Our country more divided than before
Principled politics has made Prince Tonye Princewill a brand name in the Niger Delta struggle and earned him legions of awards--attesting to his emergence as an important leader. On 2nd March, 2012 while receiving members of the Rivers State Correspondents Chapel on a courtesy call at his modest country home, he made some clarifications on some national and state issues. His Media Team was at hand to capture his stand. Excerpt:
What is my ambition in 2015?
It is way too early to start talking about 2015. I want us to resist that temptation. In Rivers state we have an administration desperate to bring the so called dividends of democracy to the people of the state and in Abuja I see the President desperate to do the same. My job as someone who is just as desperate to see my state and my region move forward is to pray for our leadership and to try and help where I can. As a PDP member, I am well aware of the President’s appeal to party faithful and our party’s reiteration of his request to remove the distraction of 2015 from governance. I Tonye Princewill am not about to go against the spirit of that appeal. If or when I decide to emerge from the shadows, it will be public knowledge, without fear or favour and it will be with the consent of a multitude of stakeholders. I think before I blink.
SNC…. Do we need it?
We need some sort of discussion. We need a dialogue. You see, me I love peace. I really love peace. Many people would agree that they like it too but I want to emphasise that I love peace not like – me I love peace. The way we are going now will not bring us sustainable long term peace and so we that love peace need to do something about it. The country in my opinion is now more divided than ever before and the trend is only going to continue. The term SNC suggests that the nation’s sovereignty will be on the line so I am not surprised very few political office holders will agree to it but this should not deflect the need for some sort of conference (SSC). The problem is the leadership don’t want to lead. If they did, it should be them designing what this dialogue should look like after consultation with opposing stakeholders. Activists cannot design it, only leaders can. They should therefore lead and set in place a Nigeria that we all can describe as fair enough for all of us. It is easier to maintain a course than to transform. Transformation is difficult. It requires courage. It takes leadership. The more I see nothing, the more I am convinced that the South - South will not give up the Presidency because the terms on which this country is proceeding cannot guarantee them peace. There is a lack of trust amongst ethnic entities and the 50 years of neglect has created wounds that are yet to heal. They may request another four years to attempt it.
Security: Slow response by govt. Alliances with foreign military. Is it good?
I am one person that has been very critical of the way we handle our security in this country. But I am beginning to see a little ray of hope. Thanks to Boko Haram, we have been reminded of the years of neglect our security agencies especially our police force endured. The low morale of the rank and file if not reversed will lead to anarchy. When I heard of the President’s commitment to security in the 2012 budget, I smiled because it was long overdue. If they spend it well and I suspect that they will, we will see improved capacity and a better ability to confront terrorism in any form. I am reminded by the words of the late Teddy Roosevelt, “Speak softly, carry a big stick.” Mr President has got the first part right. Now he needs to get the second part right too.
As for the foreign governments and military alliances, I see nothing wrong with that if the sovereignty of the nation is not compromised and in as far as we realise that the priority of any nation is to their people. Just as ours should be to us, theirs will be to them. We need to remember that in all of our dealings. As long as we do, we are free to collaborate and build capacity in very many ways. Nigeria reborn is possibly the most strategic country in the world. Our stability will open up many possibilities. Our collapse on the other hand will be felt around the world.
NDTC Report – Militants recently demanded its implementation. What do you think?
It is a dead issue. The government has signalled its intent. They did that way before and nothing in the body language of the President suggests that anything will change. It was my major grouse with the President leading up to 2011 and I made it clear. I understand there is a white paper somewhere but it has not been made public. It probably never will be.
The President should remember where he comes from and the expectations of his people. Unless he addresses the issue of the Niger Delta, there will be no peace. Boko Haram can scare a few people and alarm the Northern parts of the country; the Niger Delta can cripple the country and starve everyone. When they made the mistake of bombing Gbaramatu, see what happened to production? I rest my case.
UNEP report – How far? You have not said anything.
Yet another example of executive silence. A committee is set up to report back in two weeks and several months later – nothing. I hear some people from other regions saying that the President is favouring the Niger Delta over and above their region. Please come and explain this. The report does not ask for the impossible, and does not require an act of parliament to implement. It is a template that can be used across the region and even the country. The devastation is still there till today. At least let the executive show some empathy, visit the place, highlight the problem and commit to some of the recommendations of the report. Right now they have committed to nothing. That cannot be right. A Niger Deltan cannot do this to his people. I have to believe he has a plan.
How do you assess the rule of President Jonathan?
