Guber Race: Fresh fissures as Rivers APC prefers Cole

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Tonye Cole

Fresh fissures have emerged within the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State over some party bigwigs endorsement of Tonye Cole as the party’s governorship candidate under the smokescreen of ‘consensus’.

The rumbles, with a subterranean rage within the party, stems from the fact that the imposition of Cole, who is perceived to be a reluctant politician, has brought down curtains on governorship ambition of Dr. Dakuku Peterside, Dumo Lulu Briggs, Bekinbo Dagogo Jack, Dr. Dawari George and possibly Senator Magnus Abe.

Though the announcement of Cole as the preferred candidate of the Minister of transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, who is the state APC leader, and the bigwigs, evoked much surprise, some party insiders had long known that Cole would be the one that would be deployed in the battle to wrest political power from Governor Nyesom Wike in 2019, based on his perceived ability to mobilise requisite financial resources.

Due to the intractable bitter splits in APC over who emerges the party flag bearer in the state, a pro-Cole group, the Rivers Unity House (RUH), whose key members had premonition that the pendulum would swing in his direction, had a few hours to Cole’s endorsement, intensified their advocacy for him.

The RUH convener, Kingsley Wenenda Wali, argued that the present division within APC, occasioned by the gubernatorial ambition of a few, and the clandestine push of the others for the same purpose, requires a neutral person like Cole.

His candidature, he said, is the elixir for Rivers State electorate that have desired real and effective governance away from the present rancorous knee-jerk governance deficit.

He said: “Tonye Cole packs a formidable credential, out of his personal endeavour, that he will not be perceived as a political lap dog. Tonye Cole possesses the political war chest to substantially fund his campaign, thereby depending less on public resources for the purpose.”

The oil mogul, who is an architect, was born in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. He attended Corona School, Victoria Island, and later, King’s College in Lagos before proceeding to King’s School in the United Kingdom. He had his tertiary education at the University of Lagos and Universidade de Brasilia in Brazil.

Cole is the co-founder, and until September 1, the Group Executive Director of Sahara Group Ltd., when he resigned to contest the 2019 governorship election in Rivers State.

Besides business and now politics, Cole had through his charities—Nehemiah Youth Empowerment Initiative and Africa 2.0, both non-governmental organisations, been inspiring youths.

He is also closely involved in such foundations as the Down Syndrome Foundation, Slum-2-School project and various orphanages.

With an impressive resume that portrays a man that has done well for himself, he is seen as one with zero track records in public administration or governance.

Some have also argued that Cole is not new to politics, owing to the fact that his father, Ambassador Patrick Dele Cole, was the first national deputy chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (South-South).

In a fresh sign that all is still not well within APC, some members have been seething with anger over the endorsement of Cole.

Some APC members, who are voicing their anger, see his abrupt ascendancy as a blatant example of establishment politics that might have serious repercussions.

Expectedly, this category has been unleashing a volley of sniping reaction over Amaechi’s endorsement of Cole. And though the minister has denied it, imposition of candidates has been an ingrained culture in Rivers politics, especially post 1999.

An APC governorship aspirant, Senator Magnus Abe, who had repeatedly warned against imposition of candidates, declared that while the party bigwigs had made their choice in Lagos, state party members will have to decide the fate of each aspirant at the primaries.

Another APC chieftain, Donald Glasgow, argued that ‎Cole is unelectable and his endorsement ahead of the party’s primaries was a rather harsh decision and a pill too bitter to swallow by Rivers people.

In his view, imposing Cole is not without inherent political risks for APC in the general election.

He said: “Even if you are going to rig and write results, you do so with a popular and acceptable candidate.

The APC has lost the governorship to Wike and the PDP with Tonye Cole as APC governorship candidate. Tonye Cole cannot fly APC flag and win the election.”

A political analyst, Robinson Sibe, observed that the penchant to impose candidates and then claim the nominees were the ‘consensus’ candidates, created intense rivalries and even animosity in the APC.

He said: “The 2014 ‘anointing’ weakened APC chances in 2015. Once the anointed foreclosed proper primaries in 2014, virtue left them.

The re-enactment of same neo-anointing in 2018 will produce the same result in 2019.

The primaries could have been tactically teleguided to produce desired outcome without the theatrical ‘anointing’ service held in Lagos.

