Rivers State-born politician, businessman and filmmaker, Prince Tonye Princewill pulled no punches when he addressed contentious issues in a recent meeting with journalists. WALE OLAPADE brings excerpts:
Why did you join the APC?
There are three key reasons. The first is local. In Rivers state, I have the misfortune to have a man called Nyesom Wike serving as my governor. If the opposition is asleep, my children run the risk of explaining him to their friends for another four years. I don’t want that. They don’t want that. Uniting all the opposition to Wike makes sense. That’s why I’m in APC. All the sticks joined makes a broom. PDP used our anger against Amaechi as a cover to sneak Wike into Brick House. I am no longer angry with Amaechi and from what I am seeing, I am not alone. In 2019, there will be no sneaking. Secondly in PDP, the deceit is like a religion. I predicted that Wike and Fayose would lead the party way before I joined APC. It’s not rocket science to choose between Wike and Fayose on the one hand and Buhari and Osinbajo on the other. You have to be good to lead me. PDP cannot lead me. The final reason is the intent. Nobody is perfect so I will be the first to admit APC has made some mistakes. However, I can see beyond their actions to their intent. I know that the APC means well and the PDP really does not. Unlike most Nigerians, I do not have a short memory. I am very familiar with what the PDP is capable of. I’m glad they kept their name. We need people to remember PDP.
Is it possible to defeat Wike?
Of course. Since 1999, elections in Rivers state have been won by force of the gun. The party in power at the centre has controlled the security agencies and the electoral institutions and they have done their bidding.
Now Buhari is changing that. Finally, popularity matters. The battle in Rivers state will be won before the day. Even Wike can feel what is coming.
He is already planning his exit. The man is no fool. Neither are we.
Nothing will be taken for granted, no stone will be left unturned. The biggest challenge to the APC is APC. Once we can get out of our own way, Wike and PDP will not be an issue. I can already see the enemy within being tamed.
Since 2015, we have not seen the Rivers state budget. Wike spends on instinct, borrows on instinct and yet there are people who support him.
Nothing else can personify a corrupt system better. It shows that Wike has decided to take us for granted. Accountability, transparency and oversight have no place in his government because he thinks the anger of the Rivers people against APC in 2015 will be more than enough to see PDP through in 2019. Let observers watch and see what will happen.
How true is it that the APC in Rivers state is divided?
We were. Now, I think we have identified those who are ready to win. To be honest, in politics, division makes more news than unity, so there’s bound to be more spotlight on divisions. I am not deceived by that. Nothing unites politicians more than an election. Expect more drama in the period leading to the primaries. Only then will we settle in. In 2015, we had more divisions within the PDP when Wike took the ticket without any regard to his fellow politicians. The world did not end. After he took the ticket, many of the same people he showed no regard for, ended up working for him. That’s Nigerian politics.
Do you think Buhari deserves a second term?
The short answer is ‘Yes’. He means well. He isn’t desperate to be President. I sense that. So he is doing what he feels is right, regardless of the politics. When you do that, expect to make a few enemies. APC made promises without knowing what kind of economy they were getting into. It appears the new administration started slow, but they are back on track.
Buhari is used to cutting his coat according to his size. He is a man who is known to live within his means. That is why he can be forgiven for expecting Nigerians to do same. His thinking appeared to be, if we can navigate through this period, the other side will be worth it. No subsidy, a single treasury account, consequences for corruption, monies returned, massive investment in infrastructure, a boost in agricultural output, emphasis on made-in-Nigeria, improving the ease of doing business and finally taking the entertainment industry seriously. I could go on, but I think people get the point. All these despite a serious health scare.
Agreed, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing, but given the cards he has been dealt, you have to give him and his team credit. And there is more good news ahead. Fuel queues at the end of the year is routine, artificial and will have consequences. I expect the opposition and those who see nothing good in Buhari to take advantage of it with unsuspecting Nigerians.
Don’t you see APC’s anti-corruption fight as one sided?
I’ve heard that before but I don’t buy it. Just like the claim that Buhari’s appointments are biased was proved wrong, the facts do not support this claim either. I tend to identify people as guilty or innocent.
Not by party. If they are guilty, they should face the consequences, regardless of political leanings. I find people who insist in the media, that people should be indicted because they are in government, just to show Buhari is working, a little odd. The right thing to do is to write a petition with evidence and pursue it. We all know people in this government that have been shown the door for corruption. It’s no longer fashionable, so I don’t expect many indictments, but seeing that corruption is still a religion for some, I’m sure Buhari will be setting examples before very long.
You led a recent pro-SARS protest. Why?
Because throwing the baby away with the bath water is ridiculous. Reforming SARS has to be the commonsense alternative. I find it difficult to fathom the thought that you scrap a unit of the police because they have a few bad apples. That would provide grounds for scrapping most security outfits in the world. Including the army, the police and the navy while you’re at it.
I can understand why Wike would want it scrapped, the SARS Commander in Rivers refused to compromise. Years of killings and beheadings have now been checked and intimidation is no longer the order of the day. The tide has turned. I marched because I don’t want the state to return to those dark years. Rural areas in Rivers state were very vulnerable, in the past.
People in cities may not understand. I do. The numbers that came out on that day showed we have plenty of support. We were a coalition, united against the end-SARS campaign, but it appears we won over a lot of new friends on that day.
Amaechi is reputed to have a strong personality. How do you cope with him?
I think the closer you get to Amaechi, the more you realise he is a simple man and very easy to get along with. If you describe knowing what he wants as being strong, then yes. But he consults and he delegates. Maybe too much. However once he makes up his mind, that’s it. We have had our fair share of debates but what you have to give to him is that he is covered by an amazing grace. Heads or tails, his team always wins. 2019 will be another test. Our job is simple, work hard, but strengthen our faith and God willing, victory is certain. Like him, I believe that in Rivers state we need to put personal ambition aside for now and focus on the group’s ambition. Some saw it as a refusal to endorse them. They were right. A choice of candidate is way too early as the days of anointing candidates are gone. Primaries will hold and by His grace, the best man (or woman) will win.
What are your thoughts on the recent PDP convention that threw up your kinsman as national party chairman?
My mind is on the amount of Rivers money that went into that exercise.
Other than that, I saw a party that has always run on big money return to its roots and demonstrate why money can buy you PDP. Wike has played his hand. You can see where he is going. He just wants his second term ticket.
He doesn’t care about the Presidency because he *feels* PDP will not win it. The South-West does not matter to him. Neither does any zone. All he cares about is the Rivers state governorship.
Your party has had its share of troubles recently with an overbearing EFCC in the Innoson case and suspicions greeting a whopping 1 billion USD to fight Boko Haram. What are your thoughts?
The facts are still unfolding and GTB seems to be playing catch-up, so give it a few days. All truths will come out. My take is the EFCC did not go there for debt recovery because there was no debt and they are not that stupid. There is bound to be a reason they used to justify entry whether right or wrong. We need to know what that reason is and where GTB fits into it. In a world of 24-hour news, we do not have patience like we did before.
As for the 1 billion USD, Nigerians will shout. As will PDP. They know what diverting money for security feels like. But the body that approved this money is beyond party politics and Nigerians will expect and get accountability. Also there is a misconception that it is only for Boko Haram. It to fight insecurity anywhere it is found. Period.
What is your season’s message for your people in Rivers state and Nigerians?
Be like Christ. First by knowing him, since you cannot be like someone you do not know and then by being obedient to that knowledge. We have to become more selfless and make sacrifices.