Princewill: 2023 Presidential Poll is Too Close to Call Between Tinubu, Obi and Atiku


Deji Elumoye dialogues with former chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, Prince Tonye Princewill, who says the 2023 presidential poll is a straight battle between All Progressives Congress’ flag bearer, Bola Tinubu; his Peoples Democratic Party’s counterpart, Atiku Abubakar and Labour Party’s Peter Obi

The political campaigns have officially commenced. What is your message to Nigerians?

Nigeria is a big ship that is slowly going astray. It’s drifting. It is my opinion that 2023 is going to be the last opportunity to redefine a new future. It will take a lot of very smart people ready to do a lot of very hard work for us to see a Nigeria that we can be proud of in our lifetime. What we need is a team of good people, led by a man of strong conviction, who sees Nigeria as one entity, but is loyal to no one particular section. I see a lot of that in the top three men who are running for President. They are all in support of restructuring, each of them have taken on special interests and won and they are all fighters. Give them credit. No need for abuse. What I have not yet seen is the team behind each of them. Hopefully, the campaigns will reveal all these. We will need the same test to apply to all the states and the other constituencies. Our focus should be the candidates and not the parties. Our focus should be on what they have done before and not strictly on what they say in campaigns, even though what they say does matter.

Having left the APC, have you decided where to pitch tent?

No. I have not. And I’m not in a rush to do so either. Leaving APC very fast was the first priority and I’m especially glad that I did so. My focus now is on candidates and not on the parties. Fighting for our future is not a game. Where I come from, it’s often life and death. I like fighting, but I’m tired of fighting with people who are not interested in the things that matter to me. People, public relations, media, youth unemployment, rural women and  girls empowerment, creative industry, job creation, skills development, SME access to credit and finally tackling insecurity. I’m tired of fighting with people who do not have a common ideology that provides a clear basis for policy positions on the key issues like these. Why then are we gathered, if not to make a difference in the lives of others? What is the point? Since birds of the same feather flock together or as Hon Patrick Obahiagbon would put it “avian species of identical plumage, congregate.” I refuse to congregate with species that do not have my plumage. Maybe I will wait for the era of independent candidates or a party that defines an ideology and defends it. A party that is truly bigger than its candidates. 

APC appears to have hit the rock in Rivers State. Does the party stand a chance in the State in 2023?

I’m not aware of all the details, but I’m aware there have been a lot of defections in many directions. In the APC, some key men have left yes and that is true, but if APC in Rivers is serious, they can still win the election. They have a good candidate and he has a lot of support still. If they do what is required, they can win the state easily. Let us hope they do the needful. Their supporters definitely deserve it. I may have left APC, but I will still support Tonye Cole. I have no reason not to.

Peter Obi’s movement appears to have changed the voting demographics ahead of 2023 elections. What are your predictions?

It’s too early to make predictions, so let us be careful. Having said that, let me qualify what I see. If we took the election picture as it is now, I see the likelihood of a run off, yes. As things stand. But this is too early and a lot will, not can, happen in five months. For obvious reasons, and I have made myself clear, I don’t want to see a Muslim/Muslim ticket in the villa, but if we are not careful, the potential in a Peter Obi or an Atiku, that is not fully utilized, will lead us to a Tinubu as President. Why do I say that? PDP strongholds in the South-south and the South-east and Middle-belt which are ordinarily Atiku bases, will now be split between Atiku and Peter Obi. One is taking the votes of the other. That means, underestimate Tinubu at your peril. We found this out the hard way. Underestimate Atiku at your peril. Wike found this out the hard way. And underestimate Peter Obi and his youth at your peril and you may find out the hard way too. None of these men rely on their fellow men.

Your political ally, Rotimi Amaechi, has been silent since he lost out during the presidential primaries. There are rumours that he may not support Bola  Tinubu. What is your take on this?

Nothing of the sort. I have been away as you know, so I don’t have the latest, but he was not happy with me when I left the APC. I told him  I can be calm and mellow on many things, but not on the Muslim-Muslim ticket. Before the primary, he had said he would accept the outcome of a free and fair process, so like all the good members of his team, we all did. But I reminded him when he called about my resignation, that ‘me oh, I didn’t agree to a Muslim-Muslim ticket.’ Just like I would not accept a Christian/Christian ticket either. Not at this time in our country’s evolution, and not with current sensitivities.

As for noise, Amaechi does not need to make noise. I recall in 2011, there was talk that he would not support Jonathan because of his silence. In the end, Jonathan played the politics and Amaechi played his part. We all know who became President in the end. Asiwaju will play his politics.

INEC keeps advising parties to avoid incendiary remarks in the course of party campaigns, but lacks the capacity to wield the big stick. Do you think words of caution or appeals would be enough to make political parties sit up?

No. I do not. But words matter. Let INEC do their part, let the parties do their part, let the candidates do theirs also and same as well for the peace committee. In the end, my advice is for the international community that has to do their part also. That is what will break the camel’s back. “What is this part, I hear you ask?” It is the part where they ban politicians who have engaged in any form of party political violence from overseas travel to the EU, to the US and to all other partner countries. This alone will put  politicians on a  pause. Because politicians love to travel. Try it and see. If they can engage in violence and can fly around the world like it doesn’t matter, then nothing will stop them. The average politician doesn’t fear the Nigerian justice system, but watch them fall in line when they are abroad. Sometimes taking away the carrot is a big enough stick.

