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ZONING IN NIGERIA IS FORMALLY BURIED WITH THE ELECTION OF TAMBUWAL AS SPEAKER OF HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES - PRINCEWILL

By Eze Chukwuemeka Eze
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Prince Tonye Princewill a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stalwart and associate of Rt. Hon. Chibuike Aamechi the Governor of Rivers State spoke with his Media Team on various national issues including the death of zoning formula in PDP, President Goodluck Jonathan's cabinet, the recently passed FOI Bill, unemployment and power generation, the N10billion scandal rocking the House of Representatives, post amnesty programme in the Niger Delta, among other sundry issues. Excerpt:

On the election of Tambuwal as the Speaker of House of Representatives against the zoning formula of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) the Prince stated.

I have said on the record before that the emergence of Jonathan himself at the primaries was an obituary for zoning. Sometimes, good people can argue on the same topic. Both sides of the arguments are valid, the argument for merit and the argument for zoning. In a pluralistic society like ours the argument on zoning is understandable. But in the case of House of Representatives situation and in the case of Jonathan people argued on the basis of merit and they won. I think that anybody who wants to carry the zoning argument now has quite significant precedents which have been set against it. So if you ask me I will tell you that yes the argument for zoning has been dealt a severe blow, a fatal blow in my opinion by the election of Tambuwal as the Speaker of House of Representatives. This has been buttressed by some of the fiercest proponents of zoning now offering their congratulations.

The calibre of people the Prince expects in Jonathan's cabinet.

Many people ask me do I think President Jonathan would perform, and I said that he has all the opportunity to deliver. The people's expectations of him are high but they are focused, and I think they are focused on power. If he get power right, people will describe him as a saint, but if he does not, people will see him as a failure so he has a very clear, very focused expectation placed on him. Yes it is high but if he is focused, he can deliver. I think the cabinet he puts together will be the first litmus test for the kind of administration we expect to see. If he puts a cabinet together devoid of personal sentiments, it would help a lot in establishing the kind of legacy he will need to leave behind.

I have always said that it is recognised that the failure of his cabinet would be seen as his failure. That is why I for one sympathise with the fact that he needs to choose people he is comfortable with and this is where you have to strike a balance between politics and governance. You cannot wish away politics but in governance ultimately YOU will be held accountable for the kind of administration you run. In Rivers state for example, we know Ajumogobia is an asset to any President, so we expect him to remain, yet there is a sentiment that others should be given a chance. This is the kind of reality the President has to deal with but I am sure he knows what to do. Win-Win is still possible not only in Rivers but in the rest of Nigeria. Governance and politics can find a balance. Nigerians do not want to hear excuses.

The Prince advises President Jonathan on how to effectively address the hydra-headed problem of unemployment and power generation?

Well without any doubt unemployment is a major issue, it is a major challenge. It can be very destructive. We have heard about it and seen it in the North as was in the Niger Delta. I have mentioned this severally before now. The absence of productive employment is clearly an issue. Power generation is also a clear issue that must be addressed to encourage business and diversify the economy but how many people can run businesses competitively while having to buy diesel to keep their company running? This is a clear index that exposes the failure of government. Few serious companies can look at Nigeria as a serious entity if they can't provide the basics for their people. We have the population, bright people, low labour costs, flexible labour laws and very adaptable people but we can see that the big organisations prefer neighbouring countries. What am I saying? I am saying that the more you encourage private investors to come and invest, the more likely you are going to provide jobs. So power is essential and must be addressed now.

I predict the President will want to do more than four years but realises that he can only do this if he cracks power, so I expect him to crack it. Once that is done, forget zoning, forget sentiments, forget status quo, and behold a new order where merit will take precedence. I have watched his body language and his words and I can see where he is going. He will be very difficult to stop. His greatest asset is the incompetence of those who came before him. His greatest liability will be his next four years.

On the House of Representatives N10billion loan scam revelation the Prince stated.

I think the investigation should be allowed to get to the bottom of the matter, you can't sweep everything under the carpet. I have always argue that EFCC sometimes leave a lot to be desired but whether there are political undertones or not it is important that they get to the bottom of this and establish the rights and the wrongs. What would not be acceptable is that if we don't get a conclusion and we just allow something the matter to continue to hang unresolved or silenced. This outcome is not good. It is important that we reach conclusion and I am looking forward to the conclusion of this particular investigation.

To the Prince our lawmakers' pursuit of self-interest against collective interest of the nation is absurd.

