Exclusive Interview with the Prince of Niger Delta Politics

By Prince Tonye Princewill

1. What is your take on 2011? Thank you for asking that question. Sometimes I wonder if others are not seeing the dangers of 2011. We have had small cabals struggle for power in the past but not entire regions. The integrity of Nigeria is about to be tested and I am afraid that unless we are very very careful, irreparable damage is about to be done to its fabric. My careful observation is that our history shows us that the struggle used to be amongst the same people and their subsets. Now that same cabal has grown older and their ability to fight over power has diminished to sabre rattling. All bark and no bite. If it was up to them maybe one day soon this will be eventually settled one late night in a house somewhere in Abuja. That is why we have not had another civil war in all these years. Our powerbrokers are too old and have too much to lose. Unfortunately it is no longer in just the realms of the standard cabals, it has spread further and wider and the younger generations are beginning to take ownership of it. This is a very dangerous precedent and it appears to me that the people who should do something or say something are not doing so. I am worried and I do not worry easily.

2. Who should be saying something? They know themselves. The language now needs to be conciliatory not threatening and in this all sides are culpable. We have extremists on all sides and hot heads prepared for consequences they do not understand. Look at Hezbollah. The founding father that recently passed away was relegated to the background several years before he died because he was seen as too moderate. History is littered with examples. Osama bin laden represented a new younger breed of extremist who made previous agitators look like characters from a Mickey Mouse movie. Here in Nigeria we have also seen a new brand of agitator that make Saro Wiwa et al look like choir boys. See Boko Haram? We are almost at that point where we will cross the line of no return. We are not there yet but we are close. Our elders need to do something.

3. Where do you stand on zoning? Zoning is a PDP thing and from what we gather certain people sat down round a table and reached the conclusion that it was a necessary calculation. If so then why don't they do so again instead of subjecting the whole country to an exercise of voyeurism? People should not be scared of taking decisions. We need bold leadership. By now, they all should have exhausted the arguments in their minds and rationalized the next steps. So why not take them? I look forward to a day when people will be judged by the content of their character and not where they are from. That day could be now if the leadership of PDP decides to throw it open to the best man without much delay by appealing to the zoning proponents. But that argument will have to be won and diplomacy will need to be employed. I frown at the strong taking advantage of the weak and as a victim of that same dynamic here in the Niger Delta, I am uncomfortable with bullies. When you are strong you don't necessarily have to show it. If Nigeria was truly ready for opposition politics and the opposition had prepared itself, this discussion would be relegated to PDP secretariat in Abuja. Unfortunately even the opposition believe that PDP will produce the next President and so do the people. That is why it has become a national discourse. This is a pity really.

4. Do you believe in Jega's ability to conduct a free and fair election? I believe in his ability to make a good attempt at it but unfortunately it is not down to him alone to save Nigeria. I had the pleasure of working with him in the Niger Delta Subcommittee of the Vision20/20 team where I was Chairman before I resigned in protest to the Gbaramatu bombings. He is a gem to work with and a man of extremely sound mind but he needs our help. Help from the Presidency, help from his INEC team, help from the Security agencies, from the press, from politicians and not to talk of from the average Nigerian. In each of these groups we will still need them and their subsets to play a role. My father taught me not to believe in my breakfast until I have eaten it. That is my way of say not everyone will play their role.

5. How would you assess Goodluck Jonathan so far? He has been able to restore the role of captain of the ship. When he took over Nigeria was floating rudderless vessel to admire the view. He needs to get on and start delivering results and fast. Nigerians are not very grateful people. His honeymoon for me is now officially over. The priority areas remain the Niger Delta, Power and Electoral Reform with Security already a constant. I have been expecting a white paper on the Niger Delta Technical Committee report from him for a while now. Nothing. I have been expecting a more comprehensive amnesty package wrapped under a proper Niger Delta roadmap but I have not seen anything. When Yar'Adua refused to address it, we said if he doesn't, the next man will. I don't want to have to say that about this Mr. President. Because make no mistake our demands in that report will be addressed. My brother Timi Alaibe is the best man for the job of reforming ex-militants and the stress he is going through is no doubt worth it but the Niger Delta Technical Committee report asks for more. Not addressing that while actively reharshing the old amnesty plan reminds me of the Yar'Adua years. I am struggling to find an excuse for my own brother. Time is running out. For him. As for 2011 my advise to the President is to seek as many friends as possible even where there are perceived enemies. Think Nigeria first and remember that in the end all politics is local."

