‘We Have Too Many Presidential Jets Right Now’ – Dele Momodu
Dele Momodu veteran Journalist and politician, spoke in an interview with ’NONYE BEN-NWANKWO and GBENRO ADEOYE of the Punch Newspaper. He spoke on the state of affairs in the country, his open letters to Saraki and the amount of Presidential fleets used.
You can read excerpts of the interview below.
On the state of the country?
The state of the country now is a bit volatile. Don’t forget that a very strong political party was voted out of power last year, so naturally, the tension is still there. But my attitude to it is that the tension can be tackled by the government. There is nothing happening in Nigeria that has not happened elsewhere. In fact, we have had worse situations. In South Africa, Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years and when he came out of prison, he could have prolonged the disunity and the tension but he was smart enough to know that the only thing that could bring about progress in a nation is an atmosphere of peace. So that is what I recommend but unfortunately, some people in Nigeria feel that the tension should continue and that we should fight to the finish. But I believe that I am a good student of history and my attitude is that every Nigerian, whether in the Peoples Democratic Party, the All Progressives Congress, the National Conscience Party, the Labour Party or whichever, must join hands with President Muhammadu Buhari to rescue Nigeria and he too must join hands with them.
On the promise of change
I won’t use the word slow. I’d say we could do better. I’m not on the hot seat; I’m not the President of Nigeria, so there are things he would know that I don’t know. He would have access to more information than the ordinary man on the street. But I believe that Nigerians are very agitated at the moment. I’m seeing a lot of complaints on social media and all kinds of caricatures.
You would think the government has been in power for four years. In less than one year, people are already abusing us. ‘You guys are idiots; you brought Buhari on us’, ‘Shame on all of you’. I don’t know if all of these are getting to the government but this is the feedback that we are getting.
If you have been reading my articles in a national newspaper every Saturday, you must have seen that I’ve been reflecting that mood. What I know about government and power is that people (who are close to him) hardly tell the leader the truth. They tell him what they think he wants to hear; they tell him everything is under control. “Oh! Don’t mind the disgruntled elements.” In government, everybody is always disgruntled. This time last year, former President Goodluck Jonathan’s boys were busy abusing us thoroughly. There was nothing they didn’t say. But we knew we had to carry on with our mission, based on principle.
I’m not a member of the APC or the PDP, but people don’t know. I was just a volunteer. Our generation, I believe, is different. These days, nobody thinks that anyone can do anything based on principles. They think it must be based on political affiliations, religious fraternity and so on. I’m just a Nigerian who wants Nigeria to be good. I’m already 55 years going on 56 and I’m just worried. When the Wole Soyinkas were describing their generation as a wasted generation, I was so sure that mine would not be wasted. But at this rate, if care is not taken, we have virtually joined that generation.
No electricity, no water, bad roads, nothing. If you listened to Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s songs in the 70s and the early 80s, you can still replay the songs today and they will be relevant. The same old story! It is troubling for some of us, which is why I said we must join hands with Buhari because if he fails, we are in trouble. The President should also reach out to everybody; it does not matter whether you are a Christian or a Muslim or animist, whatever you are, we are all Nigerians at the end of the day.
On the size of the Presidential Air Fleet
I think we have too many presidential jets right now; that is my opinion. I believe that we have too many and even Buhari himself had criticised that before he became the President. So I don’t know what they are waiting for. I think we are spending too much money flying round.
Each time they fly, they tell me they have reduced the entourage but I don’t think so. I was in New York on my own but stayed in the same hotel with them last year July during the United Nations General Assembly and I could still see that a lot of the people were just roaming and roving around with nothing to do. I don’t see why the President should travel every time with a full entourage, especially for a country like ours.
You may say that Tanzania is a small country but a broke country is also a poor country. We are very wealthy in terms of our resources and assets, but right now, we lack cash flow. So we have to show that we are serious. If my company is not making money, I can’t go and be spending money on expensive lifestyles. It’s about how you manage yourself and I don’t see that yet. We have returned to the days when people think government is about enjoyment.
On not being made Minister
I know the number of people who were begging me to do everything possible to become a minister. And I told them: the only reason you want me to become a minister is so that I can go and steal on your behalf. You are not saying it because you think I’m qualified or because you love me. They told me it’s their own opportunity; that I worked for these people. And it got to a stage that even my wife said people did not allow her sleep; they would call her in the UK and say ‘Madam, talk to your husband, he is too arrogant and foolish. How can he work for Buhari so much and not get anything?’ If I was going there for service, nobody would worry me. So the mindset of an average Nigerian is still that government is the easiest way to make money. And with that kind of mindset, what can Buhari alone do?
