By Egufe Yafugborhi
Business mogul and 2019 Rivers State governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Tonye Cole, in this interview, says he hopes to arrest the culture of violence, endemic poverty and hopelessness in the state if elected as governor. Cole also explains how the Minister of Transportation and a former governor of the state, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, lured him into the race.
On the controversy over alleged his imposition by Amaechi as governorship candidate!
As far as I am concerned, there is no controversy. Nobody can impose anybody. What you have is that you had a primary election. You had people that went for that primary. You had people who won and those who lost. And everybody, at the end of the day, had legitimate right to agree or to object. As humans, you cannot impose anybody. The human spirit rejects imposition. Any position taken, you have those for it and those against. And that is what I think we are seeing. And that’s life, you can’t please everybody.
On Amaechi influencing him to run!
He (Amaechi) spoke to me a lot about it. He said to me there was need for a different type of politics in Rivers. That he and the people of Rivers were yearning for peace, yearning for wealth creation and distribution. They were yearning for a leader that can impact people at the grassroots and make them feel that the money that comes to the state, which is a lot, can actually impact their lives on daily basis. Rivers State is yearning at this moment for someone who they know is not going to steal their money. And that is why I took it.
On the possibility of business interests involved!
As far as I know, Rotimi Amaechi and I have never done any business together. I ran a business for 23 years. In that business I dealt with government at all levels, in Nigeria, Ghana, 23 African countries. I have dealt with ministers, governors, presidents. Now, how many of them would I have business relationships with? It is absolutely impossible. I have no business relationship with Amaechi because if we do that from the type of business that we run, that means we are already in trouble. We were part of a group called Partnering Against Corruption Initiative, essentially a World Economic Forum group working to ensure that business is separated from government. If people say they want to look into business relationships, feel free, go ahead and investigate.
On abandoning multi-million dollar businesses to face risk of politics!
Once you build institutions and build the business, you are comfortable knowing that the business can run on its own without any problem. We have built a very solid business. Once you’ve done that, you can move to the next thing. Business in itself has a limit as to how far you can help people. We employ about 3, 800 people. In politics, on the other hand, you are dealing with millions of people. You are going into a realm where you can touch and make a difference in the lives of millions of people on daily basis.
So the first thing in front of everybody was to resign from every single company, walk away from everything I have done because I know that it will survive. And people say the Constitution does not say you should do that but I said no, we need to be able to separate completely. I don’t want to look back. I have finished that aspect of my life, so it’s easy to move on. I go to sleep and sleep completely because I know that the business I have built can stand on its own.
On renewing unity in Rivers!
I am doing ward rounds now. Going into politics, one of the things I first noticed as I went in is that everybody is angry with everybody. Nobody wants to talk to anybody. You belong to this party or cling to this faction. I have never seen a place, a home, an institution, a state, a country that can ever progress in bitterness and anger. The cure to that is that, first, you bring everybody together. The first thing we have been telling the people is the assurance that we are creating a government that is not of bitterness. We can compete. If we lose we lose fairly, win we win fairly. Once we win it is not an exclusion of anybody, that as soon as I win, we can no longer see anybody.
On the Governor Wike challenge!
I am a match for Nyesom Wike because, at the table, he has things he has done, I have things I have done. I have discussions I am going to put before the people; he has things to put before the people. At the end of the day, everybody goes to the ballot box, and who makes the decision? The decision is going to be made by Rivers people. And that is the beauty of democracy.
On volatile Rivers politics being unfit for gentlemen!
I don’t agree with that notion. Until you come face to face with a mother that has lost a child in violence, until you came face with face with a woman who lost her husband and now a widow at 23, 24, until you come face to face with children who have no parents because political violence took them, until you come face to face with grandmothers who lost their children, grandchildren, in-laws all in one day because of political violence, what you see are people who are fed up with the cycle of violence. And they are now looking for an alternative that is totally different.
Then you see that politics in Nigeria has totally changed. I am preaching peace absolutely, because I have seen people come to me on wheelchairs, shot, paralyzed. A young boy was paralyzed at 15 because his father was an APC member that held a meeting. When you come across these people, you know you are sitting in a community among a people who are reminded that violence has not paid them.
On the chances of winning Rivers governorship with the backing of Amaechi under a divided APC!
I am not distracted at all. My focus, simply, is on majority of the people in Rivers who have suffered greatly from devastation, floods; suffered from elections violence; they have lost loved ones; they are suffering aggravated poverty. I have never seen poverty in Rivers as bad as I have seen it now. Unemployment in the state is one of the highest in the country today.
I see able, young men sitting down in the afternoon doing nothing; people sitting down and have turned to beggars because factories have folded up and left. The first step is to bring peace to the place. Without peace, Rivers cannot make progress. By reaching across the divides and letting everyone know that it is not politics of death, I am the reconciliation because I am a totally different type of politician.
On connecting with the Rivers people as a perceived unknown face!
The first thing I have started doing is embarking on ward rounds. I am stepping my feet into every single ward, looking at the people in the eye. I am going into social contract with the people, asking them the basic questions: What is your concern? What worries you? And what are the worries I hear? Number one, across board, there is violence. They are yearning for security and peace, and I am the reconciliation.