– Tonye Princewill
Prince Tonye Princewill, ran for the governorship of Rivers state under the Action Congress (AC) in 2007 and in 2015 under the Labour Party (LP). Just recently, Mr Princewill, once again, defected from Labour Party to join his friend Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi in the All Progressives Congress (APC). In an interaction with journalists in Port Harcourt, including Orient Daily’s Amaechi Okonkwo, the new APC chieftain sheds more light on his political maneuvering.
The PDP has described you as a political harlot; don’t you think the party is right considering your many defections?
It is for the state to move forward and for the APC to do better. Only somebody without principles will stay in a party without principles. I spent a lot of time addressing the issue of defection and I came to the conclusion that a lot of people don’t understand that if you are truly a person of integrity, and truly somebody who has the people’s interest at heart, if you are in a party that disregards integrity, and disregards the people, and you still stay in the party, that is not an indication of integrity at all but an indication of selfishness.
I want to give you a couple of examples. Many people may know, many people may not. When I was in the Action Congress, they told me to go and bring money from Amaechi. I refused. They said if you don’t go and bring money from Amaechi, they will give the structure to Sekibo. I fought it. Just picture this happening in 2010. Can you imagine? We joined APC in 2006/2007. All the while it was a constant request.
Now as a young politician, I didn’t walk to Amaechi by myself. I spoke to the leaders of the party. Yet once I announced my association and said we are going to join forces and work together, a statement was issued that Tonye was on his own. He has gone to go and feather his nest. This is not something I am saying for the first time. It is public record. And then when Amaechi won the case, the same people offered me N1.5 billion to keep my case against Amaechi, and they also offered me evidence of how they rigged the election against us. So, when people say that we have been failing elections, I laugh. Have there been elections? Have there really been elections?
I don’t even think he wrote that press release. Some people have looked at it, people who know what he is capable of writing. And I said that is not him. So, I believe after my goodwill gesture to the people of ONELGA, and my courtesy visit to his hotel, when it was flooded, I don’t believe Felix Obuah made that statement.
You don’t defect to an opposition party. If you look at all these my moves you find out that, apart from 2010 and 2011 which I just described because of threats, I used Atiku as an excuse. When Atiku was moving, I used his own excuse to move. The truth of the matter was at times and the years preceding I was under intense pressure to bring money from Governor Amaechi. And that is not the kind of politics I play. That is why when Amaechi and I fell out in 2014, I went out for him straight. They had nothing on me because I don’t compromise myself.
So, when I read the press statement, some people must have thought the press statement was abusive, corrosive. I saw it more as humour. And in politics if you criticise, expect that there will be reaction. When they did the View Point interview I expected a reaction. I didn’t expect it to take two days. I was a bit disappointed. I would have thought that PDP can be faster in response. But when it was analysed that Obuah himself did not write the press release one can conclude that there were some translations that had to take place. So, in the process of those translations obviously time would have been expended.
I feel there was no need to respond to it. But I feel a need to respond to you. I have moved not because it is pleasant but because it is unpleasant. I had to swallow my pride because I was not happy with the APC. I believe that part of the reason why our dear friend Wike became governor was because of Amaechi. So, I blamed him for Wike. I blamed him because if not for his actions, we would not have a Wike today. So, I was not happy with him.
Initially I even concluded that he was part of the plan. And he must have heard my statement. I issued statements to that effect. I wondered how one can desperately be making this move when you know that the outcome is a Wike. Are you not part of it? It took me a long while to see that it was not so. So, to me Amaechi was part of the cause of a Wike. It only took me several months to think again and said, well, even if he did that it did not have to be a Wike that would have brought.
Unfortunately, too many of our people, not just in Rivers state but nationally, tend to look at individuals and character very shallow. There is no difference between the political parties. So, your choice of party does not define you. Let’s be frank. Ask yourself ‘why is the person moving’. I’m moving to APC not because I’m in love with APC. I’ve told everybody who cares to listen that my love is for the state.
That’s my priority, not party, because the parties I don’t see them as significantly different. What you find are the individuals in the parties. That’s what makes the difference. And if you are fortunate enough you will find like minds within the party. Normally, people go to parties for their political ambition. It serves their interest better. I’ve always said that for me after what PDP did to us in 2015, people who stayed as governorship aspirants and remained there deserve awards for people who can take the b*** ***t because you don’t do that to individuals and expect them to be loyal to that same party. I was absolutely surprised at the people who still remained there in PDP after what PDP did to us. I could not stay there. The party that behaves that way does not deserve my support. And so, I voted with my feet. That is my character. I’m coming to APC now not because I love the party but because the state needs a stronger opposition. And I believe that joining the APC will strengthen the APC. I believe that joining the APC would improve its chances at the polls. So, if we have what you might call scattered opposition that is good news for the PDP. And as you can see I’m not interested in any office. When you analyse it, tell me whether that is a flaw in my character. I think it is not. But unfortunately, most of us think in a pedestrian version.
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Many people think you abandoned the state after the last election and you are only returning because another election is around the corner?
I did not abandon Rivers state. Rivers state has always been on my mind. But I decided as a business man to focus on my businesses, as an entrepreneur to focus on my entrepreneurial endeavours because we cannot live off politics without compromising ourselves. The only reason we can speak our minds at any time, whether it is about PDP or APC, is that we have a source of livelihood outside of the political space.
Now that you are back to the APC I would like to know how you fit in or where you fit into this crisis-ridden party in the state?
