Tonye Princewill is a former governorship aspirant of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State. He was also the 2015 Labour Party and 2007 Action Congress nominee for the governorship in the state. In this interview, he defended the policies of President Muhammadu Buhari, saying Nigerians will reap the benefits soon. Excerpts:
As chieftain of the APC, are you not worried that some elite and even the poor are not happy with some policies of the Buhari administration such as closing the border and increased taxes?
I wouldn’t use the word worried. What I would say is that I am aware that some elite and yes even the poor are worried about some of the policies of this administration. While it is not possible or wise to try to please every single citizen, I am convinced that President Buhari means well, especially for the poor in our society. He has numerous policies to show for it. A new minimum wage, Tradermoni, anchor borrowing, school feeding, state bailouts, non-oil sector investments, skills development.
Successive governments did not do what they should have. Those previous governments chose the easier road. The hard road that consists of tough choices requires leadership because it is not populist or short term in thinking. That is what Buhari provides. The analogy I use is major repairs on roads. They cause disruption but are a necessary intervention. Closure of borders, clamping down on corruption, investing in infrastructure, devaluing of the naira all comes at a price to poor people, in the short term. But in the medium and long term, they will be better for it.
My support for Buhari is hinged on the fact that he is one of the greatest victims of the same status quo that has tormented me and my people. The status quo covers multiple ethnicities, different religions and they cut across different backgrounds. I, like many, am not fooled into defining the status quo that has put us where we are by religion, class or ethnicity. The one person best placed to disrupt the status quo is Buhari. So, as we have demonstrated in the last election and now, we will give him the benefit of the doubt.
There is too much agitation from the South East, including the call for the president to settle pension and other entitlements of Biafran soldiers; the power shift debacle among others. What is your take?
I’d be surprised if there is an agitation for any entitlements for Biafran soldiers because they have been paid by this administration where others did not. The agitation for the Presidency doesn’t surprise me. It is long overdue and can be explained. The role the South-East played though has been very much like many of our zones, only worse. A failure to come together to strategize beyond today, no zone alone can achieve much without working with the others. My experience in politics is limited, but having worked at a high level nationally very early, it seems self-evident to me that we the Southerners have a lot to learn from our Northern colleagues in the art of political calculation. The South-South leaders have not done too well for themselves in recent years, but the South-East surprisingly managed to do even worse. If they truly want to produce a president in 2023, they have a lot of work to do and agitation is not a bad place to start.
There was shock when the Supreme Court dismissed the petition of Atiku Abubakar and PDP. Did you anticipate that the whole case will be completed in one day?
No not really, I was expecting a future date to be reserved for judgement. But in the end, they [the Judges] threw out the entire case for lack of merit and we have since heard the details. The other side had not met the minimum threshold to validate the prayers sought. Life goes on.
There were many promises by the APC-led government, including reducing poverty, revitalization of the rail system among others. The opposition seems to have carried the day by labeling the government as ineffectual. What is your take?
No, to me they are not. The opposition may have been loud going into the elections, but their voice has since reduced in volume and after the recent Kogi and Bayelsa elections, it’s now barely a whisper. I prefer to listen to the concerns of ordinary Nigerians and I am sure this administration does too. They have a lot of work to do and my satisfaction is they are doing it.
Speaking of elections, Bayelsa has now become an APC state. Before the elections, there were spates of defections from all sides. People complain that changing political parties is now customary with politicians and reflects their lack of ideology. What are your thoughts?
People who describe politicians who change party as lacking in ideology are with all due respect simply EMRD-educable mentally retarded; Politically that is. Do political parties in Nigeria have ideology? When a Christian moves from one denomination to another, he or she still serves God; yet a politician can’t move from a party and still serve his or her people? I used to think our problem was simply leadership. Maybe before now but now, I’m sure our problem is how we as a people think.