2011: JONATHAN, ATIKU & PRINCEWILL.
Even when other prominent politicians from South-South have lined up behind their son, against the background of the affirmation that emanated from the South-South leaders summit, he prefers to take a "dignified and digital" stance. A few others who do not align with the zone position, are either working, discreetly, for other presidential aspirants, outside the zone or are complaining in hushed tones, over what they perceive could turn out to be a collective folly.
But Prince Tonye Princewill, former Action Congress gubernatorial candidate in Rivers State differs, he has refused to join the horde of Jonathan –for – president campaigners and he is not keeping quiet.
In an encounter with me, Princewill bemoans the recourse to primordial sentiments which he submits beclouds the sense of judgment of leading South-South politicians who should tell Jonathan the home truth:”Many people in my position would automatically run towards Goodluck. Of course, in Nigeria we seem to be very tribal about the way we play our politics .I think, I am in the minority-I am not a tribal politician. My politics is about substance; my politics is about the nation.
“I just don't want to jump into the Goodluck bandwagon in spite of an absence of direction, clear direction. Future generations will ask, “Did I say anything about it? Did I contribute anything towards trying to provide the direction, did I insist that a direction be mapped out, or did I just sit down and watch an accident about to happen?” I believe that one has a moral conscience and a responsibility to make sure that Nigeria moves forward. If all of us should check ourselves that at times like this to ask, what did we do? Nigeria will improve. That's what matters, because we might not be here tomorrow and when you aren't here tomorrow all you would be remember for was what you did yesterday.
I want my yesterday to be one that I could be proud of and that my children could be proud of, so that when they ask me, 'Daddy why did you vote for Goodluck? I will not say I voted for him, because he is an ijaw man or because he is from the South-South.? Is that the kind of message I want to send to my children?
“I need something to hold on to and Goodluck isn't giving me anything to hold on to, so he has made my choice very easy. I hope that he reads this and I hope that he understands the need for substance. Nigerians in the main, especially from the South South seem to say, we don't care what he wants to do and we don't care what he hasn't done, what we are interested in, is where he comes from. That doesn't work for me. Even the argument on generational change, that doesn't work for me, either. I am from the younger generation and I should be arguing for it. I am from the South-South, I should be arguing for South-South, but I want us to do so responsibly.
I think that if the North has embarrassed themselves, the South-South shouldn't follow that line. I think the South –South should demonstrate a political maturity that other regions may not have demonstrated. That we are responsible, that we can be trusted.
Now is the time for us to stand up and be counted and if I represent the minority, so be it. Because if I want Nigeria to move forward as a unit, as one entity. If I wanted Nigeria to be divided, maybe I can argue for letting South-South do it, irrespective of the direction or the impact on the country. I cannot argue for regions, if you get to a certain level in your life you have to argue for the country. Sometime the South-South will have to take a step back to move forward, that in my opinion is okay. But to think that you are moving forward, when you aren't going anywhere I think that's deception and I will not be involved.”
Princewill is not bothered that ethnic jingoists could attack him-or his political career could be in jeopardy for squealing against the anointed choice of the South-South elders-'son of the soil.'
“Moving against the tide isn't exactly a bad thing; I think it is conviction and belief. I am not afraid for my life, neither am I afraid for my career. The politics of 2007 is already a demonstration of that .If I was afraid for my life and career I wouldn't have opposed Odili as I did very vocally and with so much passion.
That's not my fear, what I just want to do, I just want to be remembered for positions and stands I took at times in my life. When Odili was doing what he was doing in Rivers State, what did I do? Did I keep quiet, did I participate, or was I involved? When Amaechi came to power to make a revolution, what role did I play? When it came to governance of Nigeria, what did I do? What role did I play, what did I say?”
Princewill's choice for the 2011 presidency is former vice president; Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and he offer reasons
“This talk about zoning...I prefer merit. I prefer substance to actually speak. Forget zoning, if we are looking at candidates, who is the best candidate? For me, it's Atiku. Then, if you now start to talk about zoning, then it should be north. Again, Atiku. Good governance can only be measured against performance, commitments and promises. If you are going to do well you need some milestone by which you will measure yourself and ultimately be measured. If you look at the indices, you find out that Akitu is the most coherent; he is the most substantive and the most acceptable politician.
To me, it isn't even a difficult task to choose. If you line the aspirants up the one who presents in my opinion the most colourful, organized, detrabilised, unifying Nigerian? It is Atiku. My argument isn't centered around zoning, but if it was, there you go. For me the debate is over, since the party at the highest level has taken a position, which is that all the aspirants on display have party backing to contest.
