All weapons were trained on Magnus Abe and Dakuku Peterside to emerge from the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) as challenger to the incumbent governor of oil-rich Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, for the 2019 guber diadem. Instead, from the hills rolled the tanks of the international business magnet, Tonye Dele Cole, CEO of Sahara Energy. Now, the weapons have changed aim because a new and surprising but highly formidable target has come into view, a new opponent is in the ring.
It was late before it became true and official that the globe-trotter had emerged as the anointed flag-bearer of the Rivers State APC to face the giant from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 governorship election. The senator, Abe, from Ogoni, and the Opobo-born Peterside were the two gladiators closest to the flag in 2015 to face Wike. Then governor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, who had earlier led the state and its government to the APC from the PDP, had taken both favourites into his inner office in the Brick House and many waited outside like when a pope was to be elected in the Vatican. At the end of the waiting, the flag went to Peterside, while Abe was asked to go to the senate. Peterside was to lose to Wike and was compensated with the headship of a top federal maritime agency, NIMASA. Both men regarded it as a waiting room for the heart of the meat, the governor’s seat.
Now, 2019 came around the corner and the leader of the party, Amaechi, now minister of transportation and President Muhammadu’s trusted ally, ordered all itching fingers to cool down and wait till he would give the nod. This waiting led to Abe declaring unilaterally. This caused a break up in the relationship between him and his friend and leader, Amaechi. Soon, the push came to shove and all relationships were severed.
While this was happening, Peterside pledged more loyalty and seemed the favoured person and many persons began to draw very close to him. Even Abe began to openly accuse Amaechi of playing God and favouring Peterside. All that while, the NIMASA boss kept urging caution to his supporters, that nothing should be taken for granted as long as the leader had not opened his palm.
When Amaechi did, the bird that showed up was Tonye Cole, not Peterside, not Abe, not even Dumo Lulu-Briggs that was jostling for attention or Dawari George that was also visible. As soon as that happened, the state exploded in activity; the Kalabari APC kingpins applauded the choice, the others hailed, even Peterside agreed, Tonye Princewill concurred, but more anger came from Abe camp. The Wike and PDP group went home to prepare for battle, now that a big threat was on display. They were used to Abe and Peterside because they all were in the Peter Odili/Amaechi dynasty, but Cole, that was new and phenomenal.
Few weeks back, Amaechi gathered those regarded as contenders and stakeholders in a place in Lagos and tabled his choice, Cole. After some debate, it was gathered, all agreed.
Amaechi said he knew not everybody would like it but he gave his reasons, especially the need to choose someone with less political injury or someone not known to lead a faction.
Wike reacted by calling it a business partnership, referring to the sale of Rivers power sector to Sahara Energy. He said he would lead the people to resist such partnership.
Senator Abe said the choice was to govern Lagos and that the ordinary people would sit in Port Harcourt and choose the flagbearer.
Two of the prominent persons seeking the position in the APC, Peterside and Prince Tonye Princewill have spoken, giving insight how the decision was reached and their support for the eventual choice.
How Amaechi unveiled the card:
Tonye Cole is an oil billionaire and co-founder of Sahara Energy. He is known to have some relationship with Amaechi prominent of which is the sale of Rivers State power plants to Sahara Energy, a deal that Wike has not only probed but has continued to hammer on as source of wrongdoing. Wike says the money from the sale was diverted probably to fund Buhari’s election in 2015, but Amaechi had denied any wrongdoing.
Amaechi had told the stakeholders about his decision thus: “We are aware that not all would find it easy to accept the decision but I am also conscious that the decision was made for the best interests of the party and the group. We are aware that interests are divergent and numerous; and that they can only coalesce if we get someone neutral; someone who is able to get every interest to converge as one. What is critical is victory.
“Loyalty is not only when it favours you but when you are tempted and stretched to your limits. Ventilate we must, but to move ahead we also must as the battles ahead are numerous and tedious. You all urged me on to proceed to make a decision and swore to stand by that decision. The time has therefore come to so do. Good morning my fellow compatriots and wish that we stand with each other to bring down this evil government. God bless all of us.”
Many agreed, but some felt aggrieved. Briggs, who was said to have helped to sustain the Rivers APC financially in the past felt bad. He went ahead to pick a form to show he did not believe in that move. He did not go far.
Tonye Princewill throw huge weight behind Cole
Princewill, a Kalabari prince and long term fighter for a Kalabari governor, came up quickly to show solidarity and concede to both Amaechi and Cole. He said: “Being one of the few privileged to be in the room when the decision was taken, one would have expected me to speak a little sooner. After all, I have been known to shoot from the hip, speak my mind plus my thoughts on the decision were pretty clear, right from the moment it was made. I confess that I had played out a series of scenarios in my head before hand and to each one, an appropriate set of responses was measured out and kept waiting. But I thought it wise to let the likely political gladiators for Governor have their say first, before doing my own justice to the moment. That time has come.
