The versatile Prince Tonye Princewill, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and a former governorship candidate of the Action Congress, ACN, in the 2007 election in Rivers State in his first interview of the year spoke with some Journalists including his Media Team disclosing why he is still eyeing the number one post in Rivers State, his views on Amaechi and President Goodluck Jonathan, his call on President Obama of USA, the proposed amnesty package for Boko Haram members plus other topical issues in the country.
There is this news filtering around that you are eyeing the governorship position in Rivers State, how true is this?
Unlike most people I like to talk straight. I have been eyeing this position of governor of rivers state since 2006, so to me your question is not news, what is news is that I have been heavily involved in consultations to the point that I have conducted researches across the state to find out what the people want, what they need, their perspective on governance coupled with many other issues that are dear to them, so I have gone very far and very wide. A commitment like this is not a commitment you make overnight and there are a whole lot of people that are part and parcel of that decision. I am still in the process of my consultations and have just received a report from my field consultants who have helped me conduct this study. I am currently digesting it with other members of my team. I have shared it with the Governor and other stake holders including the President and Atiku and as time goes by, it and my decision will be made public. If you take a decision like this, it is not a decision you take alone. Because once you are in you cannot come out. You take it all the way to the end. If my experience in 2007 is anything to go by, many people will expect me never to turn back. That is the insurance that I will be giving everybody. Otherwise my political career will be over before it even starts. Hence once I have decided to start, there will be no turning back. Till today there are people who walk up to me today and chastise me for withdrawing my case from the tribunal and supporting Amaechi. Even though I have no regrets, that will not be repeating itself. So the rumour or the news as you call it is not news because I have been on it since 2006 and if in 2015, God’s grace remains upon me and I do decide to run, people will see something they have never seen before. Where there is a will, there is a way and since my name is Princewill – with God, he will make me a way.
What informed that decision, is it the desire for gain or the desire to serve the people of Rivers state?
I think to me politics is a duty not a privilege, I don’t think you should be going into politics because of what you can get or what you can gain, my purpose of joining politics is based on what I want to give. But like I have consistently said in previous interviews, I am tired of taking all this responsibility to myself; I want government to live up to its own responsibilities too. As a private individual we provide our own light, water, education, health and security. That might be okay for me and you but what about the less privileged? Those who are better off and in a better position should start to ask themselves what can they give back so that the less privileged can also have those benefits? Until we can do that then there should be no peace for any of us. So I want peace and I want peace of mind that is why I am going into politics. I have come to the conclusion that unless you have equality, justice and fairness there won’t be peace for any of us, that to me it is a non-negotiable position.
Can we achieve perfection?
No. But we can do far far better than we are doing now. Politics is too important to be left to politicians. I want the less privileged to have more of a voice.
What new things are you going to introduce in Rivers state that the incumbent has not done?
Well everybody comes into politics with their different perspectives, so don’t let us start talking about my manifesto before I make a declaration. There is no doubt that Ameachi has done very well in a variety of areas. Though even he would admit that knowing what he knows now, there are many things he would have done differently. So if he has learnt, so have I. But I always remind everybody when they complain about Amaechi or they complain about Jonathan or whoever they complain about, that leadership is not an easy task. Even the best of us can make a mistake that is why pencils have erasers, so what we need to do is to encourage the leadership through constructive criticisms and that is what I am trying to do, I am trying to encourage Amaechi so he can do better. The same applies even to Jonathan, in spite of the fact that I did not support him by the time he was contesting in the primaries. I supported Atiku. But I came to the conclusion that he won the primaries against all odds and Nigerians voted for him en masse. So whatever we can do to encourage them and give them healthy advice that is what we will do, that is why my report on my survey that I conducted across the state was made available to my Governor so that he can see what his people are craving for. I am tired of this taxi driver approach where somebody will say I arrived at the airport and I jumped into a taxi and I asked the driver what he thought and the person told me that Fashola is doing well, Amaechi is doing well, Jonathan is doing well. To me that is not a good way to run a government, if you want to know whether you are doing well, then a proper survey should be carried out to know what the people think. Feedback is important. What use is there in running a government of the people by the people for the people if the people’s true thoughts are not a key part of it? Same applies to you the media. Can we not have more fact and less opinion? Sycophancy is a problem when telling the system the truth can prevent people from paying your children’s school fees. Surveys can help address that. Facts don't lie. Opinion polls can help. Where are they?
