Last week Wednesday, the Action Congress (AC)leader in Rivers State, Prince Tonye Princewill was the guest of The Tide Roundtable, a weekly personality interview programme of the Rivers State Newspaper Corporation.
The AC guber candidate for 2007 elections fielded questions on various issues such as the state’s urban renewal and waterfront demolition schemes, his future involvement in politics and many other exciting and thought-provoking issues nationwide. Here’s the excerpts.
The Press sees you in different identities. A prince, a businessman, politician and a rare humanist, a very mysterious tactician. Simply put, many say you are politically mysterious. How do you want us to know you? Have you ever asked yourself who do people say I am? If you have, who is Tonye Princewill?
I prefer to be judged by result. One of the things I have never really wanted is being boxed into any particular category. But if you look at me, my background is Petroleum Engineering. If you had studied my early life, you won’t assume that I will go down that way because I didn’t like mathematics but suddenly things changed and mathematics became a good subject. I was in the Federal Government College Port Harcourt and decided whether to go into the Arts or the Sciences. But I had 4 TI which is Four Technical One when I was in technical. From then, it was a steady progression into Engineering and after I finished all of that, I worked in Shell briefly but I wasn’t inspired.
Someday, I looked at the corridors of Shell and I saw people who have been working there for 15 to 20 years, I said Jesus Christ, is it what I will be like after 15 years? I was not comfortable. So I left the country to go and read masters in a similar subject but soon after that I drifted into Information Technology and then eventually Project Management.
So if you look at my business life, you see that I have companies in Oil and Gas. I have companies in Aviation, I have companies in Logistics. I have companies in Investment Consultancy and given the business climate, I’m very varied. For me what is most important is result. Very often, we try to find solutions to problems. In all the interests, we have pursued, basically, that is what we do but not many knew much about that life. It is instead my political life that thrust me into the limelight. And politically again, it is all about results. Yes, I am a member of AC, yes we are the Architect of the organised opposition which now consists of over 46 political parties.
But it’s not about that identity, it’s about results. We want a more peaceful state, we want a state that is producing result.
Let us know your background as a little child. How has your family background affected the result we now see in your life. For instance, how many are you in the line of children, between you and your mother and father. How has your position as Prince made it easier?
First of all, they call me the first and the last in the house because my father had only one child that’s me my mother had five children before that union.
We will like to know, who is your father?
His Royal Majesty, King Professor T.J.T. Princewill, Amanyanabo of Kalabari.
He was more into academics. He was more focused on his books and when he had advanced in years, he had me. It was a big contrast because my mother was previously married with five children but she still took in when he took her in. And the family was very much the three of us really because I was born outside of this country with a mother who had five children, so I have five siblings that I didn’t know until I was about seven years old when I got back to Nigeria, they said these are your brothers and sisters, I said but why did they have a different surname? They said, “don’t worry this is the Kalabari version of their names” that was the explanation they gave me at the time. But it was quite interesting because they nurtured me, they helped me at that beautiful environment. I guess in a way that sort of character became personal.
But I hope you know, my father really became King a few years ago, before then he was Professor T.J.T. Princewill and I grew up in an academic environment, University of Port Harcourt so how that makes things easier for me wasn’t in the sense that people see, oh: Prince, no, what it did for me was basically that it helped me understand the importance of learning and education. Mind you, if you got a good education as your background, it means then you can cope with anything and you can see also what I was highlighting when I was telling you that in Information Technology, Project Management, Engineering, I have this educational background which means that I can adapt to a variety of situations, If the Oil finishes in Rivers State my businesses will still survive.
If I am out of politics I don’t need to be in Politics, if any of my logistics businesses fails, I will have something else that we can get doing so it helped me which is basically to have a foundation and therefore you can be more dependent on yourself than any other person.
Governor Amaechi and I can quarrel tomorrow, it wouldn’t make a huge difference in my income because at the end of the day, I will still survive and it gives you the ability to speak freely and to be free. That freedom, I think is very rewarding and special.
If you have another opportunity to choose what you will be what will you rather prefer the most among all the positions you have been able to branch into since you’ve not been quite successful in the politics?