“I want to start by thanking God for his grace and blessings to let me see this day. Having decided to sit this 2019 contest out, I had repeatedly told my supporters and my associates, that my role in this process was to be a facilitator, to help the leader and his leaders achieve victory in 2019. I joined the APC to help ease Wike out of government house, not to run for the position of Governor. The fact that I saw Amaechi as head and shoulders above Wike and saw the Buhari/Osinbajo collabo as better than our recent past, did not hurt either. APC members were warm and welcoming to me and it felt real good coming home. I never hid my preference for a Riverine Governor, preferably of Kalabari origin, but in the end I said, power must rotate. By negotiation.
“Now in just under two years of being in APC, our work in Rivers state is no longer business as usual, a more formidable team has been assembled and with new direction, our fortunes have been given sound assurance. So the question that was before Amaechi, before us, was “Who would bell the wicked cat?” If it was an easy decision it would have been made earlier. I was a witness to at least two caucus meetings chaired by HE Amaechi on the issue and several one on one meetings that spanned many months. Chief Dumo Lulu Briggs and Dr. Dakuku Peterside had put up a good case for their consideration, Engr. Bekinbo Dagogo Jack had also made himself available and to be honest, either of them could have done us proud if given the chance. But alas they weren’t. Amaechi’s preference, our preference rested on the shoulders of Tonye Cole.
“I say our preference because, it was not imposed on us. We all agreed. “Amaechi leads, We follow”. Not only when it suits us. It was not dependent on how he leads, neither was it dependent on where he leads. This was hard for me to swallow because I am used to being my own boss, being The Candidate, but I opted to be a team player by choice. So my word to my team is my bond. Good leaders must also be good followers. Independence is growth, but interdependence, when independent people join hands, is maturity. Some people will encourage rebellion, some will prod us into exercising our independent streak. Many for valid reasons, some to further deplete our resources. What is a cause for some of us, is a job for others. I hope we will resist that temptation.
“So 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, he’s not materialistic and he represents a total departure from the status quo or business as usual. Let’s actually try something truly new. We may get different results. It will take some getting used to. For all of us, both for him, the party and for the state, I’ve had my differences with him, as I have too with Amaechi, but I’ve never had cause to doubt their ability to deliver and their concern for the fate of those who are less privileged. In Tonye, we have a very quiet Kalabari son, not a stranger to the atmosphere of politics (thanks to his colossus of a father). In Tonye we have a man who can speak the language of business and a man who knows how to create jobs. He is not an ethnic jingoist, so he will see the whole state as his constituency, not just a part.
“We as Kalabaris will come out en masse to support him. Make no mistake about it. Let me use this opportunity to thank our Leader, the Hon Minister for giving Tonye Cole this opportunity to govern this great state. You stood by us when you did not have to. We will never forget. My message will not be complete without thanking the party. You have been open to change while standing by the Leader. I’d also like to thank the elders. Your wisdom got us here. Let me also thank Hon. Byke Wanjoku and the IYM for sticking their necks out for us when it was not popular. Let me thank all of the other ethnic units of Rivers state, we respect you, we are coming and we need your support. To Ibiamu, Ngerebara, Dumo, Dakuku, Bekinbo, Dawari, Tolofari, Sokonte and all my Ijaw brothers, Haaaa Izon!!!! We did it!! It’s time to lead well. Truth has no hiding place. It‘s time to set Rivers State free. Peace, security, jobs, empowerment for all. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, Amen”.
Wike team reacted
Wike special adviser on media (Social media) Oraye St Franklyn, spoke from the governor’s camp. He called it Cole and the proxy plot to conquer Rives by false pretenses.
Franklyn said: “The politics of 2019 is throwing up a lot. One of the many things that have come to the fore is the plot by former Governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi to use his longtime friend and business associate, Lagos-based Dele Cole, as his backdoor route to power. To achieve this, he has endorsed Dele as his preferred candidate for governor, ending years of tussling and feverish jostling among his followers for the plump position.
“Dele who is said to go by Tonye and is being packaged as the ‘solution’ for Rivers State under Amaechi’s Riverine Governorship gambit, is himself part of the problem of the State. The controversial circumstances around which State assets ended up in the coffers of his companies leave much to be desired of his bid to govern Rivers State. From Abonnema Wharf, to our Gas Turbine and Olympia hotel, Dele needs to explain to Rivers people why a man like him who has acquired State assets under controversial circumstances under Amaechi, a man who remains rejected by Rivers people, can be trusted and be termed qualified to hold the office of Governor.
