On Saturday January 31st, I was invited over to Abuja, the Nigerian seat of power to meet with and interview a long time elderly friend, General Samuel Ifeanyichukwu Momah, a 72 years old veteran soldier, diplomat, engineer and statesman. My first encounter with General Sam Momah(As he is globally known) was on Monday January 3rd 2005 when I was invited to Abuja by the then FCT Minister now Kaduna state APC gubernatorial candidate, Malam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai for an encounter at his private residence. Since that encounter ten years ago, General Momah has remained one of world’s most sincere human beings I have ever came across. His passion for leadership transcends ordinary thinking and his large heart for national development I am yet to come across in my 17 years of journalistic practice. The unknown biggest fact is thatGeneral Momah was equally APC’s presidential candidate’s General Muhammad Buhari’sPrivate staff officer (PSO) when the General was in charge of 4th Division, Lagos in the 70s. And because General Momah felt the kind of insults heaped on his former boss by the PDP in the name of politicking was too much, he felt the need to iron out some of the pressing issues in the media. His private secretary in Abuja had sent invitation to this blog and few other media houses on Thursday January 29th. The encounter was to hold on February 1st and this was the sole reason we had to hit Abuja on the last day of January. It was an interesting and incisive encounter as you will find out here.
|Meeting the General with other journalists in Abuja|
General Sam Momah (CFR) was the Honourable Minister of Science and Technology (1995-1999). He served under the military regimes of late General Sani Abacha and General Abdulsalami Abubakar. He formally retired after the military handed over power to an elected civilian president on May 29th 1999. The pioneer Commandant of the Nigerian War College has held numerous positions in his Military career which includes; Adjutant General of the Army, Commander Training and Doctrine Command, Member of the Provisional Ruling Council.
The General and Gentle man is equally a council member of the University of Jos and Nnamdi Azikwe University, Awka. He was also the Vice President, Third World Academy of Science with Headquarters in Italy. During his training at Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS), London, in preparation for his lecturing career at War College, he became a Research Fellow in Strategic Studies and later earned a PHD in strategic Studies and was in addition, honoured with a fellow of War College (fwc).
General Momah has a first Class honours degree in Civil Engineering and a fellow of Nigerian Society of Engineers (Fnse). The General is also a member of the national institute, (Mni) and was conferred with the national honour of Commander of the Federal Republic in 1998. A strategic thinker, and a voracious reader; General Momah has authored six high profile books on economy, technology, global disorder and the new world order and national security.
The encounter took place before the February 14th elections were shifted to March 28th and April 11th. It was done on Sunday February 1st and it was a very incisive one for that matter.General Momah, a patriot who believes in One indivisible Nigeria examines many issues among which is the preparedness of INEC for the election, the quality of the on-going political campaigns, the effect of the notorious insurgent, Boko Haram on Pre and Post-election activities and what the Nigerian populace should do to change their destiny in the coming elections. He spoke to a group of selected journalists in Abuja. Your soar away Africa’s number 1 Celebrity encounter blog, Asabeafrika was there. Enjoy the excerpts.
|The General shared a joke with the press men|
As senior citizen of this country, what do you think about the preparedness of INEC with regards to the incoming general election?
First and foremost, I doff my hat for Professor Attahiru Jega, for his courage in registering APC as a political party. It is the most defining political development in our political history, since the amalgamation. That has brought Nigerian politics to the fore, and given the country, that international recognition. That is because when it was just one big party and a splinter of so many smaller parties, PDP used to have its way and the PDP didn’t bother to develop itself. But now that it is two big political parties, I believe that Nigerian politics has now come of age. And as from now, we will expect something better. I believe that INEC is ready to have a free and fair election. But whether the players will play to the rule is disturbing to some of us.
“I was privileged to visit him in Daura when I went there to attend an event; I was amazed to find out that Buhari has only a bungalow! There were no luxury leather chairs there but simple wooden chairs. He lives a Spartan life because he does not believe in tampering with money that is not his. I think we have a Mandela in him and a Julius Nyerere in him”.
