Tired of the many crises that have robbed the All Progressive Congress in Rivers State imminent success, Tonye Princewill sues for peace
Politics like life is always in a state of constant evolution. The way that things were, back in 1999, changed in 2007. Governors Peter Odili and Celestine Omehia found this out the hard way. Since then, things continue to change and it’s now a lot clearer to many, that power of incumbency alone, is not enough to guarantee outcomes. Nothing is guaranteed. Not even second terms. More and more people are beginning to have a say. Odili did not choose his successor. Amaechi suffered a similar fate. Let us see what happens to Wike.
I am speaking my mind today, not to offend, but to reveal a foundation and maybe even a possible solution. I want to talk about the opposition in the opposition and by that I mean the current politics of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State. Let me start by saying that my own position on recent events is already on record. Though I stand with Amaechi, on two distinct occasions since Hon. Igo Aguma’s open letter to the APC National Chairman, I have stated that even though I do not agree with some of what he said and his approach, my default position is still peace, not to attack Igo and defend my leader. There are many others who can do that. The position for peace is the one that is very hard. Talking Peace with people you don’t agree with is not easy, but that is what peace talks are designed for. They require big doses of patience, temperament, maturity, forgiveness, love and plenty selflessness. Not a long list of qualifications many have time for anymore. But Igo and Emma are my friends, and Amaechi is my brother and our leader. We have to find a way.
My exact words in response to Igo Aguma’s letter were: “Granted not all of what he said will go down well with many of us, but he spoke some hard truths and the minds of many silent others. As leaders we must learn to listen.”
I then went on to say that “I don’t want another disagreement to lead into a crisis and so on my part I will work for unity and a new style of conflict resolution. We are where we are today, as a party and as a state because of choices that we made yesterday. We can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.”
So there you have it. My objective is a different result from what we had in 2015 and 2019. Not a peace built on any terms. That would be way too easy, unrealistic and completely unsustainable. The peace I am referring to is a lot more sustainable. I want to see if we can co-exist. Make no mistakes, I see no short term reconciliation here. The mistrust is deep-seated and well-founded. On all sides. Hence I must say it upfront, such a peace will be very hard to achieve. Many of the leading actors are pretty stubborn. They either don’t mind seeing APC lose in Rivers state again for a third time or they believe 2015 and 2019 cannot be repeated in 2023. I am not familiar with what they drink. All I want is more optimism. A close look at Psalm 55 reveals a deep insight into what we are all going through. I implore us all to read it.
Many well-meaning people frown at peace as an option. That is because to some, they are tired of betrayal. A war is now their way forward. While for some, peace means giving up something impossible. There are many benefits in war. There are many reasons why good people make wrong choices. It’s important not to generalize or to be too quick to be judgmental. On all sides. Let me start by explaining why these options are not necessarily the way forward and why we absolutely need peace. This advisory is for all of us.
There are three main reasons:
1. We have powerful enemies outside of the state and inside the state. Not everyone can love you, but why make it automatic? Stretch out your hand for friendship whenever you can, at least on your own terms. One, you lose nothing. Two, any image of you as the unfriendly type, unwilling to embrace peace, evaporates. This is politics. Perception matters. I learnt that from Atiku Abubakar.
2. Your powerful enemies inside the state will join forces with your powerful enemies outside the state. Such a collaboration is not what you want to encourage. I admit it has already started, but you should be reducing their numbers and the impact, not underestimating it or even adding to it. Peace plans include such strategies. Never take anything or anyone for granted. I learnt that from Bola Tinubu.
3. Today’s politics is edging towards consensus building and less of the carry go. The vocal minority are more protected in this government than ever before. If the electoral act is amended, expect many more exhibitions of democracy and more examples of unbelievable compromise. In other words do not underestimate anybody. In 2015 and 2019, APC in Rivers state did. Two different powers at the centre yet, same result. We not only underestimated our opponents in other parties, we underestimated our opponents inside our party. Especially at the national level. I learnt that from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The price of war is higher for us. We pay more in so many ways on many different fronts relative to our political opponents. Even if you compare us with Goveror Nyesom Wike. We don’t need to. Even before 2007, it’s been one war or the other, all at the national level. With local players doing their bidding. Conscious or not.
Their aim is to show we’re disunited and we have been helping them out by proving it. On television, with our back and forth abuses, on the radio, in newspapers, on social media and in beer parlors. Not just here in Rivers state, but across the region, nation and everywhere. The state of Rivers is now synonymous with conflict. Who is this truly helping? Who is it empowering? Certainly not us. Our supporters are in penury. If 10 percent of the money we spend on war was invested in our supporters, we would all be in a better place. That I learnt that from the media. In all its forms.
