Besides being an astute politician, Prince Tonye Princewill has passion for human capacity development, particularly the youths, women and the vulnerable in the society. In this interview with DANIEL ABIA, he opens up on why there are crises in the APC and why Rotimi Amaechi, Transportation Minister, must contest the 2023 presidential election.
There is so much talk about your friend and the Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, throwing his hat into the ring for the 2023 presidency and we also have the national leader of the APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, indicating interest, what do you make of this?
Amaechi should better contest. There’s a grace that has been covering Amaechi over the years and a history that suggests that he was quietly being prepared all along. I wouldn’t rule him out, but I know that his focus is on finishing his work in his capacity as Minister of Transport and doing so strong. You don’t become President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by being desperate. On the other hand, Tinubu is entitled to run and so it’s not for me to say he should not. But my candidate remains the Rt. Hon Rotimi Amaechi and I say so, not just because he is from my state, because that is not enough. I say so because his track record, his commitment, his energy, his ability to get things done, his age and his ability to reach a consensus over the years, stands him in good stead. As our speaker, he was the Chair of Speakers, as Governor, he was the Chair of Governors, as Minister, he is the best performing Minister by far. So, as President, I know the trend will continue. Nigeria is far too important to leave tomorrow to chance.
Your party, the APC, is embroiled in internal crisis. This led to the losing of Edo to PDP and Bayelsa state through Court pronouncements. As we approach 2023, is there hope for your party in the South-South geopolitical zone, giving the division in the APC in Rivers state?
Yes, there is hope. APC’s biggest challenge is APC. Not just in the South-South geopolitical zone, but also nationwide. If the leaders in the South-South, for example, can find a way to work together, they will make great gains in the region. I can see the signs of this beginning to emerge. The new leadership of the party can build on this, when they emerge. That’s why I am looking forward to the quality of Leadership that will emerge. So far, the field is narrowing and the final picture appears to be producing the kind of politicians who know what it takes to win wars and not isolated battles. Division in APC is not the issue. There will always be division. Unless you are dealing with a party leader who is a dictator, in which case, the divisions will be in hiding, until the right moment comes. So, varied voices and saboteurs are a dime a dozen and moles are part and parcel of the game.
Our problem in APC, not just in Rivers APC, but APC nationwide is that our reward system is deeply flawed. Here in Rivers, our leaders are all waiting for our leader. One man, to do it all. When he was Governor, maybe, but now he isn’t, there is no way that is possible. Some will survive it, others cannot. So our opponents are taking advantage of it. But not everything is money as we have seen in the past. While some have left us, the truth is, we have remained surprisingly intact. That to me is a signal of intent. It’s a foundation to build on. Fix the reward system and allow the youths to take their destinies into their own hands and a different tune will start to play in Rivers.
Nigeria’s biggest challenge in my honest opinion is not corruption or insecurity, neither is it unemployment, although it is second on my list. Our biggest problem is internal party democracy. How we as party members chose our leaders. If we can get that right, the leaders we have will be true representatives of the wishes of the people and then the scourges of youth unemployment, corruption and insecurity that the masses are facing will give way to the development that has been so elusive to our beloved nation. Trace the problems in the party and you will find that they are linked to the lack of internal party democracy. Reconciliation is critical. It is not what happens to you, but how it is addressed. Show respect, listen to opposing views and find a way to put them behind you and you will see the results. In 2014, APC showed Nigeria how reconciliation and collective interests produced a consensus that overthrew an incumbent government. Men decided to bury personal interests to converge around a single ideal that kicked PDP out of power. In the pursuit of retaining power, APC has to do the same otherwise it will have a taste of its own medicine. A word is enough for the wise.
Are you still keen on becoming the governor of Rivers State or resign to take up your father’s throne as a king?
Because my people are all suffering, not just from lack of knowledge, but from lack. Plain and simple. They are standing in water, yet soap is still entering their eyes. I want to show them how easy it is to make things better and why it doesn’t have to be this way. How can I know how to give my people a better option in life and not want to then do so? Many people focus on getting themselves out of poverty. I don’t need to, and my children have been given the tools to take care of poverty eradication by themselves. That’s why my focus is on others. Talking about throne, it depends on which throne. The truth is we all should have our eyes on one throne or the other. It gives you a sense of purpose. Something to strive towards. The saying “if you have a why for living, you can overcome any how”, is apt. The throne of the ancient Kalabari Kingdom though, is not vacant and even when it is, I have indicated no interest. My primary interest is in our politics. The scope is wider, the reach deeper and like a good trainee in any profession, I prefer to specialize in my latter years. Not yet. I will like to reserve my decision to run for governorship after I complete my own consultations, which I will soon begin. I think it was John Maxwell that said, “He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk.” I’ve always maintained that for me to run for office, the people I’m fighting for have to be ready to run as well. My primary constituencies are women and youths. The old and the disabled. Those who are the most vulnerable. If they don’t support my running, then there is no point. Because I’m here to bring change or nothing at all. Status quo politics is not for me. If the support is there, I will run, if it is not, I will continue to touch lives from the side lines. It is not by force that I must be a Governor. I already feel like one.
What is your general assessment of governance in Rivers State and the country?
Poor generally. Some of it is systemic and some of it is leadership based. It is there from the Federal to the state, getting gradually worse as it comes down the chain, but it’s not news and it’s not ever going to change anytime soon. I don’t bother criticizing (Governor Nyesom) Wike again. It’s no use. The people know what is right and what is wrong. He has done some good things and he has done some abysmal things, but whatever he is today, we in the APC allowed it to happen. My focus is how to move us forward. The past is the past. Have we learnt from it, is the question to ask. I know I have.
Some Nigerians are of the opinion that President Buhari missed the opportunity to engrave his name in gold by his refusal to sign the Electoral Act as passed by the National Assembly. What is your take on this?
The opportunity has not been lost and the President’s legacy is bigger than the passage of one bill into law. Granted this bill is no ordinary bill and granted its passage has the potential to change the landscape of how we conduct elections in the future, but it is my firm belief that the two branches of government under the umbrella of the same party, will reach a consensus because they have the capacity to do so. Extracting direct primaries, which I favour, should give us a way forward. Future amendments can tick that box. Like I have said, how we chose our leaders is important. I will go further to say, the cost of doing a direct primary is small in comparison to the cost of flawed primaries when you consider the cost of bad leadership. But politics is about compromise. Great nations are not built over night. This government can shift the needle, even without direct primaries because the bill contains many other changes that will foster more credible elections.