Mr. Tonye Princewill, businessman and politician has aspired to the governorship of Rivers State on two different occasions, including the 2015 elections. The scion of King T.J.T. Princewill and a prince of the Kalabari Kingdom of Rivers State, Princewill was the Chief Technology Officer of Panasonic in the United Kingdom and served at the Global Asset Management desk of Citibank. His business interests cut across the upstream and downstream oil and gas, information technology, environmental waste management, aviation services and film production. In this interview with Shola Oyeyipo, Princewill, who is now in the ruling All Progressives Congress party, bared his mind on the current political situation in Rivers State. Excerpts:
You seemed to have stayed away from politics for some time now, especially since after the 2015 elections. What have you really been up to?
That is how it appeared. Even though I never left politics, I watched from a distance and opted to catch up on some things that had been left unattended. My fourth film (76) had been on the ice because of my focus on politics, so when things turned out how they did, it seemed like a good opportunity to bring out that kind of a film to the public. It was a very welcome distraction and I am glad it was very well received, winning many awards including best film in Africa at the 2017 AMVCA awards and generating foreign currency in a time of recession.
I also had a lot of catching up to do on other fronts. But now, my ducks are back in a row and the two year mark is up, so politics has to be more of a concern. This is what I promised my constituents. I said we will take a view at the end of year two. I recall how Awuse distracted Odili in 2003. I decided not to do that. I know how undue politics after an election can stifle a state.
Why the move to APC and not any other party?
For me, all politics is local. It’s the only option left to save my state. The main opposition to PDP in the last election was the APC and the Labour Party. That was Amaechi and I. We were divided. If the PDP was truly moving Rivers state forward, I might be tempted to maintain the status quo. But they are not. As I speak to you, businesses are leaving us every single day. Cult violence, kidnappings and killings litter the state, the rural areas are no longer a priority and the urban areas are teeming with unemployed youths.
Instead of jobs, Wike is touting Mickey Mouse projects. Well in my former life, I was a PRINCE2 certified project manager and I can tell you, he has no clue what he is doing. He may have a segment of the media in his pocket, but some of us know better. You don’t throw a party over simply laying of a foundation stone. Unless you want to appear busy. So I have a choice; to stay silent or join forces to strengthen the opposition and save my state.
Once I had decided to now bury my governorship ambition, it was easy. I opted to join forces with my original party. I have to confess, reconciling with my friend and seeing the presence of Atiku, Asiwaju and Alaibe there, also did not hurt. Our minor differences aside, Amaechi is honestly a very good human being. I can be led by him. A stronger focused opposition will win the state, but even if we don’t, it will make Wike wake up. Rivers State will end up the winner. That is an outcome I can accept.
How can you move to APC and say you support Buhari when there are lots of complain all over the country that the Buhari administration has not performed, in fact, many say this administration has failed the youths that elected Buhari?
I didn’t vote for Buhari, so I was not expecting much from him. Maybe that is why I am quietly impressed by the little things turning around that I can see. I was in Maiduguri to see the improved security. There is now a genuine fear of corruption and new reduced loopholes available for it. It is clear the government has a much better understanding of the pains average Nigerians are going through and how to tackle it. I pride myself in not thinking like the typical beer parlour Nigerian.
I try to look ahead and put the country’s interest before my own. I have seen propaganda and politics mar people and policies but I can see straight through all that. I don’t wear ethnic lenses. I know Nigeria is not built to succeed, but that is not an excuse patriots will accept. I especially like his VP, I like their chemistry, plus if the President can entrust him, like he has, it tells me something about both men. After a year plus of finding their feet, things are slowly turning around. They mean well and are prepared to take hard decisions.
They are not fantastically corrupt like some in the PDP were and I am more practical than most noisy Nigerians, so I don’t just kick out governments with my mouth. I ask myself, who else is better. For now, I can’t see such a person emerging from the PDP or whatever they end up actually calling themselves. All the APC needs to do is improve, find a sensible accommodation for proponents of our restructuring and they can still win the next election.
During the elections of 2015, you supported Jonathan and you were very critical of APC and Amaechi in Rivers State. What has changed that you are now moving to the party and supporting the man you attacked viciously during the elections?
What has changed is that our state is more important than our differences and our egos. Wike was relying on people’s hate for APC in Rivers State and the region to guarantee his stay in power. But that again is largely misconstrued. That, after all, is how he came in. I believe that when politicians put their egos aside, we will start to change that. I don’t advise we take decisions out of hate or anger. The state is way too important for that.
My criticism of Amaechi was more effective than what PDP came up with because it was coming from me. Amaechi and his team also criticised me too. Very harshly! In the end, we went to the field divided and PDP supervised and won a war. It was not an election. We both lost. Ultimately, so did the whole state. In my statement on joining the APC, I said we cut our noses to spite our faces. With this reconciliation between Amaechi and I, the PDP must know what is coming.
As for my support for Jonathan, it was not only politically smart; it was based on a desire to help a man, whom I saw as innocent and under attack. But then he gave us Wike and was head of a government where we see the kind of looting that we see being revealed today. If you are a man who struggled to fight an election with little or no support from your elite, two years of thinking can open your eyes. I fought for him but he did not fight for me. Anyway, former President Jonathan is now gone. He is not the issue again. After my opposition to him in 2011, I have paid my dues to him in 2015. We are even.
Specifically, during the elections, you alleged that Amaechi sold Rivers Power plants and used the proceeds to fund the APC/Buhari elections. With the benefit of hindsight, do you still maintain that stance?
You cannot detach what I said from the politics of that period. It was the season of election campaigns and there were lots of information and documents flying all over the place about the Amaechi administration. All the candidates were making different accusations and counter-accusations. I said what I said based on the information I had then. I have no powers to investigate and prosecute.
I expected Jonathan as President then or Wike as governor now to be also thoroughly interested in getting to the bottom of it. If Wike is now satisfied, having examined the facts, the EFCC is also satisfied and the National Assembly equally satisfied enough to approve him (Amaechi) as minister, then I have no choice but to be satisfied as well and agree that there is no substance to that allegation.
In your statement, you said you won’t be running for governor of Rivers State again, so, are you looking at, perhaps, going to the senate, National Assembly?
No. I am not. I have been leading national political parties in Rivers State for over 10 years now, since 2006, even though I am seen as a relative newcomer in politics. I’ve been a candidate twice with no government backing. Like my man, Michael Jackson, I had no childhood in politics. Let me take a step back and learn to follow. Unlike Michael Jackson, I have to know when to slow down. The leader of the party in Rivers State is Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. Amaechi is now my leader. And I must add that that he’s got truly amazing leadership qualities. Stubborn but smart. People sometimes miss it. Whatever role he wants me to play, I will. No expectations. Just for a better Rivers State, post Wike.
How would you assess the performance of Governor Wike?
I give him credit for reopening the judiciary and engaging a serious contractor like Julius Berger, who have a reputation to protect, but that’s about it. Even a local government chairman can do that. I can take you through sector by sector and show you how he has fallen way below the mark. From education to health to finance to transport to security to the ultimate one for me, jobs.
I’ve travelled round the state and what I’ve seen troubled me enough, to pack up my ambition and join the APC. He has spent his time, playing politics. The final straw for me was when my state Labour Party Chairman was appointed a member of his Local Government Caretaker Committee. Even silence has its limits.