Posted by News Express | 26 September 2013 | 4,974 times
Prince Tonye T.J.T Princewill is a member of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and a key player in the politics of Rivers State. After a long period of silence, the young man who quite easily has one of the most respected voices in not only Rivers State but the Niger Delta region spoke on topical issues, including his relationship with President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Chibuike Amaechi, his view on the battle between them, and his 2015 governorship ambition. Excerpts:
You’ve been silent for a while. Why?
Sometimes in life we need to listen more than we talk. As you rightly observed, I have been doing a lot more listening lately. My political career is just beginning and so I have a lot to learn. I have seen a lot of mistakes that I, Tonye Princewill, cannot afford to make. And it is only by watching the people dancing in the town square that I have been able to see their backs. I have resisted the temptation to join them because neither side is short of sycophants. There are no vacancies in that department. And since I am not a sycophant, I want to continue to look either of them in the eye and tell them the truth. And what is this truth? None of them are saints. All of us are sinners. So we all need peace. I am an advocate for peace, but in the meantime I am taking a lesson in how not to play politics.
What is your position on the Amaechi /Jonathan saga? Whose side are you on?
I am not taking sides. If all of us take sides, who will work for peace? There is still plenty of time to make peace between now and 2015 so allow me to preach my peace and avoid trying to make me a warrior. When the time to fight comes, if it does, we will see who the true warriors are. 2007 is still fresh in our memories. I laugh at those people who are looking for Amaechi or Mr President to make them Governor or Minister or LGA chairmen and whatever. Their hope is that their side will win and that since in PDP politics it is the winner who takes all, they will decide who gets what, where and when. This time they will be in for a big shock. Neither of them alone will produce the next Governor. God will do that and he will use people who do not have big names, so blind loyalty which hides the truth is a recipe for disaster. Count me out of that. They must work together.
They have both made mistakes and are still making them. My responsibility as a son of the soil is to tell them the truth and find a way out of the mess. Since I am fortunate enough to have their ear, I tell them what they don’t want to hear. I blame my friend and brother Amaechi for this mess but where Amaechi erred, the President should have called him aside and told him so and as an older brother he should have forgiven him. Do you know what Amaechi has done for this President when nobody gave him any notice? And on the other side, do we know what Wike has done for this Governor? They have all at one time or the other conspired against me and many others. Now they want me to fight their war? I won’t. They should go and settle or else, God will settle them.
In 2008, Amaechi and Wike conspired against me for the local government elections, the LGA structure we see today was “engineered” into place by these same people fighting each other today. In 2011, Amaechi refused to work with Atiku but went to work for Goodluck against my friendly advice. When he won and Jonathan won, did they look in my direction? Please let me have peace. Amaechi won the Governors’ Forum election, intimidating him is unnecessary and counter-productive even if he is not totally innocent. The sacking of the Obio Akpor council was wrong as was the refusal to recognise the Felix Obuah-led PDP in the state. What goes around comes around. I have told Amaechi this.
To be fair, both Amaechi and Atiku have listened to me when I have given advice. They were both ready to work with Jonathan even when it appeared that he was not willing to work with them. At first when I sat with the President, he acknowledged the need to build bridges with them. I can only think that there are people around him who saw advice like mine through a jaundiced lens and proceeded to act counter to it. Go to the streets of Port Harcourt and ask people. They will say Amaechi and Tonye are twins. How? Why? Go today and ask people they will say Atiku is my father. I will follow him to the grave. How? Why? My loyalty is to the people. The poorer they are, the more loyal I am. What will benefit them is what I will advocate for.
In 2011, I advocated Atiku. For now, we watch but I refuse to fight Jonathan so Sule Lamido can be my President. Is Lamido a better option for my people? Currently peace between these children of God (Amaechi and Mr President) is what will benefit my people. I will work for peace, not take sides and call one side a saint and the other side a sinner. People don’t like to look well before they talk. I do. Man no be God is what I will say. 2015 is not by power, it is by faith. The child that does not want his mother to sleep will not sleep either. We abused Obasanjo, God gave us Yar’Adua, we cried and lamented, he died on us and along came Jonathan. Some of us including those who voted for him only two years ago are abusing him, too. Ask yourselves, who next? Sule Lamido? No way.
