“Nigeria Needs Sustainable System”

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This is part II of The Tide Roundtable encounter with AC leader Prince Tonye Princewill first published last Monday. Read on.

You sought for an opportunity to effect change in a system you perceived as bad.  That, according to you manifested in the emergence of Gov Amaechi. Morally that imposes on your party the AC to help check possible excesses of the ruling party. As an opposition is the AC providing enough checks on the activities of the ruling PDP?

Well it is on-going, you may say, working in progress.  I think if you look at it objectively you will see that AC has been vocal on issues of common interest even if we have some level of interest in what is going on. Our views are expressed regularly. Yes, of course, would have liked to have been in the system itself but since that didn’t work, we are where we are. The media has been a fantastic voice and so we are making progress.  There are certain things we will like to have seen done differently, at least we have a voice.

One of the biggest checks and balances is the ability to speak.  And I believe that the media are a fantastic voice.  We have always at any opportunity thanked the media because if not for the media giving us that opportunity to express how we think, it could be impossible for anybody to know our feelings. So, that is one way we’ve been able to put checks and balances on existing system.  The other way of course is that we are engaged at the source. I mean the source of decision making.

I am a member of the Economic Advisory Council, most of the  state policies are discussed and debated on.  Sometimes policies are even formulated in that forum.  There are other opposition party members, there are also, a couple of them who are not PDP members, or even politicians.  They have the opportunity of saying, you might think this, Mr Governor, but we think that.  And that has really provided some measure of restraint on what the governor does.  For the first time in about eight years of first PDP government, AC now has some councilors at the Wards and at state level we have commissioners, at Board level we have appointees and I believe the trend is going to continue. It wasn’t there before now. There was nothing like that.

There was no opposition person anywhere.  It was just one system.  So we’ve been able to create some avenues for alternative views.  I think that allows for checks and balances and expect the figures that will continue to increase.  In fact, at a recent meeting we had with the governor, we agreed to increase the number of opposition people in various positions across the state. That process is underway and very soon, we will see that reflecting, so I think that when  you add all that together you’ll agree that work is in progress.

You resigned from a federal government committee job  on the Niger Delta question, why so? And secondly, has the amnesty to militants changed your view?

The amnesty was a retreat or what I see as the break. You’ll recall when federal troops invaded those Niger Delta communities in Delta communities, about 3 o’clock in the morning I said that I can’t  continue to work while somebody continues to kill my people.

How can I be involved in nation-building when a part of that nation that I belong is being bombarded heavy-handedly. However, I was relieved and happy that amnesty was eventually pronounced. But before that, some people in the system must have been thinking we are not human beings so we got to a point where I said o.k.  This is step one. If you read our statement, you’ll find end to hostilities at the statement, we said that, in the days and the weeks to come, based on the reaction of the federal government’s action we will decide our own next step.  So we were happy when they pulled back from that attitude and we saw the amnesty but we discovered that attitude as ineffective because it was good, yes but it was almost as if people were not thinking about the amnesty programme.  It seems that it was a rushed job.  How would you go and start building centres for people to be turned out when quite clearly that is not the method that has been applied, people have been collecting arms, usually going to people’s camp and collecting the arms from them. Check the budget you see that huge amount of money was  put aside for these disarmament centres. It is no longer as if people don’t know what to do with money or they do not even know what they are doing.  I regret resigning; of course not because first of all the action required an action that was best suited for the time. And should I go back and work with them, the answer is no because even though they talked about amnesty, what we described as half-baked, there is no international community involvement, that means, there is lack of confidence, immediately before you start.

For those of us who are members of the Presidential Technical Committee, on Niger Delta, amnesty was part of the process.  That process having been followed, guns were always supposed to redeem not just the individuals but communities, if Ateke returns three thousand guns or if Ateke returns six thousand guns, there is no difference.  So there is nothing that encourages more guns to be taken out of the system because if I am a militant you come back I will give them ten guns.  If you have amnesty meanwhile you could have 150, 200, 2,000 guns to starsh away somewhere but you are now a beneficiary of the amnesty programme, the best strategy was that the individual guns should redeem communities so if Ateke comes with three thousand guns, those three thousand guns should be entitled to three thousand people for instance to jobs, three thousand people for instance to education, three thousand people will benefit from three thousand guns, they don’t all have to be militants.  They can be just youths because if one gun redeems one person, ten guns should redeem ten people and Ateke might say well, in all my spirit of redemption, I remember, some families were victims of this crisis, please I beg see the man’s name, make him pickin go school so he has used his gun to redeem some other person.  That was the only way the root redemption, is through the gun.

