This revealing interview exposes the current plans of businessman turned film maker and former governorship candidate of the Labour Party in Rivers State, Prince Tonye Princewill, who fielded questions from journalists on politics, his relationship with Minister of Transport and former Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, his political mentor, Atiku Abubakar, and Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State. He also speaks on President Buhari’s administration and the direction he thinks the country should go. Nseobong Okon-Ekong brings excerpts
You have been quiet. No press interviews except for occasional press releases and even then, they were more about your new blockbuster film ‘76, instead of your usual insightful comments on germane national issues. Are you no longer a member of the Labour Party?
I am. But the Labour Party is not without sin. However, their own sin can still be managed. Besides in Rivers State, I take pride in not being part of the problem. I am glad you acknowledge that I have been talking. Life is not only about politics. But even then I still talked about it.
The biggest problem in Nigeria today is politics and the lack of internal party democracy. In the bigger parties, good candidates hardly get party tickets. Rather, confirmed thugs, touts, thieves and looters carry the party flag, leaving the poor voters with no real choice. The reason is simple, the party leaders and electoral bodies prefer their own personal interests to the interest of the people. So, we await the day the people will fight back. That day will soon come. Let me be where I am until I have a compelling reason to find a new home. I am not desperate for power. I am desperate for results.
Those who lead the fight may not benefit from it. The truth is bitter. If it is my portion to fight, then it may not be my portion to also benefit from the successes of that very fight. That is why I’ve removed myself from any future electoral contest. I’ll simply rededicate myself to helping good people hold public office. It does not have to be me. I find it difficult to understand why intelligent people still struggle to understand that being in politics does not automatically equate to contesting in an election. I no longer want to be governor, I am not looking for an appointment, but I still want to improve my state, my region and my country. My ambition should not get in my way.
How is your relationship with Amaechi? Are you still communicating?
We parted ways before the election because of how my team was treated and his decision not to support Jonathan, but we have since gone past that. Amaechi is not a vindictive person. I am not either. He goes with his conviction and so do I. His message to me was ‘PDP had no love for either me or my people’ and he was right. My message to him was that there is a consequence for fighting Jonathan. And I was right too. When we parted ways, he and his team said some very unsavory things about me and I about them, but that is fair in war. The war is long over. I extended my hand of friendship to both APC and PDP after the elections. Only Amaechi as minister took my offer. He visited me in my house and we ended up flying that same day to Kano together. I went on instinct. He came to me in peace. I consider him a “good friend” and a fighter. Politics is not do-or-die for me. That was over a year ago. We still talk from time to time and when I needed the high military authorities to see my film ‘76, he did not hesitate to make some calls for me. Very helpful. Everything is not about money.
Do you have that kind of relationship with your Governor, Nyesom Wike?
In spite of the rigged election, I extended my hand of friendship to him too. I did not go to court. I left him to proceed as ordained by INEC. When the Supreme Court judgement was dropped on us, just like it was in 2007, we accepted it again. No fuss. I offered my congratulations and help to Wike in any way he wanted, but not a word from him – no response, no invitation. Except during a radio interview when I advised him to resist the need to respond to every APC comment and instead focus on developing the state. It was then he responded, pointing out that I had no idea what I was talking about because I was not even in the state. My counter advice is if you know so much about my whereabouts, divert some of the state resources used to tracking me to track down the kidnappers and armed robbers in the state. That would qualify as progress. You see Wike is the ruler type, not the consultative leader. He doesn’t need anyone.
Let us see where we are by the end of May before we speak further. Even rulers can deliver. Look at Gaddafi and Mubarak. Or even Abacha. As long as they use the power well. I am a fan of allowing people to lead. No distraction. Until they fail. My own is to wish him well and offer advice, even if he refuses to take it. My agenda is not personal. It’s issue based. The problem with politicians with a warrior mentality is that they are disillusioned when there is no war. Many governors are hiding behind Buhari to explain their poor performance. It’s smart. But black soot, insecurity, a lack of investment and no jobs for the youths is not a transferable responsibility. I pray for him.
Is Atiku still your political mentor?
Of course. What Turaki can do in his sleep politically, most top politicians cannot do it even if they tried in a lifetime. He knows too many people, is not arrogant and knows too much about how to move this great country forward. Like Amaechi, he is not at all vindictive, but they are both very stubborn. Like Tinubu. That is what I admire in the three of them. Put them on the same page and you have a force of nature. PDP felt it in 2015. Also in 2007 in Rivers State. If not for Atiku and Tinubu, Amaechi’s first tenure would not have been as smooth.
Divide the three and the cause is weakened. Seeing them all in APC makes the platform quite tempting if not for the recession mood and their seeming divisions. The two symptoms are indicative of a bigger problem I am yet to understand. That is why I have dusted off all my political robes. I see both the APC and the PDP as presently constituted unable to deliver Nigeria. They are very similar. The real change has to start within them. No third force is ready to challenge them yet, instead it looks like the smaller parties are merging into even bigger ones. Since I cannot speculate on my children’s future, before May is over, I too will take my stand.
What’s your take on the Buhari administration?
I didn’t vote for him. Neither did I vote for Wike. But unlike some people who actually voted for either of them, I’m ready to give both of them their two years before I take a formal position. So far, their records speak for themselves. But my position in society requires more from me than just my gut feeling. I am not the man in the street so even though I feel their pain, when I talk, it must be without sentiment and constructive, so even the government cannot deny. Good governance is not an emotional exercise. For now, I pray for both of them, especially Mr. President, now that he is not feeling too well. Health is the priority. Running this country requires a lot of wisdom, strength and grace. From what is at play now, it is clear he has not been operating at full strength. I am sure even he is reflecting on the journey so far. It is not too late to turn things around for either Buhari or Wike. But time is not on their side. Do they have a plan?
What about the Buhari anti-corruption drive?
Some people think it is selective. Maybe. My question is did the people caught steal? If yes then let’s congratulate the EFCC and the ICPC first. They should continue to catch thieves. Even faster. Those enjoying APC immunity today should not be surprised if tomorrow they are victims too of this same Buhari government. I don’t see Buhari as someone who cannot jail his party member or his friend. I suspect the stealing in Nigeria has been significantly reduced, but it has not been stopped. Nobody is fooled. My plea is catch thieves but grow the economy too. It is not one or the other.
What is the way forward?
Beware of people who pose like they have all the answers. Leadership is teamwork. To solve a problem this big, you really have to understand it. Let me not prescribe for you a prescription to an ailment I’m yet to properly diagnose. However, I can say this; based on feelers I’ve received and our recent history, Nigerians are still deceiving themselves. The same politicians they are fighting over call them ‘fantastically foolish’ and here is why: They worship wealth and corruption more than they worship hard work and sacrifice. That which matters most – their children’s future is easily sacrificed at the altar of that which matters least – their stomach. The bad news is this: it is the Nigerian way. The good news is that every day, more and more Nigerians are becoming wise to the ways of politicians and are prepared to confront them.
One day all these nonsense will stop. Without electoral reform, a consequence for electoral violence, justice being seen to be done and proper patriots, a new breed of rebels will continue to multiply in Nigeria. When I see diehard APC and PDP apologists, I laugh. Neither of them is without sin. Both good people and bad people exist in both or all parties. The answer is not in just one or the other. It’s in good people from all sides of the political spectrum working together, joined by good people outside politics. Period. Politics is too important simply to be left to just politicians, including me.