“How does Dele imagine that as Amaechi’s candidate he can lose himself from the apron strings of his godfather, endorser and former Governor, whose legacies in governance are of colossal waste of our common wealth and the betrayal of our people?
“How does Dele whose friends Ade, Wale, Segun and Bola to name a few, are all alien to Rivers’ interests and cause, expect to be qualified to govern Rivers State as the poster boy of a political party that has not only crippled Nigeria but victimized Rivers State and her people, and left us with nothing to show for our huge contributions to sustaining the Nigerian nation?
“Yes, Dele is said to be a Harvard Grad. But he would not be the first Rivers man to be in Harvard. Neither would he be the last. Graduating from Harvard as he freely flaunts is no criteria for the Governorship of Rivers State. Granted, he has made a fortune in business, but if his business strategy is about ripping off others, as it does appear in the case of Rivers State, does he in his heart of hearts not know that he stands disqualified?
“Does he and his promoters think that a man like Rotimi, who has consistently worked against the interest of Rivers State and clearly undermined our economy by ensuring our Sea and Airports remain redundant, and beyond that, wishes to deliver up the state to strange gods as his political trump card with him, Dele, as proxy, would be allowed to succeed in his bid?
“Dele is not being begrudged his political right to aspire for whatever he wishes. But he must be informed that even before he says a word about his aspiration, he stands disqualified on moral grounds as Rivers State will not be delivered up as a conquered territory by the agency of his political aspiration.
“The internal wrangling within the APC is enough notice to Dele and Rotimi that their game is up even before it began. The progress of Rivers State won’t be sacrificed for Rotimi’s political survival.”
APC primaries and Cole’s easy victory
Many waited to see whether Amaechi’s choice was deep or shallow. BusinessDay contacted some Kalabari elders on the matter but found that most of them agreed with the choice of Cole, though some such as Anabs Sara Igbe disagreed. The Kalabari chiefs told BusinessDay that disunity cost them the position in 1999 and that they have hungered for it for long. Now, they said, is another opportunity not to be wasted.
Some had felt that the Opobo choice in 2015 was not deeply riverine and not fully Ijaw in colour. Also, the sentiment against Amaechi fighting Jonathan was still fresh. Now, many groups say they want to pursue their destinies outside Goodluck Jonathan.
The trouble that came next was Magnus Abe and direct primaries matter. They fought and the Amaechi camp secured the right to indirect primaries which favoured them because the delegates were all from the Amaechi camp. Abe has been in court over it.
On the day of the primaries, both factions held the types they preferred but INEC and the National APC chose to attend the Amaechi camp primaries. When it was over, Tonye Cole emerged the governorship candidate of the APC in Rivers State.
Announcing the result at Igboukwu Field, venue of the gubernatorial primaries, chairman of the APC Gubernatorial Primaries Committee for Rivers State, a retired colonel, Jafaru Lawal Isa, said governorship candidate pulled a total of 3, 321 votes to beat other aspirants.
Isa stated that other gubernatorial aspirants, including Dawari George scored 491 votes while Lulu-Briggs scored 38 votes. He further stated that another aspirant, Senator Magnus Ngei Abe scored only one vote while a total of 18 votes were declared invalid.
Abe wins, too
Meanwhile, wild jubilation as Abe was declared winner of his direct primaries thus: Dawari George — 1606; Tonye Dele Cole —882; Magnus Abe —144, 929; Dumo Lulu-Briggs —3444. This lingered on until October 3, 2018, when the NWC of the APC named Cole as the real winner and candidate for Rivers State. That seems final, except…
The battle starts
Both the PDP and APC are now set to do battle. Wike is putting forward his power of incumbency, his popularity as defender of the Niger Delta against Amaechi’s onslaught, and his project execution record of hundreds of roads and other constructions. On the other hand, APC’s Cole is putting forward federal might, vast business contacts, riverne justice, and the Kalabari hunger for governor.
Economic roadmap decides
Many agree that Gov Wike has been most formidable in project execution especially with his strategy of attending to many roads instead of turnkey projects that may gulp hundreds of billions of naira unlike Amaechi did but some have faulted him on lack of clear economic blueprint that would touch on massive agriculture, job creation, industrialization, and foreign investments. Insiders say Wike is perfecting a new plan for the second term having cleaned up the city from broken down roads and infrastructural revival. There are hints about a new Trans-Amadi in the making but nothing is unveiled yet.
In the coming days, it would be a matter of what economic blueprint and evidence of open budgeting that Wike can quickly roll out versus what Tonye Cole is expected to unveil as his economic roadmap.
Then, the people of the state would have a choice to make, but each candidate would do well to put a lot of sweeteners to his package because the stakes are very high and the challenge is huge. The people seem to salivate already.
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