Prince Tonye J.T Princewill is a prominent businessman, philanthropist, and politician. In an interview with City People, he speaks about life, his popular movie -76, why he sponsors youths to Dubai, ideologies, passion for youths, effecting change, and bringing development. Excerpts:
What informs your special interventions like the Youth Programs in Dubai & Ghana?
Let’s look at Ghana and then Dubai. I took over 30 youths to Ghana and then picked the best and sponsored them to Dubai. For Ghana, I had visited Accra and noticed its cleanliness. I met a lot of people there and asked them if I could bring some Nigerians there to understudy their waste management system and local government administration and they agreed. Remember I earlier said we all need to grow together. Others can then continue the legacy. I also noticed the smooth transfer of power between the opposition and the incumbent. I wanted to share the experience with others to pass on such good practices. The end goal was to expose them to best practices. Seeing is believing. I then took the best 10 from the 30 to Dubai where they met all the key people. They met the masters who exposed them to the knowledge of how the UAE was developed. For me, Nigeria, Rivers state, Africa, those who develop it are not spirits; there is nothing mystical about visible development. There are lazy and smart people everywhere. The problem is how to engage more smart people and give them more roles and responsibilities. My hope in the program was that I gave the group the opportunity. I do many other interventions here and there with a desire to give back and help build a better society. I have many projects I use to help. But I also go farther into mentoring, building, and supporting them.
As an entrepreneur, how do you describe the Nigerian environment in terms of enabling businesses to thrive?
I will define Nigeria as a high-risk high-reward environment. It’s not for the faint-hearted. You have to be committed and driven. You have to have a level of resilience to survive. If you can, the reward is high. Though, the risks and rewards are also reducing. Covid19 and other factors are partly responsible. I’m impressed with the federal government’s efforts on improving the business environment. All those little things help. I am blessed with good partners. I am in UK and business still ongoing in Nigeria. There is a general level of negativity which makes the positive things about Nigeria not generally well appreciated. It’s unfortunate but we would also not take away the criticism of the government and I agree there are areas that can be better.
What informs your decision to go into movie production?
For strange reasons, the same reasons I went into politics were the same for movie productions. It is to improve the image of Nigeria. When you are introduced as a politician, people look and say; ah, politician nawa o! The Image of a politician is negative. They don’t look at your background or individual nature. I noticed that we have placed a badge on politicians and I thought to myself that I want to see an improvement. I have seen how it can be; I have seen how it is and I want to now influence how it can be. I’m going to get involved in politics. So I got involved in politics. The same thing for the movie industry, I saw our films, I saw our movies, I saw our stories and I said Nigeria and Nollywood are synonymous. So what they see of Nollywood is what they see of Nigeria and I felt that our Nollywood was doing a very good job of projecting Nigeria. That was another opportunity to show the positive side of Nigeria. So if as a politician you can improve Nigeria and as a movie producer you can improve the image of Nigeria, it is all about those that travel the world that are introduced as Nigerians. it is our way of giving something back so that the image of Nigeria is portrayed and put forward in a positive light. Now I’m sitting here yesterday, Netflix is negotiating with me on a movie we did almost over 4 years ago. They want the movie badly because they believe that the movie sells a very positive image of Nigeria. So I’m proud that is why I went into movie production for a positive image of Nigeria. We have good stories to tell and Nigerians are good people, so, what we should be looking for is not witchcraft and disappearing and spirit and all those things all the time on TV. We should also see the positive image and positive side of Nigeria. That’s why I like to work with a true story based on real events in my movies.
What are you looking at in terms of raising the bar among practitioners?
You said something at the beginning that you like your work to do the talking when you were talking about your timekeeping. If I put out my work, 76 as a movie, it’s a message. It is a sign of what is possible. 76 sent a message. It won the best film in Africa, best costume in Africa, Best Director, best actress, different best left, right and centre. It’s sending a message. Now when you set that standard, other movie practitioners also want to meet and if possible even beat that standard. You have shown what is possible. The other thing is that when you’re producing your own movies you are also building capacity as just as I took those young men and women to Dubai and took them to Ghana and I also developed other mentoring schemes, with my movie production, every department in the movie has young people understudying. So you have young people you attached to the best director, best actress, best cinematographer, best production designer, scriptwriter and so as the movie is being produced you are building characters. I smile today when people tell me that they go for an audition and when they tell the person that is interviewing them that they acted in 76 or they were part of 76, they don’t even ask them any more questions again they just hire them. People are saying it’s because of the role they played in 76; once written on their CV, it gets them additional roles. This is not just a national project; it’s a project that’s international and Pan-African. The name 76 and the movie 76 as far as the industry is concerned are now synonymous with excellence. As I’m speaking to you now, we are working on another project which would even be better than 76 by God’s grace.
How best do you think the issue of Niger-Delta can be resolved for the betterment of the people at the grassroots in the region?
The answer is a very short one but it’s also very deep. The issue of the Niger-Delta is not totally different from most of the issues of Nigeria. Be it restructuring, security, or tribalism. We lack internal democracy. If three people are seated and agreed on one person to represent all in a discussion, politicians would say “no, he’s not the one to talk. Don’t worry we would send somebody to you to do the talking even if he is not a professional.” You don’t put square pegs in round holes. So when I say internal democracy, I’m asking the question “do you have leaders that care about the people?” Because such leaders would not do the things that they are saying and the people would insist on who represents them. But when you have an absence of internal democracy, you don’t know who the people want. And people in Abuja cannot decide from Abuja who should represent the people. That interference and imposition are constant things in the Niger-Delta and many places. Go and look at the leadership in the Niger-Delta and ask yourself where did they come from? How were they chosen? Did Wike emerge from the people? Did Akpabio emerge from the people? Look at the various leaders and ask yourself how did they come about? In some cases, they would be popular but not in all cases. But in fact, in many cases, they are not. So when they go in there are they going to serve the people? Are the people their constituency? The answer is no.