I believe that Nigerians are ready to vote. They have been sensitized enough. To my mind, this election is the most crucial event Nigerians has ever faced since the amalgamation of 1914 because, this election is important for many reasons. We have had the first 100 years as a nation; we know how Nigerians fared, very poorly. Now 2015, we are entering into the second 100 years of our existence as a nation. So this election is crucial, it will determine what happens to Nigeria in the next 100 years. There is need for Nigerians to take it seriously and vote the right person. I believe that there is need for change. Boko Haram is a menace; we never had it so bad, for a country to have some other persons hoisting their flag in the territories of this country, is un-heard of. Therefore, we need somebody who will deal with Boko Haram instantly and expeditiously. Secondly, the price of fuel coming down at this time, is a divine arrangement or blessing to give Nigerians the idea that if a government that has been there for 16 years has not improved their situation, now that the oil money is no more there, it calls for concern and a re-think because definitely, someone who couldn’t manage you during the boom era, will definitely not be able to manage you during the burst era! So it is important for us to see the hand writing on the wall, and vote for change. Are you optimistic that Nigerians are ready to vote?
Honestly, the certificate issue is very embarrassing to some of us because, here we are talking about the survival of Nigeria. We know that Nigeria is at the brink of collapse, and here we are, with one of our best Generals, who have trained in the best institutions in Europe and America, even in the US War College which by all standards is a Post Graduate institution, and you are talking about school certificate. I find it ridiculous and unbelievable, how our political class, and political parties could be so petty and mundane at this particular crucial time. It is unnecessary to go that low because we must win at all cost.As Principal Officer in the Nigerian Army who served under General Buhari when he was in charge of 4th Division, Lagos, what have you got to say about the controversial missing certificate of the General?Of course, we have tried a political party for 16 years without major change, so we must give another political party a chance so that there will be competition between the parties. If we don’t effect this change, some analysts foresee Boko Haram over-running Nigeria in two years’ time, apart from other internal crisis. And it will happen. We can’t gamble with that kind of thing! That will fulfil the prediction of the United State of America about the country breaking up. So this change must take place to avoid Nigeria disintegrating. It is ridiculous for a sitting president to tell us to re-elect him, so that he can defeat Boko Haram. Then why is he the president, because as president, he already has all the powers to defeat Boko Haram, he doesn’t need to wait for re-election to do so! If he has in the last few months collected back more than half of the territories that Boko Haram has got, he wouldn’t need to campaign. We would have voted for him! But he didn’t and now that election is here, his people are junketing about the place raising petty issues and leaving the real issues that should be discussed aside. It is unfortunate. We need a change.
The certificate saga is something that they should realise that they are denigrating the image of Nigeria and not just General Buhari. That is one of your best Generals and you are denigrating him, what should outsiders think of us! We must be careful of what we do, and not take it that far. The point of change that the nation has now reached is natural. It is the point that we must reach, to effect a change. And if they don’t want that change and they continue with blackmailing and denigration, then that will be unfortunate. The campaign should be issue-based, not on petty personal things. So the certificate issue should not be entertained by Nigerians. We should concentrate on choosing the best candidate come February 14, 2015.
“He came as a headmaster coming to address his students! A foreign secretary coming to talk to our president! If it was Obama that came, that would be understandable. And the president had to go and meet him in Lagos and I saw the president giggling and feeling happy. For Christ sake we are the giant of Africa, why are we made to seem inconsequential”.
Jonathan has tried his best. I doff my hat for him for holding the constitutional conference; he has given the women affirmation 35% gender equality, he has tried to tinker with agriculture, the cassava bread issue, which has now virtually died, and now he is trying to bring up a rice issue. I know he voted about 100 billion naira to revive the textile industry. But the point is that when you have a president that says stealing is not corruption, treats corruption with kids gloves, then most of that money released, just disappears. There is no system that will progress if there is no accountability. Jonathan has tried, but he has left the core issues which are security. If you cannot secure the lives of Nigerians, then I do not see why you are there as the Commander-in-Chief of the country! You are keeping some of us sleepless. Right now, we have a country where kidnapping is the order of the day, a country where unemployment is off the roof, about 80 million Nigerians unemployed, we have a country that God has blessed with petroleum, but we are importing oil and refineries are left unutilised. We have a country where the index of growth which is power, virtually non-existent. Nigeria is 187 out of 189 on the global index, so we are almost the last in the list of countries in terms of availability of power. We generate less than 4000 megawatts of electricity for 170 million people; while South Africans are 50million people and they generate about 40,000 megawatts of electricity. The president has not dealt with the core issues that would have made Nigeria what it ought to be. We know what our foreign reserve was when he came in. It was 48 billion dollars now we know what it is. Naira is going down the drain with about N200 to the dollar; our money is almost getting valueless. So when you ask me to compare the two, I think that we do not have a comparison to make.How do you rate the two major contenders in the forthcoming presidential elections?