No, I think my successes are weightier in politics. I disagree with you. Some people will be surprised to learn that I didn’t really want to be Governor. I was not really interested in being Governor; I was just interested in kicking out the bad system under Odili. And since it appeared as if nobody was ready to take that kind of bull by the horn I opted to do it myself. It was not really, worth. I prefer a business environment to the political environment but unless we take a control of the political environment, there will be no business environment. And so, for me, politics is a means to an end, it has to be done because the best of us need to have an environment even in which to operate and unfortunately it determines our environment, your offices are down to politics. If it is the right kind of politics, you can have a better environment to operate but if a wrong kind of politics, you have it wrong, so our option of not getting involved in politics for me is not an option. So I think, “I will say my biggest success story is in my political experience.” If you asked me which one will I rather take, I’ll take all. That is the beauty of it, I can be a politician, if I want to be, I can be a businessman, I can be a youth leader, even a community leader so I can be all of the above, I can be an Information Technologist I can be Project Manager. And in each of these professions I have been able to rise to a level where I can speak authoritatively on any of the subjects. So my wife will tell you that I am often restless and it’s paying I don’t want to be trapped in pigeon hole myself, I think I have used that phrase twice today, I don’t want to box myself, I want that freedom to operate.
If there is a problem I will go and fix it, I think in a way that probably made me a perfect candidate for Governor because you can be in one spot but actually survey and say there is a problem here lets fix it and not pigeon hole. When it came to the issue of Governorship and all that Amaechi my good friend you see him, he is tired, pains all over his body. I am young, very vibrant moving around so is a big responsibility that he has and I don’t envy him, some of us give ideas, chip in a few suggestions, here and there which ultimately get implemented and that is satisfaction for me.
Before I hand you over to the hall, you said it was not your idea to be governor it was your intention to kick out a bad system and with that system out and with you being leader of AC, would you wish to be Governor now?
There is no vacancy right now.
At the end of Amaechi’s tenure if there is a contest, will you contest the Governorship?
That is called in press circle, a hypothetical question. We are talking about what do I want to be if, when I get to that bridge I would cross it, then I think, I am not going to rule anything in or out. The number of scenarios that would take themselves out in Rivers State. Amaechi would go for a second term; he may not go for a second term. The circumstances could be very difficult because if he goes for a second term, in eight years time, I might be too old to be thinking about Governorship. I am not inclined to be a political animal. I joined politics for result. So at the end of the day if we have the kind of result that we are having then I am more likely to be in the background and I am the son of a King. I am not supposed to be playing politics, I’m supposed to be neutral we are supposed to be fathers of all. It is only the circumstance that put me in that kind of position.
If the circumstance releases itself, I will be out, I will come out because I want result, I am not going to sit down somewhere and watched riff-raffs decide our fate. But if we had a good vibrant political system that is throwing up the right kind of candidate I have no business anymore.
Is that how you see the system now?
The system is improved. Significantly improved but we still have longway to go and we are doing our own little bit to make sure we get there.
You said, in a write up that I read recently that Kicking out that bad system was like a war. Can you explain to us what that war is like? And how you survived the war?
Well is just God. Is God obviously, it wasn’t any power of my own. I came from virtually nowhere, some people thought I was sponsored, some people still think I was sponsored. Is impossible to convince everybody, some said it was Odili that was sponsoring me then they said it was Amaechi that was sponsoring me there are so many stories and here do you react to them or not? If the questions are too harsh to you, you address them. Some people are very accepting of the situation. I am not. I finished in Uniport. I went and did a Masters in Imperial College London, which I think is one of the best schools worldwide. And I was struggling to do a one year Masters programme.
Though I have done five years in Uniport.
The standard and the quality of education is too far apart this means I finished in 1990, that means now nineteen years later, the education system is worse than nineteen years ago when I finished University yet our children are expected to compete in international community, what is the problem? Is leadership.
Clean and simple, Nigerians are resourceful people they can conform to high standard if they are encouraged and pushed in that direction but they don’t, because the leaders don’t care. I watched this system and I’m in this system and witnessed what is going on and the Buguma crisis had suddenly opened up every thing to myself because I remembered when I first started flying into this country, I went and got nice gift from Odili and his wife, I didn’t know anything about politics which was 2002 which was obviously some years into Odili’s first tenure and when the Buguma crisis happened, I started thinking that politics must be involved and I waded into it, people calmed down, the place became peaceful once again then I now went and got job for the youngmen through Shell.
