Too early to predict who wins Presidential election, says Princewill
An erstwhile chieftain of All Progressives Congress (APC), in Rivers State, PRINCE Tonye Princewill spoke to MAGNUS UGWUBUJOR on why he resigned from the party and factors that will determine governorship election in the state.
Peter Obi’s movement appears to have capacity to alter voting demographic 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 will happen in the next four 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, if not fully utilised, will lead us to a Tinubu as President. Why did I say that? PDP strongholds in the South South and South East, as well as Middle Belt, which are ordinarily Atiku bases, will now be split between Atiku and 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 Abubakar at your peril. Governor Nyesom Wike found this out the hard way. And underestimate Obi and his youths at your peril and you may find out the hard way too. Neither of these men relies on their fellow men.
Your political ally, Rotimi Amaechi, has been silent since he lost out during the Presidential primary. There are rumours that he may not support Tinubu. What do you know?
Nothing of the sort! I have been away as you know, so I don’t have the latest; but he was not happy with me when I left the APC. I told him that I can be calm 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 good members of his team, we all did. But I reminded him, when he called about my resignation, that I didn’t agree to 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 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. Tinubu will play his politics.
INEC keeps advising parties to avoid incendiary remarks in the course of party campaigns, but it lacks capacity to wield the big stick. Do you think words of caution would be enough to make political parties sit up?
No. But words matter. Let INEC and parties do their parts; let candidates, as well as the peace committee do theirs. In the end, my advice is for the international community to do their part also. That is what will break the camel’s back. “What is this part, I hear you ask?” It is to ban politicians who have engaged in any form of political violence from overseas travel to the European Union (EU), to the United States (US) and to other partner countries. This alone will give politicians pause because politicians love to travel. An average politician doesn’t fear the Nigerian justice system, but watch them fall in line when they are abroad.
Having left APC, have you decided where to pitch tent?
I have not! And I’m not in a rush to do so. Leaving APC was the first priority, and I’m especially glad that I did so. My focus now is on candidates, and not on parties. Fighting for our future is not a game. Where I come from, it’s often life and death and I like fighting, but I’m tired of fighting with people who are not interested in things that matter to me. I’m tired of fighting with people who do not have common ideology, which provides a clear basis for policy positions on key issues like these. 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 of winning governorship election in 2023?
I’m not aware of the details, but I’m aware there have been a lot of defections in many directions. In APC, some key men have left; 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. 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 still support Tonye Cole.
What is your take on the peace accord recently signed by only six governorship candidates in Rivers State where PDP’s candidate was absent? Recall that a similar situation played out before the 2019 polls when Wike did not turn up for a peace accord?
Well, I’ve just returned and I don’t have the full facts, but you and I know these peace accords are symbolic gestures. We’ve done this several times and every time we’ve still gone ahead to face violent elections. Was there any consequence after that? No! Soldiers were killed; police, not to talk of civilians! So, I won’t be surprised if some don’t take it seriously, especially the PDP. Politicians do not respect law enforcement or the judicial system. What they respect are winners.
The spate of kidnappings and general insecurity on Emohua Kalabari route seems to be very high. As a Rivers son, particularly, from the Kalabari area, what do you make of it and how can it be stopped?
Just few things, create jobs and install military checkpoints that are covered by mobile patrols. Before you do this, carry out a clean sweep of the area with the help of credible local intelligence. The chairmen of the three Kalabari councils and Emohua should be involved.
Is there any string APC or any other party can pull to upset PDP next year?
Good question, but it’s directed at the wrong person, because I have no way of knowing what the intricacies of the APC or any other party strategy will be. What I can say though, is that everybody can be beaten, nobody is invincible. Even Goliath! What it takes is courage, conviction, planning, timing and execution. If APC in Rivers does that, which it is supposed to do, they will win but if they don’t, they will lose. Going by the premise of your question though, the candidate in Rivers might as well be always coming from Obio Akpor. The high numbers are not real and the number of riverine people living there is not captured. Whoever gets 400,000 votes in Rivers State will win it.
There are rumours and allegation that some APC elements in alliance with INEC, have commenced the process of rigging the 2023 elections by attempting to tamper BVAS?
I have heard these allegations and also the rumours. When I was a member of the APC, I’m aware that the party leadership went to see President Buhari to discuss strategy, and he was crystal clear that it would be a free and fair election, and so he would not interfere with the process. INEC is responsible for its conduct and the world, Nigerians and the youths will be watching. The election is likely to be tight; so any missteps will be a recipe for potential crisis. And INEC will be held responsible. I believe they know that. A word is enough for the wise!
There is a trend with political parties selecting anointed candidates as against the choice of party members. How has this affected your interest in politics, knowing that you just resigned from APC after failing to secure the party’s ticket?
I did not resign from the APC after either failing to secure the governorship ticket or after failing to secure the presidential ticket. On both occasions, I issued statements of support to party candidates, in spite of my obvious dissatisfaction with both outcomes. One must learn to live and let live. It must not always be you or your candidate.
As for the anointing of selected candidates, it was done by a transparent process, which involved everyone. The fact that some, who were involved in that process, are now regretting it is a matter for them. I resigned purely because of the Muslim-Muslim ticket. Under this Electoral Act, as amended, the popularity of party candidates cannot be overlooked. They have five months to appeal to their constituents. Let us pray the process is peaceful and the outcome is popular.
Who will you be supporting for Rivers State governorship election and why?
I will be supporting Tonye Cole. I said I would in the beginning and nothing has led me to go against my word since, not even my resignation from the APC. He is a breath of fresh air and a very marked change from the status quo. His international reach and business experience will help us create jobs, create the atmosphere for businesses to thrive and move our focus from simply using youths to win elections to building our youths up to win for themselves and their families. He is a man of peace and is happy to work with all sides, different factions and all Rivers people, indigenes and non-indigenes alike. Yes, he is new to politics and he is not spending cash like he should, but he will learn and is ready to do so. Rome was not built in a day. So let us bear with him so that he can bear with us. Because we will need people like him to bear with our children.
The campaigns have officially commenced. What is your message to Nigerians?
Nigeria is a big ship that is slowly sinking. It is my opinion that 2023 is going to be the last opportunity to redefine a new future. It will take a lot of smart people ready to do the 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 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 has taken on special interests, 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 these. We will need the same test to apply to states and other constituencies. Our focus should be candidates and not the parties. Our focus should be on what they have done before, and not strictly on what they say on the campaign trail, even though what they say does matter.