General Sam Momah (retd) , a former member of the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council and Minister of Science and Technology, Gen. Sam Momah, hold s PhD in Strategic studies and is a Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineer. He once served as a Principal Staff Officer to General Muhammadu Buhari, (retd) the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress. Momah, in this interview dismisses the furore over Buhari’s certificate as a dent on Nigeria and not the former head of state. Excerpts:
By Soni Daniel, Regional Editor, North
You were the Principal Staff Officer to Buhari when he was the GOC of the 4th Division of the Nigerian Army. What do you make of the controversy over his missing certificate?
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, including the United States 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 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.
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. If you are the one trying to use a non-issue to disparage Buhari, what should outsiders think of us? We must be careful of what we do and not take it that far.
How do you rate the two major contenders in the forthcoming presidential elections?
Jonathan has tried his best. I doff my hat for him for holding the Constitutional Conference; he has given the women 35% Affirmative Action on gender equality and 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 that he voted about 100 billion Naira to revive the textile industry and all that. Indeed, I can say that he has tried his best for Nigeria.
But the point is that when you have a president who says that stealing is not corruption and 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 and corruption hanging loose.
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, is virtually non-existent.
Nigeria is 187 out of 189 on the global index, so we are almost the last on 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; now we know what it is. Naira is going down the drain with over 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 convinced are you that General Buhari can perform better than Jonathan if he wins the next election?
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 in his village and nothing more. 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.
But many have described Buhari as a religious fanatic? Aren’t you worried about that?
To be an effective commander, you have to be seen as being neutral. So in the army we do not tolerate such.
Playing of naked politics
The troops are made up of Christians, Muslims and other religions, and you have to command them. So, if anybody is trying to input that Buhari is a religious bigot, just know that the person is playing naked politics, far from the truth.
What can you say about the quality of the election campaigns?
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.
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.
Are you not worried that militants have threatened war if the election does not favour their own candidate?
Well I am not surprised 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 throats. They have been killing people like goats. It is hard to believe that the government spends N24 b annually on 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 every day. So if an individual now goes to buy warship, you can imagine what is on the ground. A war ship is never switched off; it is always on 24 hours of the day. It is expensive to maintain it. 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 and live in luxury while the majority wallows in abject poverty. 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.