‘Princewill and regional politics’: A case of friendly fire

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By Tonye Princewill

IN her Leadership’s column of Wednesday March 14, Hannatu Musawa took issue with remarks I was supposed to have made during a recent interview–and let loose a barrage of criticisms. Authors of rejoinders often use phrases like: “ordinarily I would not have responded but…”. That, I am afraid, is not true in this instance. So I will spare you the cliché.

From the minute I read her column, I wanted to respond. Not in the same George W. Bushesque manner visited on me, but more in the spirit of what my interview was actually about–the promotion of dialogue.

Preamble

Though well intended, Hannatu Musawa’s missiles were misdirected—because we’re on the same side of the issues she raised.

Accordingly, I write to counsel my Sister to choose a more deserving target next time, so as to avoid collateral damage in our march to nationhood.   I am neither a regionalist nor a tribalist, as was implied in her essay; and I am certainly not a secessionist.  But I am afraid appreciating people’s views is often interpreted as owning them. Even my friend, the Governor here in Rivers State, will confirm that I often respond energetically when deliberations over social policy assume tribal overtones.

The problem, I think, is that Hannatu doesn’t really know me. So, I will use this preamble to introduce myself to her and others to whom I may be equally unfamiliar. I belong to the next generation of Nigerian leaders: Bold enough to confront the status quo, the powers that be, but sufficiently humble to learn from the successes and failures of those who came before me. I am also focused, incisive and committed—capable of discerning right from wrong and determined to affect the required changes.

As a leader, I choose to be different: To speak differently and do differently; and I expect to be part of a different outcome for our troubled nation.    These traits, my dear Sister, are non-negotiable. They are fundamental to my character—the foundation for all of my thoughts and deeds. My deeds are done, not for you or for me but for our children and for their own offspring, indeed for the unborn.

I am a patriot, a nationalist—a Nigerian to the core. I worship at the altar of our common political ancestors, the Founders of our Fatherland…Tafawa Balewa…Zik…Ahmadu Bello, Awolowo, Murtala Muhammed…; Murtala Muhammed’s name is evocative. His legacy is precious to me. My Sister: If any individual were ever a casualty of Friendly Fire, it is your Brother, Prince Tonye Princewill.  If ever there was a soldier, who opened up on her own political troops, who lobbed a shell into a loyal battalion, it is my Sister, Hannatu  Masuwa!

I am, for instance, investing many millions to help preserve and propagate our martyred hero’s legacy. While you were composing your column, actors and actresses, cameramen and set designers, were busy on location in Ibadan. They are preparing to film “76”—the story of Murtala Muhammed! It is being shot on 35 mm film—the first ever in Nigerian cinema.

Your “boorish” Brother, with his “diarrhoea mouth,” is the co-producer and financier of “76”. All the films I’ve produced—“Nnenda,” “Kajola” and “Melody Shelters,” an upcoming reality T.V series—have national unity as underlying themes. If it will help you to understand your Brother better, be apprised that the ethnic and regional composition of my staff epitomizes the values articulated in your column.

My staff is a microcosm of our nation. The North, the Middle Belt, East, West, Christian, Muslim. You’ll meet them all in my young organisation. My head of media, for instance, who doesn’t come from my zone  would not still be here if I had that view. My people know my thinking.

Be apprised, as well, that I supported the candidacy of Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, my friend and political mentor, who is a Muslim from Adamawa State during the Peoples Democratic Party primaries—even though Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and I are both Ijaw. Philosophically, there’s a Frenchman whose ideas I admire, whose values I share. His name is Georges Clemenceau. He was leader of France during World War I. Clemenceau said, famously, that “war is too important to be left to generals”. Taking inspiration from him, I formulated this dictum: “Politics is too important to be left to politicians”!

 

This is my political mantra. This is the song I sing to my own generation, especially to the intellectuals and idealists, who would prefer to remain aloof from the process of governance—who are disparate and disenchanted. Writing about or analysing the problem does not solve it.

 The issues

Now that we’ve had our introduction and you, hopefully, have gotten to know me better, let’s delve deeper into the issues—albeit briefly.

I won’t write a book. Anyone who wants to know more than what follows, can just watch me. I’m a man of action; and my actions speak so much louder than my words.

In the interview that angered Hannatu, I described the current mistrust among ethnic nationalities as creating a dangerous polarization: A polarization that could rend the fragile political fabric of our beloved Fatherland. Actually, I discussed a variety of other topics: “National security and Boko Haram,” “Sovereign National Conference,”  “the UNEP report and the Niger Delta question”; “President Goodluck Jonathan’s performance and his scorecard” and the menace of “rising youth unemployment”. But my observations concerning peace and unity in the country, and how this might be affected by the handover of power in 2015, is what seemed to have interested most media.

Unfortunately, some of them presented my remarks as Princewill’s personal opinion—rather than an attempt at objective analysis. This apparently is what prompted the back-lash column in The Leadership.

In  it, Sister Musawa thoroughly abused me for prognosticating that the Presidency will probably remain in the South-South political zone beyond 2015. After equipping me with the armour of honour and respect, she then proceeded, paradoxically, to fire right through my moral protection—using language best forgiven and forgotten! Again, as in the “friendly fire” killings, by U.S soldiers, of their own troops, during the Gulf war, Hannatu shot a committed company courier!

I completely agree with her, that Nigeria has no need for ethnocentric politics and that progressives need to speak up loudly, with one voice.

Unfortunately though, I see, in Hannatu’s philippics, sound judgement giving way to emotionalism and stereotypical reasoning. It is probable she matched the headline with where I am from and connected the dots without asking questions.

I made the statement about the handover not because I want things to happen as I predicted, but because the writing is on the wall. Indeed, I predict that, in 2015, the South-South will argue for another term. And may well get it. As one of my friends, and older brother, would put it: “GBAM!!”  I’ve said it again!! Rather than react as she did, Hannatu and others who might have taken offense should look beyond the news headlines which are not in my control. They should study the underlying, and prevailing, political currents.

First Nigeria is more divided now than it has been since 1966.Secondly, our sense of nationhood—the spirit of political oneness–is fast diminishing. There are increasing numbers of individuals, in all parts of the country, who see division as a viable option. Thirdly, more than a few people believe that power is too centralized, that our Constitution is not representative and that the cost of running government is too high.

Fourthly, Nigeria is a sycophant’s haven. So those prepared to stand up and buck the trend are but a drop in the ocean. The North is not organised politically and if they start to now, the agenda will be seen from a mile.  Added to this, is Jonathan’s loyal Northern constituency, Niger Delta backing, increased consolidation in the South East (facilitated by Ojukwu’s burial) and the influence of big money politics.

Hence my assessment: If Mr. President wants to remain in office, he most likely will.I could go on and on. But I think you’ve gotten my point.

When a leaked US assessment of Nigeria predicted that the country would break up in the not-so-distant future, some people saw it as neo-colonial and mischievous.Not me. I saw the prediction as a challenge. Instead of shooting the courier, as my Sister did in her column, I found a quiet place and studied the message very carefully.

I was seeking ways to derail and avert that prophecy—rather than be consumed by it. The only way the South-South and the North can regain their love for each other is for them and others to have a dialogue, otherwise in my opinion, power will not change hands. The recent statements by the North and South-South Governors shows the divide is at all levels. I can sense the  prophecy;and I will continue my quest.

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