Tonye Princewill is a Rivers State-born politician, a two-time governorship candidate in the state, a bigwig of the APC and a successful entrepreneur. He speaks on governance and politics in his native state and at the national turf. He spoke to Tony Egbulefu and Maimunat Mohammed Nna.
One of the major trending issues in the polity is restructuring. What are thoughts; your position as an individual about the clamor for restructuring and the entire back and forth argument on it?
I am glad you addressed the question to me as an individual, which is a good context because as a member of APC I know that the party has set up a committee to look into that and to come out with a position. So I speak as an individual and as individual, I have always said that the word restructuring is very loose. If you look at the dictionary definition of restructuring it basically means to make an organization more efficient. It is loose, it’s very open. Restructuring means different things to different people. While some people see that as a problem I see it as an opportunity. I think a government which is forward thinking can recognize that this is such open space and then seek to define it. Executive order signed by the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, acting president at that time, were forms of restructuring; a lot of decisions that have been taken n recent time are all forms of restructuring. The country has been on a continuous path of restructuring. The problem has been that the restructuring is not fast and not deep enough. It is an opportunity of the party and the government to seize the initiative and define restructure as opposed to shying away from the subject. It is in the party manifesto. The government acknowledges the issue.
How deep, how wide, how meaningful that restructuring is, will matter and I think that the APC must recognize that the clamour for restructuring is so strong, so loud that anything short of addressing it will definitely affect us in the next election.
Let me take you to Rivers State, how would you rate governance in Rivers where you come from in the past two years?
Well, I am not impressed. When you think about governance what you are looking for basically is to match the revenue with the results and in my opinion we are falling far short of it. In a number of ways. I think the greatest challenge facing us is youth unemployment. By 2050 Nigeria is said would be the third most populous country in the world. Where are these people going to work? What jobs are they going to do? What foundation are been laid for them? For me, jobs and the creation of jobs is probably the single most important responsibility that the government has; and I look at Rivers State and I ask myself with the increased number of companies leaving in the state, with the perception of violence and the reality of it that pervades the state, what atmosphere are we creating for jobs to be created? We all know one of the largest employers of labour should be small to medium scale enterprises If small to medium scale enterprises are suffering insecurity, suffering multiple taxation, unable to access affordable capital. How are we creating environment to jobs? And I said the Wike in a recent discussion that what we are looking for is not Mr Projects, its questionable about how valid that tittle is; what we are looking for is Mr Jobs. We need jobs in Rivers state and think that single issue which pervades and supersedes everything else, we have fallen far short. In fact we are going backwards.
You decided to join APC even when your state is governed by PDP, how strong is the opposition party in that state? Strong in terms of being able to give the ruling party a good competition in 2019?
I look at it in two fronts. Not just the strength of the opposition but also the weakness of the ruling party. The ruling party in Rivers State is getting weaker by the day. You might have been informed of the fact that two out of the three senators in Rivers State are APC. Slowly by the day people are beginning to realize that Wike’s very smart attempt at convincing people that their problem in Rivers state are APC-generated, are Buhari-generated is slowly beginning to wear thin. People are now beginning to realize that he can no longer use that excuse. When APC was complaining about Jonathan many people said forget Jonathan and get on with the job. The message obviously has not translated to Wike; he needs to forget about Buhari, he is the governor of Rivers State. It is his responsibility to leave a legacy; he cannot continue to blame incompetence on Buhari or Amechi. That attempt is beginning to wear thin. People are beginning to realize that the fact that they cannot move around at night in peace; the fact that they cannot get a job is not something you strictly look at and say it is a Buhari matter. There is no doubt that the federal government has a role to play but what role is the state government paying? So when you are looking at the strength of the opposition also look at the weakness of the ruling party. On the subject of the strength of the opposition I want to point out to you that in Rivers state as of 2015 there were three parties that were contesting for the governorship primary. When I say contesting I mean actively contesting. There was APC, PDP and there was Labour Party. We took over what was a shell in the Labour Party and we invigorate it to the point where when they were calling for a debate. They called only the three of us for the debate. It in itself showed that these were three parties recognized as strong in the state. Now if APC and Labour Party have joined forces which is what has happened now, clearly the opposition is stronger. The main purpose of joining the APC was because I realized that my anger with Amechi is not sufficient enough to allow me, allow a Wike sail through. So I have to swallow my words because I had assume that moving to the Labour Party would be my final resting place. But when I looked at it, if because I don’t want to swallow my words I continued to watch an APC fighting a PDP that if my support for APC could help deal with the issue of Wike I will now say no I won’t do it because of my words, no! So I swallowed my words and I went to APC because I felt that the stronger APC was, the better Rivers state will be. It will either achieve one of two things: it will either remove Wike or it will improve Wike. I did not feel that he was been challenged enough; I did not feel that he was been tested enough and I believe that the joining of forces of APC and the Labour Party which is going on really by my joining APC I think it will provide a stronger opposition. I believe that stronger opposition will ultimately win an election in Rivers state and if it does not it will definitely improve Wike and keep him on his toes.