Our leaders should quickly move away from the current politics towards the politics of persuasion before they make enemies out of potential friends. As for 2015, Amaechi is not Mr President’s problem or vice versa. Fighting each other will not work. Nobody should underestimate anybody. Even Atiku. If you can’t even attempt to win my vote by simple persuasion, how can you lead me?
Are you going to run in 2015?
Yes. It appears I will. Things have to be done right but it appears that all I need, to do what has to be done, is either in place or will be. Initially I was concerned about the moral and financial support but that is no longer a concern for me. The next step is to consult more widely, identify real leaders old and new and engage our youth even more. Unless they are central to what I am doing, I will not succeed. People who know me know that I have a passion for youths and women, especially rural women. Orphans and disabled people will also enjoy my government too but my focus will be JOBS, JOBS, JOBS. That affects every household.
If Ikwerre and Ogonis have the population, how will you win?
That is the same question my Governor asked me on January 6th, 2012. “By the hand of God” is my answer. It will take a miracle for me to win and that is why I have to contest. Rivers State needs a miracle. I expect Ogonis and Ikwerres will not look at me just as a Kalabari man but more as a people’s man just the same way I look at all of us as Rivers people. We need people who can bring us together – not pull us apart. Just the other day, I heard someone say that I will make history as the first Kalabari Governor. I said to the person while that may be true, I prefer to make history because of where I will take Rivers State and not because of where I come from within it.
To win we must reach out to all, majorities and minorities. In the end we must bring out our best. Many people will agree that they have had sons and daughters representing them before now and yet crises and poverty have not gone away, it has even increased. So Rivers people know who cares about them even when there is no election and who opens their door when there is nothing to gain. They will not forget. They know who has the ideas and who represents change you can trust because they know the Prince will and that the Prince means well. I don’t have the political baggage of the others, I have no cult affiliations and have never had I have done all I have done from my own pocket without even a political office. They know what I will do if I do attain more.
My message to my Kalabari brothers and sisters is that they should talk to their neighbours and make them see what they see. Politics should be about persuasion, not power. Numbers are irrelevant in the eyes of God; otherwise Odili would never have been Governor. Our upland brothers know fairness when they see it but if you try to dictate fairness its name changes to intimidation and nobody will be intimidated in 2015. The state belongs to all of us.
You have been outside PH quite a lot. Is that how you will rule Rivers State?
No. Like I said, it is deliberate. Since you have asked so bluntly let me open up to you: 95% of my income does not come from Rivers State. Amaechi my friend knows that I do not disturb him for money and that I go about my business irrespective of what is going on. Schools and hospitals were given to political friends and enemies to execute all over the state; he didn’t give me any, refused to give my political allies and in the end all I had to boast of was the single contract I did in 2007, finished in 2008 and didn’t get paid for till 2011. This contract was given to all governorship candidates in 2007 that decided to work with Amaechi at the time even though I probably spent more on the 2007 election than all of them put together. I am a net loser so far in this government and I doubt anyone in my position has brought more into this state and taken less out. That comes with its consequences. But I am not bitter. My time will come. To keep afloat I have to keep my businesses afloat and since many of them are outside the state, I have to be outside the state.
Also and more importantly, I wanted to improve my relationship with God and so I took time out to fellowship with Him and get to know Him one on one. This has involved a rigorous fasting and prayer routine which sometimes made me think I was going to die but now I am stronger than I have ever been and physically much more fit. So my reason for my absence is not as a habit but for a purpose. It has also shown me who can survive without me and yet still stay focused. So all in all it has been a revelation.
What of the political structure needed to win elections?
