Tonye Cole

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Tonye Patrick Cole born January 11, 1967 is a Nigerian billionaire entrepreneur, executive director and co-founder of Sahara Group; a conglomerate which is present in over 13 countries and whose interests cover trading, storage, energy and power resources, aviation, farming and real estate. He serves as a board member for Atlas Mara, Bloomberg TV Africa, Enactus Nigeria, Nigerian Chamber of Shipping and Digital Jewels. He is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Partnering Against Corruption Initiative (PACI) and also the Private Sector Advisory Group of the United Nations Sustainable Development Fund (UN SDG-F).

Tonye Cole was born in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. He attended Corona School, Victoria Island and later King’s College, Lagos before proceeding to King’s School, Ely, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom. He is also an alumnus of the University of Lagos and Universidade de Brasilia, Brazil. An Architect, he worked in a Brazilian architectural firm Grupo Quartro SA in Goiania Brazil from 1990-92. He was involved in the design and implementation of the urban planning and city development of Palmas, the capital city of the newly created state of Tocantins in far-away South America.

Tonye returned to Nigeria in 1993 and was quickly employed as the Director of Operations EMSA S.A., a Brazilian Civil Engineering Company- allegedly the 7th largest engineering firm in Brazil that was awarded a World Bank-financed water project valued at about $58m for the Lagos State Water Corporation. In the exclusive chat with the Forbes Africa Correspondent for West Africa, Peace Hyde, Tonye Cole opened up on overcoming bankruptcy as a young man to establishing the leading indigenous oil conglomerate, Sahara Group. An arm of Sahara Group is her corporate social responsibility arm, Sahara Foundation influencing lives all over Africa.


According to Cole, “Failure teaches you a lot. If you are an entrepreneur, you are going to have bad days and if you are a successful entrepreneur, you are going to have even more bad days. It is important to remember the value of relationships and never give up.”

The Group’s plan is to replicate its successes in Oil and Gas sector in the Energy & Infrastructure sector. To attain this, Sahara has set out a roadmap for investing in people, processes, strategic acquisitions, principal investments and continuous expansion within, initially, the West African energy & infrastructure space, and then globally.

In 2011, Tonye Cole launched the ‘NEHEMIAH PROJECT ‘, a project patterned after Nehemiah’s reputation as the rebuilder of Jerusalem. Tonye is doggedly positioned to empower and inspire Nigerian youths to discover, explore and realize their full potential. He is a frequent speaker at forums and conferences.

Cole won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the United Kingdom Oil and Gas Council in 2017.