There is tremendous hunger in Rivers State for an end to the bellicose and toxic politics that have seized the state since 1999. Media headlines about the state are frequently about political assassinations, beheadings and inconclusive elections due to widespread violence.
As Nigeria’s oil and gas metropolis, Rivers State suffers unique consequences when our social and political spaces are dominated by swaggering thugs and other merchants of violence baying for blood in the streets.
As a former Commissioner for Information in the State I know, I have heard business leaders silently agonize about how to conduct business in a once-peaceful state now trapped in a circle of violence and strategic dysfunction.
As businesses quietly close shop in the State at an unprecedented rate, a whole generation of young people are unable for find work or learn new skills, freezing them in economic and social stasis.
Our leaders are responding to crime in Rivers State by donating guns, gunboats and bayonets to the police and making solemn promises of a football academy that would turn us all into soccer stars. But where that fails, a multi-billion naira Ecumenical Centre has already been built to cast out the incubus of unemployment from our State, through frantic prayers.
Our leaders have forgotten the well-known nexus between joblessness and criminality. They lack an expansionary vision and have diminished the serious task of governance to simply paving a few kilometres of asphalt.
They have replaced public policy with bombast and appear unprepared for the important task of building a knowledge economy to replace a fading oil and gas era in Rivers State.
This is why the news last week that Mr Tonye Cole will be seeking the office of governor of Rivers State in 2019 should interest us.
Tonye Cole has been profiled by Forbes magazine as a business titan. He attended Harvard, and serves in the UN’s Expert Advisory Council. His efforts to confront global challenges through the World Economic Forum are well known.
As the co-founder of Sahara Group, Tonye has created life-changing jobs for hundreds of young men and women. He is consulted by presidents of countries whose economies are failing. He is an inspiration and a mentor to millions of young people across the continent.
Those who question the biological bona fides of such an illustrious son of Rivers State are driving politics to the edge of lunacy, and may have to reassure us of their psychiatric fitness.
In the age of artificial intelligence and block chain technology in schools, we must reject the abomination that public office in Rivers State is the preserve of knife-wielding alcoholics and hectoring despots.
We must encourage all other citizens with stellar credentials and commitment to uplift our people to seek any office, on any political platform, in Rivers State.
We need leaders who can tap into the genius of our youth and create opportunities for them, not those who seek to mobilize our young people into a raging platoon of sycophants.
Finally, those who see Tonye Cole through the primal keyhole of riverine and upland politics are the offspring of a false and rejected dichotomy. He is a son of Rivers State revealed at a moment of epiphany, in a hopeful effort to reclaim and fulfil the promise of Rivers State.
• Dr Austin Tam-George is a former Commissioner for Information and Communication, Rivers State.