Prince Tonye Princewill, the gubernatorial candidate of the Action Congress (AC) in last Aprils elections in Rivers State is in the middle of a political storm that has pitched him and the state’s chapter of the his party against the National chapter of the party. At issue is his decision to support the newly crowned governor of the state, Rotimi Amaechi who belongs to the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). That decision has riled the leadership of AC at the national level. But Princewill insist that his decision is hinged on the need to stop the former state governor, Peter Odili, who has been accused of looting the state from wresting back power through the back door and plunging the state back to the days of darkness and political turbulence.
Princewill spoke with reporters on the reasons behind his decision to support Amaechi. Excerpts below:
What is your relationship with the new Governor Rotimi Amaechi?
It is very cordial. Seeing us now many do not believe that we have been friends for only two short months. But that is the honest truth and I think his experience from his friends of several years has demonstrated that what matters is not the quantity of years behind a friendship but the quality of content within it. I am a good friend to have and so it appears is he. I think that friendship will be tested in the weeks and months ahead especially in the local government elections which will hold in a few months, but I believe we will find a way through it. The state comes first. He knows this I know this. Party affiliations are important but the Governor must remember there is life after PDP. He should know better than anybody, they expelled him while everybody in PDP kept quiet. Now he has friends outside PDP while I have friends inside PDP. Rivers State is one big happy family today. We still have more work to do to change the old order, but this is a good start.
You’ve seen the conduct of PDP in the local government elections round the country recently. What makes you think Rivers State will be different?
I am an optimist with an umbrella. I don’t believe in failure nor can I be defeated unless I choose to be. My refusal to join PDP is borne out of the fact that I have a problem with their style and I refuse to be subjected to it. My first constituency is the people. The Governor has said a lot of good things so far and done some good deeds in the process. The highest on my list of achievements beyond declaring that this administration would not be business as usual is his appointment of Prof. Briggs as SIEC Chairman. That is a popular decision and one he did not have to make. If your intention is to rig as usual you have just made your life more difficult and my life a lot easier. Like I said I am an optimist who says it will not rain but I have my umbrella in case it does. An LGA election that does not produce AC counsellors and Chairmen in Rivers State cannot be free and fair. We are already popular but we will work even harder. And we will get results. Everybody knows that. Why else do you think they kidnapped Prof Briggs?
How true are the claims that your party has suspended you?
Hot air. No substance and against what reasonable allegation? You see it is reasons like this that makes politics unattractive to the civilised elite. A young man like me takes on a whole system with little or no support and with a great risk to my life and property. In the process I have to handle all the facets of a political party / movement, run a campaign in the streets, creeks and pages of newspapers and try to keep the same structures which afforded me the opportunity to protest afloat. I do all this successfully and somebody wakes up to say I am suspended over a month after the same party he claims to lead in the state has suspended him? Unfortunately for him and his new friends, Rivers State has had enough crap for eight years to last a lifetime. We won’t take any more. Come and suspend. I hear the same suspended Chairmen went to the tribunal to try and re-file the case. He is not a lawyer but any one can advise him that only the original petitioners can re-file the case. The original petitioners were the party Secretary and myself. It isn’t a surprise the former Chairman wasn’t a signatory to the original petition; he was nowhere to be found when we filed, played no role and asked no questions.
I withdrew my petition on principle. I know it’s hard for some people to understand that I didn’t do this for money. I withdrew my petition after consulting widely at state but also at the national level. Forget what you read in the paper about this being a unilateral decision. One day I will speak on the subject when the time is right. Accusing me of doing it for money and abusing my integrity is all well and good because when you roll with pigs you are bound to get dirty. But you are either a pig or you are not and in the tested theory of time the truth about who is and who is not will be revealed. For now I pay them no attention. My objective was to rid Rivers State of the Odili factor and show people what it would be like to run a model State. I have achieved the first and am now focused on the second. Since I am not in the driving seat I am under less pressure. That makes me more ready. They should beware. I have very little time for people who cannot think beyond the obvious. Continue to underestimate me.
Why did you not stick to your original principles and see the matter in the Tribunal to the end?
Circumstances are different and the case of Rivers State remains peculiar. Only ignorant and myopic leaders say never without reservation. I enjoy fighting for a cause and if you are going to war for good reasons I am the kind of man to carry along. Fortunately or unfortunately in Rivers State fighting Amaechi after the Supreme Court judgment no longer had the same purpose to it. He had been expelled by PDP, rejected by Odili and vilified by Omehia. That made him a perfect candidate for my support. Especially when these same people approached me to continue my case in the tribunal not only for a fee but also with the help of incriminating information to assist me prove there was no election in Rivers State . Enemies suddenly became friends with a view to unseating Amaechi. When people talk of political prostitution in respect of my withdrawing my case I laugh at their ignorance because Amaechi met no money in the treasury, had no money of his own. The real political prostitution would have been to keep the case in the tribunal and do a deal with the devil. I spent a few days after the judgment with him, watching him closely to see if the demons of yesteryears still existed and then followed my conscience. Although I am now more financially challenged than I ever was, those that matter and know respect me now more than ever before. I didn’t come to politics to achieve, I came to take a stand and make my point. So far so good.
Is it true you collected N500 million from Governor Amaechi?