Campaigns have started, what is your take on the peace accord  recently signed by only six governorship candidates in Rivers State where PDP candidate was absent. Recall that a similar situation played out before the 2019 poll, when Wike did not turn up for a peace accord signed by parties along Odili Road. Your reaction please.

Well, I’ve just returned and I don’t have the full facts, but you and I know these peace accords are a symbolic gesture. We’ve done this several times and every time we’ve still gone ahead to face a violent election. Was there any consequence after that? No. Soldiers were killed, police, not to talk less of several civilians. So am I surprised if some don’t take it seriously, especially the PDP? The answer is No. Politicians do not respect law enforcement or the judicial system. What they respect is winners. This win at all costs mentality is what people respect. Win and maybe even the security agencies and the judiciary will respect you.

There has been this recurrent spate of kidnappings and insecurity on the EmohuaKalabari route. As a Rivers son particularly from the Kalabari area, What do you make of it… what do you think should be done?

Just a few things. Create jobs and install military checkpoints that are covered by mobile patrols. Before you do this, carry out a clean sweep of the area with the help of credible local intelligence. The local government Chairmen of the three Kalabari LGAs and Emohua should be involved.

Gale of defections have continued to hit your former party with a few key members of the party moving to PDP and other political parties. Why is it so and what is the solution to it?

I can’t say for sure why it is so, I am not a big fan of just identifying the problem. I am more interested in solutions, which is why you asked a good question. It’s not my party any more, but those who remain, have a responsibility to find out what the solutions are, so as to apply them. One thing I learnt from Tinubu and Atiku is after every setback, they do a post mortem to analyze how to fix what went wrong. The objective is not to make the same mistake twice. Rivers APC should avoid abusing the defectors, focus on the why and look within. Then create the environment for not only people to stay, but others to come to them.

The PDP candidate, SimFubara, is an Ibani son from the Riverine dichotomy. Going by the 2014 electoral statistics, all the votes from the riverine area cannot match up with that of Obio/Akpo alone which is regarded as the stronghold of the PDP. What in your opinion is the string APC or any other party would pull to upset the PDP next year?

What I can say though, is that everybody can be beaten, nobody is invincible. Even Goliath. What it takes is courage, conviction, planning, timing and execution. If APC in Rivers does that which it is supposed to do, they will win. But if they don’t, they will lose. Going by the premise of your question though, the candidate in Rivers might as well be always coming from ObioAkpor. The high numbers are not real and the number of riverine people living there is not captured. Whoever gets 400,000 votes in Rivers state will win it.

There is an allegation that APC in alliance with INEC have commenced the process of rigging the 2023 elections by: transfer of the manufacturer of the BVAS machine from Abuja to Enugu, sudden award of N48 billion  surveillance contract to Tompolo, a man that was initially declared wanted by the Federal Government and finally the allegation by CUPP of infusion of a fake voters register into INEC portal.

I have heard these allegations and also the rumours. When I was a member of the APC, I’m aware that the party leadership went to see President MuhammaduBuhari to discuss strategy and he was crystal clear that it would be a free and fair election and so he would not interfere with the process. INEC is responsible for its conduct and the world, Nigerians and the youth will be watching. The election is likely to be tight, so any missteps will be the origins of a potential crisis. And INEC will be held responsible. I believe they know that. A word is enough for the wise.

Nigeria is 62 now, what are your assessments, do you think she is sitting on the  keg of gunpower and way forward?

I’d rather not use language that is incendiary. Nigeria as I see it, is a big ship that is slowly going astray. It’s drifting. And it is my opinion that February, 2023 is really going to be the last opportunity to redefine a new future for ourselves. It will take a lot of very smart people who are ready to do a lot of very hard work, for us to see a Nigeria that we can be proud of in our lifetimes. If we get it right, we will see the signs before our next Oct 1st.

There is a trend of political parties selecting anointed candidates as against the choice of party members. How has this affected your interest in politics, knowing that you just resigned from the APC after failing to secure the party ticket?

Point of correction: I did not resign from the APC after either failing to secure the governorship ticket nor after failing to secure the presidential ticket. On both occasions, I issued statements of support to the party’s candidates, in spite of my obvious dissatisfaction with the outcomes. One must learn to live and let’s live. It must not always be you or your candidate. As for the anointing of selected candidates, it was done by a transparent process, that involved everyone. The fact that some  were involved in that process are now regretting it, is a matter for them. I resigned purely because of the Muslim – Muslim ticket. Under this electoral act as amended, the popularity of party candidates can not be overlooked. They have five months to appeal to their constituents. Let us pray the process is peaceful and the outcome is popular.

Who will you be supporting for Rivers State Governor and why? What qualities does the candidate have?

I will be supporting Tonye Cole. I said I would in the beginning and nothing has led me to go against my word since. Not even my resignation from the APC. He is a breath of fresh air and a very marked change from the status quo. His international reach and business experience will help us create jobs, create the atmosphere for businesses to thrive and move our focus from simply using youth to win elections to building our youth up to win for themselves and their families. He is a man of peace and is happy to work with all sides, different factions and all Rivers people, indigenes and non indigenes alike.

Yes, he is new to politics and he is not spending cash like he should, but he will learn and is ready to do so. Rome was not built in a day. So let us bear with him so that he can bear with us. Because we will need people like him, to bear with our children.

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