‘I’ am not Amaechi’s financier’
Rivers State gubernatorial candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC), Prince Tonye Cole, in this interview with select journalists in Lagos, said the court would restore his place on the ballot for the March 2 poll, stressing that his mission in politics is to minister peace in the state. Assistant Politics Editor, LEO SOBECHI reports
I will unite APC factions in Rivers, says Cole
Those who know you wonder why you veered out of business into politics?
Politics and business intertwine a lot. One of the things that was clear to me in life and business is reaching out to make a difference in people’s lives. Philanthropy does that but as a businessman and a philanthropist, you can only go this far. Politics gives you the ability to touch millions of lives. If you do it well, you can make an impact that goes beyond generations. If you do it badly, you will have a negative impact that goes beyond generations. I think at this point in my life, I want to hit a lot more people positively than I can do within the business field.
How did you feel when Governor Nyesom Wike revoked your company’s stake in Metropolitan?
It is something that is a risk to business people. First of all, I have left Sahara Oil completely. I resigned and I am not part of Sahara anymore. I no longer hold equity there. I left completely so I can focus on my governorship project. I can’t be at two places at the same time so my focus is on this one. The issue for me is that this is where I am. I cannot have one leg here and the other leg there. Once I have decided that I want to do something, I do it completely.
Now, having left Sahara, the issue that happened with the state government going after Sahara is a business decision. My erstwhile business partners will handle it. Why is that the case? We are a company that had survived one administration after another for 23 years. If you survived 23 years in a country that has had one administration after another, you will know how to handle government and you will always be at risk. There was a time when I was standing by Rotimi Amaechi and the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan basically came after us. They took out all our contracts and all that. I personally had to leave the country and went to study in Harvard so that my business will not be threatened at that point in time. That particular point was when I decided to move away. I resigned and went to Harvard. So, once you take a stand for something, somebody will always come after you. I don’t think it’s ever going to end, as long as we have the democratic framework that we have.
At what point did you join APC?
I have been a member of APC right from the formation of the party. This was done at the back of the scene. As you know, I was very close with the administration of Hon. Rotimi Amaechi and all the time that he was trying to fight for his survival within PDP, I stood by him. In the move from the PDP to nPDP and then APC, I was there. So, I have been with APC right from the beginning.
Some people blame you for the crisis in the party and allege that you are Rotimi Amaechi’s sole financier. How true are those claims?
I didn’t finance Amaechi. I will say that everybody who looks at the sequence of events in Rivers APC knows that it is not true. Right from the beginning, I have said that I’m there as a peacemaker. There were already factions within APC and those different factions were already creating frictions. So, it was necessary that we should have a third party who is not factionalised that can bring the people together. That was my aim. My aim in coming into APC at this point in time is to bring all the different factions together and say, ‘Let us work together for a greater good’. With that I have been consistent. I have not changed from that message and I will continue to say that message all the way through.
By seeking elective office, won’t people deem your original intention suspicious?
I don’t think so. Time will always tell. At the end of the day, people don’t know you from the very first day but overtime; they will get to know who you are. I have had a history all the way, even in the church and where I worked. I have an uncanny ability to take a look at what the root of a problem is and not be distracted by the noise. I go straight to the root of the problem and solve it. But sometimes, it takes trust; you need to gain the trust of the people to be able to achieve what you set out to do. So, I am not worried about that.
Some reports alleged that you expressed disappointment in Amaechi over the governorship saga. Is that true?
I am not sure of what you are alluding to but some news came out a few days ago saying something about being disappointed in Amaechi. That is pure fake news.
I was actually on a platform, where it was created and I saw it the first time it popped up. It was fabricated totally from beginning to the end. That wasn’t my message. So, if that is what you are alluding to, it is pure fake news.
Based on what has played out, are you on talking with other factions in Rivers?
Yes, we have and I will continue doing that. I have spoken to everybody. From Dumo Lulu Briggs to Dakuku Peterside to Magnus Abe and Rotimi Amaechi. I will continue doing so. My aim at the end of the day is to unite and not to divide. Unity takes trust and time but it is something that we are going to continue working on until it’s achieved. Not everybody will be won. You cannot win everybody, but those you can win, it’s important that you do.
Faced with these multifarious crises, does APC have chances in the elections?
I think our chances are still strong. What happened when you have crisis is that there is always a point where reality has to come in. Everybody will stand their position until the point when you look at it as ‘black and white’. The reality came when (Justice) Omotosho’s judgment came, saying as far as it was concerned, no APC candidate would be fielded in Rivers. I think at that point, anybody who wasn’t willing to listen before, as to where the crisis was going to end if they continue in that position, saw the writing on the wall, that this is the time to sit down and unite. I have maintained one thing from day one, and studied the situation to ensure that one has always stayed within the ambit of the law.
There is only one APC hierarchy, only one. It doesn’t matter how you want to do it. That came through the congress that was standing on Appeal Court, High Court of Abuja order. A primary was held based on that congress. INEC recognised that congress, the APC hierarchy in Abuja recognized that congress. That congress produced me as the governorship candidate and other candidates. At the end of the day, when it comes to reconciliation, for APC to have a candidate, which is what we are working on to be represented on the ballot, there is only one that they are going to select and it will be the same one that they removed the names when the judgment came that they will put back. So, when you think about it like that, you know that everybody has to rally around that one APC. So, my belief is that I will be the candidate when it comes to the election with other candidates that came out of that primary. Every other thing is just flexing.
If elected governor what would consider essential longing hanging fruits in the state?
One, there is this perception of violence about Rivers State. Some people see it as a place where you can just come out of your house and get shot. I want to restore confidence and build peace. Secondly, I want to ensure that businesses return to the state.