For me as far as political crisis is concerned, this one is not a crisis at all. It is over rated. I can analyse it and break it down for you because I watch it from a distance. What is going on now really is that APC recognises that it has work to do. Amaechi came to a conclusion that I agreed with which is to build the party first before we start to talk about ambitions. Ambitions on the back of a party that is weak on the ground would not stand and so that message was given and it was not directed at any one candidate or any one individual. It was directed at everybody. When I joined the party, the first thing I did was to bury my ambition or kill it because I felt that I could not leave the party like when I moved to PDP, I didn’t because I wanted to contest election. I left AC to PDP to support Amaechi to do a second tenure. So, I wasn’t going because of my governorship ambition.
I’m also not coming to APC now because of my governorship ambition. I’m coming because I want the party to be strong. So, when I hear crisis, it makes me laugh because I’ve spoken with Magnus (Abe) and Dakuku (Peterside). The reality of it is that ambitions are now secondary. But in politics some people will argue that it is their ambition that strengthens the party. Let ambition continue. It is just a differing of opinions, differing of views, deferring of priorities. There is no doubt about this. There are tensions, but those tensions are mild. As my brother Opunabo Inko Taria often says that conflict is a function of interaction. There is no how that you have so many people interacting that you would not have conflict. So, let us not overplay what is going on. Magnus Abe, Rotimi Amaechi, Dakuku Peterside, ultimately will resolve the issues and people who are playing on this crisis would have ridiculous looks on their faces in future. The reality of it is that the party has so many individuals. It is now being de-emphasised at the top but now being emphasised at the bottom. So, anybody with ambition will shelve their ambition. The people’s ambition is more important to the party. The party is more than the individual ambition now. So, it is not a crisis-ridden party. On the contrary, I believe it is a political party that is genuinely worried about winning a free and fair election. And for a ruling party at the national level to be worried about genuinely winning a free and fair election, I think it is fair to say that this is a party that is interested in building from the bottom up.
My role in it is that of a peace maker. What I am saying is that you don’t have to be contesting to be involved. Whether you are a media person, or an individual, or market woman, you must get involved in politics. Give people a voice to people who don’t have a voice. That is being involved. It doesn’t mean contesting an election. So, I’m not here to contest. I’m here to build the party to help bring my own grassroots techniques to help move the party forward, to also help in media engagement, to see how we can work with the media on how we can best improve ourselves. And ultimately, I believe that if you combine Amaechi’s doggedness, his grace, because he has a lot of that, I have to give him that, with the grassroots support, and relative sincerity compared to PDP, I think we can give PDP a run for its money.
That’s God’s choice. But definitely let’s improve them because PDP is taking Rivers people for granted. No budget, nobody is talking about it. Constituency projects, projects being awarded and nobody knows the cost. When I talked about hanging Keke Napep in the sky, some people thought I was joking. They actually did it and saw that it was actually Keke Napep hanging in the sky. (At Port Harcourt Pleasure Park).
So, we have all these things and you ask yourself, how many jobs are being created. How many industries or investors have they been able to be bring to the state. Even the simple fight between APC and PDP in itself is driving investors away. There is nothing stopping Wike from collaborating with Amaechi to bring more benefits to the state. We have two sea ports, we have two airports. We have land mass, we are a corridor for East to West, we have a Minister of Transportation, we have a governor of one of the richest states in the nation. Are all these reflecting in the state? One can argue that both sides are to blame.
But you see when you are the governor of the state the welfare of the people is your primary responsibility. I say he is smart because Wike has successfully convinced Rivers people that their problem is APC. That one is the one I gave him kudos. It started before the elections.
Amaechi removed our son from office. Jonathan was removed by Amaechi and Amaechi must pay the price. I, too, was fooled, that an Ikwerre would hand over to another Ikwerre man was acceptable. The fact that an Ikwerre man was handing over to another Ikwerre was not an issue for many people because they were so upset about the role Amaechi was playing. They were so angered, sufficiently so that they ignored that cardinal sin. If a Kalabari man is handing over to another Kalabari man, I will be the first person to scream out loud. It’s the same if an Ogoni man is handing over to an Ogoni man. There are so many Ikwerre people who are sufficiently dissatisfied by that. As exposed as I am some people ask Prince, why are you talking about Ikwerre/Kalabari/Ogoni, shouldn’t it be about capacity? Well if it was that it would not have been Wike. But it was not that, as we know. Why are we ignoring the ethnic sentiments that have prevailed over time? Not even just we are at the state level, but National. PDP is a party that supposedly respects zoning but ignored it, yet people were quiet. You know why? Because they were sufficiently angry with Amaechi that Wike slipped under that banner and it is in his interest to make you continually, sufficiently angry with Amaechi. That is why he will celebrate a Magnus versus Wike battle and will even encourage it. He will fan the flames and many people will be fooled by that because as long as we can demonstrate that Amaechi is continually disturbing Rivers state, as long as we can demonstrate that Amaechi wants to impose a candidate in APC, as long as we can demonstrate that Amaechi does not want to do anything good for Rivers state, as long as we can continue to demonstrate that Amaechi is the problem, everybody will ignore Wike and Wike’s fundamental flaws. That is his strategy. As long as you are looking at APC you will allow Wike get away with everything.
“When I was in the Action Congress, they told me to go and bring money from Amaechi. I refused. They said if you don’t go and bring money from Amaechi, they will give the structure to Sekibo”