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Nigeria is in dire need of national conference – Tonye Princewill

 Prince Tonye Princewill was born 43 years ago into the family of His Majesty, King (Prof) TJT Princewill Amachree XI of the renowned Kalabari Dynasty. A chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, he was, in 2007, the gubernatorial candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN. Though he is still interested in becoming the governor of Rivers State, he is yet to declare his intention. In this interview, Princewill bares his mind on some issues concerning Nigeria and politics, among others. Excerpts:

By Henry Umoru, Abuja

You were the Action Congress governorship candidate in Rivers State in 2007; now, you are itching to be a governorship candidate, come 2015. Why this fixation for the governorship seat? You can as well aspire for other positions and impact, positively, on the  people.

First if all, I haven’t formally declared an interest for governorship candidate, and, like I said, in 2015, I will be there or thereabouts. I could be a presidential candidate. So, I think it is too soon, or too early to make any public pronouncement on any elective position.

But when you ask about the fixation, my fixation isn’t so much on my personal ambition, but an ambition for my people. The constituency is state, or some metamorphosis of it, because we are talking about state creation. That could be my constituency; my constituency could be Nigeria. But what I am fed up of is dangerous ambition and I am not comfortable analyzing the problems.

So, I want to do something about it, I want to make a difference. People who really mean to make a difference must be frustrated, by having to get to continually talk about the problems. You struggled to convince me that I should go and join the band of senators or House of Representatives members, to continue to get around the issues, but I want to make a difference, I want to make a change and I am afraid that being there as a senator will be somewhere
near impossible .

If you can tell me about a senator who has made an impact on peoples’ lives in the magnitude that I am talking about , I don’t know any of them. I would like to see it that Nigerians have to work for Nigeria, I would like to see that we thrive among the league of nations and take our rightful place. I am afraid that not having a change in the status quo isn’t an option. So many people talk about it and I don’t want to belong to that category. While I wouldn’t declare for any particular political position at this point, be rest assured that I would be part of the change and not the status quo.

From the way you spoke, you are disenchanted with the system. I want you to give us a holistic view of how you want to make a difference.

Why I am fed up is that, our people say you cannot stand in water and soap will enter your eyes. God has blessed this nation well. If you are sitting or standing, you can talk of resources that can literally transform the continent. You have a large number of people who expect very little from government, you have little or no natural disasters.

We can contrast that with what we get in many other nations, where you have little or no natural resources.

Take Japan as a typical example, you have few number of people with large expectations from government. They also have natural disasters annually and that is just taking it, conservatively,  that’s where you have thousands of people dying.

If Japan experiences the kind of corruption that we encounter in this country, they will not even be alive today. So, we are in a country, where people cart away trillions and people are dying of malaria, avoidable sickness, women cannot even undergo clinic for cancer; we have to cry out to survive and everybody is okay about it . I am afraid, I am not just going to talk about it, because frankly speaking it isn’t going to make a difference.

So, some people have to now say, enough is enough, and they must say so even if there is a consequence to them. I will not because of that compromise to the point that I am no longer in a position to make the change.

I will rather lose than win, with my hands tied behind my back, because I believe Nigeria needs to change and the only way you can change it is, I want to see a younger generation who is exposed enough, yet grounded enough and caring enough to actually confront the problem. I must say that it isn’t just about wanting to make a difference, it is also knowing how to make the difference. I am undergoing, what you can call a personal tutelage to actually understand the dynamics of how the difference would be made; I am building my own capacity, because I don’t want to go there and be like everybody else. I believe that we need visionaries, who are prepared to sacrifice and, if you can find such people, then you have the beginning.

Some people have advanced the logic that the scary security situation in the country was as a result of loss of power by a certain zone; they are also of the opinion that if power returns to that section of the country, we are likely to witness a reduction, or total stoppage in the spate of bombings. What’s your take on this?

I have to be honest with you, there is merit in these statements you have made, but I will like us to dig a little deeper. Why do I say that? It is human nature to want to simplify, but I want us to desist from taking that path. I want us to look at the problems and be a little bit more detailed.

I think the issue of bombings and so on seem to be multi-faceted, I believe that there is political element to it, I believe there is a religious element to it. I also believe that there is ethnic element to it, but I don’t want to rule out the fact that there is a global element to it.

Now, if I look at each of these elements, independently, and exclude the others, I simplify it. In fact, just put it down to politics, just put it down to religion, just put it down to people having a grouse based on ethnic divide, I forget that there are other issues associated with it.

I will give you a typical example. In the United Kingdom, we had bombings under the banner or guise of Irish Republican Army. It had a political dimension; what people saw as the political wing of the IRA, Sinn Fein, was denied what you can call political right. Was that the cause of the bombings? May be, but again, you simplify it.

