Posted by News Express | 21 December 2013 | 4,946 times
Prince Tonye Princewill is a member of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a prominent player in the politics of Rivers State and the governorship candidate of the defunct Action Congress in the 2007 general elections. In this interview, the ‘Prince of Niger Delta politics’ confirms speculations that he has finally parted ways with his erstwhile bosom friend, Governor Chibuike Amaechi. He traces the genesis of it all and declares the governor’s recent defection to the All Progressives Congress (APC) a mistake. Tonye Princewill also speaks on burning national issues, why he chose to remain in, and President Goodluck Jonathan’s perceived 2013 presidential ambition. Excerpts:
Question: What is your take on Governor Amaechi’s move to APC and are you moving with him?
The short answer is No. Moving to APC is a mistake for him which has become inevitable. So I call it the inevitable mistake. The governor boxed himself into that position almost deliberately and so if it looks like beer, smells like beer and tastes like beer, then let us all acknowledge that it is what it is. He chose the path he is walking. Talk of him being forced to take it is for those who don’t know any better. Mr. President loved Amaechi but Amaechi put that love aside to perform his first love which was Chairman of the Governors’ forum and his performance of it undoubtedly brought them into conflict. He naively thought that it wouldn’t. Many of us advised him against it but he said, “The President is the Commander in Chief, I am just a Chairman; there will be no conflict”. Now we can see how wrong he was. The President may have made peace with Amaechi but the President’s men and women wouldn’t, especially considering the media approach he (Amaechi) employed. The insults were too much and it only made a bad situation worse. People who have tried to kill the President have made peace with him so why not Amaechi? The answer comes from the lack of a sufficient desire for peace.
Very few people have the authority to talk on this matter like small me. I understood the internal workings of Amaechi’s mind on this issue; I am very familiar with the President’s personal view on this matter; I have worked with the heads of the current APC family (Tinubu and Buhari) at close quarters and I understand the pulse of both teams very well. So when I, who understands this in and out, say Amaechi was wrong, I know what I am saying and when I who has been there before say “don’t go”, I know also what I am saying. Asking me to go there is like asking me to return to secondary school after leaving university many years later. A big mistake. It is the governor’s supporters I feel sorry for. He has been Speaker for eight years and will be leaving as governor after eight years, so he can’t complain. But thanks to his decision, his “inevitable mistake”, many councillors, LGA chairmen and other political office holders will have their political prospects cut short. It is them I pity. They are the real victims, alongside Rivers people. Amaechi will be fine.
People are wondering where you stand. Is it with PDP or PDM?
They shouldn’t. I am in PDP. I have been there since 2010 and I am staying there. Many of them wonder because I speak for the people first before the party. Unlike most politicians, for me my state comes first. I will not blindly follow a party that does not have the interest of my state at heart. So if my views are seen as anti-PDP, it is only in the spirit of correcting the one you love whenever they deviate. After all, when Amaechi and I were working together I publicly criticised him. My loyalty has always been to the people. If Amaechi or PDP does not walk the path of my people, I will not hesitate to remind them. Having said this, PDP is still the best of the rest, the only party with a national interest and people who you can go to war with. I would rather go to war with (Nyesom) Wike than with some of these two-faced politicians. With him and his faults, you know where you stand with him. I can deal with that. Same applies to Jonathan: If he can’t do something, he will not say he can. He may be slow to decide but when he does, that is it. He keeps his word. That has not been my experience with many of them.
If I take you through the new APC arrangement, the story is different. Since political parties have refused to have a unique ideology of their own, despite some of us coming close to insulting them on the subject, you are better of pitching your tent with a team going somewhere and with your people’s interests at heart. I make bold to say that, for me in Rivers, that team is PDP. With respect to PDM, it is a party close to my heart and many good people uncomfortable with the aggressive style of politics played in PDP have sought refuge there. They are organised, respecters of internal democracy and a roof for those, who can’t see the difference between APC and PDP but want to get involved in party politics to make a difference. My dream is for PDP to make them allies. It will not be easy but it is possible. They have a bright future, if not now – in 2019.