I didn’t even collect N500 from him. When I was going to London to see my wife and kids and consult them on the initial developments he offered to assist me and I said no thank you I was fine even though I could have done with some assistance. To understand this I have to give you some background. I am the son of the reigning monarch of the Kalabari Kingdom , the only child of a former University Professor who prides himself in cutting his coat to his size. I am an Imperial College graduate and the owner of businesses at the age of 38 a man twice my age would be proud of. I rejected financial inducements in excess of that amount from the previous administration before they were kicked out and after they were kicked out and I can name names and witnesses to all this and more. What is my point? Don’t think all politicians are alike and shamelessly so. Many with cases still in the tribunal did differently yet collected money. On the surface it appeared they had sustained the struggle while in truth those that know are aware they had already compromised their souls. God remains in control. Now it has been revealed why they wanted to discredit me with this wicked rumour. It was in preparation for a call for my suspension. People that matter can see beyond this Rivers PDP approach to politics. It is the same players and the same script. Analog politicians can’t change. Look what happened to Amaechi in PDP and let us see if AC will follow their lead. Kpagane a suspended Chairman says I acted alone yet he called for the suspension of the entire leadership of the party in the state. Is somebody making sense of this? Can anybody read between the lines?
Atiku and Tinubu said you did not consult them. Is it true?
I have too much respect for my elders to even contemplate contradicting them. I do not recall Tinubu saying anything on the matter but I do recall the former VP however speaking for himself and on behalf of the leadership of the party. I have noted what he said. The processes and paths traversed in my journey to this position will be the subject of my memoirs. Let us leave it till then shall we. We mustn’t forget however that I am a political novice or do we say neophyte in this game so this will be seen as a learning process. Those that know me will tell you I learn fast so please let us see how well I recover. I know what happened, they know what happened and two other credible and living witnesses exist to corroborate what happened. I benefit nothing from lying. All I will say for now was even though my consultations were inadequate they were well meant and for those offended by its lack of depth, do put it down to inexperience and resource limitations. That aside, I have no regrets. I did what was right for my state, not for me.
What next for Tonye Princewill?
Unless otherwise directed, I am returning to my roots. As a businessman that ventured into politics, I want to play my role in bringing both parties together at an even more micro economic level. Over the next years and months I will supervise the influx of foreign capital into Rivers State . My passion for youth employment drives it. I have always believed that the private sector is the key to the economy of a state and the government needs to restrict itself to providing the framework for business to thrive in harmony with the people as opposed to at the their expense. Silverbird Showtime is the first of many such investments and with a 20 billion Naira investment they are set to make Port Harcourt fun again. A 10 screen Cinema, Shopping Mall, Five star hotel, and International conference centre with the mother of all Theme Parks on the other side of the road linked by a rail cart for kids. I cannot begin to tell you how significant this is especially when you see that from December 2008 we will start to experience the opening of these facilities. Silverbird have chosen to lead the pack, they opted to begin with the end in mind. They will laugh the loudest. Other smart ones will also follow. That is what we call first mover advantage.
Where do you see Rivers State in the next four years?
It should be unrecognizable. If I can convince Governor Amaechi to agree to some radical proposals on graduate and youth employment, we can start the process of not only transforming Rivers State in terms of massive inward investment but developing the workforce in parallel to sustain it. Some people’s emphasis is on improved quality of graduates and I could not agree with them more but what do we do with the current crop of graduates? We can’t throw them away. Otherwise we will further fuel a dissatisfied and disenchanted core of educated outcasts. This is not healthy. Government should take responsibility for the lapses in our education and employment policies. I want to see human capital development. That is the only development that is truly sustainable.
What of the issue of militants?
Same difference. Successive governments created it. They forgot to be popular and instead focused on intimidation. It is easy to condemn militancy or even accord it too much credit. People say the situation in Rivers State is bad but they disregard the fact that it has always been so. Why wait until a white man is kidnapped before you realise the depths we had sunk to. How come it is okay for Marshall Harry to be killed, A.K Dikibo to be killed and a host of others too numerous to mention and you never saw the militancy thing as an issue then? Why wait until it affects oil production or the outsiders? For what it is worth the militancy thing as you call it has exposed the need for us to have an ever-increasing indigenous workforce, a more accountable industry and more transparent leadership. I see the signs of a beginning in this regard all around us. But we have to move faster. If government is sincere, we the people can deliver peace in record time. Only the people can take the criminality out of militancy, not a government raid or a law court. They can come in afterwards.
What message do you have for Rivers State and Nigerians?
In the past eight years Rivers State has been a theatre of disaster. Division and petty mindedness filled the air. By my actions I have been able to demonstrate the thinking of a new generation of Rivers people. That riverine or upland, Ikwerre or Kalabari we can all work towards one single objective and support each other in the realisation of the goal. Rivers State now is more united than it has been for years and the new spirit of optimism is directly linked to the new spirit of leadership. If there is anything we must take from this it is that one person can make a difference no matter how small. Ask yourself what can I do to help Rivers State move forward? Then do it. For those of you who are not from here bear with us. Rivers State needs some internal healing. As you are aware aside from being the treasure base of the nation we are also the place people come to when it is time to wind down. As one man said when asked what part of Port Harcourt he wanted to hang out in, “Na all water dey quench fire!” Our increased love for ourselves is by no means less love for you. It is just that with our recent past to contend with our return to the top of the hospitality list is now only a matter of time. Help us to help you. If Rivers State sneezes, Nigeria catches cold.