Talk about zoning, or no zoning isn't only belated it is historic for the record, if an agreement was reached by gentlemen I think gentlemen should keep that agreement. I wasn't there, I don't know what was agreed, I wasn't even in the party at the time. Having now left AC and making my way back to PDP, I like to see that agreements reached are kept. I like to see that. I would rather that there was merit and merit was what we want in elections rather than saying it is zoned to this state or this region. But if there was an agreement and if you don't keep an agreement yesterday, then why would you keep an agreement tomorrow? I think that there is a moral issue there; not a zoning issue. Once there was an agreement, one would expect that people would have kept to it, but thank God the zoning debate is over. It is PDP issue and for now it is a settled issue.”
The former AC gubernatorial candidate has a 'personal' score to settle with Jonathan perhaps? Has he been shut out of the presidential villa? Denial of contract by the presidency? Princewill restates that it has nothing to do with personal, pecuniary gains. The Kalabari Prince is angry with President Jonathan for not bringing to the table, anything in concrete terms, for the deprived, alienated and agitated people of the Niger Delta region, in his 2011 mission, as he equally accused the President for abandoning the Ledum Mitee technical committee report for the development of the zone:
“That's my problem with him, though somebody said to me that Goodluck is from Niger Delta, so you don't need to preach to him about the Niger Delta. He knows what to do and I said well, that's okay. Anybody from the Niger Delta knows what to do about the Niger Delta? So did Odili. Odili knew what to do about Niger Delta, but look at what he did.
Somebody told me, I would not mention the name, that there was a Governor of the South -South in the previous dispensation that came to office without a manifesto, without any commitment. When he was asked, he said he didn't promise the people anything so whatever he gave them was a bonus! Can you imagine that?
I am not comfortable with the absence of a commitment and in case of Goodluck, he was a party to the Niger Delta committee report. He inaugurated us and he sort of shepherded the process that saw us complete the task an onerous one. A lot of wise men and women from the area participated in it and it baffled me that two years after, nothing has been done. It baffles me that we have a Niger Deltan as president and nothing has been said about the report not even a word.
“You can even say that I am worried about the Niger-Delta under Goodluck. I cannot understand why a report that was put together by eminent sons and daughters of the region and handed over to the president is actually sitting down there doing nothing! Look at what happened to the Uwais report which was submitted after ours. Is it fair?
Some of the people who help us to put together the report are dead. They died without any of their efforts being rewarded. It really pains me. Some of these people, they couldn't climb the stairs, where the team was meeting but I know their contributions and these are old men .At times, when we took our break, we had to go and get their food for them. After the period, it was breaking their hearts that as they were getting to the twilight of their lives to see that their efforts had come to nothing. I could remember some of them were asking then, 'this report, are you sure they are going to do anything about it? I said if YarAdua did not the next man would. Am I now a liar?
So, I cannot just join the Goodluck bandwagon. I think that would be tantamount to be an analogue ethnic politician and I am not. I am a digital politician and I believe that digital politics cannot play tribalism. We must be forthright. If he comes out with a clear-cut agenda for the Niger Delta and for Nigeria, I would have been tempted to work with him, right now he makes my job very easy.
Some say he knows what he will do. Leave him. If you ask me, Goodluck should not keep his ideas to himself, he needs to have a team debate it and sound it out in wider fora. It is unfortunate. He needs a team that is actually interested in the Niger Delta, not in their pockets. In Nigeria not just their region. A team that has experience, passion a mixture of the two. I have got to be honest with you: I am not afraid of a Goodluck win, I am afraid of a Goodluck loss. What happens if he looses? Is there a plan B? What channel of communication exists between the North and the South – South at the moment?”
He dismissed insinuations that he has been anti-Jonathan and enumerating his administration perceived inadequacies, because he wants to be noticed by the presidency. He says he is not after any pecuniary gains, as his views are purely altruistic, informed by passion for better Nigeria.
Goodluck is somebody I have access to. My father was his lecturer. My father is a prominent Ijaw King and he can walk in and out of the villa, anytime, any day. One of his closest advisers, Alabo T. O. Graham Douglas, is my Uncle and my political tutor. We are hardly on a different page. It shouldn't surprise anybody that the Goodluck presidency would favour me and favour me very well. But this isn't about me at all. It is about us.
“If Goodluck doesn't even call me, but listens to what I am saying and implements it, I would have achieved my objective. I want Nigeria to improve and I want the leadership, whoever it is, IBB, Atiku, Goodluck, to get it right, because the truth of the matter is that no one of them can deliver Nigeria on his own. It is a collection of us that will do it. So if they just provide leadership and if we have the right man, then the future of Nigeria is better.
I am worried about the future I will leave behind for my children. I am worried that, if we don't get it right, their future will be bleak. I am more interested in tomorrow. If I have the right leadership doing the right thing today, no problem. If Goodluck campaigns improve and he comes out and his people start talking about the issues and debate the issues, I would be a happy man. That's why you see me even giving him ideas. If not, I would just sit down, somewhere and be laughing at the blunders that are taking place, but I am not doing that. ''
TAIWO AMODU is an Abuja based Journalist