Everybody has antecedents; I have worked under Buhari as his Principal Staff Officer when he was a GOC. We know him as incorruptible, we know him as being a man of Spartan life, one who is disciplined. We know him as a man of his words; his word is his bond, so he can be trusted. He has been patriotic, he is an achiever, one that you give a task to, and he gets it done. To us in the army, we know that there is no doubt that General Buhari is vying to become the president of Nigeria virtually for only patriotic reasons. I was privileged to visit him in Daura when I went there to attend an event; I was amazed to find out that Buhari has only a bungalow! There were no luxury leather chairs there but simple wooden chairs. He lives a Spartan life because he does not believe in tampering with money that is not his. I think we have a Mandela in him and a Julius Nyerere in him. Nigerians should better realise the quality of leadership that Buhari intends to bring to them, to regain Nigeria’s image abroad. Having seen Nigeria in those good old days and now seeing Nigeria degenerate, to what it is now, a country where graduates come out ten years after, no jobs, no plans for the jobs because the facilities are not there, and the environment to create such jobs is not in place. Someone like Buhari believes that, the situation should be corrected.How convinced are you that General Buhari can perform better than Jonathan when he becomes the president of Nigeria?
That I must say is absolute rubbish. That shows the level of ignorance among some Nigerians. That is because, in Nigerian Army, there is no way you can climb up to become a General if you are a religious fanatic. The troops are made up of people from various tribes and ethnic groupings. To be an effective Commander, you have to be seen as being neutral. So in the army we do not tolerate such. The troops are made up of Christians, Muslims and other religions, and you have to command them.How about the insinuations that General Buhari is a religious fanatic?
The campaigns have been very poor in quality. It has been very disgraceful because they have not been issue-based. It has been praise-singing and mud-slinging. The issue should be about the candidates telling us what they want to do in the next four years and how they intend to implement their programmes. The campaigns have not been what it should be. It has been more of a jamboree. Even a debate at this time does not make sense because people have trivialised the election issues to the point of asking for certificate of a General in the Nigerian army. So you can imagine what a debate will look like. Why are they not telling us how they are going to deal with Boko Haram? Obama became re-elected based on two issues. They asked him, ‘if you are elected, what will you do about Osama Bin Laden,’ and he replied, ‘I will kill him.’ Journalists were shocked that Obama could be that brutal and blunt. When he became president, he quietly planned and killed Osama Bin Laden. Based on that, he was re-elected. Americans like someone keeping his words. Again during Storm Katrina, it was towards the election, Obama left his campaign preparation to go and look after the people that were affected by the storm. He used his incumbent opportunity to prove that he is a caring person. That is what I expected the incumbent Nigerian president to have done. All the displaced persons should have been taken care of and Boko Haram crushed. If he had done that, he wouldn’t need to campaign, people would vote for him. So these issues are clear and straight forward. We can’t go on this way, we need a change! We are toying with something that can spell disaster if we fail to effect a change now: May God forbid such disaster upon us.What can you say about the quality of the election campaigns?
