Tonye Cole is the co-founder and executive director of the Sahara Group. The company is presently in eight countries spread across three continents. Through his foundation, Nehemiah Youth Initiative, he regularly supports other foundations like, Down Syndrome Society, Slum2School foundation and Bethesda school for the Blind
He also serves in advisory boards of various youth focused charities. He is a motivational speaker, ordained minister, enterpreneur, and firm believer in Africa’s greatness and politician. He is an architect, alumnus of University of Lagos and Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Programs. In this interview with Saturday Sun, he spoke on the state of the nation, COVID -19 and lots more.
How do you see the lockdown in some parts of the country?
There is real tension between health, safety and economic survival. That trade off is constant and at some point one of them has to give. The heaviest burden of the lockdown has been felt by those who can afford it the least and unfortunately they make up the greatest percentage of our population. Prior to COVID-19, they made a living on a daily basis so the lockdown put them in a very precarious situation, the greatest of which is hunger and even starvation. In both cases, lives are involved and all decisions must be weighed against the backdrop of which one saves the most lives. It seems the government has taken the position in favour of hunger.
What should be the focus of the political class in tackling the pandemic?
COVID-19 has created the biggest opportunity for non-partisan politics to be practiced. The priority should be getting the message of communal responsibility out to the people. If the leaders do not show that there are certain things like the health and well-being of citizens that matter more than partisan politics, the message to the community would be that it is okay to be selfish, have no care for your neighbor and spread the pandemic as a result.
What is your assessment of the federal government’s efforts to curb the disease so far?
There are various stages of awareness regarding our knowledge of COVID-19 and in terms of responding to the virus as we have understood it, the response from the Federal Government has been good. Some examples to buttress the point; checks at the airports and documenting every arriving passenger long before the total ban on flights globally helped the prevention of COVID-19 to the communities at the early stages. That is a major plus. Aggressive contact tracing using Ebola protocols has been very well done. NCDC has performed admirably well in managing each stage of the crisis. The rallying of the private sector to assist in healthcare infrastructure gaps indicated an acceptance of past errors and a need for rapid amends. The lockdown of epicenters coupled with the restriction on interstate travel slowed transmission to the point of managing the crisis within capacity.
What advice would you give Governor Ganduje on the sudden surge in deaths in Kano State?
There is nothing new under the sun and experience is a great teacher. Lagos effectively battled the Ebola outbreak and has been the hardest hit in this crisis. They have also risen up well to the challenge so far and learnt many lessons in the process. I would advice the Kano State governor to reach out to his counterpart governor for assistance to closing any gaps. Sharing knowledge and collaboration are the best options available.
What lessons has life taught you as a person?
Life has shown me that God is sovereign and does as He pleases, no question. I have learnt to deeply appreciate and cherish relationships especially those that improve me spiritually and mentally. I have come to understand that nothing happens by accident and the choices we make have consequences we must live with. I have learnt that the joy of giving and improving another human being’s self worth and mindset is far greater than the joy of making money. Life has taught me that people can be extremely deceitful and unreliable but if you have a kingdom mindset, the disappointment they bring cannot affect who you are or what you become.
You have a good background, successful businessman and pastor, what prompted you into politics?
The desire to do much more good for people than the narrow scope of business allowed drove me. There is no area of human existence today that has the greatest ability to impact the greatest number of people by any singular action than that of leadership in government. The wrong leader and the people suffer in great numbers, the right government and the impact is felt for generations to come.
Now that you are into politics, what would you like to see achieved as a politician?
I would love to see the best and the brightest of our younger generation actively involved in politics and decision making in our nation. I look forward to seeing a nation where elections are contested without violence, vote buying and rigging. I look to a time when the competition for political office will be based on real issues that affect the masses and politicians are truly accountable for their electoral promises and actions while in office.
What is the other side of Tonye Cole people do not know?
Touching lives and impacting people positively is what my core is. It goes beyond just dishing out money to people, which seems to be the core mandate of politicians and main expectation of the people. I would rather spend more money giving you an idea that would transform your life than giving you cash that will go nowhere other than satisfy a need. If you want to get my attention, engage my mind. Challenge me with some thought provoking matter and you unlock other doors in me.
Why have you been sharing palliatives to the less privileged?
My greatest giving goes to those who don’t know me, the poor and the most vulnerable, the neglected of society and those who have no way of repaying the gift they got. It has been so since I was 30. My birthday that year was spent sick with chicken pox and it occurred to me that there are more honorable ways to celebrate a life so I began to deliberately celebrate every birthday with orphans and the less privileged. What began as a small step now became a core attribute for me to give of myself in anyway I have been blessed and to make sure I touch lives in a sustainable way that makes a difference. Attending to the most vulnerable and less privileged in this most challenging of times is no exception.
What makes you happy and what gets you sad?
I hate injustice and hate poverty even more. Both sadden me to the core. I bleed when I see human beings being forced to live in the worst of conditions because of a system that deliberately institutionalizes poverty as a means of citizen control. It is extreme wickedness. On the other hand, my joy is fully expressed in my relationship and knowledge of God. That experience has been by far the greatest source of inner peace I have encountered and with that peace comes a joy that is difficult to express. It means I am very content with who I am and every challenge life has thrown my way is a stone I must step on to carry on my purpose and fulfill my destiny.