Prince Tonye Princewill is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State. He contested the 2007 governorship election on the platform of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). In this interview, Princewill who is a Prince of the Kalabari Kingdom, speaks on the allegations of corruption at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
What’s your take on recent development in the EFCC, the NSIFT and the NDDC?
It is no use wasting time trying to convince those who can’t see it that this government is serious about corruption. Even Stevie Wonder can see this. The evidence is there: with the money recovered, the number of convictions, high profile persons involved, including former governors, including those of the APC. However, bear in mind that the executive is only one arm of government. The legislature is there too but it also requires the judiciary to finish the work. As for the NDDC, many of us in the Niger Delta have watched as Abuja have determined who manages it, while the successive management teams have come and gone without making the required difference. The light has been shone on the agency and nobody likes what they see. So unless heads roll, the public will not be satisfied.
Are you in support of those calling for the scrapping of the NDDC?
That won’t work. It will be like going from the frying pan to the fire. The states are not more transparent. Far from it; people forget that it is an arm of the Federal Government that initiated this process. One can only imagine what is going on in the states as we speak. A place where the judiciary, legislature and the executive are working in harmony is where you want to send our money? What is required is simple. An honest look at what has been going on there and the appropriate action taken. This sort of thing has not happened before. If there is no consequence for people stealing, stealing will continue. We all know that. I make bold to say it is this style of this government that is bringing this matter to light. Nevertheless, the President must be aware that the current inquisition may not be sufficient. Doubts have been cast on the credibility of the NDDC, the National Assembly and the forensic audit instituted by the ministry. Not to talk of the EFCC and the Attorney General. We are dealing with a very sceptical public. That leaves the President with the responsibility of restoring credibility. At least four out of five departments mentioned above are under him. 20 per cent of the people cause 80 per cent of the problem. He just needs to get to that 20 per cent. He will see the difference.
Do you see the development as an indictment on the leaders of the South-south?
I think that, although this is an unfair characterisation, I can see how even reasonable minds can come to this conclusion. If we are honest with ourselves, we in the South-south should bow all of our collective heads in shame. Yes. We have an NDDC, under the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, who is our son. But there are three types of people from the South-south. Those who don’t care about us, those who do and those who are helpless and do not know any better. Painting all of us with the same brush is not fair. Unfortunately, the first group is where most of our leaders come from. Many of them are not chosen by a free or fair political process, so their loyalties lie outside the region. NDDC, as it is, should be renamed the Niger Delta Distribution Commission because that’s what it does. Distribute contracts, cash and commissions, first to the powers in Abuja and then to themselves. The people are an afterthought.
There have been almost 10 different MDs in its 20-year life cycle, but you can’t point to 10 major projects standing today as a result of the money it has received. Their hands are tied. Over the years, that knot has gotten even tighter. I humbly suggest the legislature and the executive enter a room and close the door, call some honest leaders from the zone and speak truth to each other. This is an embarrassment to everybody. It is long overdue. Blaming the South-south is not a solution. They can shut down this country in days, but that is not a solution. Only credible people can provide credible solutions.
The final point I want to raise on this is that corruption is everywhere. Don’t let anyone fool you that it is mainly in the South-south. Nothing is more distributed in Nigeria than corruption. The reason this came out is because South-south leaders are not united. Their infighting caused it. Even that can be traced to Abuja. It’s not an excuse; just an explanation. They have opted to dance naked and you might be surprised to know that the South-south people are not crying.
A High Court has affirmed Igo Aguma as the chairman of the APC Caretaker Committee. Where does that leave Amaechi in the political equation in the state?
It seems like every day there is a new court matter. So, this will probably go all the way to the Supreme Court. Peace is harder than going to court. On Amaechi, I think it’s very fashionable to always link him to Rivers State politics and ignore the other fighters in the ring. As a two-term speaker, two-term governor, two-term Governors Forum chairman and two time DG of the Buhari Presidential Campaign Organisation, that is not surprising. But if you go back to the first open letter that started Igo Aguma on his chosen path, you will see that he complained that APC is not just about Amaechi or Abe or even himself. APC is a large tent with a very wide following, so what happens there affects everybody. I can say it with conviction – the vast majority of us want peace. Amaechi is far bigger than Rivers State. He has survived without it in two elections. If it happens a third time, it is all of us who will suffer it. Not so much Amaechi. So when you ask me how Amaechi will fair, based on the ongoing court drama, my answer is, he’ll do just fine. But I cannot say the same for the APC family. We don’t need this crisis.
