How Tonye Cole Used Wole Soyinka to Re-launch Self


For a politician, or would-be thespian on the chanekeonic stage of statesmanship, visibility is the name of the game. A name unseen or unheard is a name forgotten. Especially when that name has just suffered ignominious failure at the polls. Should this fate befall someone, they’d be forgiven for holding on to whatever they can to stay relevant — be that a disinterested godfather, past glories, straws, or the borrowed shine of someone who is rather less likely to be forgotten anytime soon.

Such is the cynic’s view on Tonye Cole, the Rivers State politician whose optimistic dream to unseat Rivers governor Nyesom Wike at the polls unravelled before he even got a chance. The Independent National Electoral Commission disqualified his party the APC from contesting the governorship elections due to intra-party conflicts, rendering all for naught the millions of Naira Tonye had spent in canvassing support from Riverians.

Thus, the elections came and went and Tonye, the co-founder and former Group Executive Director of Sahara Group and Energy, became one of the minor footnotes in a contest that witnessed cancellations, a postponement and a rerun. But thanks to the serendipitous circumstance of being on the same Air Peace plane with Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Tonye, the discarded bride has once more become a topic of mainstream conversation.

Few days back Tonye narrated how he took pictures and engaged in some banter with perhaps Nigeria’s greatest living Nigerian while the laureate took a seat by the window only for “this young man, baseball cap, t-shirt to show his muscled chest and tattooed biceps” to board the plane and demand Soyinka vacate his seat. Tonye went on to launch into a short treatise on the culture of disrespect among the current generation of youths.

His Instagram post went on to gain a lot of traction as people blamed or defended the young man in question who, going by Tonye’s account, was the villain for failing to give up his seat for a legendary person like Soyinka. Some of Tonye’s fans, sensing a golden chance to launder their hero’s image, speedily represented him as a custodian of the traditional values of kindness and respect for elders in an increasingly irreverent world.

It is hard to say what Tonye himself thinks of the reflected glory he has earned from the controversy, which waxed and waned rapidly as most hit topics do online these days. One thing is for sure: he remains marooned in a political quicksand, at least for the next four years, and that is assuming he gets another crack at the Rivers seat of government when the next election cycle rolls around.