Prince Tonye Princewill was a governorship candidate of the defunct Action Congress (AC) and Labour Party (LP) in Rivers State in 2007 and 2015 respectively. He has since joined the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with Senior Deputy Editor, TAIWO AMODU, he speaks on efforts by a coalition of opposition parties in the state to unseat the incumbent governor, Nyesom Wike in 2019, the situation in the Rivers State APC and the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
FORMER president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in his special statement gave a damning verdict on the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, the PDP and the APC. He said the two dominant parties lack the capacity to bring the desired change Nigerians are craving for. What is your reaction?
You know why some people were battling as to their response to the statement? Lai Mohammed gave an eloquent reply, which I want to stand by. I don’t want to believe that our generation should start exchanging words with people of Obasanjo’s generation. He has ventilated his views, the government has responded and I think we should leave it at that. What amazes me though is that as damning as the letter was, PDP was quick to react, forgetting that they were also indicted. It just tells you the ineptitude in the system that they presided over and they actually clapped for Obasanjo. They were so busy, happy that APC was attacked that they didn’t even realise that they were being attacked as well.
People were taken aback when you decided to leave the 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. First thing I believe is that all politics is local. Therefore, when you’re playing politics or doing politics or observing politics, you have to look first at your local environment. For me, all politics is local, if you are going to engage in politics, participate in politics or observe politics. 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 saying that all other don’t matter but local politics matters the most.
So, what is the situation in Rivers State? We have a governor who has gone weird and we have an opposition that is not giving him the kind of opposition he deserves. My opinion is that the opposition is still disjointed. We had an APC, formidable as it were, we had a labour party and we had other parties, and I talk to myself, we are all opposed to this man but our inability to work together is working in his favour. I looked at it, I talked to myself with my passion, the organisational skills of some of the APC members and the commitment that we have to the state, then all like minds need to join forces and if I don’t join forces, I will make Wike stronger. If we join forces, we make Wike weaker. I have said that we are not God, so, I cannot say that we will definitely remove PDP. But definitely, by God, we are going to improve in the process that will enable us to remove them rather than to sit back and do nothing. That is not an option.
But you have found yourself in the same party with the like of Senator Magnus Abe and former Governor Rotimi Amaechi, who is seen as the leader of the party in the state. Considering the fact that you had a sort of political battle with these people in the past, how do you reconcile with them? Are you even comfortable being on the same platform with Amaechi?
Yes, I am in the same party 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 be in the PDP. I have an affinity with APC from my initial days in the Action Congress. Of course, I was the pioneer Action Congress governorship candidate in 2007. So, for me, AC metamorphosed into the APC and I still have many friends there. The difference between the political parties is not really about anything more than the fact that individuals within it 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, the Amaechis, for me, is one million times better than the Wikes. Do they have fault? Of course they do. Nobody is perfect; even I have my own issues, but the reality is that if you are looking to play politics, Amaechi as an option is one million times better than Wike. The likes of Magnus Abe, Dakuku Peterside, they are all big names but beneath them, there are so many other people. Besides them, there are so many other people who may not be as well known to the national media but I also know them quite well and I know them to be quite effective and I know that they have the capacity to move the state forward.
You are not 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 the APC was well thought out? This question is coming against the backdrop of the perception that the average South-South person doesn’t want to associate with the party.
The reason the APC 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 itself. I think in 2019 we will get clearer picture of who is truly in power. I never believed that 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 people’s votes are what counted to put them in that place, I think it is a misnomer. There are some times we just deceived ourselves about as if we don’t know the truth. I am not into that script. I know that, for instance, in Rivers State in 2015 there wasn’t an election. The Supreme Court can say what it likes but the truth of the matter is that if you go back home and you are in your bedroom and somebody outside tells you the colour of your bed sheet, you will smile, because you know the truth. So, as far as I am concerned, free and fair elections and the decision of the people have been missing. Hopefully in 2019, we will get a lot closer look at it and we will see whether PDP is on ground.
But after the 2015 general elections, there were 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; let me remind you that 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 we had an election in Rivers State that was supervised by the security agencies and INEC on behalf of PDP, which is why they are where they are. Let us see what will happen in 2019. Let us see whether Wike will come and steamroll us and deliver PDP in Rivers State. By then you can come and ask me these questions.
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 Abe and Amaechi. Is that not a setback for the party?
No, I won’t describe the situation as a setback. 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 the observers know that APC is determined to win the 2019 election in Rivers. Therefore, there is a genuine fight for that ticket and admittedly, Magnus Abe might have shot the gun too early. That’s my opinion, but it is well within his right to demand and push for that position. If it wasn’t viable, if it wasn’t valuable, he wouldn’t do that. But in the context of crisis, I want to remind you and given the little experience of having been involved in multiple 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 the AC against Sergeant Awuse and I know what crisis was. When in 2015 we fought for the ticket of the 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 and I think they wanted an earlier endorsement from Amaechi and he refused to give it to him and the man decided to pursue 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 will sit down and a decision will be taken and we will all rally round that decision and at the end of the day, we will go forward to a general election. If Wike is fortunate to present himself, then he will face the APC candidate.
The security challenge in Rivers State has earned it the name Rivers of Blood. Why does this problem 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 get more involved. Unfortunately for our state, we have a governor who got into power by violence and has continued to live by violence. We cannot address the matter because his hands, of course, are stained. We hope and we pray that Rivers people will learn from the 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 the leader of the gang and the taming of his team. It will be message to everybody else that there is only one law and that’s the Nigerian law 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 unattended and therefore, they seek to keep their heads above water. It is natural.
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. 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.