No, I wasn’t disappointed (when asked if he was diasppointed that he wasn’t on the list of ministers). I actually wrote an article before the list came out on why I believed my name would not be there. People were circulating some names. But to start with, I’m not a member of their party. Anybody who wants to be a minister, an ambassador, the first prerequisite usually is to be a member of the political party. It is even almost a constitutional thing. Till today, I have never left my party, the NCP. So if I was desperate for an appointment, I would have left my party. Nobody would drive me away if I want to join the APC.
As a matter of fact, my good friend, Rotimi Amaechi (Minister of Transportation), has asked me many times why I have not joined the APC. I said no, I’m not interested. I don’t know how people do it when they jump from party to party like frogs. Maybe it is because I come from a background of intellectualism. I was supposed to be a lecturer but I couldn’t get a job in the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) when I finished my Master’s degree in 1988. That was what brought me to Lagos. So I was already 28 years old by the time I arrived in Lagos in 1988. That ‘village boy’ mentality has not left me till today- ignore all the glamour.
I am just who I am. I am happy contributing my quota to the development of my country. I’ve appointed myself as a global ambassador. I’ve been negotiating with rebels in Sierra Leone as far back as 2001. I would go there to visit our soldiers. You see, I read a lot and I’ve watched the lifestyles of the rich and famous elsewhere and I see how they contribute to their societies. You don’t have to be in government to contribute positively. Princess Diana used to go to Angola to campaign against land mines. You see Prince Harry going to Afghanistan to fight alongside British soldiers. Would you see the child of a Nigerian President or king ready to do all those things? That is me. But people don’t believe it because what they see is that he is the publisher of Ovation, he hobnobs with the rich and famous.
Yet, I write my columns every Saturday and I’m able to tell President Buhari what nobody would tell him. I was able to write and tell Jonathan what nobody would tell him. When the late Umaru Yar’Adua’s cabal was holding Nigeria to ransom, I went on the street and I was not a member of the PDP and I never sat with Jonathan one on one. He is probably the only President in recent times that I never took pictures with. I’m just who I am. I’m more of a scholar. My dream is to return to the university and teach the young ones. All the experience that we have gathered should not be wasted.
On former Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Alison-Maduekwe and allegations of being paid by her
That is why some people will rather leave this life of activism because whether you do it or don’t it, people must abuse you. What did I do wrong with Diezani? This is a woman that every reasonable journalist in the world would love to interview. People interviewed Osama Bin Laden. If it was in Nigeria, people would say they paid you to promote terrorism.
They would change the word reportage to promotion. That is what they do anytime because Dele is not supposed to be a poor person, he is a flamboyant man, so everything he does must be for financial considerations. What insult! I’m older than Diezani. Look, I’m the only one who knows how I gain access to people. When I contacted someone that I would like to speak to Diezani, the person told her and she said, ‘Ha, no no no, Dele is our enemy.’ That was the first thing she said and the person told me.
I said I was nobody’s enemy; whatever she says is what I would reproduce. A journalist must be able to give his word. People are abusing me for interviewing Diezani; what crime have I committed? Did I write in the interview that Diezani did not steal money? Where did I write it? Did I write that Diezani was the best minister in Nigeria? What did I write? Just questions and answers! Is it true that you have cancer? I took pictures with my phone and they accused me of doctoring pictures.
On allegations that his open letter to Buhari was Sponsored by Tinubu
I haven’t heard that in recent time. Before, I used to hear that. When he was taken to the Code of Conduct Tribunal and I wrote in his support, some people who were his political enemies abused the hell out of me. But Tinubu is my big brother. We were comrades in exile. We have come a long way together. I fight against oppression.
So did Jonathan pay me to go and demonstrate for him in Abuja? So Tinubu paid me to write that he was being victimised? Jonathan paid me to write that the cabal did not want to hand over power to him when it was obvious that the then President was not well. Some people called me a bastard for supporting Amaechi at the Senate, even to my face. I did not mind them, I carried on with my campaign.
Some people are attacking me now for supporting Saraki. Why? Because I said we must resist the impunity of a man suddenly becoming a villain only when government is fighting him. And it happens every time, right from Obasanjo’s time. If a governor was not in support of Obasanjo, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission would go and pick him. I resisted it at that time.
I wrote an open letter to Nuhu Ribadu that it was impunity and that it was not good to set fire on an entire village to catch a few rats. His guys came back at me seriously. I almost suedThis Day Newspaper because it was used to libel me for speaking the truth. But at the end of the day, Ribadu himself became a victim of impunity and he had to flee the country. So if they are fighting Tinubu, I don’t talk. They are fighting Saraki, I don’t talk. The day they come for me too, there will be nobody to talk.