My commitment to the youths has made me keep one eye on PDM and its progress. I believe the youth can use it to take control of their future. Their website pdm.ng is proof that they are the first political party in Nigeria to effect online registration. At the rate they are going with manual registration kicking off next week, they are set to become a serious force in Nigerian politics. Their pedigree guarantees it. I tell people that my heart is with PDM but my head and my legs are firmly in PDP. PDM will make change tomorrow, PDP can make change today. They should work together.
How is your relationship with Amaechi now?
It is no longer what it used to be but that is also inevitable. I have supported him at my own expense and it was no longer wise to continue to do so. Each man to a box, they say. Most of the negativity I get today was because I decided to support Amaechi’s government in 2007. Some accuse me of doing it for money, others accuse me of lacking the fighting spirit, some go as far as calling me a sell-out. All that because I decided after fighting a good fight that I should allow what I saw as a divine decision to stand. I sold all I had to fight the 2007 election but after I supported Amaechi, I had to leave the state to survive because I was not a government pickin who survived off government leading up to 2007 so why should I be lazy and become one now? Amaechi knows this. I did some work but it was not at all commensurate with my input and even though I finished it after one year, it took them over two years later to pay me. But I never complained. Amaechi was a good man and I know he appreciated me.
Amaechi was like aradite, anyway, so empowering me was not his first, second or third interest. I noticed this and went about my business. Many say I was involved in Silverbird, the 1,000-bed hospital, waste management and many other things but the truth is not what it seems and one day it will all come out. In 2011, I engineered over half a billion naira of contributions to Amaechi’s campaign. Majority of the contributors came with money from outside Rivers State. Did Tonye Princewill see one contract worth that much? No. Yet I still stood by him. because I was there for the state’s interest, not my pocket. That support I gave Amaechi cost me politically but I didn’t look back. I gave it. In the end God will judge us.
My people supported him tooth and nail but yet they were not acknowledged. I asked and asked, they were promised and promised but even after he told them in public and on national TV that he likes to keep his word as an example to his children, he didn’t. Still I supported him. He removed our commissioners in his cabinet, still I supported him, he promised other appointments and failed, still I supported him, because I was not there for me. If I was interested in me, I would have done things differently, had a deal with Omehia and collected N1.5 billion from him. All this I did because I believed Amaechi came from God. I never knew him before October 2007, yet I was more useful to him than people who grew up with him in politics. Many of my supporters felt that my refusal to fall out with him signified I was eating fat and content. This was not the case.
I saw my support as a stabilising force. The Riverine were agitating for a governor after eight years of an Odili upland regime. People like me deciding to stand by Amaechi gave him credibility and soothed the Riverine /Upland divide that has dogged our state for so long. One day I sincerely hope that Amaechi looks at my role and realises that he lost a friend given to him by God. It might be too late for us, but let him not do this to others. Eventually it catches up with us. The same man he called corrupt a.k.a Mr. Consumables and not wanting to do politics with is now the interim Chairman of APC in my state; the same man he called an irritant and refused his calls is now his spokesman and the list goes on. He deliberately poached members of my team without the courtesy of my consent and did it only when he needed them. But I am not bitter. They are good men and deserve recognition. I am glad for the role I played in their lives. Good luck to them. I only wish he had recognised them sooner.
Can you still be governor in 2015 now?
Why not? I am free of all encumbrances. I have stood in Amaechi’s shadow for too long and now I am once again my own man, free to talk for me and free to speak for my people without worrying about relationships and allegiances. Even though I was still quite blunt, I was a lot more measured than I would like and a lot less critical than would have pleased me. Now I can talk about what is still wrong, what is not right and what needs doing without suspicions about me wanting to be governor. Many people say I won in 2007, 2015 will be an opportunity to find out how popular I really am. I have never held a political office before, yet I have touched more people than some governors and I have not campaigned for a day since 2007. That is the grace of God and I pray for it every day.