Forget the fact that many of the big guys are not complaining publicly. They’re in pains privately, and won’t do much to defend the choice on D-Day.”

A Kalabari chief, Anabs Sara-Igbe, said Cole’s anointing was tantamount to usurpation of the rights of APC members to freely elect their candidates.

He contended that this seeming undemocratic abuse of power by a cabal would also produce angry party supporters, who may take out their anger on the party at the polls.

He said: “If one man can impose a candidate on the party with arrogance and thinks his word is final, then he can also win the election without the views, support and others’ contributions.

There is, therefore, no need to quarrel with him, other than to sit down and look at how his imposition can win the election.

I have repeatedly said securing the party ticket, as a candidate of a political party, is quite different from winning in a general election.”

He explained that APC, being an opposition party in the state, must present an acceptable candidate by majority of party members, and to a large extent, the state.

To this end, he, therefore, advised APC to allow free and fair direct primaries to choose the flag bearer, who will be able to defeat the incumbent.

Despite the misgiving by some that Cole is a reluctant bridegroom, his die-hard supporters said he is intelligent, amiable, dynamic, articulate, and might usher in a breath of fresh air in the form of delivery of an enlightened governance, a miracle that Rivers State earnestly yearns for.

Those supportive of his endorsement are of the view that being an entrepreneur, he would enable young business owners set up and create jobs and wealth.

Being an outsider of the 1999 league of political class in the state, political observers think if elected governor, Cole might help douse the tense political mood in the state, which has passed through all the phases of anger, despair and belligerence.

The convener, Riverine Leaders, Prince Tonye Princewill, who was at the caucus meeting when the decision was taken on Cole, claimed he was not imposed on those in attendance, including Dakuku, and Lulu-Briggs, among others.

He said: “Tonye Cole is my choice and I urge us all to support him.

Why? Because it’s either him or Wike. He has a track record of success, not failure. He puts his friends above profits, and is not materialistic.

He represents a total departure from the status quo. Let’s actually try something truly new.

We may get different results. It will take some getting used to, for all of us. For him, the party and the state.

“I’ve had my differences with him, as I also have with Amaechi.

But I’ve never had cause to doubt their ability to deliver and their concern for the less privileged.

In Tonye, we have a very quiet Kalabari son, who is no stranger to the political atmosphere, thanks to his colossus of a father.

In Tonye, we have a man that can speak the language of business and create jobs.

He is not an ethnic jingoist, so he will see the whole state as his constituency, and not just a part of it.”

Similarly, Wali insisted that Cole is a neutral person without previous political opponents.

He dismissed insinuation that Cole has no political structure and can’t cope with the murky politics of Rivers State.

He said: “The ballot papers don’t have the pictures and names of individuals, but the pictures/symbols and names of political parties. The people vote for parties.

Therefore, APC is the structure that a well-qualified citizen needs to run an action. Individuals are mere operators that will actualise the programmes of political parties.”

Ahead of the primaries, the rift in APC will become more apparent as days go by, between those who want direct and indirect primaries.

The pro-Amaechi faction has already adopted the indirect primary option to pave way for seamless and rancour-free emergence of Cole as the party’s standard-bearer.

Already, an Abuja High Court has issued a perpetual injunction restraining APC and its national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, from nullifying the contentious congresses in Rivers State.

Pro-Amaechi APC chairman, Ojukaye Flag-Amachree and his executive had approached the High Court in Suit No. FCT/HC/BW/CV/115/2018 to seek an injunction on APC, its national chairman, National Working Committee/NEC from tampering with the mandates of the elected officials/delegates elected at the state, ward, local government and state congresses in Rivers State on May 19, 20 and 21, 2018 respectively.

Justice Aliyu Musa declared that the power to propose electoral regulations for the purpose of electing members into APC offices at all levels is solely vested in the party’s NWC, which was validly exercised during the last congresses.

It would be recalled that a Rivers State High Court in Port Harcourt, had on May 30, 2018 nullified APC ward, local government and state congresses, held in the state.

Some disenchanted APC members have also filed a suit in court to challenge the conduct of the party’s ward congress in the state on May 5, 2018.

On this basis, the court had issued an interlocutory injunction restraining the party from using the outcome of the contentious
congress to organise the Local Government congress.

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