6. What is your take on Atiku's proposed entry into the race? Fanstastic move and a welcome development. Too many reluctant leaders have ruled this country and so it is refreshing when we get people to come to the table with a manifesto and a plan. Shagari was looking elsewhere, Obasanjo had his mind set on farming, Yar'Adua wanted to go back to teach. None of them had a plan of their own, one that we could scrutinize and question. I don't belong to that school of thought that says what did they forget at Aso Rock? All former leaders do not need to go and hide. When some people see Buhari, Atiku or IBB, they see them as examples of failed leadership, I see them as individuals with their own peculiar stories striving to write a new history for themselves. Let us allow them try. Atiku of course stood by me publicly when other senior politicians in AC did not with respect to our alliance with Amaechi in Rivers State. I, indeed Amaechi and all of Rivers state owe him a large debt of gratitude because he provided the platform for a partnership that has produced political stability unlike any in the country and development you can feel. I of course will be supporting him in whatever way I can especially if he has an agenda for the Niger Delta that gives my children a brighter tomorrow. Unlike many of the old analogue politicians, I am more interested in what you want to do than where you come from. Having said that nobody from the South-South with any weight has come out to declare their interest, so we will work with who we have. Atiku is a master politician and I am so glad he went to secure Goodluck's blessing before declaring his intention. That means so much to me. Running Nigeria is not for the faint hearted and preparing a campaign needs to be well planned. If anyone is serious about ruling Nigeria, now is the time to say so. Be bold. Nigerians will no longer be convinced by a hurriedly put together 7 point agenda with no basis in reality. Such amateurish attempts should be treated with the disdain they deserve. I have not been involved in the Atiku roadmap as much as I would have liked, but I am eager to hear what he has to say about my three priority areas. This time we must have live debates.

7. How is Rivers State progressing?Rivers state is moving forward in leaps and bounds. Amaechi is doing well and the people are to a large extent happy with him. As his own worst critic though, he is still not satisfied and neither am I, so the work continues. I have scored him 6/10 and will reserve any further judgement till just before the election when we would need to have moved beyond providing buildings to providing services within those buildings be they hospitals or schools. Port Harcourt now is a much cleaner city with the Garden city status gradually coming back. The sign that government is working is now reflected in and around the street corners. But we still have work to do. The one area that still concerns me though is the poor and underprivileged in our society, especially the disabled and the orphans. I think we can do better in that department and we will. Our micro finance scheme thankfully is finally back on track and from there alone we can touch many poor women, the custodians of our future.

8. What is life like for your post AC? It is well. I feel more fulfilled and definitely more refreshed and energized. I did not realize how much energy it took away from me and how draining it was but now I can see that I was going through. The moment for me is like a holiday, a much needed break. One will always have a soft spot for the opposition but alas my focus no longer resides there. I wish them well and pray they find the need, desire and grace to collaborate and fashion out a common ideology. That is what this country needs. To my knowledge no party today stands for anything. What do members feel about education, health, the free market, security, the minimum wage, social security, etc? Do they have a common position that unites them? No! If you have joined a party on a premise built around these principles, it would be harder to leave a political party because you would struggle to get similar ideals elsewhere. In Nigeria now we align based on where your friends are or where your enemies are not. That way once the enmities are resolved, there is no longer a need to remain in opposite parties. And you know in Nigeria we do not keep enemies long. I hope soon members will be subjected to more rigorous commitment. They should sign up to something, imbibe the ideals which a party must represent and be made to pay a membership fee. All candidates should a manifesto and public debates should be encouraged at all levels. INEC should play a role here. My worry is the current focus and the billions proposed do not look into this aspect of electioneering. The lead up to the election is just as important as the election itself. INEC needs to ask itself if we truly have proper political parties and regulate them accordingly. Where the intent is not genuine INEC can regulate to restore order.