Like most politicians it is when an election is approaching that is when you see them doing one empowerment programme or the other, you are a politician even though you are not occupying a political seat, what have you been able to do for your people in terms of empowerment?
I don’t think there is any need to blow my trumpet, so many people in Nigeria not just Rivers know some of the kind of projects I have been involved in, in fact I have been accused variously that I am doing some projects because of political reasons and I am glad that you said that it is when election is coming that politicians starts doing things in their constituencies, but I have been doing them for a very long time and I will continue to do them. I have been doing them because if you want to touch people’s lives you don’t need to contest or win an election to do so. To me I have always said that in Nigeria the kind of politics we play doesn’t care enough about people, it only cares about godfathers because it is the godfathers that put people in office so that ultimately those in office come back to repay them the favour of putting them there in the first place. So the style of politics that I have been playing out is not the style that wins elections. When you go and take care of the godfathers so that they can put you in office, then you win elections. Look at Princewill vs Omehia in 2007. I have been interested in the people and sometimes it is at the expense of the godfathers. So it is not the kind of politics you play if you want to win an election or if you want to contest for governor, but like I said I am not doing it for political reasons, I am doing it because I feel the people genuinely need help, they need help now not in 2014 or 2015. I tried to spread what I am doing not just in my community, not just my state but across the whole country. When my Princewills Trust came out for flood relief did we stop in Rivers state? No. We went to Bayelsa state as well to help our brothers and sisters there. My reality show with orphans was conducted round the whole country. The winning prize of 10m Naira went to an orphanage in Kogi state. Another orphanage from Imo state took the third prize of 3m Naira. A total of 8 orphanages from all over the country contested, only one from Rivers state. Will they vote for me? Do orphaned children vote? No. I am not trying to blow any trumpet and like you said I am not holding any political office but I am trying my best just to touch the lives of the average Nigerian with particular interest in children and rural women. It makes me sleep better at night.
The bickering between Jonathan an Amaechi as regards the 2015 Presidential election calls for concern, what is your own view about this?
Coming back to your question, the bickering is not necessarily because of 2015 Presidential election. I think as much as 2015 may have a role to play in it, I think it is deeper than that. Some of us have been privileged to spend time with the parties involved and we know better. I know Jonathan’s thinking on the matter and I also know Amaechi’s thinking on the matter and I believe that at the fundamental root of it is a gross misunderstanding between the two. Who supported Jonathan most when he was Vice President? And who gave Amaechi free rope in 2011 when many asked him to clip his wings based on the perceived leanings in Rivers state? Jonathan does not hate Amaechi and Amaechi does not hate Jonathan. In fact secretly if they are honest, they both like each other but I think they have been surrounded by events that have led to this gross misunderstanding and in the end the same Amaechi and Jonathan will surprise us all and settle. Some of us had checked the cause of this misunderstanding, when Amaechi became the Chairman of the Governors Forum, he was already suspected of harbouring an anti Ijaw sentiment in the back of his mind. Remember he was part of the old Rivers state were the Ijaws dominated, so anybody who saw the arrogance we exhibited back then knows we created our own enemies. Combine that with the suspicion that Rivers state was leaning towards Atiku during the 2011 primaries and you will know that an Amaechi Governor’s forum gave the Jonathan camp goose bumps. Some of us advised him that this is going to bring issues between him and the President; he refused to listen to us because he genuinely believed that there is no reason why he was going to bring about conflict between him and the President, his boss and the leader of his party. Now we can see who was wrong.
You see Jonathan is presiding over a system and that system was a system he inherited. The negativity in that system is what Amaechi is protesting against, not Jonathan. But there is no way Amaechi will not have conflict with Jonathan because Jonathan is the current custodian of that system and that system is there for a reason, to keep the enemies out. If our leaders like me had all decided to work together for the good of the people, there would be no need to keep this system. If they had decided to work with Jonathan to move the country forward and he in turn was ready to trust them with no reservations, the system would be more open, more transparent and more productive for Nigerians. Eventually Amaechi will find out that many people that are behind him are supporting him against the President, just because of 2015 and not because they want a change in the system. I believe at the end of the day those that matter will realize the answer to the real question. Is the issue 2015 or is the issue change? If the issue is not change then many people will find out that the devil you know is better than the angel you don’t. Then I think both of them will settle and move on.
