Prince Tonye Princewill is a Nigerian politician and businessman, my guest for the the Conversations with Abang Mercy – He believes the aircraft owned by the Rivers State Government is a distraction for Rotimi Amaechi – Princewill said Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is making sure President Jonathan is surrounded by good, clean, honest advice…
Why did you support the Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar against Goodluck Jonathan of the South South Region?
By your reference to South South, I take that to mean that since I am from the South-South, my support for a South-South candidate should be taken for granted. This is where Tonye differs from most. In 2011, I, like many Nigerians felt Atiku could help us back on the road to prosperity. His experience, in depth knowledge of the country, his ability to create jobs and his willingness to let young people grow, impressed me. Unfortunately some who knew he could perform still felt he represented the old guard, he was corrupt and he was from the North. These factors worked against him in their eyes but I unlike them, I was not fooled. Neither of these so called “negatives” were issues for me. Add that to his role in protecting me from the AC onslaught I received at the time for supporting Amaechi and you will see that I owed him my detribalised support. He got it. Strangely enough, events have turned full circle. The same AC (now ACN) has just done the same thing I did and supported Amaechi. The same crime I was supposed to have committed. How ironic is that?
Recently, you indicated interest to succeed the current governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi in 2015. How will you do that, especially when the incumbent governor might be supporting a candidate?
The decision as to who succeeds Amaechi does not rest in the hands of man, it rests firmly in the hands of God. Even though I have not yet declared I will contest for the Governorship in 2015, my intent is clear and unambiguous. While most people are waiting for blessings from a Godfather, I am looking up to God the Father and I have since announced my intent. That is the confidence we need. A willingness to serve. However first things first, let the detailed consultations proceed. When they are complete, I will announce my decision to the people of Rivers state and put my faith in Him. Amaechi is my friend and is a witness to how I took risks to support him. Till today I still suffer from it. He has a long memory and he also fears God, so do not trouble yourself about what will happen over a year from now, 2014 will separate the boys from the men. I have been there before. I know.
How will you succeed as governor with just a mono-agenda? Because you have severally said that your vision is to create jobs.
I have said my top three priorities are 1. Jobs 2. Jobs and 3. Jobs. Even though to the naked eye it appears to be a mono agenda, in truth it isn’t. I will revolutionise the provision of infrastructure, security, education, health, transport and environment but in doing all these, jobs will be in the back and front of my mind. The largest employer of labour should be the private sector not government and so I need a private sector that is willing to work with me to create jobs. To do that, all the above sectors I mentioned must be operating optimally and in harmony. So to create jobs may seem monosyllabic but it actually takes care of everything. Infrastructure provision will be tweaked to recognise the need for jobs as will education, security and the others. Roads will not be built to nowhere and schools will not be built everywhere. There will be a little more purpose to service delivery. As a project management professional, I know what is needed.
How will you deal with the issue of oil bunkering in Rivers State?
That will be a collective effort backed up by the carrot and stick approach. Collective in the sense that without an honest partnership with the community, oil majors, security agencies, external forces like the buyers and government, very little will change. Each partner has a role to play in order to combat this menace and if any partner fails in its efforts, the whole strategy will fail. Secondly carrot and stick in the sense that we have not given them enough reason to stop either because we are soft on the crime or soft on the cause of the crime. Why do they do it? Because they can. What are the alternatives? Not many. Unless they see the consequences and are sufficiently discouraged to seek alternatives which we have made available, we will keep speaking grammar. Why would we base the success or failure of the war against bunkering on a poorly paid security agent risking his life to stop people who have little or nothing to lose? It doesn’t make sense.
On assumption of office as Governor if elected, you said you will sell the current Governor Rotimi Amaechi’s aircraft, why is that so?
First the aircraft was a distraction and has taken our Governor away from his state more often than he would otherwise have done if he did not have one. Neither the cost nor the benefit fill me with comfort and so just like Odili and now Amaechi who were distracted at the state level by the prospects a plane provided in federal pursuits, I have no intention of falling victim to those possibilities. Secondly I believe it will send a strong signal to the people of the state and the country that Rivers state comes first, second and third. It might be symbolic but it is a message that I believe needs to be sent. The cost of the plane and its maintenance over the course of a year and ultimately four years can change too many lives where many are looking for even food to eat. I have different priorities and I can see the writing on the wall.
Why did you leave Governor Amaechi’s Advisory Team? Was it over disagreements?
Nothing of the kind. I just detest committees that speak carefully or whisper when there is a need to shout. Maybe when I am my father’s age, I will adopt that approach. For too long the views of the council were either not being heard or followed as much as I would have liked them to. So I voted with my feet. I felt that this forum was best suited to an older generation and not my own that needed to be what Obama called “the change we have been waiting for”. I feel as Martin Luther did “the fierce urgency of now”. The economic advisory council did not. The wish for man to be free to speak my mind within the confines of reason should not be underestimated. I like speaking for me.
PDM is the political platform of the late General Yar’adua, when and why did you become a member?
