ODILI LOST A GREAT OPPORTUNITY – PRINCEWILL
Before joining active politics Prince Tonye Princewill was a senior technical project manager and business analyst of the highest caliber. A strategic thinker with excellent problem solving ability, he was highly adaptable and well experienced across diverse environments. From global, multi party, multi million pound projects to hands-on, low budget challenges, he has a proven track record of getting the job done. An excellent communicator, effective at all levels and confident in resolving business, technical and political issues the motivation, enthusiasm, technical expertise and team building skills Tonye brings to his projects, have been pivotal to their success. A post-graduate of Imperial College London, he is a certified PRINCE II practitioner with a sound working knowledge of both ITIL and Change Management and has until quite recently been a regular presenter on project management issues. In addition to his Information technology and Oil and Gas interests, Tonye has a business empire that spans across the aviation and IT industry to the haulage of petroleum products. He is a Crown Prince of the Kalabari Kingdom, the largest clan (33 communities) in Ijaw land and a true son of the Niger Delta soil. His father HM King Prof. T.J.T Princewill is the Amanayanabo of Kalabari, Amachree the XI. Currently the Governorship candidate for Action Congress in Rivers State the Prince enjoys support from across various party platforms. Prior to the last selection 12 political parties including ANPP endorsed his candidacy for Governor. His largest constituency remains youths and students with both NANS and Niger Delta youths endorsements to his name.
What is your position on the last “elections” in Rivers State?
The constitution supported by the electoral act gives resident electoral commissioners in the state and the Chairman Maurice Iwu the power to declare results which can only be reversed by a tribunal. Let us just say that they exercised that power in full. I think even a blind man on drip and in a coma now knows what transpired in Election 2007. We might be a bit ignorant of the extent to which it happened here and there. Some saw ballot papers no result sheets, some saw ballot papers fake result sheets some saw neither and yet again some had both in their bedrooms. Independent of where you were standing you still witnessed what will go down as the mother of all rigging in Rivers State. Luckily we saw it coming and so planned for it. Collection of evidence and a deliberate recording of events will make it so difficult to deny us what we now all know. There were no elections in Rivers State.
You were given the position of fourth place behind relative unknowns like the Labour Party candidate. How did that happen?
First let me thank you for saying I was given 4th place. That is because it was absolutely true. That would be 4th place with just over 30,000 votes or so. If there had been a proper election just my election observers and party officials across the 4400 units, 319 wards and 23 local governments would have exceeded that number. In the 3 local governments covering the Kalabari Kingdom we have 10 times that number not to talk of my Ogoni and Okrika brothers who loved me to a fault during the campaign. That’s already more than a million votes to play with and I haven’t entered Opobo, Bonny, Andoni, Ikwerre, Etche or even the Orashi region? The truth is the allocation given me is a mark of respect which I acknowledge. They didn’t want me too close behind them because of the impending judgement on PDP in Rivers State. I have since been told that my name was originally slotted into second before someone angrily told them to change names around moving me to 4th and the Labour Party candidate to 2nd. But this is their way. I have studied Peter Odili very closely for over three years and this is exactly his Modus Operandi. Those that know him will attest to it. He is an analog politician in a digital age and the analog methods he used will not withstand the digital scrutiny of today. They over dribbled themselves and have now helped to demonstrate that the results were not credible. We are the credible alternative to the past eight years and out of fear they have been left with no choice but to take extreme measures. My bank manager once said to me that he can’t stop people from stealing money from his bank, but he can make it very hard for them. That way if they do try to steal they leave traces. PDP in Rivers State under the watchful eye of Peter Odili aka (Peter dey Pay) stole the election from us and they left very distinct traces. We will laugh last and loudest.
Any bitterness about the elections and the role various individuals and institutions played? We know you spent a lot of your own personal money for what many now describe as a charade?
Not at all. How can I be bitter when my conscience is clear and I have had the unusual experience of connecting with Rivers people one to one at the grassroots level in every local government? When I know that we will be given another opportunity to show what we are made of and when I know that I have overcome fear, ignorance and financial challenges every step of the way. Let me tell you a story. When I was in University of Port Harcourt studying for my first degree my father let me drive his car from time to time on the condition that I would fix it at my own expense if and when the need arose. I promptly agreed and this arrangement continued until when I graduated. That single gesture is probably responsible for my entrepreneurial flair now because I had to be resourceful to maintain it. Anyway, very early on in the arrangement I restricted my movements to within the campus where I felt like the King of the Castle with a car to die for. It was not until I entered the East West road with my friends to drive into Port Harcourt one day that I discovered that my car was a disaster waiting to happen. The tyres wouldn’t allow you go over 50km an hour and combined with the faulty shock absorbers they made the car shake so much that by the time I turned the car back and shamefully returned home, we were barely recognizable. What is the moral of the story? You might be the local champion in your family compound but wait until you get to the village square before you talk too loud. It introduced a degree of skepticism in me, a dose of reality if you like in all I do. That is why I describe myself as an optimist with an umbrella and someone who based on his father’s advice can not believe in my breakfast until after I have eaten it.