Many people are looking at the Governor’s Forum election which is coming up very soon.
If I want to make a prediction, I predict that Amaechi will scale through by the skin of his teeth but if he does not, don’t let us forget that when a dog bites a man it is not news. What is news is when a man decides to bite a dog. Tambuwal’s emergence as Speaker was news, Amaechi surviving will be news. Therefore I don’t think Jonathan wins either way in the short term, but in the long term, Jonathan is most likely to emerge. This is not about battles, it is about a war. A war is the combination of many battles and I don’t think Amaechi can survive all the battles with the Presidency. Amaechi might have been a product of God but so was Jonathan. To defeat evil, you must be good. When two miracles of God come face to face, show us the evil. If in the event you have to become evil to eliminate good, what is the point? In the end the President will realize at a point that Amaechi is really not his problem. Of this I have no doubt, what I am not sure of is how much damage would have been done by then.
For those of us in the South-South we do not want any problem in our region because there is no need for that. I think for someone like me who is a potential Governorship candidate I will probably be the beneficiary if two of them fight because I do not think I will be the first choice candidate of either of them. So it is not necessarily a bad thing for me if there is a quarrel between them but I am not looking at my own personal ambition. I am looking at the benefit of my state and it will take a very strong man to convince me that the fight between Jonathan and Amaechi is not going to have a massive and negative impact on my state. It already is! I have done a lot to bring the two of them together and even though I have not succeeded till this point, I think at some point in spite of any interventions by third parties, two of them will realize that they and they alone need to settle this matter. I notice that there is no mature discussion going on between the North and the South or the East and West and that leads me to conclude that they the regions are not interested in collaboration first and interests second. This means that power play will be in full effect come 2015 and many will be victims of it. If I was Obama right now, I would take a look at what is going on here because it has the potential to shake not only Africa, but the rest of the world. The mistrust amongst the regions may need outside mediation if those inside see no need for it.
Is a National Sovereign Conference imperative at this period?
Without a national conference of sorts, a progressive Nigeria will never emerge. At best we will have a Nigeria of old, continually limping and never living up to its true potential. At worst we will have a crisis. I hope I am wrong but mark my words. Obama needs to call Jonathan, Atiku, Buhari, Asiwaju and a few others and with the help of Cameron and Kuffour or Annan to broker a long term and deep seated peace. Only then can we join the BRICS nations and make them BRINCS. I am aware Atiku has extended an olive branch, because that is his nature, what I am not aware of is if there is trust left amongst them. None of the people I have named above can be intimidated. That is why it’s good to talk.
What is your take on the outcry on the Presidential pardon granted Alams?
Before I say what I want to say, let me start by saying I am against corruption and believe that we need to do even more to fight it. I don’t want my comments misconstrued into suggesting anything otherwise. Having got that out of the way, I must say that I think Nigerians sometimes baffle me. Sometime I just wonder if we enjoy deceiving ourselves deliberately. First of all Alams conviction was purely political, I challenge anybody to say it was contrary. To his left and to his right there were governors that were stealing but today they are walking the streets of Nigeria freely. How about going and getting disgusted about that? Even people who championed his conviction were CEOs in corruption. Are we so easily fooled? I am not saying he was innocent. That is why he received a pardon. What I am saying is why him?
The reason Alams was convicted is because he opposed Obasanjo’s third term bid and presented a credible threat to the political class who called the shots, so for me let us put that on the table. Is this true or not? If it is true and it was political, why had Jonathan not pardoned him since? What was he waiting for? Who more than anyone benefitted from the death of the third term? Some people have quite amusingly said that this shows the government is not serious about corruption. Please can somebody tell me when this or any of the past governments was serious about corruption? Why are we loosing our heads over a mango tree producing mangoes? The truth is that Nigerians particularly and foreign governments generally do not believe that Nigeria is taking itself seriously on the issue of how to curb corruption. And if they are sincere, they never have. Alams or not.