Well I am not surprise that this is coming up because, for long or too long we have treated militants and all sorts of law-breakers in this country with kid’s gloves. We have even talked of negotiating with Boko Haram, people who do not just shoot but also slit throat! They have been killing people like goats. It is hard to believe that the government spends N24b annually to the militants for them to guard our pipelines! Yet they do not guard the pipelines. They break it and scoop oil making us to lose about $1m everyday minimum! So if an individual now goes to buy warship, you can imagine what is on ground! A war ship is never switched off; it is always on twenty four hours of the day. It is a task to maintain it and expensive to run. And that is what an individual has. We have given them too much latitude and too much money. It has come to a point where we must assert our sovereignty as a people, because the country belongs to every one of us. They buy war ships, build universities abroad, they are so wealthy. This impunity must stop else Nigeria will go down the drain. It’s unfortunate that many Nigerians do not know that Nigeria is sinking! It must be prevented. When people make such statements, you can imagine the state of madness that we are in.There has been the heating of the polity with the militants in the creek threatening war if the election dos not go in favour of the incumbent president, what do you have to say to this?
I have my respect for the Minister of Finance, she is an intelligent lady, but the issue remains that in the budget, we haven’t seen how they intend to counter the downturn in oil price. I was expecting to see major agricultural programmes, how to mobilize Nigerians: Like what we had during Chief Olusegun Obasanjo”stime where he went behind his house while in the state house with his hoe and started farming- Operation Feed the Nation. He demonstrated it and Nigerians then realised that farming is for everybody, that it is not just for farmers. We have reached that stage where you just have to have a tomato garden behind your house. There must be collective farming. I expected Jonathan to mobilize Nigerians like that. The price of oil will continue to go down; the prediction is that it could even go down as far as $30, and then the cost of producing the oil becomes more than its value price. So we must go back to land, as we may not be able to import rice, import this and that from abroad. What I see the Minister of Agriculture doing now is gimmicks. The austerity measure is neither here nor there, because from her calculation, the country can only save about N10.8b that is not enough money for Tompolo to spend in a week! Looking at the price of oil now, and the federal government’s austerity measures, the Minister of Finance has said that we should tighten our belts this year, how do you think this will play out for and against the economy?
It is sad that Nigeria is now treated more or less like a banana republic. They know that the country’s currency is battered, the country’s future is not assured so therefore the coming of Kerry is with all good intentions, but it also goes to show how Nigeria’s image has been dented internationally. He came as a headmaster coming to address his students! A foreign secretary coming to talk to our president! If it was Obama that came, that would be understandable. And the president had to go and meet him in Lagos and I saw the president giggling and feeling happy. For Christ sake we are the giant of Africa, why are we made to seem inconsequential. And he was telling the politicians that they have to behave or they will not give them visa to visit their country. That is why we are saying that there has to be a change, because unless this change comes, things will go worse, and before we know it, it will be like Sudan, Somalia and Afghanistan. These countries are just 10 million people, and so on, the international community can manage their nuisance value, but for 170 million people to be rendered useless, it is going to spell disaster for the entire world. We will be eating up ourselves, we will be worse than animals. We must avoid that kind of situation. The president said that terrorism is everywhere, that we should be patient. But Nigeria is not just any country. It is the leading country in Africa. We have to deal with Boko Haram and other internal issues so that we can face real development. When the president does not have that urgency of situation, I get worried!What do you think is the implication of the visit of the American Secretary of State to Nigeria against the back drop of the drum beats of war after 2015 election?
The main problem is that we are trying to fight insurgency warfare like a conventional warfare. Our troops are conventional soldiers. That is, fighting from trenches. But Boko Haram is mobile, difficult to pin down so we need a terrorist approach to deal with them. We need to infiltrate their lines. You don’t fight them by dropping bombs from aircraft you will be killing poor innocent civilians; you infiltrate their commands and deal with them internally. By now we should have thousands of trained spies. Go in there and be sending us information and eliminating their main leaders one after another. We should terrorise the internal structure of Boko Haram. We are not doing that, and they are waxing stronger. They have seized Baga to ensure their economic life because Baga is a major commercial centre. They are strategizing for future warfare against the entire country. When they capture the Lake Chad area, the fishing area, they are sure of some sustenance, and then they can start moving in. So this is the reason why we must wake up now from slumber. Right now they have surrounded Maiduguri, if they get in; it becomes more difficult to dislodge them. This is the time to fight with all our breath. In terms of worst global terrorism, Nigeria is now number three. It is that bad. So these are the real issues.As a veteran war commander, what do you think is the main problem in our approach to the fight against Boko Haram?