You are right. It is, I was recruited to join it which I felt was an honour and when the time came after almost a year of selfless service, to give offices, I was rewarded with a national management committee position as Director of Organisation. For someone who never was a part of the original PDM, that was an honour. This is how politics should be played. PDM founded PDP. I like what they represent. Their mission statement from years ago is still valid today. If it is implemented, we will make progress. With Anenih and Atiku at the crest of our affairs, yet not dictating to us, I am filled with humility at the calibre of people I am working with. Being a member of PDM is an honour not to talk of being a national officer and the person responsible for organisation.
You intervened during the 2012 nationwide flood disaster, was it politically motivated?
I admit with hindsight that it was good politics but it wasn’t politically motivated. I believe politics should be about people and if you like human beings, like I do, politics should be a natural career choice after acquiring certain skills you can bring to the table. When I went to Rivers and Bayelsa states to help with intervention, I did it because people needed to know we were with them and they were not alone. If it was politics, my work would have stopped in Rivers but those who know me know that I have made an impact in almost every zone of the federation and have paid particular attention to women and children. Especially orphans. If I am contesting for Governor, will an orphan in Kogi state vote for me? Or will a rural woman in Bayelsa make the difference? So the answer is no, it is not politically motivated. It makes me sleep well at night.
Why does a prince of the Kalabari Kingdom want to be the governor of Rivers State?
Because I can make the people so much happier and because when government fails, I am one of the first who has to bend down to pick up the pieces. I am tired of bending down. If Amaechi’s successes had not been put in place, the road would have been a lot harder. But he has tried and so my work would be a hell of a lot easier even though it will still be tough because he lifted the bar. He took Rivers state from the brink of disaster so we cannot expect him to do too much more, what we can do is refuse to go back to the dark days of yesterday. It is for this reason; I am looking to stand up to the challenge. Looking to report for duty so to speak. If someone better can show forth, I will gladly remain seated. So far no-one has even indicated an interest.
Assuming President Jonathan is contesting side by side Atiku Abubakar in 2015, who will you be supporting?
My prayer is that they work together and so far it appears that my prayer will be answered. You can see that Atiku has not been critical of the President in public and like me he is making sure the President is surrounded by good, clean, honest advice. My support is for the President to do well and to the best of my knowledge so is Atiku’s. Come 2015, the President will take a stand on what he wants to do and well in advance of that, his performance will be his guide. My prediction is that PDP will win the election because I am yet to see a credible threat elsewhere on the horizon especially with the epileptic emergence of APC . The President knows he has to win the hearts and minds of people to win in 2015 but while some see this as an uphill task, it really isn’t. Nigerians are easy to please and they forgive easily. If not, Nigeria would have been on fire by now.
You worked with the UK’s Oil and Gas Regulatory Agency, the Department of Trade and Industry as Risk Analyst. Has the Nigerian Government succeeded in it’s regulatory functions with the oil majors?
The regulatory regime is nowhere near as robust as it should be. We see the evidence of this in the excesses of the major IOCs and their subsidiaries, so we shouldn’t be surprised by it. Having said that, our governance structures are evolving and we can see that what they used to get away with before is fast becoming obsolete. The honeymoon between the IOCs and government at the expense of the communities is just about over. At this rate and with an improving economy, things will get better. A key hindrance to this though is the non-passage of the petroleum industry bill which to a large extent has paralysed investment into the oil and gas sectors and failed to provide a clear fiscal regime for stakeholders.
Do you think the Nigerian Petroleum Industry Bill holds a great deal of promise for Nigerians and not just a section of the Niger Delta People?
The Niger Delta people have been disproportionately burdened by the exploration and production of oil and gas in Nigeria so if there is some sort of affirmative action that guarantees peace and increased production to the benefit of all Nigerians, why should anybody complain? As someone once said, “I prefer an unjust peace to a just war.” A strong Hollywood makes a strong America, a strong Johannesburg makes a strong South Africa, a strong London makes a strong United Kingdom so why should a strong Port Harcourt and by extension the Niger Delta not make a strong Nigeria?
What do you make of the Amnesty Program by the Federal Government? Is it succeeding?
It is meeting its scope but I have said it before that their scope is limited. The problems of the Niger Delta are beyond amnesty to ex-militants. One day someone will hear my voice. Unfortunately that day has not come yet. The Niger Delta Technical committee produced a report; amnesty was only a part of it. Without amnesty we would not have seen the levels of production we are enjoying today. But where is the benefit of increased productivity for the youth in the village that didn’t carry a gun? That is not a matter for Amnesty. They delivered peace. The rest is left to others.
After the 2007 elections, you had a legal battle against the then elected governor shortly after the results were released, you claimed you had evidence to prove to the electoral tribunal that the election was rigged . And Sir Celestine Omehia offered you 1.5 billion naira bribe to quash the case before the tribunal, which you rejected. Were you offered bribe?
Yes. But you only told half the story. The same bribe was offered after the Supreme Court removed them and put in Amaechi, this time with the additional incentive of their own evidence to show how they rigged the election against me. The same people who wanted me to quash the case when they were in office now wanted me to keep the case now that they were not. So I was offered a bribe twice, not once. And I refused both times. So my support for Amaechi had meaning in more ways than one. Yet it has brought me so much pain and nowhere near enough pleasure. But if I had a choice, I would do it all again.