Rivers State will experience what it has never seen before. That I promise you. It will take an Obama to stop what we are coming with and I can’t see a Kenyan coming to win Rivers State; can you? No. Unless the One from above says “Don’t.” I will do. And I will not look back for anyone. 2015 is all the way or nothing. The past is the past. We all make mistakes. That is why pencils have erasers. All I can ask is for people to have a forgiving spirit. As for Amaechi’s support, I told him on the 6th of January 2012 about 2015 and I saw it in his eyes that he wouldn’t support me but I still supported him. Now all this happens, through no fault of mine. Can you see? God decides not man. It is amazing that the same beneficiaries of this philosophy still want to play God. I guess it is only human nature to think a governor will install a governor. I heard Amaechi said Tonye Princewill will never be governor. I hope it is not true. But I will ask him. I have never abused him or insulted him. In fact, I have even prayed for him. But I will not fight our President and I will not go for Senate in 2015. This I will not do. We have agreed to disagree. I hope agreeably.
What is your view on Atiku and Jonathan? Who will you support for President?
I will support the President for a continued four-year term in office. Let me make that absolutely clear. As much as Atiku in my mind is a brilliant politician and a great presidential material, I am afraid that his route to the presidency is unclear to even a nuclear strategist like myself. He can’t get the PDP ticket and the APC ticket is not aimed in his direction either (thanks to the G7). He can’t keep jumping just to get a ticket, so I believe he should stay in PDP. Who knows, if he stays there anything can happen tomorrow; 2019 is there and his chances are still quite good. Jonathan can acknowledge his support, Nigerians can or maybe just maybe he wasn’t destined to be President. I don’t know. What I do know is I am not going to APC, Atiku should not allow himself to be used by those G7 Governors. I have no reason to do what would amount to impeaching the President by denying him a second term. What is his crime? Granted he has not done fantastic in many areas but I am not fooled by the finger pointing especially because of the grubby fingers that are doing that pointing.
They are no better, they have a selfish agenda and do not mean well for my country either. I’d rather have four more years of this certainty than eight more years of their own version of it.
Politics should be about compromise. Honour amongst thieves. Help Jonathan to go again for the sake of the country and help him rule. He needs all the help he can get because many good people are fooled into abandoning him so the bad people around him are gaining relevance. The President is a good man. I’ve seen many acknowledge this. They complain about the people around him. So why not come around him, too? If you are kept at a distance, maybe it is because of your actions and your body language. Open it up to dialogue and compromise. Do what Mandela would have done. Talk to your oppressors, dine with your enemies and seek a way forward knowing that the interest of the nation come first. The voice of the people is the voice of God. Jonathan didn’t get there by his might, so maybe God has a reason. Let us think about it. Everything I have said here, I have told Atiku in private. Without divulging his response, let me say that he acknowledged that Jonathan is the only President that has not attempted to destroy his business. All other successive Presidents have. Does that not tell you something? Nigerians have heard the phrase, “It’s the thought that counts but let them remove “the” and use “it’s thought that counts.” We need to start thinking.
I rest my case. That is the kind of man you are dealing with. A GEJ/Atiku alliance would so gladden my heart. It would be a dream come true for my nation. If Mandela and de Klerk could work together, why not them? The answer is leadership and these elders God gave us. Ego and ambition cannot come before us the people. My comfort is that God knows best. Only one person can occupy that seat at any one time. For now it is Jonathan. I advised Amaechi not to support him in 2011, Amaechi ignored my advice. Now he wants me to help him clean up the mess? I won’t do it. You lie in the bed you made. Jonathan may not support me for governor but I will support him for President especially seeing the forces that have mounted against him because it is right. I try not to put my interest first. It helps me sleep better at night.
With PDP in such disarray, how can they win the Presidency in 2015?
Because what you see as disarray is really just a cleansing. Those that leave were never meant to be there. Granted PDP has a structural problem highlighted by this recent drama but now PDP is free to address it without distractions. PDP is a formidable machine. I know. I have come up against it before and so I pity those who start to read its obituary. They underestimate it and underestimate Jonathan. I did that in 2011, but I will not be repeating that mistake. Listen, PDP Governors controlled the party until Jonathan came along. Obasanjo and Yar’Adua had tried to rebalance the control but they failed.
