Prince Tonye Princewill

Despite the mounting opposition to President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term bid, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress in Rivers, Tonye Princewill is confident Buhari will pick the APC presidential ticket and ultimately win the presidential‎ election.‎ He spoke to Tobi Soniyi. Excerpts:

Nigerians aren’t comfortable with President Muhammadu Buhari’s tardiness in responding to issues of urgent national importance, which almost bothers on complacency. Aren’t you disturbed by that attitude, considering the enormity of the challenges facing the nation?

Look, I think people sometimes forget where we were coming from and more importantly they also forget that where we need to go also requires a lot of efforts. Nigeria has been on the wrong track for a long time.
Like a tanker that is in the water, trapped trying to turn. It will take an amazing efforts to reverse the current trend. Now, did our government make promises that are unrealistic? Yes, we did. Either through enthusiasm or through their lack of understanding of the problems on ground. I think we should ask ourselves, do they really
have the intention to move the country forward and I think the answer is yes. The capacity might have been right, but slowly it is being built. For me, I am a business man and I ask myself, how can we continue like this. Things need to be done differently and then when somebody comes and start to make a difference, do you think it is going to be easy at the beginning? No. if you have a bad tooth and somebody wants to pull it out the pain that you are going through is so that you can have less stress tomorrow. So, the pains that we are
going through is so that we can place the country on a sound footing. Because of what the dentist will do to you, you will say you won’t go to a dentist. You will continue to wallow in that pain until it slowly and eventually kills you. Let us go through that pain now so that we can have a brighter future tomorrow.
If Buhari was concerned about the next election, he will avoid some of these things. There are things that have fast, quick solutions but they may not be lasting and sustainable. The man has decided that he is going to do what is lasting and sustainable as a result of that
electorally he is taking a heat. But I am looking for statesmen, I am not looking for politicians to lead me. That’s my position and I believe that we should recognise that and join the dentist to pull out that bad tooth. I think Nigerians have two choices: to go back to the old ways of doing business and the other one is to go through this pains which ultimately nobody is disagreeing is going to set us on a better platform. That to me is the message…

Nigerians were taken aback when you decided to leave Labour Party to join the APC. What actually informed that decision?

Common sense. For me, it was probably one of the easiest political decisions that I have ever made so I can’t imagine why anyone will be taken aback. I believe that all politics is local. Therefore, when you are in politics, you have to look first at your local environment. I don’t understand why so many people focus on national and international politics, and completely forget their local politics. To me, local politics is what matters the most, it isn’t that I am downplaying all other politics, but local politics matters most. So, what is the situation in Rivers State? We have a governor who has gone wild and we have an opposition that was not giving him the kind of opposition he deserves. My opinion was that, the opposition was still disjointed. We have an APC formidable as it is, we have a Labour Party and we have other parties, and I thought to myself, we are all opposed to PDP and Wike, but our inability to work together is working in his favour. With my passion, the organisational skills of many of the APC members and the commitment that we all have to free the state, then all we need as like minds is to have an arrangement to join forces because if we don’t join forces, it will make Wike stronger.
I have said that we are not God, so, we cannot say we will definitely remove PDP. But by God, we are going to at least improve them. If in the process we are able to remove them, then may His name be praised. To sit back and do nothing, or leave the fight for APC alone, that is not an option.

But you now find yourself in the same platform with the likes of Magnus Abe, Rotimi Amaechi. Considering the fact that you had done political battles with them in the past. How do you reconcile yourself with them?

