By Fred Itua, Abuja
Tonye Princewill is a prince in Kalabari kingdom in Rivers State and son to a Professor of Medical Microbiology and First class King. He is a prominent businessman, petroleum engineer, movie producer, philanthropist and politician.
He was also two-time gubernatorial candidate in Rivers State under Action Congress (2007) and the Labour Party (2015). Until recently, he was a governorship aspirant on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He has since left the party, but has not pitched tent with another.
In this interview, he speaks about the 2023 general elections and the possibility of a presidential run-off. He speaks on other issues.
The campaigns have officially commenced. What is your message to Nigerians?
Nigeria is a big ship that is slowly going astray. It’s drifting. It is my opinion that 2023 is going to be the last opportunity to redefine a new future. It will take a lot of very smart people ready to do a lot of very hard work for us to see a Nigeria that we can be proud of in our lifetime. What we need is a team of good people, led by a man of strong conviction, who sees Nigeria as one entity, but is loyal to no one particular section. I see a lot of that in the top three men who are running for President. They all support restructuring, each of them have taken on special interests and won and they are all fighters. Give them credit. No need for abuse. What I have not yet seen is the team behind each of them. Hopefully, the campaigns will reveal all this. We will need the same test to apply to all the states and the other constituencies. Our focus should be the candidates and not the parties. Our focus should be on what they have done before and not strictly on what they say in campaigns, even though what they say does matter.
Having left the APC, have you decided where to pitch tent?
No. I have not. And I’m not in a rush to do so either. Leaving APC very fast was the first priority and I’m especially glad that I did so. My focus now is on candidates and not on the parties. Fighting for our future is not a game. Where I come from, it’s often life and death. I like fighting, but I’m tired of fighting with people who are not interested in the things that matter to me. People, public relations, media, Youth unemployment, rural women & girls empowerment, creative industry, job creation, skills development, SME access to credit and finally tackling insecurity. I’m tired of fighting with people who do not have a common ideology that provides a clear basis for policy positions on the key issues like these. Why then are we gathered, if not to make a difference in the lives of others? What is the point? Since birds of the same feather flock together or as Patrick Obaigbena would put it “avian species of identical plumage, congregate.” I refuse to congregate with species that do not have my plumage. Maybe I will wait for the era of independent candidates or a party that defines an ideology and defends it. A party that is truly bigger than its candidates.
APC appears to have hit the rocks in Rivers State. Does the party stand a chance in the state in 2023?
I’m not aware of all the details, but I’m aware there have been a lot of defections in many directions. In the APC, some key men have left yes and that is true, but if APC in Rivers is serious, they can still win the election. They have a good candidate and he has a lot of support still. If they do what is required, they can win the state easily. Let us hope they do the needful. Their supporters definitely deserve it. I may have left APC, but I will still support Tonye Cole. I have no reason not to.
Peter Obi’s movement appears to have changed the voting demographics ahead of 2023 elections. What are your predictions?
It’s too early to make predictions, so let us be careful. Having said that, let me qualify what I see. If we took the election picture as it is now, I see the likelihood of a run off, yes. As things stand. But this is too early and a lot can happen in 5 months. For obvious reasons, and I have made myself clear, I don’t want to see a Muslim Muslim ticket in the villa, but if we are not careful, the potential in a Peter Obi or an Atiku, that is not fully utilised, will lead us to a Tinubu as President. Why do I say that? PDP strongholds in the South South and the South East and Middle belt which are ordinarily Atiku bases, will now be split between Atiku and Peter Obi. One is taking the votes of the other. That means, underestimate Tinubu at your peril. We found this out the hard way. Underestimate Atiku at your peril. Wike found this out the hard way. And underestimate Peter Obi and his youths, at your peril and you may find out the hard way too. Neither of these men rely on their fellow men.
Your political ally, Rotimi Amaechi, has been silent since he lost out during the presidential primaries. There are rumours that he may not support Bola Ahmed Tinubu. What do you know?
Nothing of the sort. Been away as you know, so I don’t have the latest, but he was not happy with me when I left the APC. Told him that I can be calm and mellow on many things but not on the Muslim-Muslim ticket. Before the primary, he had said he would accept the outcome of a free and fair process; so like all the good members of his team, we all did. But I reminded him when he called about my resignation, that me oh, I didn’t agree to a Muslim-Muslim ticket. Just like I would not accept a Christian Christian ticket either. Not at this time in our country’s evolution, and not with current sensitivities.
As for noise, Amaechi does not need to make a noise. I recall in 2011, there was talk that he would not support Jonathan because of his silence. In the end, Jonathan played the politics and Amaechi played his part. We all know who became President in the end. Asiwaju will play his politics.
INEC keeps advising parties to avoid incendiary remarks in the course of party campaigns but lacks the capacity to wield the big stick. Do you think words of caution or appeals would be enough to make political parties sit up?
No. I do not. But words matter. Let INEC do their part, let the parties do their part, let the candidates do theirs also and same as well for the peace committee. In the end, my advice is for the international community that has to do their part also. That is what will break the camel’s back. “What is this part, I hear you ask?” It is the part where they ban politicians who have engaged in any form of party political violence from overseas travel to the EU, to the US and to all other partner countries. This alone will give politicians a pause. Because politicians love to travel. Try it and see. If they can engage in violence and can fly around the world like it doesn’t matter, then nothing will stop them. The average politician doesn’t fear the Nigerian justice system, but watch them fall in line when they are abroad. Sometimes taking away the carrot is a big enough stick.