We have a string of memorials for PDP Chairmen who fell at the hands of the governors but GEJ changed all that. How? You can trace it to the Governors’ Forum election. A masterpiece in political sleight of hand. Now you see it, now you don’t. While all of us were complaining that 19 is more than 16 and quite rightly so, the forum died and governors were suspended by the same party they controlled. People should go and study what is happening in Nigerian politics today and they will see that acting foolish is the new wisdom because Nigeria is full of wise people. Busy analysing the problem so much that a silent listener who actually focuses instead on solutions can make progress where other so called smarter ones have failed.
In the end the majority know that APC is no better than PDP and if they sense that PDP and Jonathan are ready to listen, they will give them another chance. If President Jonathan wants to come back in 2015, he has a lot of work to do. But he can do it. Some of us will help him do it. There are many young Nigerians that see the 419 in our politics. How can APC absorb the same PDP governors they were abusing last month and hand over the party in their states to them as if people were not there before. And they say they are different? Is that democracy? Is Nyako change? The original APC members in Rivers State are about to defect en masse to PDP and PDM in sheer disbelief. Tell me who is in disarray.
Is the level of corruption in Nigeria today not an indictment on Jonathan?
It is an indictment on all of us, especially him. Yes. But Nigerians need to move beyond complaining to actually doing. We complained about Obasanjo assigning national assets to himself and what happened? Jonathan’s hasn’t done that. Did corruption end? Did it go underground? So why do we keep doing the same thing and expect different results?
Complaining about GEJ is not the solution. He has done a couple of things that suggest he can do more. The PDP Chairman’s son has been remanded in custody. Haba! That was never possible in Obasanjo’s PDP. But it has happened. Tambuwal complained the other day that Jonathan’s body language encourages corruption; Amaechi complained that trillions are missing and Dino Melaye set up an anti-corruption NGO. Who are we kidding? Can we please stop the drama? The political class is knee-deep in corruption, so forgive me if I don’t fall for that particular game. They want Jonathan out and somebody else in. So they can control the key to the CBN vault. Sorry. Now we know. If good people surround Jonathan, bad people involved in corruption will be expendable. Now you ask him to chuck out the few who stood by him and he feels exposed. Let us understand them even if we don’t agree. Obama said of Mandela that he “sought to understand where his opponents were coming from.” We should learn from Mandela.
Nigerians should be wise. The truth is bitter. There are no saints in the political space anymore; just serial sinners. Let us find the ones who accept they need help and see if we can save them. Jonathan needs help. He has only four more years. He is a much better option than a full eight years of these other ones. The damage political drama does our nation is beyond belief. In the end, they all settle and resume casual affairs, while the people remain casualties. Never again. I don’t see 2015 as change; I see it as a preparation for change. I see that change in 2019.
Where do you see the state of the nation come 2015?
I see it stabilising. The critical year for me like I said is 2019when Jonathan is on his way out. If the North do not support him now, they will lose the President’s support in 2019 and that may tilt things in favour of the South East politics. That would isolate the North and drive their political prospects deeper underground. Knowing the history of our country, that will open up many ugly possibilities. Containing that situation in 2019 is my concern – not 2015. If the President does what he needs to do, 2015 will pass peacefully and there is nothing to suggest he won’t.
Mandela pulled South Africa from the brink; what can be done for Nigeria?
Nigeria can move forward in leaps and bounds if they are given the right leadership. Mandela was a fighter and a defender of democracy but he was willing to speak with even his oppressors to move his country forward. This is what is lacking here in Nigeria. Selflessness. If we can get a few of them to hold on to this philosophy, the future will be bright. Politicians have to learn to keep their words and be open about their deals behind closed doors so we can see who keeps their side of the bargain and who does not. Mandela and the ANC negotiated in open with de Klerk and his team. The interest of the country need not be a secret. We don’t all have to be the President or have one from our region to progress. Let God’s will survive. This brings me to the issue of a national conference. We need one and we need it now. Dialogue is the key to all our challenges and we have many of them. Those afraid of dialogue need not be unless they are happy with the status quo. The status quo cannot continue.
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