There was a religious component to it as well, the Catholic versus the Protestants. But is that the cause of the bombings? Again, you simplify it. There was an ethnic problem of the Irish versus the English. Is that the cause of the problem? Again, yes, but you simplify it. So, we must refrain from the temptation to box our problem. It is human nature. Oh, he his doing it, because he is an Ibo man; oh, he is like this, because he is a Yoruba man, or people from Niger Delta, they are all militants.

We always, by human nature, simplify and I want us to avoid that. The reason I want us to avoid that is, because the leadership has such problem and, if you are saddled with the responsibility of solving a problem, it is important that you understand the problem. It is only when you truly understand the problem that you can resolve it and that’s why I said that the solution to Boko Haram isn’t bravado, it is intelligence.

You need to gather intelligence; it isn’t ‘we are going to crush’. I remember somebody, somewhere, issued a statement that Boko Haram will be crushed by June. It isn’t about crushing Boko Haram; as much as a menace as they are, it isn’t about crushing Boko Haram, just as it wasn’t about crushing the IRA. There are ways and means and I believe, strongly that these ways and these means need to be looked into.

So what needs to be done?

I believe there is a holistic problem that our security agencies, our government and our leaders need to begin to address.

Now, you asked a second question: is it not likely, therefore, that if Jonathan doesn’t acquire the office of the presidency in 2015 and the North, for instance, does, that isn’t there a likelihood that we would see the return to normalcy? Well, I cannot predict, but I do know that, if we want to avoid it, we can.

There is a common phrase that, if you want to keep getting what you are getting, keep doing what you are doing. And so, if we want to keep getting this tit—for-tat ethno-religious violence, then we should recognize that where we have  come from has produced the current circumstance.

I was in a plane the other day with Ibru and I asked him, ‘is this the Nigeria that you wanted?’ Recently, a new political movement has started to resurface, the Peoples’ Democratic Movement, the foundation structure of the PDP. Now, if the PDM  will ultimately meet to think on how to address the question: PDM, the foundation structure of PDP, what ideology did they promote?

I remember in the days of NRC and SDP in the aborted third republic, there was an ideology; the ideology was this party represented this set of ideology, this other party represented this set of ideology; which one did you want to belong to? So, in the choice of political party, we had a message, we had an idea, what do they want? Is it free education? If it is free education, what exactly does it mean? Is it free education as per tuition, or free education, as per free uniform, free sandals as what are doing in Rivers State? Is it free education at primary level, secondary level or university level? What does it mean?

So, political parties would need to identify an ideology. Now, what am I saying? I am saying that we have to ask ourselves in the country, where are we going and start to define what our ideals are?

If you remember Martin Luther dream speech, he was talking about dreams of their founding father in America. If you look at our pledge, ‘the labour of our heroes past’.

What were these people labouring for? What were the dreams of our founding fathers? I am afraid that the generation coming behind me, who would recite the pledge and sing the national anthem sometimes wonder, what they are talking about.

We need to sit down and ask ourselves, some basic fundamental questions, some core truths. I believe that this sovereign national conference discussion is one that we need to have. I don’t know if the word, sovereign, applies, because I don’t expect anybody to give up its sovereignty, but there is a need for a national discourse, where we can sit down and talk about our ideals: where are we going? What do we want to achieve as a country? Where do we stand on the issue of zoning or no zoning?

Aren’t we advanced enough to start to worry about what somebody’s merits are, as opposed to where the person comes from?

Where does the person want to take off? I think that what we should do, but to cut the long story short, your question about what would happen, in a couple of years if power rotates, is a question that many people are asking. I think that the only answer to that question will come from the leaders sitting round the table and having a discussion.

If that doesn’t happen, I am afraid that we will continue to rely on trial and errors, reluctant presidents, people who didn’t want to lead but are being forced to lead, for whatever reason or the other.

We wouldn’t have a proactive, well thought out Nigeria, but instead we will have a reactive Nigeria that reacts to circumstances and give reactions like we saw in Kaduna, spontaneously and negatively .

You are in support of sovereign national conference; should there be no-go areas?

No, I am not saying there should be no-go areas, but, unfortunately, in the past three months, I have been hearing my northern brothers say, if we should separate, let us separate. I have heard a lot of my northern brothers echo that sentiment and I believe strongly that unless we can provide all these sentiments good reason to do otherwise, this sentiment will continue and maybe even strengthened.I believe, with my experience, that people who are next door to you aren’t necessarily people who love you. So, if you have disagreement with people who live across, that doesn’t mean that we should separate.

I believe that the country as Nigeria can work, but I believe that people need to sit around the table and have a discussion. So, if you have a referendum in Nigeria, I believe that the majority will opt for one Nigeria that is based on equity, fairness and justice; one Nigeria where the leadership is transparent and accountable. If we can provide that kind of a Nigeria, then we will stay as Nigerians and continue to thrive as Nigerians. So, I don’t think there should be no-go areas; I believe what we should be discussing is how we come together and how to move forward as a nation. Our generation cannot promote that discussion, the people who have put us in this mess need to get us out of it and I think it is their responsibility.


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