We hear many Kalabari’s assisted PDP to work against your interest. Do you have any message for them?
First of all I don’t believe many did. I have no doubt thaT a few did but I don’t blame them. Not everyone can share my vision and not all of us can agree. Even in a marriage of two people there may be differences of opinion on the same subject matter. In this case the subject was me and some might have felt me too young or too polished, both attributes I am proud of. That is entirely in order and in keeping with democracy. Let us not forget that some people can not afford to go against PDP in the state and survive either physically or financially. We have the history to look at. Not many of them have that courage to survive on principle. You can’t blame them. What I do know is that everything has a limit and many more of them will reach that limit in the days and the weeks ahead. I got there years ago.
Your father is a well respected traditional ruler and Amanyanabo of the Kalabari Kingdom. Did this affect your campaign positively or was it a burden considering the role royal fathers have to play as fathers of all?
It is hard to say it was a burden. I am very proud of my father and love him dearly. He is like an older brother and friend to me and someone whose dedication and wisdom I admire. It is a good feeling when people tell me that they know my father and so they will vote for me everywhere I went. They say a mango tree can only produce mango fruit and as a true son of my father, I will not disappoint them. To me that is an asset. As for my father he handled the responsibility of his only son contesting elections quite well. As much as he loved me he ensured that there was a level playing field for all of the candidates in and around the Kalabari Kingdom. There was no harassment, preferential treatment or discrimination accorded to anyone. That made me proud.
Where do you get your courage from? Many fear to challenge incumbent Governors openly especially here in Rivers State? You have not only done so in the media but traversed the entire 23 local governments of the State doing just that during your campaign.
I am an Amachree. My father is King Prof T.J.T Princewill, Amanyanabo of Kalabari, Amachree the XI th sitting on the renowned Amachree stool, one of the oldest in Nigerian history today. It is in our blood. Across Rivers State there are many more like me. We relish a challenge and look forward to it. What does one have to be afraid of but fear itself? Take it from me. It is better to speak the truth and have it on record for the generations yet born. One day they will ask you what you did or said when the time came to take action. Did you speak up for the less privileged, did you worry about your state or your own state of affairs, did you do for the many and not the few and did you leave behind a name that others can carry on with? I am happy to say that my answers to these questions are a resounding yes. We had billboards saying “1.8 trillion Naira in eight years and nothing to show for it,”, “You deserve good roads”, “Chop their money, vote your conscience.” All were summarily removed, some even by members of the police. We didn’t have money to put them up again but we didn’t care, the message had been sent. Odili lost a great opportunity to set Rivers State on a path to greatness not just in the region, the country and the continent but in the world. I think globally and we have not prepared our people to think that way. Human capital development is on a regression slope and it doesn’t take rocket scientists to figure out why. I wish I could take you through how we can get there in this interview but sadly we don’t have the time. Please go to my website www.newriverstate.com
and get a feel of what my government will do. This is the message we took to the people and this is why they came out to vote for me. Unfortunately in the majority they were not allowed to show their enthusiasm for me and their dissatisfaction with Odili. I could have forgiven him for the past eight years if he demonstrated remorse and a commitment to correct his errors but I don’t see that happening.
What is the response of the other opposition parties? Is there a semblance of collaboration and shouldn’t this have happened before the election?
We have two categories of opposition parties in Rivers State. The first are the real opposition who in their numbers have come out and dismissed the selection for what it was – a charade. The other is the opposition who did not field candidates across the state and local governments but have sought relevance in aligning with the selection fraud for personal gain. They have their conscience and names to contend with if not now at a later date. Amongst the first group not all can afford the cost of filing a petition and sustaining it till the end. Those that can have filed and I am pleased to see so many doing so and doing so in collaboration and consultation with each other. You’re right in saying this collaboration should have happened earlier but because of suspicion of the motives of each other either self induced or planted, there was very little trust in the air. I had to survive many allegations of my sponsorship by the PDP from within and outside the opposition. Now that many have seen the genuineness of each other’s intentions, more trust has developed. We are building on that and I hope this continues through to the elections.
Now that you’ve filed your petition at the tribunal, are you hopeful it will produce the desired result?
I am. The evidence we have is overwhelming and even though an average lawyer can win this case, we have not taken any chances. By assembling the best in the business and tapping from our huge resource of first hand witnesses, I believe the multiple grounds we have filed will see the light of the day. The judges are not strangers to what happened and they know the world not just the country and the state is relying on them. Declaring Rivers State as free and fair when it was singled out by independent observers as the mother of all riggings would be an exercise in futility. Many of them understand the huge weight of responsibility on their shoulders. It is easier to bribe INEC than it is to bribe the judges. PDP in Rivers State, if not already will soon find that out. In the final analysis however we must leave everything to God. May his will be done so that his people can prosper.
Many have said that you have the youths on your side. If you are successful, how will you curb the issue of youth restiveness and bring back peace to Niger Delta as a whole if not Rivers State?