Only a greedy man wants to rely on himself alone for victory maybe because he wants to chop alone. I cannot do this alone. Government is big. I can only occupy one position so we need a team. My job is to find that team. The structure that will win the election will respect local interests, community interests and state dynamics. Let us not sit down in one place and write a new story for each community where one already exists. My job is not to build a structure from scratch but to bring together other structures into one big one. Political structures, religious bodies, youth groups, women groups, the disabled, market women, unemployed graduates, community organisations, etc. I will lead but I cannot do it alone. A leader needs generals and that is what I am busy looking for now. Politics is too important to be left to politicians alone. Our structure will make politicians of non politicians. It is never too late to learn something new. I entered politics in 2006 and ran for Governor in 2007. What structure did I use to defeat Sgt Awuse and shake PDP? What structure did Fashola use to win Lagos and what structure did Goodluck Jonathan use to win the Presidency? God gives structures.
Has Jonathan done well?
Yes. In certain areas he has, but in certain areas he needs a lot more work. I think as far as recent Presidents go, he is better than both Yar’Adua and Obasanjo and IBB and Abacha but for this time, this is not good enough. He can do better. Especially in the politics. Where we are today could have been avoided. I wouldn’t want to say more than that for now. The President knows my views on this. Judgement will come at the end of the tenure so he still has his destiny in his hands.
Has Amaechi done well?
Same difference. He is the best since Diete-Spiff without a doubt in my mind but he has not done well in some areas. Especially in the politics. Before the political space became heated I felt he was drifting a little but now it is clear to me that governance has been sacrificed at the altar of politics. This is typical politics and so I predicted it. It could have been avoided but the Governor was the Chairman of the Forum and that tied his hands. If he hadn’t been, maybe we wouldn’t be here today. But he is so here we are. Let us see what happens before full time. This is only the beginning of the second half and just like the President, Amaechi is a child of God so anything can happen.
What do you think of Nyesom Wike?
I think he is the best politician amongst them. He is less interested in what you think about him and more interested in getting results. He is an asset to any team and right now the President is using it to his advantage just as Amaechi has used it to his benefit in the past. He has served others in the past and may harbour ambitions for others to serve him in the future. You can’t deny him that. My job is to make sure that when the dust settles, we are not fighting each other. Wike is somebody I will not fight unless I have to. I begged the Governor to settle with him when this first started but I do not believe that he exhausted the options for peace. Maybe he felt that there was no point. I disagree.
Tell us about PDM
PDM is the mother of PDP and to cut a long story short because I know where you are going; it decided recently at a meeting of its national executive management committee to move away from remaining a movement to becoming a party. For two main reasons: One, PDP was drifting and needed to be reminded that people had options, and, two, we heard that some unscrupulous elements were planning to do likewise and register the party so we the custodians decided to beat them to it.
Even though we have given PDM life, some of us have remained inside the PDP because becoming a political party in Nigeria is not going to be business as usual just because you have a certificate. It needs to have a clearly defined position on major issues, tell Nigerians how it will be different and show the youths how much better it is than PDP or APC. Also, I believe that it should concentrate on grassroots politics for now and remove its eyes from a presidential election till 2019. It can fight for elections at state and local levels but support any of the other two at presidential level if they set a people’s agenda PDM can subscribe to. These are the tasks and considerations before the new leadership of the PDM.
We await their final position but I remain inclined to a PDM/PDP alliance than a PDM/APC one. But you never know. Registration has commenced online at www.pdm.ng. The first political party in Nigeria to do so exactly one month after INEC registered it. Amazing! Manual registration commences shortly. No more hoarding of party cards as is currently the case. PDP and others need to take note.
If you become Governor, what will you do differently?
I will never underestimate anybody. I will find peace wherever it hides for the sake of my people’s development and I will learn from others who came before me. Odili, Omehia and Amaechi have a lot to teach me about what not to do and I will be willing to learn a lot from their examples.
•Photo shows Prince Tonye Princewill.
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