Now all these will have been avoided if they had consulted if they had just literally consulted.  But of course, this is the same issues I keep saying when you are powerful, you don’t feel you need to talk to anybody.  You are used to issuing decrees, you are used to just giving orders, you are used to just taking decision and the ability to build consensus is not something that we think we have to do because to be truthful and building consensus take time.

But what it is, it saves you time later.  The event of people of the amnesty committee looks like if you asked them some of them would say, look, we don’t know what we are doing; they are the committee that presupposed to driving the amnesty, they don’t know what they are doing.

If you have consulted with the militants, consulted with the community, consulted with the Oil Companies, consulted with the state government, a lot of the state governors were not consulted, so what kind of a system are we operating, so, I described the amnesty as half-baked, it wasn’t that I was saying that I did not appreciate it.  I appreciate it but I expect more of the government, I expect more of the leadership in a country like Nigeria where we have so many resourceful people, the results we produced do not reflect on all the country.

Just follow up, still on the amnesty thing.  By first week of October, the amnesty will last, yet there are so many militants that have not surrendered, what will be the next option?

There are variety of options that could come.  One is that after the fourth of October, the Federal Government can decide, can step down on people and start to catch people carrying guns.  The other is that the amnesty could be extended.  The third one is that instead of all out military option, they could be very selected targeted seizures.  The position of the matter is that all these scams be avoided, it can be avoided because if you look at all the militant leaders none of them have said that the idea of amnesty is normal. Even MEND has said well, amnesty o.k. but what exactly are you doing after amnesty.  Even the governors saying what are you doing for post amnesty, I don’t know whether you guys in the media have heard but I haven’t heard what post amnesty just they probably don’t even know what to do in post amnesty.  Post amnesty what they should do is to issue a white paper on the Technical Committee Report and implement it.

That is what post amnesty should be, is just to issue a white paper in this report what are you going to implement; then implement it.  And if they go some length to addressing the issue then people will be happy but may be there is a genuine interest in extracting the oil and not putting anything back in which case it will not work; is not about any individual power or individual might, is just justice and ultimately it has to be done and it will be done but I think they are the ones who are under pressure now.  I don’t think anybody out there in the creek or anywhere else is worrying too much as what will happen post October 4.

We want to know if attempts have been made to meet with them?

Several attempts have been made.  Yes, but I always answer truthfully so I will tell you yes, but like I said I am not comfortable; I can’t be led by somebody I don’t respect and so if we are in a meeting of PDP people, I will start abusing them and they will probably drag me out of the hall.  So it will be impossible for me to be led by people I don’t respect.  As the chairman of the organised opposition, we were going to see Amaechi but we were taking a plan from him, they said ha, how you go talk like that, I said no, if you people are not going down that part, you tell me now so we stay here,  I am leading that kind of delegation.  We go there we talked we spoke our minds, when we finished, we feel dignified, but if he gives you Fifty Thousand Naira is not going to change your life so I want dignity because of the hunger level in society.

People become dependent on government; I left the shores of this country with thirty pounds and landed in London in 1991.  I landed London with thirty pounds and I built what I have built that brought me back in 2002, 2003 to come and do business in Nigeria, from a position of strength, not a position of weakness.  In UK there is no safety net, if you die you die, here you can run to  a brother and sister, uncles and things like that there is nobody to run to,  in UK so you have to survive and you have to do well.  But how did I pay my ticket to London, my father did not want me to go, infact he refused me to go, I hustled just here, opposite Traditional Rulers Council where I was working, selling photocopy machines, and selling computer sets, eventually I managed to make enough money, I was okay.  My father said where are you going? From that hustling I paid my ticket, I plaid my way down to London, and I have come back now, I find it so easy because if you put me in a room, I will find the opportunity, that’s the way I worked any other people are sleeping I am awake I am working.