Too soon to tell. The handling of his Presidential bid when he started waiting for the moon to declare, his handling of the FIFA issue, his initial pace in addressing security concerns and the approach to the subsidy debacle are all examples of where he got it wrong. On each of these counts, he lost votes. But let us be fair, he has never been President before and for several years he has never been his own man. Always grateful to a Godfather who placed him, always subservient to a President who did not regard him, deputy to a Governor who was larger than life and a man who had no shoes. Criticise him all you want, but accept that people voted him into power en masse. I think he is a good man who cares and I am waiting for his government to reflect his person. I have not lost hope. I used to think he was vindictive, now I am not so sure. His handling of Ojukwu’s burial, certain strategic appointments and decisions he has made show he is either listening to good people or has stopped listening to bad ones. Nigerians forget easily. Apparently you are only as good as your last major decision. Let us give him time. For me the Niger Delta is an indicator, power is an indicator and electoral reform is an indicator.
This 180 days rule that emanated from the amendment to the constitution. Is it not a case of judicial rascality?
Maybe you mean constitutional rascality because the courts were only interpreting the constitution. I think the spirit of the law meant well and was looking at reducing the series of long drawn out battles that bedevilled the nation. Can we still get justice within it? I believe the answer is yes. But I take on the point that some see justice as being fastracked sometimes at the expense of justice. I really do. But it’s the constitution, apparently resolved by you the people. Another reason for a dialogue.
Looking at East West Road and the state of it, it appears that successive governments including now one of our own have failed us. What do we do?
We pray. But this one will not be taken lightly. I know a multitude of people waiting, watching and wishing that Mr President leaves office without finishing that road. I hope he will not give them the satisfaction and I pray that God will touch his heart and give him the wisdom to finish it.
Corruption – Why so prevalent and what is the way forward?
It is prevalent because there are no consequences for it. Unless you can demonstrate that there is a consequence for it, then people will continue to do it and remain on the good books of government or below the radar so as to avoid prosecution. It is either we deal with people or we liberalise it and allow everybody steal with limits. Say 250 million per person. Don’t mind me o. I am only joking. But we have to take the bull by the horns. If you put me in a house of chickens and I catch one or two, that is not news. Nigeria is full of thieves. Everywhere you go. Just like MTN. So catch them and put the fear of God in Nigerians. Political witch hunting does not do the trick. We all know the difference.
Donations. Is it not 2015 specific? And knowing how your friend does not encourage cash, why are you giving cash?
I do not encourage cash either but there are exceptional circumstances and no what I do is not 2015 specific. Anyone who knows me knows that I am generous to a fault when it comes to dealing with a cause. Be it the less privileged, the entertainment industry, sports endeavours or the peace and stability of our region. I have been doing this from time and will continue to do this going forward because I believe that you are blessed to bless others. And if they can follow your example and bless others, the blessings will flow endlessly. For me there is no greater joy than giving. I may appear to be wealthy but that is not the case, I just give a lot but only to those that need it. Increasingly I attract the dubious and the not so needy to my door so I have learnt to become more discerning. That means getting in touch with the people directly and seeing their pains first hand. It takes more time but it is invaluable for learning. I am self-employed and most of my over 10 different businesses run themselves so I have time on my hands to do this. Many people see me as a politician but they forget my hobby is wealth creation.
We say there is peace but illegal bunkering is on the increase. Why?
Because people are unemployed, there is a dearth of jobs in society and they do bunkering because they can. I am what people in UK would describe politically as a Blairite. He, Clinton and Obama make up my political mentors. They appear soft but they get the job done. Tony Blair once said that he wants to be tough not just on crime but on the causes of crime. All three have a centrist ideology and so court opposition from both the left and the right of their political divides for abiding by it. But what they were able to do was create jobs and grow their economies in spite of a looming recession. They got the message. It’s about jobs.
Boko Haram: Intelligence reports do not seem to be acted upon. What do you advise they should learn from the Niger Delta experience?
They should learn that there are no winners. Every life is precious. You killed their leader extra judicially, they killed your policemen, you harassed their wives and children, and they attack your markets and blow up your children’s schools. You attack their mosques, they attack your churches. When will the cycle of violence end? Never. The only way to break the mould is to compartmentalise it. To each their own. This is not a one size fits all solution devised from the top and handed down to the divisions. It requires intelligence and it requires a multitude of approaches. Even footballers sitting on the bench warm up before they start playing. Our local police forces have not been serious players in the field of security all this while. They need to be kitted up, retrained, boosted morally and then sent back out to play. Properly guided. Boko Haram did not start today. There is a social element to it, a political element to it, a religious element to it and a global element to it. It needs to be compartmentalized and dealt with accordingly.