Tonye Princewill is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State. In this interview with TAIWO AMODU, the governorship candidate of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in the state in 2007 declared that the revelations emanating from the investigation of the intervention agency for the South-South states, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is an indictment of leaders from the zone.
A High Court in Rivers State has affirmed Igo Aguma as chairman of the caretaker committee of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state. Where does that leave the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi 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 if we can’t make peace. 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 a presidential campaign that was successful, that is not surprising. But if you go back to the first open letter that started Aguma on his chosen path, you will see that he complained that APC is not just about Amaechi or Magnus Abe or even himself. APC is a large tent with a very wide following. So, what happens there affects everybody. And I can say it with conviction that 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 fare, 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 these crises.
Rivers State is today virtually Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) because the two APC factions failed to agree. Why is it proving difficult for Honourable Amaechi and Senator Abe to bury their differences in the interest of Rivers APC?
First, let me quickly correct you. There are more than two factions. 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 elections. In recent months, there has been the emergence from the same Amaechi faction of the Aguma faction. When it emerged, I raised the alarm because I saw it as just as disruptive, if not more so. But I’ll come back to that.
On the question of my two older brothers coming back together, that will be tough for several reasons. A lot of water has 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 factions 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. Not again. This is why 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. 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 destinies in their own hands. We must make peace and promote unity. That is my message to them. A 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, but we should agree to follow the rules.
After the botched March 2020 National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of APC and President Muhammadu Buhari’s initial reluctance to intervene in the crisis, he finally shoved Adams Oshiomhole aside. The action, however, seems belated, given the crisis that developed in Edo and the subsequent move of Governor Godwin Obaseki to the PDP. What is your take?
The president is not going to make it a habit of jumping in to solve party problems. That’s not his style and that is not what he was elected to do. Some of us, though, felt that this was a unique situation and that it rose to a level that required his input. I personally quoted Newton’s first law of motion and I’m glad it worked.
I wouldn’t describe what happened as shoving Oshiomhole aside. That is a harsh way of putting it. My take is he was asked to close the door from outside and he was not alone. The entire National Working Committee (NWC), including Victor Giadom, was shown the door. That did not mean that they cannot return at a later date. Politics is a fertile ground for comebacks. What it means is ‘give us room to find a neutral path to organise a convention, where a new chapter can begin.’
The party situation had become far too toxic and Oshiomhole, as the captain of the ship, just had to take a bow. Governance cannot be sacrificed on the altar of politics and so many times in this administration, you will see the continuing evidence of a reluctance to intervene in politics. The priority for the administration is governance. Unfortunately, the public and the media will focus on the politics. Obaseki did what he felt was his right. I wasn’t surprised. But it’s no longer a matter for APC.
Do you think the APC will be able to win the Edo and Ondo governorship elections, given the intra-party crisis in both states?
I don’t see why not. But Edo will be tough. The party is fractured and unlike the PDP, 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 19 September.
The fight against corruption is a major programme of the APC-led Federal Government. But with the recent event in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Nigerians are wondering the kind of corruption the administration is fighting. How do you see this?
It’s 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: the most money recovered, the highest number of convictions, high profile persons included, including former governors of the APC. So, I don’t need to wonder. Where I will invest time, though, is trying to talk with the neutrals who cannot separate the lies from the truth. To them, I will gladly say that this government has a responsibility to distinguish itself from the ones that had gone before it, especially when it comes to dealing with corruption. I urge them to keep faith and watch while this government continues to bring people to book, no matter how high or how close to the seat of power they are. Even the corrupt are aware; their time is here.
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 has 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. No excuses. Till then, it is siddon look. We are watching.
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 were 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 its 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.
Given the mind-boggling revelation from the investigation of NDDC, some have suggested that the intervention agency be scrapped, while its annual allocation should be distributed among the oil producing states. What is your take?
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 a Federal Government-level induced process that is bringing this matter to public attention. One can only imagine the stuff that 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 happening to what is sent there now?
No. What is required is simple. An honest look at what has been going on there and the appropriate action taken. It’s never really happened. 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. All the previous styles of the previous ones would have buried it long before now.
Having said that, 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, let alone the EFCC and the Attorney-General. We are dealing with a very skeptical public. That leaves the president with the responsibility of restoring credibility. At least, four out of five departments mentioned above are under him. Twenty 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.
There is also the narrative that the scam being exposed is an indictment of the South-South leaders, that given their agitation for resource control, their handling of NDDC gives an illumination of how they would ultimately fare even if the rest of the country surrenders all the acreages to them. Is that so?
I think that although this is an unfair characterisation, I can see how reasonable minds can come to this conclusion. If we are honest with ourselves, we in the South-South should bow our heads in shame. Yes, we have an NDDC under a Ministry of Niger Delta headed by 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 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 received. Its hands are tied from Abuja. And over the years, that knot has got 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 one another. This is an embarrassment to everybody. And 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 the corruption is everywhere. Don’t let anyone fool you that it’s mainly in the South-South. Nothing is more distributed in Nigeria than corruption. The reason this came out is the South-South leaders are not united. Their in-fighting caused it. And 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.
Finally, the emergence of the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led committee is perceived as the victory of the Forum of APC Governors and its backers over certain forces which 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 united on Oshiomhole. 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.
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, the sooner we can move forward. If APC is 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 legalise it in 2023.
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