I give a typical example for instance, I arrived International Airport about 2002, and I was watching what was going on, the trolleys were very bad, they were scrapping the ground, after watching carefully and watching carefully I now was able to get some people to put together an idea and through some people I got to the Minister of Aviation and said why don’t we charge for trolleys you go around the world people pay for trolleys. Why don’t we charge for trolleys?  The woman was thinking a lot, I said don’t worry, if we charge we will pay you every month One Million Naira.

All those touts at the airport, we will take them, brush them up and they will be dressing neatly, we called the business Sky Blue. Now that business services, is in the new terminal in Lagos. I don’t need to rely on government and that’s why I can speak freely about Amaechi because tomorrow if Amaechi says Tonye Princewilll should not come to Government House, it won’t change my life, but for Christ sake, let us have our voice, let us be free to speak our mind. But if we look at opposition and during party, the difference is just which side of the fence you are.

If I wanted to be in PDP, they will give me a heroes welcome but I would be muffled, I will be part of a system which do not really focus on improving our own system. Is not helping us.  Amaechi is trying. 

PDP, some of you must be card carrying members of the PDP, not interested in helping the people.  That is not; is simple as that.  Amaechi sometimes scratches himself on how  he can make his policies people friendly?

How does this things affect the common man in the streets. A lot of the policies are not getting to the people.  All these roads, they are doing here yes as of August 2008, we have spent about N140 billion on roads.  O.k.  how is it helping the common people?  O.k. Schools they are building plenty schools, how is it helping the common people.

Health centres, of course health centers where are doctors, how is it helping the common people.  Microfinance is not working so how are we helping the common people, if you look carefully, you see that the man is trying but his problem is that by the time you rolled the contracts out they will just grab it, it never left these people.  So the problem is the common people and is difficult for a governor at his level to supervise that grassroots empowerment so my brother, then they said they want to rule for 60 years, I can assure you that if they carry on the way they are going, there won’t be a Nigeria.

America said that by 2015, Nigeria would disintegrate what did they see before they made that statement what security report did they assess. They predicted the break up of USSR, they predicted the break up of Yugoslavia, they have now predicted the beakup of Nigeria.

If they continue the way they are continuing, there will not be a country to run in 60 years.

Nigeria is in danger of not qualifying for the 2010 world cup, the first to be hosted in Africa, where have things  gone wrong?

The time when they scored that second goal, it was as if somebody shot me, I was standing after and I fell down on the carpet in the floor. What sports does for you is that it gives you a false sense, you think that every thing is OK, if my team Manchester United wins today, I will be happy for the whole of the day, I will be happy meanwhile may be I still have problem, I still have issues to address but I forget those issues for that moment in the euphoria of the victory.

And Nigeria has so much going wrong, may be this euphoric, let me call it schizophrenia that would have invaded the country because we are going to the world cup I think it would remove us from the serious issues that we need to focus on that we have problem, of course across the country but also in sports, the problem of leadership. We had a good chance of turning around the very bad situation, Amaechi was helpful in making sure that the team had everything but I think that there are most of the things that even gone wrong that was why a taskforce was even required in the first place.

I think most of the things that went wrong, are all traceable to this same issue of leadership why would people like myself watch football in Europe is because when I watched football in Europe, I don’t know who is going to win, the chances that the likelihood of victory are up in the air, there is not the likelihood that corruption is compromised there is not the likelihood that, fans of a loosing team will descend on fans of the winning team to the extent where people’s lives would be lost, so the leadership of those places have been able to put a system which is sustainable which is appealing and is unfortunate that we have not been able to do likewise here.

Even though people like GLO have come in with money and so and so forth, but the regulatory authority and the leadership of this authorities have been found wanting so what Nigeria should be doing now is not rebranding we just need to fix. The basic issue you don’t rebrand something that is spoilt you fix it and I think Nigeria requires fixing and not rebranding.

To be contd