Why is it difficult for Amaechi and Senator Godwin Abe to bury their differences in the interest of the APC and Rivers State?
First, let me quickly correct you. There are more than two factions in the state. There is the Amaechi faction which is by far the majority of the party, then there is the Abe faction which successfully thwarted us from presenting candidates in the 2019 election. In recent months, the Igo Aguma faction emerged. When it emerged, I raised the alarm because I saw it as just as disruptive, if not more so. On the question of my two older brothers coming back together, that will be tough and for several reasons too. A lot of water has now gone under the bridge and egos have been severely bruised. Trust is now a major issue. As many of you know, there are two major political parties in Nigeria. When you despise your own party members so much so that you don’t mind them losing an election to the other party, a line has been crossed. Incidentally, the dynamic between Aguma and the Amaechi faction is also similar. For those of us who belong to what I prefer to call the “peace faction” we are very realistic. We don’t see them as coming back together like before. Amaechi has his opponents in Abuja. They see him as a threat in 2023.
They will do whatever they can to promote his worries at home and since he has chosen not to focus on the state politics, but on his national assignment, his silence is leaving a vacuum. My view is his opponents will continue to exploit it, but I am not sure how long it will last, but underestimating Amaechi is not wise. I would not advise it. What I would advise, is my fellow leaders waiting for Amaechi. They need to behave like leaders and take their destiny into their own hands. We must make peace and promote unity. That is my message to them. War is not in anybody’s interest. We can’t wait for Amaechi to run to Port Harcourt to put out flames. That would be an indictment on us and our leadership. By peace, I do not mean the past is forgotten. I just mean that camps can operate with mutual respect. APC is not a cult. We can disagree agreeably. But, we should agree to follow the rules.
The APC is facing a tough election in Edo and Ondo. Considering recent developments in the party, do you think the party will be able to win the elections?
I don’t see why not. But Edo will be tough. The party is fractured and unlike the PDP, here in APC, we have a habit of gifting power to the opposition. To lose the only state we have in the South South takes a certain degree of incompetence and I want to hope that this is not again on display on the 19th of September.
The emergence of the Governor Buni led committee is perceived as the victory of the Forum of APC governors and their backers over certain forces who lost out with the ouster of Oshiomhole. Do you see it in that light? Can the interim leadership guarantee genuine reconciliation?
There are no guarantees in this life. Except taxes and death. But here in Nigeria, we have even managed to be avoiding one of them. I don’t know about Governors and their backers. The records show us that even the Governors were not unified on Oshiomole. What is clear is that the Governor Buni led committee is the best middle ground. As I have said before, they can lead us to a convention where a new chapter can begin. Look at the Ondo primary, relatively peaceful, with little or no drama and did not require Presidential intervention. Reconciliation is key. They must take it seriously. And they must start now. Otherwise the convention will be another negative news item. It’s no mistake that they are also the convention committee. Now it is not in their power to force reconciliation upon aggrieved men and women, but they can propose ways forward after listening to all sides. You can take the horse to a stream, but you cannot force it to drink. So it may be inevitable that some will still leave, others will join. It’s Nigerian politics. The sooner we listen, reconcile, agree or agree to disagree agreeably, that is the sooner we can move forward. If APC are to win the next election, its governance must be good and our politics must be right. A PDP victory will be a return to eating behind the scenes, chopping and cleaning mouth and coded stealing. If we can’t show the people this has consequences, they will vote to legalize it in 2023.
What is your position on the agitation for president of Igbo extraction in 2023, do you think the APC will zone the presidential ticket to the South East?
There are a lot of good candidates. Let’s see who they bring. It’s not impossible, but if I was a gambling man, I would say it’s not likely. Lots of work will need to be done. For a few reasons. The first is the zone is not united. Secondly, the zone has not stretched out their hands across the divides. Politics is relationships. You fight for me, I fight for you. Trust is built and earned. One zone alone can’t do it. Thirdly, they’ve not been fair to APC, so unless PDP is their best bet, or another party, it will be hard. Now if PDP is the same party I know, they won’t give their ticket to the South East, unless both parties agree. PDP cannot be trusted. They will do anything to win. And they too will know that a South East ticket is an uphill task. But the merits for a President from the South East are clear. For Nigeria to be a success, it really has to be fair. That’s why power must rotate. Where the penny will drop, is anybody’s guess. But I will hazard a guess that the President will have to get involved. That time is not now. Governance should not be sacrificed on the altar of politics.