Let’s not make any mistake about it. Even good friends have disagreements. I am a lot more comfortable with the APC platform than I could ever been in the PDP platform. I have an affinity to APC from my days, initial days in Action Congress, of course as the pioneer Action Congress governorship candidate in 2007. So, for me, as AC metamorphosed into the APC, I still have many friends there. The difference between the political parties is not really about anything more than the individuals within it. Especially the leaders. It is there they are different. So, if you are looking for leadership, go to the top of the party, you will see what type of party to talk about.
So Amaechi for me is one million times better than Wike. Does he have faults? Of course. We all do. Nobody is perfect. I have my own issues, but the reality is, if you are looking to play politics, Amaechi is one million times a better option than Wike. The likes of Magnus Abe, Dakuku Peterside, they are all big names but beside them and beneath them, there are so many other good people who may not be as well known to the national media, but they are just as effective and so I know that the APC team have the capacity to move the state forward.

You aren’t a rookie in politics, having been the governorship candidate of Action Congress and the Labour Party in Rivers state. Do you think your decision to move to APC was well thought out? I ask this, against the backdrop of the perception that the average south-south person doesn’t want to associate with the party.

The reason it isn’t seen to be strong in the south-south is that the other party was in power in 2015 and rigged the election in favour of themselves. I think in 2019 we will get a clearer picture of who amongst us is truly in power. I never believe in the principle that a region or state is owned by a particular party. I have never believed in that concept at all. Many times in our region we don’t really have elections so to assume that the peoples’ votes are what counted to put them in that place. I think it’s a misnomer.
There are some things we just deceive ourselves about as if we don’t know the truth. I am not fooled by that script. I know that for instance in Rivers state in 2015 there was no election. The Supreme Court can say what it must, but if you go back home and you are in your bedroom and somebody outside proceeds to tell you that the colour of your green bed sheet is red, you will smile, because you know the truth.
As far as I am concerned, free and fair elections and the decision of the people in the state have been missing. Hopefully in 2019, we will get a lot closer to reality and we will see whether PDP is truly on the ground.

But after the 2015 general elections, we have had senatorial elections in Rivers and PDP still won overwhelmingly. Does that not reinforce the fact that it is in charge there?

Maybe you don’t have the full picture, so let me remind you that thanks to the APC, Senator Magnus Abe won and he is in the Senate today. So PDP was defeated. There are many other examples. The reality of it is that in 2015, we had a 419 election in Rivers state that was supervised by the security agencies and INEC on behalf of PDP. That is why they are where they are. Let us see what will happen in 2019. Let us see whether Wike will come out and deliver PDP in Rivers state. By then you can come and ask me these questions again.

You sound so confident that APC is formidable in Rivers but there has been intractable crisis which could undermine efforts to make it a potent force against the ruling PDP. An example is the cold war between Senator Magnus Abe and Rotimi Amaechi Is that not a set back for the APC?

No, I won’t describe the situation as a setback at all. I think that when you see people pushing and fighting, which is often common in politics, it is because there is value in what they are pushing and fighting for. I think keen observers know that APC is well placed to win the 2019 elections. In Rivers therefore, there is a genuine fight for that ticket. Admittedly Magnus Abe might have shot his gun too early, that’s my opinion, but he is well within his rights to demand and push for the position. If it wasn’t viable, if it wasn’t valuable, he wouldn’t. But in the context of crisis I want to remind you that based on my little experience of having been involved in both parties, I can tell you that this isn’t a crisis. If anything, this is a mini display of friction. Why do I say that? It is because I have seen crisis in political parties in the fight for a ticket. In 2007, I fought for the ticket of AC against Sergeant Awuse and I know what crisis means. When in 2015, we fought for the ticket of PDP in Rivers, I know what crisis was. This isn’t a crisis, this is simply a man opting to push for a governorship ticket. I think Magnus may have wanted an early endorsement from Amaechi, but he refused to give it to him and so the man has decided to pursue his ambition regardless. I don’t see that as a crisis. Ultimately in Rivers state, APC will choose a candidate and everybody will rally behind that candidate. That’s just the way we work. Amaechi isn’t going to come and point and say, this is the person. No. Leaders of the party at different levels will sit down and a decision will be taken and we will all rally round that decision. At the end of the day, we will go forward and move to a general election. If Wike is unfortunate to present himself, then he will face the APC candidate. Simple.