How did you receive the recent statement by Governor Wike that he would be ready to lose his life to make sure that the opposition APC does not rig election in 2019 in the state?
I heard that statement. You see Wike sometimes speaks without thinking, we have to forgive him. Sometime he forgets that he is a governor, I always say that Wike is built for war not for peace and so the kind of person you bring to a fight you don’t bring him when it is time to govern so I think we should forgive him. But on the subject of losing his life I really think what he is trying to do is divert people from his real exit strategy. We have to understand that his supporters are worried; his supporters are troubled, they themselves cannot see what they fought for. Many cannot see what they killed for and his grandstanding is simply to tell them that they are not alone that he is with them but the truth is that he is not. Do not be surprise if Wike is looking for a way out. Do not be surprised if his visit to the Villa to welcome Buhari is not unconnected to this way out. I will like to think that Rivers people and especially PDP would not be fooled by this grandstanding. Wike is somebody who is very scared to even enter a plane. Not many people know as much as he grandstands and does bravado, Wike is afraid of flying and that does not sound to me like somebody who is prepared to give his life. I believe that what you see is just what the man calls the hot balloon approach-you put a pin in it and you now realize how it real size is, so I am not really deceived and I don’t think we should for one minute think Wike is prepared to lose his life. Wike is prepared to send people to lose their lives but he loves life very much that is shown by the choice of drinks that he likes and the kind of lifestyle that he lives. No, Wike is not prepared to die. He is just grandstanding and it makes for good headlines.
Are you comfortable with the level of cohesion you see at the National level of your party, APC?
No I am not. I am not comfortable. I believe that APC was hurriedly put together arrangement which to be fair was effective but I am not sure that they planned for victory. So what you are seeing now is the result of what you might call inexperience with power. I always say we should not be too judgmental you can’t know the troubles or pains of power until you yourself is sitting down in that seat. To manage such divergent interests’ that came together for one sole purpose which was to remove PDP it’s not going to be easy. We need to be understanding of that. We also know that the president is not what we might call the average politician so some of these tricks of the trade are not his first instinct; his interest is how to move the country forward. Whereas some people will argue that the interest that is being missed here is how to move the party forward. I think that with a bit of understanding, with calmer heads, with less personal ambition these challenges will be overcome. But I know that there should have been more synergy between the party especially as its regards the executive and the legislature, especially as it regards certain key members of the party there should have been more synergy and I think anybody who denies those gaps would not be doing the party or presidency any justice. Some of us have been tuned to say the truth. So if a member of APC denies that there are issues and tries to gloss over the cracks or paper over the cracks it will be normal but some of us believe that we should speak the truth; but I think the legislature needs the understanding that we are dealing with the presidency where you don’t have for the first time maybe you have two people the president and the vice president who are not what you call the average politician. You have a lot of members of the Federal Executive Council who are not the average politician. So they should forgiven, there should be understanding but I think that some of these lapse have been recognized I believe they would be corrected but if we all are interested in the movement of our country forward we should all recognize that it’s not all about party it’s about country and if we are in the same party and want the same country to move forward we have to find a way to get along.
One can say that the president has done well in the area of containing the Boko Haram insurgence but looking at what has been happing in Southern Kaduna and the recent attack in Plateau and what is happening right now in the South east, would you say the president has actually done well in the area of security?