It is. I don't think anybody will deny that our lawmakers have not come out really good over the past few years and people genuinely believe that the National Assembly have not pursued the interests of the country. But I think those are general statements and I want to avoid anything general especially now that we have a new National Assembly coming in with the likes of Tinubu and co. These people will represent people. What the House of Representatives have done now demonstrates that merit can stand above party politics.

There is now doubt that the National Assembly did a few good things with the recent passing of FOI and Health Bills and a couple of others have not hurt their image. Clearly the new assembly still have a lot of recovery to do and I think they have an opportunity to start that recovery now and we look forward to it. I am looking forward to how they progress on the PIB Bill, constitutional amendments, creation of states, reviewed revenue sharing formula, etc and if they do that we may begin to say self-interest is no longer there and national interest is where it should be.

On the truce between former governor of Rivers State Peter Odili and Governor Rotimi Amaechi the Prince takes a stand.

A lot of things have been said in the past. I want to give Odili the benefit of the doubt. The kind of administration he ran was the kind of administration many of his colleagues ran. It was the kind of country we were in. I am not trying to defend him, thankfully Nigeria has transformed, Rivers State is now at a different level. The support Odili gave Amaechi recently is welcome, I am glad it came after the election so that nobody can claim to be the source of Amaechi's victory. Amaechi's victory came from God and therefore his responsibility and accountability will also go to God. I think that is timely and I am grateful for that. Rivers state has peace and all who resist it will fail. Others should take a cue. We don't have any godfathers in Rivers State. The people are our godfather while we continue to take our guidance from God the Father.

The Prince is not satisfied with post amnesty programme in the Niger Delta region.

No. I am tired of talking about this. Refer to the Niger Delta Technical Committee report. We need to move beyond rewarding the youths that carried arms to also encouraging the ones that did not. What we achieved was a reduction in arms not a removal of arms. Recent clashes show they still exist. We are only delaying the inevitable. Only a multi-faceted approach will address it. The Niger Delta Ministry has no business being in Abuja. When this is addressed, you will start to see the beginnings of a holistic solution.

The Prince advises INEC on 2015
They should and they will. Those of us who celebrated Jega were not disappointed. In 2015 I am sure we will not be disappointed either. I predicted that the elections in 2011 would be freer and fairer but not good enough. That is what happened. Iwu and the disgrace he represented lasted far too long. Jega had too little time but at least he was honest and gave Nigerians a status report as he progressed. 2015 should be given similar treatment, the relevant priority and critical attention because lapses will not be tolerated. The eyes of the world are on Nigeria. Recently on a tour of institutions in Ghana with some young Nigerians I am mentoring, we visited their equivalent of INEC where one of the officials told us off camera that Nigerians know their medicine but refuse to take it.

There is nothing like a free and fair election. It is food to the soul and even the looser can afford a smile. I just witnessed Silverbird's final screening for the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria competition coming up on the 25th where I was a judge. The process that produced the final list was so smooth that we all felt proud that we were part of something clean. That is the kind of outcome we expect in 2015. We cannot afford to play with people's lives.

The Prince suggest ways out of religious and ethnic problems in Nigeria

So many reports on these subjects have been prepared without action. As a victim of this policy of setting up committees you don't listen to, I am aware that many true and real solutions exist if only leaders will listen. But if you want my undiluted opinion, I will say that by addressing employment issues and social issues we can reduce the number of idle minds politicians take advantage of for religious and ethnic violence. In Rivers state we encourage social integration. I hope we all start to become more accepting of each other. I think we may soon see a Commissioner in our state who is not from our state. That is progress. We cannot stop there. We must also start to prosecute culprits to act as a deterrent no matter how highly they are placed. The recent politics has divided Nigeria more than ever before. It is Mr President who should take the lead in promoting harmony and reconciliation. Nobody is too big or too small. They are all important. He is the President of the good the bad and the ugly. Recent developments do not leave me with that impression. I hope I am wrong. Even bad people have good within them and vice versa. Having said that I must appeal to all those who believe that crawling back into an ethnic shell provides a cover for tomorrow to have a rethink. If we all do that, where is the future for Nigeria? We need a Nigerian agenda, not a Northern agenda or a South West agenda or Ijaw agenda. There is no place for this in mainstream politics.

On FOI Bill recently signed into law by Mr. President, the Prince stated.

Progress. Any law that promotes transparency is a good thing. Now we have to use it. Many laws exist that are not tested. This should not be one of them. My two major concerns are will it trickle down to the states and by extension the local governments where the people actually reside and secondly what is the implication of the Official Secrets Act? Without seeing the detail it will be hard to judge but in summary and at first glance, it represents progress.