Tonye Princewill, a politician and businessman, was the governorship candidate of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in Rivers State during the 2007 election. In this interview with Shola Oyeyipo and Jaiyeola Andrews, he hinted of his intention to participate in the politics of 2015, the President Jonathan administration and other issues. Excerpt:
What’s your assessment of the President Jonathan administration?
For all of us who are interested in the goodwill of Nigeria, we must understand that his failure is not just the failure of Goodluck Jonathan, it is the failure of Nigeria and anything that does not come through whether it is education, health or security, affects Nigerians. Anybody who truly loves Nigeria must want Jonathan to succeed. So, when I see those who supported him, people who praised him and sang his name to the highest mountain top in 2011 now complaining, I ask, what are you doing to help him? What are you doing to make sure he succeeds?
My only mission between now and 2015 is to give my assistance so that President Goodluck Jonathan and Rotimi Amaechi can do well.
What are your expectations from INEC?
INEC, today, is not the INEC of yesterday, so there is an improvement. Therefore, I’m expecting that the INEC of tomorrow will be better. My happiness however is being tempered by the fact that these are single state elections. They have been conducting elections for states and so they put all their national resources into such elections. If it is a national election with elections going on in every state simultaneously, then of course, we would have a problem. How do you divide your resources? How do you ensure you get the kind of attention you deserve in every state when you are doing it across all states and seeing the current underfunding of police?
Can we sustain militarised elections? One other area I think Jega himself has assured the people is that the voter register would be cleaned up in no time. I want to believe him. And so, not only the conduct of the election but the actual basis for establishing who the voters are will improve. I think 2015 will not be business as usual. Whether it would be where it should be, I doubt that very much, but I think it will be better.
What are your thoughts on the Judiciary?
If you ask me, I think the system has been hard hit. I say that because the kind of euphoria that greeted the judicial system since 2008 is no longer there. You see a lot of chaos going on; acrimony between judges, etc. When the elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers, so there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the judicial system is weakened as a result of these.
What with 2015 and the South-south’s agitation for Presidency?
Presidency? South-south can make it to the Presidency; anybody can make it to the position. Unfortunately, we have torn the rule book on Nigeria; it is no longer zoning by where you come from, it is zoning by the most powerful. The South-South cannot be underestimated in the politics of 2015. There is no doubt about it. But I have always argued that we should not be putting people there because of where they come from but because of what they can actually do; where they can take us. That argument fell on deaf ears. The problem we have now is that unless we correct this scenario – and this is why I ask for National Conference- unless we can correct this scenario where we play the ethnic card all the time, then the conclusion I can reach is that we will end up in a situation where… let’s say the north takes over in 2015, the north will play the
What is your take on the proposed merger by members of the opposition parties who ahead of 2015?
To be fair and as lover of democracy, I think it is actually good for the country. I’m looking forward to a day when a national political party of the opposition can proffer solutions to our multi-faceted problems. So when we have issues that have to do with development, I want to hear the opposition party’s solution as to how it should be resolved. Just abusing PDP and saying that Jonathan does not know what he is doing is not good enough. They need to propose an alternative on every single issue.
Ezekwesili came out the other day and made a few statements about our foreign reserve, when she made those statements, she made those statements based on her facts, Labaran Maku came out a few days later with his own facts. Now, that is not quite the analogy I want to use but I’m trying to point out that if you say A is not good, it is important that you come out with B, the alternative. What they do is criticism of PDP and I’m afraid that Nigerians are now looking for somebody who can take them out of their problems, not somebody who can complain about their problems. They already know about their problem. Analysis is not what they want, what they are interested in is solution. And I pray for the day that someone will come along to help us go there.
Do you think PDP can overcome its crisis?
Of course, there is no doubt about it. The question is, will it come out weaker or will it come out stronger? We will overcome those crises but there is no doubt that with a stronger opposition, a weaker PDP and a more virile INEC, anything can happen. So, since a virile INEC is more likely than not and a stronger opposition is more likely than not, then a weaker PDP is a problem for those of us in PDP as far as retaining power is concerned.
Are you in support of state creation?
Since people are feeling increasingly distanced from government, so for them, any way you can bring government close to them is essential even if that government is to be in their backyard– everybody wants government. The more commissioners you have, the more special advisers you have, the more state executive you have the better for them. So, it’s a natural thing. If people can feel government more, then this will not be an issue but clearly they cannot and that is how and why they want to see government.
It is natural. I use the case of Bayelsa State and Rivers State as instance. There are issues of development that Rivers State could not have resolved as Rivers State but when it became Bayelsa State – you know, some people who saw car for the first time, some people who saw shoes for the first time, saw those cars and shoes simply because of the fact that those places were opened up. So how are you going to tell those people that they should not have access to government, I don’t know how you want to do it.
What about state police?
Creation of state police is an issue– frankly speaking. I’ve got to be honest with you, one of the biggest problems we have with police right now is transparent funding. I’m glad you saw recently, the President himself visited the Police Training College in Lagos, and we could see the sordid state of things. Now, if the Federal Government is not prepared to pump transparent funds into the police, then we end up with state governments funding the police.
The only problem or difference is that the state executive are expected to deliver security at the state level, yet they don’t have the authority to provide it. So there are limitations, but I think the fear that many people have and I don’t think it is a fear that the governors who are already acting as emperors will then become dictators and so where you had an emperor before, you will now have a dictator. And people are saying “we want them to move from emperor to democrats, so we want them to be less powerful, you want to make them more powerful.”
It is a very valid point; you cannot take it away from them. I think the only way you can get beyond this is to truly fund the federal police and over time I think what we should be doing is we should have another tier of police, like we have the FBI in the US, they prosecute federal crimes but that does not take away county police and Sheriffs. Maybe there should be two tiers of police. But I would not tell you I have an answer, no, I don’t. I believe we should come and dialogue between the federal and the state levels, between institution, police and the people should also have roles to play in that discussion. I support a third way.
What are you looking at in 2015?
Well, some people have come to me to ask if I want to be Governor. My name has been everywhere and it surprises me because I don’t understand how my name even came out. I have never had a political appointment before. I have never had a political position before but for some reason, some people think that I should be in the race. The other day someone I suspect had been taking cheap drugs told me I should run for President. I thought that was funny.
When I look at my name being mentioned in the company of people who have had political offices in successive administrations, people who have had access to public funds and political goodwill before I could even say the word politics, it baffles me. I don’t know how people expect me to win because I don’t have their political pedigree, I don’t have their political resources and I don’t even have a political position. So, I don’t know how they expect me to win, but you know, miracles do happen and definitely they may have an inkling I can’t see.
I suspect I’m going to be there or thereabouts if God gives me life, there is no doubt about that. But this interview is not the appropriate place to make such announcements and this is not the time, but I think what will be, will be. The good thing is that God is the one who decides. My ambitions are not mine but for my people, especially those who cannot speak for themselves. They can’t wait for 2015; they need help now so just like I will support Goodluck to improve Nigeria, my focus for now is strictly to support Amaechi to improve the lives of Rivers people. Everything should not be politics.