Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
The gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State, Tonye Cole, has said the party has succeeded in reducing the incidence of violence in the state ahead of the 2019 general elections.
He stated that the people of the state were tired of violence, adding that it would be a disservice for anybody to continue to promote violence in the state.
Addressing journalists in Port Harcourt, Cole said he was initially discouraged by people who expressed fears about his delving into politics considering the level of violence in the state politics.
He said: “For anybody outside of the state, this is just a very violent environment, but I have always known you can either increase violence or reduce it. It is a choice.
“If one person is pumping violence and the other decides to tone it down, essentially you are going to get a toning down of violence. It is direction from the top. Leadership is also about your own demeanour and it’s the easiest thing to abuse.”
He stated that one does not need to show his strength through violence as there were other ways to reach out to the people.
His words: “How you show your strength is not by total use of force. Everybody and anybody has potential to be violent, but you have a choice to make and you know lives are on the line, so what choice do you make?
“I made a choice from the day I started to go into this that my language was not going to be that of violence. I knew that if I start with violence, all you will be doing is just increasing the tempo. So I haven’t spoken violence and everybody can attest to that.
“I believe had we been out there shouting violence and stoking the flames of violence, by now you would have seen the results. You would have seen party people shooting and killing themselves. About 65 days to elections, you would have seen it by now.”
He added that the people are tired of violence considering the effect on them and the general society judging from their experience in 2015.
“The first aspect of it is that we toning down the spirit of violence is working. People are really tired of violence. I have been doing a ward tour, about to finish the second senatorial district. In the places violence was unleashed the most, you find that people were just fed up. They were tired, sick of it and just don’t want to hear or see violence again.
“There are people maimed, in wheelchairs, people whose entire family were lost to violence. People who woke up one morning to see heads beheaded lining the streets. I don’t think anyone wants to see that kind of image repeated,” he said.
He added that while it might not be possible to completely stop violence, leaders should address the yearnings of the people without encouraging violence.
“So, we have been able to tone it down. Can you stop everybody from not being violent? I don’t think so no matter how hard you try. But as a leader, it is your responsibility to make sure you speak to the yearnings of the people and show leadership by example,” he said.
On the effect of violence on the state, Cole said the state had been on a downward spiral because of violence.
His words: “For a state like Rivers, when you look at the consequences of violence, you find a downward spiral. Violence creates insecurity. Insecurity means the business environment suffers.
“Business environment suffering means there is unemployment. Unemployment means people are idle. Once people are idle, they are easy prey to get back into violence and the circle continues. You then see businesses leaving and the circle of violence continues.
“If you don’t stop that, you have a big problem. We see that Rivers have actually become poorer for the violence you see. It has become a much more difficult place to live in because of the violence. Life that you took for granted before you no longer can take for granted. People use to get up and come to Rivers state before, now they don’t anymore.
“For me it is leadership by example. If we have managed to tone down some of the violent threats and one life is saved everyday as we get closer to elections, then we have done well.
“I have not checked the statistics, but I am almost certain that if we went back to 2015, looking at this time, prior to elections, people were leaving. I remember that the place was very tense, nobody was staying. People were getting up that they were going on holidays, ready to pack and just leave town.”
“I don’t think that is the sentiments now. So, if we are doing anything in that direction, I believe we are succeeding in one way or the other.”