I'm not desperate to be governor, but I remain Labour Party flag-bearer - Tonye PrincewillWritten by The Neighbourhood
Tonye Princewill was a candidate at the April 11 governorship election in Rivers State on the platform of Labour Party, LP. Not much was heard from him after the controversial poll which he condemned. In his interview with Ledum Alfred, Princewill, otherwise called 'Prince of Niger Delta politics' by his supporters, speak on the recent cancellation of the governorship election in Rivers State by the Election Petition Tribunal, his legal moves to consolidate his candidature for the re-run. It’s vintage Princewill, a blue-blood and scion of the Amachree dynasty of Kalabari land!
After everything, the Rivers governorship election has been annulled by the Tribunal with an order for the conduct of fresh election within 90 days. How do you feel about this judgment?
Any lover of true democracy and justice who witnessed what happened will not be surprised by the judgment. I belong to that group. The elections were neither free nor fair nor credible, so they can’t stand honest scrutiny. I have said this repeatedly. The APC(All Progressives Congress) won the case for all of Rivers State. Kudos to them! In 2007, I fought PDP(Peoples Democratic Party) to a standstill and the same people in the APC today were also the beneficiaries of that fight. It is not about persons or
political parties. It is about the state. I am not thinking like APC or PDP. I did not say I am celebrating or disappointed by the judgement. I said I am not surprised by it. But in Rivers politics, some analog politicians cannot understand the difference.
People were confused as to which side of the divide you belonged after Ezebuwon Nyesom Wike was declared winner in the election, because you didn’t contest the outcome in court. Won’t your support of the judgment raise questions?
Why? In my Post-Election Statement in April, I clearly highlighted my displeasure in the outcome of the elections. I said it is no longer in doubt that the election in Rivers State was neither free nor fair nor credible. I added that rather than the jubilation of a victory or the recriminations of a defeat, I and my team prefer to keep searching for peace. I lamented on the bloodshed and just wanted it to stop. No matter how much we find justice, if so many in Rivers State are killed, who will be left to lead. This did not only show my disappointment in the conduct of the election but also my concern over peace in my state. It is not about taking sides with PDP or APC, it is about the truth. Both parties were violent. Not condemning the elections would be tantamount to aligning with the PDP, going to court would be tantamount to aligning with the APC. There was no additional value in my going to court. I didn't steal money so I will not spend hundreds of millions on lawyers and Arik like my people do not need help for other more important things. But my views were clear and consistent, even if my actions were too strategic for some to grasp.
Leadership of your party, the Labour Party, in Rivers State has disassociated itself from your statement praising the Tribunal’s judgment, on the premise that you are on suspension. How would you react to this?
To the best of my knowledge we have freedom of speech and right of opinion in Nigeria. My statements have always been my opinion and until recently my party has always fallen in line with my thinking. From what I gathered, the state party Chairman dissociated the party from my recent comments on the outcome of the tribunal; but it baffles me that the party’s position is in line with the same comment they are now disowning. They after all submitted a petition to the same election tribunal. It’s also funny to note that a chieftain of the party condemned the judgment only a few days ago, claiming to be speaking on behalf of the Party Chairman. This is not just an embarrassment to my party, but a clear indication of confused leadership. I'll leave everyone to his conscience. I have mine. No matter how much inducement you put in front of me, I cannot say black is white. People need to realize we are now in a digital world. Black and white TVs have been replaced by colour. No need to say anymore.
Does this in anyway pose a threat to your being fielded again as the party flag bearer in an event there gets to be a rerun election?
No it doesn’t. I am the Flag Bearer of the Labour Party. A court has ruled and given judgement to that effect. But let me tell you, it is the fear of my candidature that is causing these waves. They need not bother. I've not said I will contest and for now based on PDPs refusal to heed my advice, there is no vacancy. I am not at all desperate to be Governor. I just gave my opinion on the judgement saying I was not surprised. Now they say I am celebrating. Why all the fuss? Had no idea my opinion was this relevant.
You dragged the party leadership to court over your suspension. What is the status of the case at the moment?
Yes I did. I saw no justifiable reason for the purported suspension, so I simply took my concerns to the court. If people have been induced to kick me out of the party, the attempt should be made properly, not based on baseless allegations. He claimed anti-party activities. Tell me. Are his current actions not anti-party? My lawyers have briefed me that the Party leadership have severally snubbed the court proceedings. I know the court will soon come up with a position on that matter, like they did on my candidature. Till then, I remain a proud member of the Labour Party and the movement. He, on the other hand, remains in contempt of the court.
Do you see yourself doing better than you did earlier should you partake in the anticipated re-run as LP candidate?
I am yet to take a position on the role to play in the rerun. But even if I do partake, it’s really not about me. It’s about the decision of the people. They all know the political players in the state. They all know the possible after effect of a PDP or an APC victory.
Politics is not war. There must be a winner and a looser. I am comfortable with either, because I am not desperate to be Governor. PDP and APC are. How that will produce a peaceful Rivers State, I am yet to find out. If Rivers People want Unity, Peace, a Government they can reach and believe that their votes will count, I believe my style of politics will have a better chance. PDP and APC need to adopt it. If they do, I may even support one of them. What matters is the state must move forward.