The youths want someone who they can respect, someone who understands them, is ready to sit down and talk to them in spite of the difficulties and in spite of the challenges and give them priority. They need someone who has been there for them through thick and thin and who can tell them the truth to their faces no matter what. They need someone who can show them the way and provide outlets to ease their frustration. That is what Tonye Princewill represents. Most politicians have used politics to make money and do not have a history of achievement outside it. They do not embody resourcefulness and hard work and can not articulate youth empowerment outside a group of boys that serve their political interests and collect meager stipends in and around election time. Many of them now realize there is an alternative to this and want to grow up to be just like me contesting for Governor at the age of 38 with my God given resources and making my family proud. They believe that if I can be like this as an ordinary citizen, I will be much more productive as the No 1 citizen. And they are right.
The point I am making is the youths lack role models who can show them that it is possible and that there is another way. This is the beginning of the problem. A ship without a captain is doomed to sink and if his vision or destination remains unclear chaos and doom loom large. How can you show them a way when you have not traveled it before or lack the basic skills to navigate it? I can generate employment at the drop of a hat for undergraduate and post graduate students in Rivers State through sound, tried and tested methods used not just in my businesses but in businesses I consult for round the world. The same applies for unskilled and semi skilled workers in the state. I guarantee that even though this alone will not solve youth restiveness overnight, after combining it with my security and community involvement methods we will bring the current disgraceful show of law and order to zero within the first year. The difference beyond the idea is the person championing it and the caliber of people he can attract to help him deliver. There has been too much talk and very little action on this subject. It’s time to end it.
The recent spate of kidnappings and gun attacks has led many people to believe the Niger Delta (especially Rivers and Bayelsa states) is slipping into anarchy. Recently both Goodluck Jonathan’s official and private residence were attacked. What do you have to say about this sorry state of affairs?
They could be right in thinking about it in that context and it might get even worse before it gets better. My prediction is a softly softly approach will be employed on the militants before an all out war is declared on them. Looking at the reform process in the country I can only assume that the lull in security reform in the Niger Delta is because they are preparing for something big. This need not be so. Force will never settle it because the core of the struggle is built on injustice, inequity and events like Odi. How does another Odi help? Take time and talk to real leaders who love their community and are not dominated by personal gain. They’re not usually politically vocal but have love and respect given back to them in droves. Then release Asari Dokubo and other Ijaw detainees, call it a pardon if you like and watch to see the immediate impact.
As for an attack on a fellow Ijaw, I want to stress that despite the grievances one might have, let us not forget where we are coming from and where we need to go. We are all in this together and so whatever was said or done let us put it behind us and agree to move forward together. What is for one is for all. Remember that.
What is your stand on issues like the now famous upland / riverine dichotomy in this state and 13% derivation?
The upland riverine dichotomy exists in the minds of many and I am afraid that Sir Dr. Peter Odili’s eight year administration has brought it even closer to the fore. Although I subscribe to the principle of merit and having the best man or woman win, many now wonder what the riverine people did to him. They point to the distribution of key positions in the state and their case is convincing. I have listened to the response of some government officials and I have to say they were not encouraging. Odili himself will at some point explain some of the reasoning behind his actions, but for now, suffice to say people all over the state see him as especially vindictive. I on the other hand will by my actions show that as a riverine man brought up in upland territory, everybody can make it. I will encourage merit and build capacity so equity of distribution does not affect performance of the state. By my nature, the suspicion will not arise and by my actions we will start the process of removing this upland riverine stigma that has no place in modern day politics.
As for the 13% derivation, we should simply focus on doing the best with what we have first. If we do that judiciously more will come to us. In my government education our number one priority will be free for all children at all levels. When I first proposed it many said how will you pay for it? I said if you link it to tax payments and use it as a platform to develop the public education system the money will come. Think of what would have happened if at the last political reforms conference our governors demonstrated the improvements in our education system and how we had invested so much in our future – our children. Is it not possible that they would have won their argument for increased derivation? I think yes they would. In the face of such an overwhelming commitment to our future nobody would have begrudged us money for today. The problem is we think we have money and use it like there is no tomorrow. We forget about the future without oil and fail to realize the value of human capital. For as long as that continues, our case lacks merit.
How do you expect the relationship between Yar’Adua and Atiku to survive the current dynamics with Atiku now heading for the tribunal?
I am sure it will survive. The matter is not personal and so the strength of their bond does not figure. The matter is bigger than the two of them. It is even bigger than the Nigeria we see today.
What is your advice to all your supporters and well wishers?
Stay strong and do not dismay. Turning a big lorry around takes time. To reverse what Odili has done was never going to be an overnight job. That is why we are here. Young, fresh, bold and strong, with the ability to go on and on and on. We will not rest until justice is done and neither will they. They may have done carry go but they will carry it and come back. I want to thank you all for your prayers, letters, text messages, words of encouragement and contributions. Please do not stop. It is now that the battle has begun and no matter what you think of the tribunals of the past now is not only different it is a more level playing field than Maurice Iwu’s 2007 general election. Be bold, defend democracy.