You said there is no crisis but the perception out there is that Amaechi is the one bullying the others to fall in line.

Bully who? I am a chieftain of the party and I don’t see Amaechi bullying anyone. He is a democrat. He delegates. That is how Wike got his freedom to scheme. Some people say the minister is stubborn and all that. What they call obstinacy is because at the end of the day he takes a position and he stands by it. But it is often a principled position; for the greater good, if you watch, you will see. My argument has always been that we shouldn’t impose candidate. Let a candidate emerge and that’s also what Amaechi has committed himself
to. We have all committed ourselves to that. If at the end of the day, Magnus Abe emerges, then we will all support him. The reality is that there will be a primary that will be transparent and a candidate will emerge. So this talk about bullying is being bandied by people that don’t like Amaechi. It is a little too early to start discussing who will be the candidate of APC in 2019. I understand that in the media, good news is not news, so where there is no crisis, it will be sought, even if it is friction. There is a process for choosing candidate and
that process will be followed. In politics, people will be amazed at how serious crises are resolved and you see politicians enter the room, sit down and discuss and people will be saying, look at these people that were fighting.
Tomorrow, they see them talking and laughing. Political crisis is many times, a disagreement played up in the media to mean something else. They enter the house, settle and discuss. At the South-south meeting the other day, I saw Amaechi and Magnus Abe discussing. It isn’t a crisis, there is a disagreement in timing and approach. Magnus has shown he doesn’t need Amaechi’s support, he is a serving Senator. Power belongs to God.

The security challenge in the state has earned itself the name, Rivers of Blood. Why does it appear insurmountable?

I think it is already being tackled. Of course, in the past few weeks a lot of progress has been made when the federal government decided to take charge. Unfortunately for our state we have a governor who entered by violence and has continued to condone violence. Maybe he cannot address the matter effectively, because his hands are tied. We hope and we pray that Rivers people will learn from mistakes of the past and that all politicians will learn that this kind of violence, this kind of association will not do us any good. I want to think that the signal has been sent by the killing of leader of the gang… and the taming of his team. It will be a message to everybody else that there
is only one law and that’s the law of Nigeria and we won’t tolerate any other alternative laws in the land. If that message is heeded, I think there will be peace. But don’t let us lose sight of the fact that the administration entered by violence and the boys that they used have been left largely unattended. Therefore, they will seek to keep their heads above water. As best as they can. It is natural.

You aren’t comfortable with the administration in Rivers but a lot of people are quick to applaud his developmental strides in the state. What really do you have against Wike?

You are right when you say I am uncomfortable about him. To put it diplomatically, I think he is the worst governor . You must compare resources versus development. You have to compare what he has achieved, compared to what he has had. You will then understand that he is building nothing. He believes, and he maybe right, that everybody has a price, so he can pay for image, he can pay for perception and he can pay his way through anything. He has a lot of reasons to think it, having earned multiple awards for what I am not sure of. When you talk, people say you are bitter because you didn’t win the election.
I am not talking about just my opinion but the opinions across the length and breadth of the state. Wike is a one-man show. This man hoarded the budget for 3 years and everybody was quiet as if it was right. Now that the opposition has come together and found its voice, he is sweating. Just last week, he signed the 2018 budget into law, the last of his peers to do so. We simply haven’t seen anything like this before. On the security angle and the economic angle, people are leaving the state.

Is that peculiar to Rivers?

They are going somewhere else, they aren’t leaving the country. They are leaving Rivers to go elsewhere and we are losing business. Losing jobs. To my utter surprise, people are leaving Rivers for Imo to do business. I don’t know of anybody in his right mind that will look at Wike and say he is developing Rivers. But he was not put there to develop the state.

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Hopefully in 2019, we will get a lot closer to reality and we will see whether PDP is truly on the ground.