Security challenges that he meet are being addressed and there is no doubt that new ones would continue to emerge and as they do, so will they also be addressed. I would not want to take a point in time and say it is good now or it is good later I would rather do what you might call a general assessment and I will ask that, in the state of our country’s security, are we better placed now to deal with the challenges than we were before? And the answer unequivocally is yes, we are. So whatever the challenges are whether it is South-east or what just happened in Plateau, I believe that we are better placed; we have the Nigerian Army better placed to deal with these challenges. I have no doubt about that. There is nothing happening now that hasn’t happened in the past. As unfortunate as it may be, it is not novel as far as Nigeria is concerned; there has been a frosty relationship between the Nigerian army and the civilians but it has gotten better, much better. I noticed that now the army has a Civil Military Affairs Division which is responsible in the task of engaging civilians. I pray that they continue and I also pray that they understand that they are now been watched even more than they have ever been but on the subject of Nigerian Army on the subject of general security including the police, I have no doubt that we are better equipped, not just in terms of equipment but also in terms of mentality and personnel to deal with security challenges we are currently facing.
You have repeatedly stated that you didn’t join APC because of any political ambition. If by any means the party finds you as the best candidate to fly its governorship flag in Rivers State in 2019 would you turn the party down?
Oh yes, I will. At the rate of current registration I have no doubt we would be almost one million APC members by the time of the next election in River state. I am looking at a state of five million people which of course not everybody is of voting age but in such a context there must be other people who are capable of running the state. I don’t want to be arrogant or dismissive, but I see myself as advanced not only in age but in terms of experience. I contested in 2007 a long side Amaechi, I contested again in 2015. People like Amaechi have moved on. I should also be able to do the same. Let others run, that does not mean we cannot support them that does not mean we cannot advise them, but if you truly want to do a good job of running River State, there is a level of energy, there is a level of commitment that is required and I believe that some people have already started to rear their heads in the state and I believe that we are going to have a free and far primary and we would produce a candidate that should be able to meet expectations somebody I can also support. My reason for saying I am not going to run is mainly that, but also I felt it to be unfair for me to be pursing governorship and moving from one party to another just to pursue governorship. I think that will be selfish, I think that would be opportunistic and also it will be desperate and I am neither of those. I am determined but there is a fine line between determination and desperation and I don’t want to cross it. So my choice of not contesting is not because I am not capable or not able, it is simply because I think that at a time like this what we should be taking about now is how to move the state forward; how to move the country forward and ultimately how to move our party forward.
Of recent there had been statements from some members of APC that President Buhari is the best candidate for the party for 2019 and should be given the chance for a second term. Looking at performance indices in terms of economy and also looking at the strength of his health do you think that such calls fit in properly?
I don’t think we should be looking at it in that context because health, economy and the performance of it, in my opinion are very dynamic factors. Somebody who is well today can be very ill tomorrow somebody who is well and ahale and hearty can drop dead tomorrow and the same Buhari people are talking about might out-live many people.
In terms of the economy, I believe mistakes were made in the beginning, it might be that they did not fully judge the extent of how bad things were but I believe they are now working their way back and the fact that we are now at least technically out of recession is not even satisfactory to the president. He believes that until it gets to the peoples pocket, work still needs to be done. We can’t judge a match at half time. Let’s make a decision and take a position as we get closer to the end of the four-year term. As for the president I think we should leave it to his judgment. I have been watching him for a long time now I know that he is not the kind person who would come out and say he wants to contest if he doesn’t feel up to it. I think that when you talk about the war on corruption, the biggest war that you can wage it the psychological one. I think the battle on corruption has succeeded in that department because immediately he became president a lot of people started returning money we know a lot of money has been returned since, there is a general fear that this is Buhari. One might just dismiss that but it’s not something you should not dismiss.
I think the psychological battle that needs to be waged is something that can only be waged when you have somebody who is seen to be credible. Even though one might question the credibility of people around him, you find that even neutral observers look to him to say well he is not somebody who is troubled with acquiring wealth. That’s a positive. I see him as a man of his own. He can decide that he is not contesting and if he wants to make that decision we should leave it up him and calls of saying that he must contest and that he is the best man to run I think are understandable some people would be expected to show their loyalty or disloyalty at times like this but those of us who are responsible and symbols of leadership for especially the younger generation have the responsibility to speak a little bit more thoughtful, and I think that we should allow the president go about his job and we should recognize that a week is a long time in politics.