Let me address a few myths:
1. They are sponsored. Don’t have the facts, so I cannot speak to it with authority either way. But if they are, prove it and discredit them with a neutral audience, if necessary. Otherwise consider that they may have their own agenda and are looking for a sponsor. By making them an issue, you increase their value. Many a good thing is achieved without noise while children are sleeping. In the end, we can agree to disagree. Liverpool and Everton football teams can’t stand each other, but they live in the same city and conduct themselves in public as professionals on the field. Politics too is a game of interests. It is possible to have opposition in your space and still co-exist. If you beat them fair and square at a congress or an election, life will not need to come to an end. Why can’t we focus on that?
2. They are irrelevant. Really? Is that not what put us where we are today? I have no doubt in my mind that Amaechi is the most popular politician in Rivers state as I speak. Anyone with a different opinion is welcome to visit a psychiatrist. So, why has his personal choice not won the elections in 2015 and 2019? Is it because he himself did not run? The answer, my friends is because we underestimated the opposition, especially within us and the key relevance of our institutions. Everybody knows someone and indirectly, information is power. I learnt very early on in my political life that it’s not always about numbers. It’s about relationships. Ask Hilary Clinton. She had three million more votes than Donald Trump. But who ended up as President? She underestimated him. Never make that mistake. That I learnt from my father. He told me not to believe in my breakfast until I’ve eaten it.
3. The other one is “Your people are with you.” Maybe. But this constant ‘war, war, war’ is simply designed to shake foundations. China avoids wars while they build strength. Not because they are scared, but because they are smart. If one can avoid a war, let’s do so. Wars will come eventually. At least in politics it’s a minimum of once every four years. That’s more than enough. If you end up spending more on wars, how do you lift your people out of poverty at the same time? Therefore you will struggle to keep them. The APC in Rivers state has no elected official in a position to cater for the grassroots. Appointees are underwhelming. Yet the vast majority of our supporters stick with us. Let’s not take this for granted. Perhaps, they know that a Minister is not like a Governor. Perhaps, they have learnt to fend for themselves or perhaps they just have faith. For us to take Rivers politics to the next level, we have to measure our progress by how many more we can add to our fold and not how many we can keep from leaving. I learnt that from Amaechi.
My sense of observation is even more keen now that I’m recovering and seeing things from a distance. I’m convinced that the biggest challenge we have is internal. There’s an old African proverb that says, if there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do us no harm. Many of us appreciate this, but few of us take the time to really think about what it actually means. If we did, we will not be surprised to know that you are the greatest enemy of you. Once we begin to see sense in that, we start to open our mind to other people’s varied contributions because we recognize that new ideas contain new solutions. This is what we need to do more. God did not give us two ears and one mouth for nothing. He expected us to listen more than we speak. I still remember Obama in 2008, in his first election victory speech to Americans, saying he will “listen more, especially when we disagree.” I was there on that cold night in Chicago to hear him say the words. Obama taught us a lot of things. Politics is one of them.
I see brothers and sisters on the same side of a divide even now, attacking each other because of different views on how a similar problem should be approached, only to forget about the problem and commence to labelling each other as to who is more loyal. To what end? It doesn’t make any sense. Unless you give different views an opportunity to be heard, you will only hear the view of yes men and women. How does that help us? Healthy debate is the birth place of good ideology. That I learnt from both Amaechi and Alaibe. Igo and Emma spoke the minds of even people who are abusing them today. I know this because I speak to all. They won’t go public, because they see how Igo and Emma are treated. While the treatment is expected by virtue of the way Igo and Emma chose to go public, we miss an opportunity to learn very valuable lessons if we simplify that event.
Conclusion: Somebody in Abuja, preferably the Senate President, should call a meeting of the key players, to find a way forward, devoid of legal hindrances and anti-party activities. The work before a meeting is called, should be just as thorough, as the work required after it. This is politics, so conflict is second nature, as is suspicion. No need to surprise anyone. Consult before making the first calls please. Rivers state APC has only one leader. Nobody here denies it. Let’s accord him that respect as he has earned it, while respecting others too. In my opening statement I said take no one for granted.
While we wait for Abuja to do the needful, let us all in our own way, apply ourselves to a new approach where finally the true enemy of our progress is tackled. I joined APC to help them win because I believe in the men at the top that run their affairs and I believe that compared to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), they are the only other option out there. There is no other choice. While we succeeded nationally, here in Rivers state, we did not. We must all learn from history. Our opponents have sympathizers. Let us do a self-assessment and make changes were possible. Engage new leaders, engineer more grassroots activity, invest more in young people, position new field generals, reward hard workers and recruit new members. This might save us a lot in war funding, media expenditure and legal bills. If we’ve considered the above and still can’t make progress, then we can go to war. In such circumstances, I will be one of the ones in the front. Some of the people making the most noise now could not deliver their LGAs in the last election and have little or no electoral value in the next one. Let’s be careful in choosing not only our fights but also our fighters.
* Princewill is a businessman and a chieftain of the APC, Rivers state