So for me Alams pardon is not the issue, his pardon as in the granting or the refusal of it would not improve the index on corruption because you and I know that there are many measures that show if the government is taking the issue of corruption seriously. Nigerians need to get real and focus on the things that can move us forward. Those who stood up to the third term are littered across the political landscape with no word of kindness from even those who benefitted from it. Not me. I support the pardon and see it as the equivalent of the release of a political prisoner. Jonathan did well there. I'm interested in substance not symptoms and the sooner we as a country start to reflect that the better for all of us.
The ruling party PDP house is divided due to intra party activity by some members and the opposition APC are planning to use this opportunity to wrestle power from PDP come 2015, what is you take on this?
As a member of PDP and somebody who in another life had been on the other side of the fence fighting PDP I will tell you that this dooms day prediction for now is a storm in a tea cup. I have fought PDP before at close range and I can tell you with all sense of purpose, eventually we settle, that is what we do. There is a lot of shaking, drama, gragra but what you find is most never leave. How much of a mass exodus have you seen leaving PDP? They are all still there. Yes, there are issues but have they moved? There is no doubt that in 2015 with a much fairer INEC, a stronger opposition (these two are pretty guaranteed), a weaker PDP will have it tough. Having said that, I want to make reference to a couple of elections that have just taken place under this current atmosphere: The FCT election where PDP swept everything, Kaduna local government election where PDP cleared everything except one local government, the Kano by-election where PDP won and the CPC came fourth. So you see PDP is still a party to reckon with in spite of all these challenges, so if you want to print the obituary of PDP please be free to go ahead and do so. But do forgive me if I don’t join you.
I have fought the party before but at the end because common interest and sometime maybe because of uncommon interest (let me use Akpabio language) they resolve their differences, so to that extent I do not want anybody to underestimate PDP having said that PDP should not be too confident because we do not know the strength of the opposition yet but we expect them to be stronger than they were before. Though PDP has problem, and what are the problems? PDP lacks ideology neither does ACN none of them have ideology, they are just an assemblage of friends who want power, what are they going to do with this power, what are their positions on the issues? Nothing . People are looking for hope. Somebody they can believe in. Without a mission, what are you selling, where are you going? If APC addresses this and PDP does not, then you can review this position in a year. For now, do not believe the hype. To create an alternative, you need to be an alternative. As a Nigerian I wish them well. Their success will improve our democracy. I might love my party but I love Nigeria more.
What is your position on the granting of amnesty to Boko Haram?
As far as I am concerned the issue of amnesty for Boko Haram is like the carrot and stick approach which means when you want to bring your stick you must also be ready with my carrot. If the amnesty was good for the Niger delta of course it is good for the north but of course you must look before you leap. The President in his statement said let me see the people, I cannot give something to the people I cannot see. Well these people are there because the bombs are not created by magic there are individuals that are parts and parcel of this thing. If a channel is created I am sure those people will reveal themselves. My problem was that the Niger delta amnesty was created in a vacuum, it was ill conceived and it was not sustainable. What we did then was we rewarded people for carrying guns and we did not reward people for reading their books.
So we have now set a precedent that people in the north will realize that I can be carrying guns instead of reading my books. What message are we sending, what kind of value system are we trying to create in the country and if you have to deal with the issue of amnesty and you do because you have to take guns out from the street then what is your strategy for dealing with people who have gone to school? So if you take care of A and you don’t take of B then everything moves towards A and away from B that means you move people away from their books to the guns and violence and if you do that the consequences you see in the society should not surprise you. So I think that in as much as government needs to address the issue of Boko Haram and possibly amnesty, we need to understand that every day they have neglected the people that have gone to school, they make our future even more dangerous . My brother Kingsley Kuku said something which we should ponder. Amnesty brought peace, which improved production. This in turn provided revenue. Our job as leaders was to convert that wealth into sustainable policy which would restore our values. Are we doing that? Job creation is the key to long term peace and prosperity. Not amnesty. One day we the youths of Nigeria will remind all of you about this.