What if your party insists you are not its candidate? Will there be other options?
That’s really not possible, and the court will confirm that shortly. People shouldn’t be distracted by irrelevant issues. The truth is, democracy is here to give everyone a stake in governance. Our primary concern is a better Rivers State. I know the Labour Party members are well grounded on honesty and the rule of law. A few distracted individuals, moved by short term thinking, will not change that. Amaechi was expelled from the PDP in 2007. What happened next is there for all to recall.
You said after the election that you were not aligning with either APC or PDP as allegedly requested by some people in your party. Do you still maintain your non-alignment stance, despite the Tribunal judgment that sacked Wike and others?
Yes I do. I stand outside the PDP and the APC box and with the peace loving, forward thinking people of Rivers state. Not a popular position for many of our politicians. There is no money here, but it is here I find comfort. My opinions may help APC today or PDP tomorrow. That is not my problem. I do not speak for them. What remains consistent is my commitment to the comfort of the common Rivers man. I believe that the hate for Amaechi or APC b/c of what they did to Jonathan should not cloud our judgement and stop us from saying the truth. If PDP is the beneficiary of this sham today, APC should know that they can't try it tomorrow. Will I not complain if that happens? Of course I will. If electoral violence is excused today, it will become normal tomorrow.
Are you optimistic that a rerun will not experience violence like it was in the last election?
I wish it was in my power to determine that. But it’s not. It will take a lot of sacrifice from both the PDP and the APC and efforts from us all to have a rerun free of violence. Like I said they are both desperate for victory, I am desperate for a safe and secure Rivers State, so it’s left for them to decide whether or not to sacrifice their supporters for political victory. Having said that, please note what I have said. If there are no consequences for electoral violence, electoral violence will continue. And sons, daughters, mothers and fathers will die. The truth is what will free us from this. If our leaders looked at people as Rivers people and not APC people or PDP people, we will make progress. The state belongs to everyone not PDP or APC or GDI. The politics of winner takes it all is killing us. The price of loosing is way too high.
Any word on President Buhari’s ongoing cabinet formation, particularly the inclusion of your former governor, Rotimi Amaechi?
We’ve waited so long for this, and are eager to see the difference it will make. And like I always say, President Buhari is the President, whether his administration is moving the nation fast or slow, we should focus more on helping him, than pulling him down. I know Amaechi; and I know his abilities. He worked seriously for the APC and if he missed the VP slot and the SGF slot, why should PDP loose sleep if he becomes a Minister? I was praying Rivers state don't disgrace ourselves before the world. I am glad we did not totally disgrace ourselves. I am not sure his inclusion did the President any huge favours in perception ratings, but perception is subjective to the individual and so we will leave each to their own. PDP gave us Wike. APC has given us Amaechi. Rivers people are watching. I believe though that with the right motivation, cross party support and a little prayer, he can be a useful tool in Buhari’s cabinet. Let us leave it to God.
What can you say about the controversy that surrounded Amaechi's ministerial screening at the Senate, particularly from Rivers Senators?
Let me just say I hope it is over. After a while it became too much, I lost interest. I advised the PDP senators, they should let it be - they have made their point. I am happy that the amusement for some has been cut short. I was abroad and I know what people who matter are saying about us.
Do you regret not defecting to the APC way before the 2015 elections?
No. Why should I? The ideology of the APC at that time was, “Bring Down Jonathan”, and I was on a totally different wavelength. So regretting is not a possibility. I am also happy I left the PDP. You can't mistreat a man with a mandate and expect him to stay silent and clap for you. Not me. I have good supporters. I have a caucus and I do not act alone. We listen and we learn. Of course we make mistakes. That's why pencils have erasers. But in all we do, we do it not for ourselves, but for the Rivers people. God is with us.
What is your take on the ongoing anti-corruption campaign?
The anti-corruption campaign was the foundation of the Buhari campaign, so it is expected that a lot would be happening in that area. So far so good but it is yet to enjoy the confidence of all sides. The reason for this is obvious. Not a lot of APC people are in the dock. I suggest we stay tuned, there is still plenty time for that. No man who is just settling in will fight on too many fronts.
Besides it is for the agencies charged with these responsibilities to do their work, unless there is evidence to show, the Presidency is interfering, let us await the results. He's only just begun. The nation is watching. And they will pass judgment in a few years. If the tone does not change, the President and the APC will lose votes.
Your message to Rivers people
Do not be disillusioned. Rivers state is too big to be forgotten. God is at work here and this is something we must go through to reach our very own promised land. The times are divided. Along artificial lines. Political parties come and go. But our people will remain. Talk of another election is in still far in front of us. A week is a long time in politics, so let us focus on what we can do now. For me let us find peace. Because without it, we cannot get investment, jobs, development and empowerment. Move away from 2-dimensional thinking. There is more to life than PDP or APC. Not every comment is for one or the other.
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