So politics is about the structure, not about the building you tried and learned, you are looking for the way forward and you save it from destructions. Infact I decided that, no, I was going to play politics. And for me, it was either I would win or I will die. It was those two options. To me it was a passionate battle.
It was either this system would change or I will not be here. I will not be here and witness the death years of Odili continue; it wasn’t impossible infact with Amaechi I had to spend a little bit of time watching him to see whether there was a change because I saw him as the same system. And I hated politicians may be now, I might say I still do, even though I’m a politician myself but the politics and the style of politics is the need for me, what is my interest, how much that kind of politics I wanted to do? I wanted to make sure we challenge it, so for me, it wasn’t about I want to be governor, No. what it was about is that Rivers State deserves better. And unless Rivers State was going to have better, some of us are not going to get anywhere so I wrote my Will, I told my wife and said this situation we are in now, I don’t know how I am going to succeed out of it I can not witness what I’m witnessing now. So it was a big surprise to me when some people are looking at me, thinking that I was sponsored. I was just brought in to come and fill the numbers then they said it was Odili, then they said it was Amaechi.
Meanwhile the same Amaechi they are talking about, I had only met him on two occasions, one was in a plane, MD of Shell at the time who is my in-law was flying back from Abuja to Port Harcourt, he gave Amaechi a lift and gave me a lift, hello, hello ah: ah; I didn’t have any discussion with him.
The other time I was coming out of Meridien Hotel, I saw him, hello hello ha ha, no discussion until the 25th of October 2007 but some people say I was sponsored here, sponsored there the only thing I will agree is that Dr. Parker the Commissioner of Health currently, he said to me I see what you are doing, good job, you are aware we are doing our own, if you succeed, we work together, if we succeed we work together, of course the answer to that was yes because we had observed what Odili and co. were doing to Amaechi and until they threw him out of his house, they said this one is too much now but all the while I was saying good for you because when this system was bad in the state, you didn’t say anything so I was happy. Infact when they removed him, I was jubilating, I say ah, PDP is in crisis AC is the alternative, there is now even better opportunity for us. So for me it was a war, it was not a question of lets see how this thing will work I sold anything I could sell, and I was very careful, we were fighting a PDP administration, they had money they don’t use their own money, they used government money, our own money to fight us so it’s almost like David and Goliath which is why when you asked how did I survive, I said God, because frankly speaking, people who had said less about Odili are not needed today.
Any of our media organisations could not carry our stories because if you carried it and you gave us the publicity that you are not supposed to give us, you are seen as an enemy of government because we do not care; I guessed that the system of politics, I understood it is as if you go and get into the mud, you will definitely get some of that mud on you so if you are going to play politics, politics and politicians have a bad image so naturally if you go into that political sphere, your image will be dented.
How would you describe Amaechi?
Amaechi is good, very likeable, is blunt. His God fearing component was probably what stood out the most. Infact I remembered that when we were talking, I said to him, you know, I don’t want anything from you, but one of the things I want is that I want you to be God fearing. Something, I don’t know whether you do Fellowship in Government House, I don’t know what you are going to be doing but what I see about you, this God fearing component is what impressed me the most, so I don’t know how you are going to kill it, because if you deviate, I might be tired but I will fight you till Kingdom come but if you carry on like this no problem. And that is an important thing, anybody shouts God, God, the people shout God, God all the time but the people who go to Church the most at the end of the day are still the same people who are wicked and looking for how to undermine the other man. I like Amaechi but that does not mean PDP is good for you. You know is unfortunate that politics and politicians are not too different whether AC was there, we may have some of the same problem, if not even more but the fact remains that, this party has had this country for ten years and instead of going forward we are going backward.
Poverty is increasing, the common man is suffering even more, absence of education and heathcare, the list goes on. You know this is not about national politics per say but PDP as a party if I was a member I will be ashamed. I will be thoroughly ashamed what have I presented to the people as the way forward when I had had power, not just at the federal level but across the country.
All he needed was some organizations and some talking people and he had been able to move the country forward. To me, I’m really happy to be, I can speak freely, I can abuse Amaechi, I can abuse Yar’Adua, I don’t have to worry about some kind of sanctions and if the sanctions come and I am thrown out of politics, life goes on.
Although it is impossible to throw me out of politics, is it not sixty something parties now, so you just enter another one and keep talking so at the end of the day, it is the ability to speak your mind, do you understand, is a figment of what I don’t think I can put a vague on.