and how it would ease the burden of the central government. Tony Momoh stated that the federal government oversees 93 areas of laws that have been made by the National Assembly. In his words, “We have to reduce them to less than 24. That is how federations work. A federation is not a centralized government.
“So we have six federating units that the powers at the Centre would go to and then the regions can make arrangements for security like Amotekun. If you have Amotekun in six zones, within six months there won’t be kidnapping, there won’t be banditry.
“What we have now is that our Federal Government is struggling with activities it cannot supervise or even effectively monitor.
“Until we have the will power to decongest the political space, I do not think Nigeria can work.
Against this backdrop, Tony Momoh traced what he describes as the lapses we now see in fighting corruption, insecurity and reworking the economy, to the constitutional provisions of budgeting and putting structures that are ill-advised.
The way out Tony Momoh believes is cutting down costs of governance, institutionalizing a part-time unicameral legislature, devolution of powers which will engender community policing and other items in the concurrent list which should ordinarily align with the different states. The ex-Minister of Information also proposed using the zones as federating units since the states are within the zones.
Patriotic Nigerians will indeed miss those vital and deep-seated contributions of Prince Tony Momoh , that always provide great spice to the national discourse. In the words of former Governor and APC Ex-Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomole, here goes the man who “played politics without bitterness, but with exceptional maturity and a unique ability to accommodate diverse opinions even when they were against his own beliefs”.
By Piercy Mabel
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