•How gang-up to whittle down Amaechi’s influence affected APC
By Omeiza Ajayi
Prince Tonye Princewill, a politician, businessman, filmmaker and philanthropist was the director of strategic communications of the All Progressives Congress, APC campaign in Rivers State in the 2019 general elections. He was the Rivers governorship candidate of the Action Congress, AC, in 2007 in Rivers state and in 2015 he also became the governorship candidate of Labour Party, LP before he teamed up with the APC in 2017 in a bid to oust the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
In this interview, he speaks on governance in Rivers State, how APC lost the election and insists that for the ruling party to remain relevant, it must reconcile all aggrieved elements and also begin to plan for post-President Muhammadu Buhari future.
On what the party is doing to reconcile aggrieved members in Rivers after the party was excluded from the 2019 elections and preparations for 2023
Anybody who wants to win wants peace especially anyone who is not blinded by ambition. I know peace efforts were made before the elections and I suspect peace efforts will be made again soon. But it has to be initiated from outside. It is the duty of the party to find a way to bring all sides back to the table. The national office in my opinion is best placed to midwife a genuine peace process. Disagreements are commonplace in politics. Friction is a function of interaction. So we await the party. Clearly as the dust begins to settle and ministers are put in place, the need for a state by state reconciliation will come to the front burner.
I will say however that party disunity at the state level was not what cost us the election. It was disunity at the national level buoyed by a few in the judiciary and in INEC that were willing to use the guise of local issues to implement a plan hatched in Rivers State Government House. We were naive to think that those threatened by Hon. Rotimi Amaechi were only in PDP. Now we know that was not the case. His unadulterated closeness to Buhari and his refusal to “play” with some of his fellow leaders at the national level meant that his enemies became Wike’s friends. If an Amaechi without a state government is so influential, an Amaechi with Rivers state government would be unstoppable. 2019 for us was about 2023, not 2019. Amaechi was taught a lesson and we in Rivers state paid for it through no fault of ours
The new cabinet is in place now. What agenda would you set for them and what are your expectations?
The agenda has been set by the President and so it is not for me to do that. However, I would expect that it will be a more intense pace and higher targets. This President won an election with (a section of) the media against him, the elite against him, ethnic bigots against him, religious zealots against him, the Generals against him and the West against him. At one point, I suspected he even had some people in INEC against him. All he had going for him were his APC die-hards and the masses. This victory is for them. That means he has to deliver on the things that are important to them. Jobs, an improved fight against corruption with several high profile convictions, improved power distribution, rail infrastructure networks and a further acknowledgement of industries outside of oil like agriculture, the creative sector and information technology.
As for the capacity of the cabinet to give the administration the needed push, I think it is the other way around. The administration from the top is the one doing the pushing. Buhari has his legacy to protect. Ministers have been given the marching orders and those who fall short will be denied the glory of their posts.
At the national level, the party seems to be fragmented along interest lines. There are those who feel your party, is losing its goodwill and that the party may not be in reckoning in 2023, particularly considering that the cult-like followership of President Buhari will no longer be there. How do you react to that?
It was a former British Prime Minister that said “A week is a long time in politics.” That applies here too. My prediction is that there will be an alignment and realignment of interests leading up to the next elections. We see it all the time. It is nothing new. What may be new is the President may sign into law a new electoral act that will introduce electronic voting. People will become more important to politicians if that is the case. In many states that has not been the case. Both the APC and the PDP will be affected by this and it means the possibility of a third force will become more likely.
I agree APC will need to begin to reflect on life after Buhari. Like I said earlier, it was Buhari that won that election, against all odds. So if he is not there, it will be different. But if Buhari raises the hand of anyone, he or she already has a head start over the opposition. Buhari won’t raise anyone’s hand in 2023 unless he genuinely believes that such a person can do justice to Nigeria and take her to the Promised Land. It will be that person versus someone who can take us back to the days of sharing and I know, in the end, the progressives under whatever banner, will win again.
Amaechi is perceived in certain quarters as a stumbling block in Rivers APC and not a rallying point. He couldn’t stomach Magnus Abe, Lulu Briggs and a few others who left the party for him because they alleged he imposed Tonye Cole. You are a strong force within. What is your take?
