Tonye was born in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. 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. A merit honours graduate of architecture, Tonye Cole worked as an architect for frontline Brazilian architectural firm Grupo Quartro SA in Goiania Brazil (’90-92) where 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. The city of Palmas was designed as a ‘green fields’ project and built up from scratch.
Amongst the projects he worked on in Palmas are the State Ministry of Justice HQ and the City Hall. Upon his return to Nigeria, Tonye Cole was recruited in 1993 as the Director of Operations EMSA S.A., a Brazilian civil engineering company, the 7th largest engineering firm in Brazil that was awarded World Bank-financed water projects for Lagos State Water Corporation. He was responsible for incorporating and setting up the Nigerian office, recruiting the local staff and managing the office. The company, in a joint venture with Sakamori Limited successfully executed three World Bank sponsored contracts valued at $58m and one ADB sponsored contract for Anambra State Water Corporation valued at $15m. Tonye socialises but rarely party’s.
The Managing Director of Sahara Energy Resource Limited which he co-founded in 1996 with his friends Tope Shonubi and Ade Odunsi. Sahara Energy started out as an oil and gas company whose core business at the time was the trading of excess fuel oil from the Port Harcourt and Warri refineries.
Sahara Energy remains very strong in the trading sector and has set up a trading office in Geneva, Switzerland which actively trades in crude oil, gas oil, Jet A1, mogas and bitumen in various markets globally. The company also maintains a strong physical presence with in Ghana, Ivory Coast and Senegal and representative offices in Cameroun, France and Brazil. Sahara Energy is participating in the privatisation exercise for the Port Harcourt Refinery.