I am not a strong force, just a very stubborn politician who will not play politics as usual. I am easy to understand. My loyalty to party is not at the expense of my loyalty to my people. As long as my party respects my people, my party can have no problem with me. Who are my people? The youths, the vulnerable, the disabled, the masses, the Niger Deltans, the Ijaws, Rivers people and of course, the Kalabari Kingdom. Mess with any of these groups and you have messed with me. It is therefore impossible to impose where I am seated. I won’t take it. Amaechi did not impose anyone on us, he did not even allow the writing of results at the ward, LGA and state congresses. He, like Buhari, became an extreme democrat. The amount of sincere consultations we did in Rivers State impressed even a sceptic of our politics like me. I have been a victim of the popular will being reversed many times before and I can tell you, that didn’t happen in Rivers State. Yes it is true Amaechi expressed an opinion as to Tonye Cole at the end, but he did so only after we gave him that option. I was one of the last to agree. But I know Amaechi has genuine love at the grassroots and the best way to fight the opposition was lining up behind one position, no matter whose ox was gored. Can I agree behind close doors and reject it publicly? No, I cannot do that. We, the leaders agreed on the process of choosing a candidate and we agreed on Tonye Cole – collectively. With respect to my brother, the distinguished Senator Magnus Abe, he jumped the gun and expressed an interest to contest very early. Amaechi refused to endorse him, but he was left free to express his views and free to associate, including with Wike. He could never have won, so he ensured nobody won. I am sure he is very happy about how he made his point. Wike owes a lot to him.
You’re a southerner. Many people from that region have vehemently protested against federal government’s proposed Ruga settlement for nomadic herders. Where do you stand on this very sensitive national debate?
Yes I am a southerner but I am also a Nigerian and I would like to think I am fairly reasonable in my thinking. The position is that unless a state wants it, the settlement will not happen. The former Minister of Agriculture being from Benue State and being a farmer is reported to have maybe tried to establish one without the permission of the state. That action has since been stopped in its tracks. So what is the fuss? How many ways can you say No? I think that the Federal Government has got the message. The mistrust fuelled by irresponsible actions on all sides means that the government needs to go with only those states that are ready. If the trust is rebuilt and other states see that it can profit from Ruga, then they can adopt it. Not before. One Nigeria is also about respect for one another.
From your arguments, it is obvious you consider the last governorship election in Rivers State as a sham but there are those who would argue that Governor Wike is solidly on ground in that state and that he understands the politics better and has earned for himself the sobriquet, Mr. Project. What is the chance that APC has with another four years of Wike?
INEC declared him Governor. So that is what he is until the Judiciary says otherwise or till his four year term expires or God takes control to the contrary. We all know it was a sham, it is not breaking news. What was a surprise was who and who were involved. But now we know. He is now planning to endorse Austin Opara as his successor because he has seen that cash is King. Anybody can be bought. The media, the police, the judiciary, the opposition and the youths. He knows our moral fibre is weak and that hunger has left many of us thinking with our stomachs and not our heads. We are here and watching. Let the buying begin. APC’s chances depend on APC. If like in 2015 and 2019, you predicted a President without Rivers, that may not be the case going forward. We need candidates who are popular, grass-rooted and can appeal across party lines. At all levels. We can’t afford a disgruntled electorate.
You have been around for long: a friend to Atiku, you worked with Tinubu in 2007 and you are one of Amaechi’s confidants. Yet you are at home in the Villa. How have you been able to manage or negotiate around all these power blocs and tendencies in our polity?
I am a willing student and I did not join politics for what I can take. I joined for what I can give. Both Atiku and Asiwaju brought me up very well politically. Atiku gave me the opportunity to contest and allowed me a voice, Asiwaju stood by me and gave me the tools to fight for justice. They both handed me over to Amaechi even though they both denied it at the time. I now know why. Since then, we have been a team, even though his refusal to support me for Governor kept me away from him for a while. All politics is local and so in Rivers state, you are either with Wike or Amaechi. I’ve tried the third party option. It doesn’t work. There is no way I can work with Wike. As for the villa and the Presidency, I believe in Buhari and I am not alone. 90% of my LGA agreed with me. He got our votes. We rejected anything and everything associated with Wike and we have seen a man for the masses. I am sure they see that in me.