In the halcyon days of his regime, President Olusegun Obasanjo touted Christianity and Pharisaical prayers. He had a sedulous apostle in then Anambra Governor, Dr Chinwoke Mbadinuju, who took his hebdomadal prayers to the heart of Onitsha Main Market. When Anambra people opened their eyes after the hectic prayer sessions, schools were shut, workers remained unpaid, pensioners like my father and mother were dismissed as “deadwoods”, and a certain Abuja-minted godfather named Emeka Offor was being served buffet in Aso Villa! Ask the Pentecostals about the rewards of “dangerous prayers”…
Anambra people swore as one not to have Mbadinuju returned to office as their governor in 2003. Obasanjo promised the forsaken governor an ambassadorial posting to Germany, but the Odera man from Uli would rather be governor. Being the only jilted PDP governor, Mbadinuju chose the AD as his new platform, contested for Anambra governorship and duly failed. A tear for him…
Meantime, Obasanjo and his PDP had chosen another gubernatorial heir in Dr Chris Nwabueze Ngige and hobbled him with a newfangled godfather in the shape and size of the swashbuckling Chris Uba who, according to my strategic sources, had told the former godfather Emeka Ofor that he would be eaten up “like crackers biscuits”. Foreshadowing the shape of things to come, Uba told all who cared to listen that the keys to Anambra State had been handed over to him by the powers-that-be, and that his word was law. It’s against this background that then senatorial candidate Ben Ndi Obi confronted Obasanjo in a meeting of Anambra stakeholders in Aso Villa with the poser that Chris Uba had been going around saying that Obasanjo did not want Ben Obi in the Senate. Obasanjo reportedly asked Chris Uba: “Have I ever sent you to anybody?” The reply of Chris Uba was “No, sir!”
Incidentally, when Ben Obi and others were announced as the winners of the Senatorial and House of Reps elections in Anambra State by INEC, orders from above came that the list of winners must perforce be changed, that is, after the elections had been conducted and the results released! Some of the denied winners were my friends who would later play heroic roles in thwarting Obasanjo’s Third Term plot. One could not but step into the fray by writing the article “Travesty of Democracy in Anambra State” published in the major Nigerian newspapers and internationally. Ben Obi and co, as believers in the rule of law, triumphed in all the courts but “orders from above”, in utter defiance of the courts, stood against their being admitted into the Senate and the House. In fact, then Senate President Adolf Wabara got into trouble for admitting Ben Obi into the hallowed chambers of the Senate after the last of his many court victories. The crucial point is that Anambra State at no point lost its head but rather chose to triumph through the belief in the rule of law as opposed to the antics of the crusaders of Obasanjo’s mantra of “I dey kampe!” Political sophistication had never ever been showcased to this level in the annals of Nigeria.
The experience of the candidates in regaining their stolen mandates was only a tip of the iceberg in a large story that starred the Thursday, July 10, 2003 abduction of Governor Ngige by a host of federal forces led by Police AIG Ralph Ige. It was only Ngige’s miraculous phone call to then Vice-President Atiku Abubakar that spawned a chain reaction that restored him to power. The treasonable act was dismissed as “a family affair” by Obasanjo and the PDP. The tabloid smear campaign of Ngige having resigned his office at gunpoint and swearing to an oath of loyalty to Chris Uba at Okija shrine bobbed off the combative governor’s back as rain on a duck’s back. Justice Egbo-Egbo who gave the ruling that Ngige actually resigned had to quit the judiciary in disgrace even as AIG Ige who led the abduction team died mysteriously. Judge Stanley Nnaji of the Enugu High Court, claiming he had powers to oust a sitting governor from another state, gave the order ousting Ngige whereupon Obasanjo’s federal regime promptly withdrew Governor Ngige’s security details. Anambra Government House was denied of police guard for months on end. People’s power kept Ngige in office as thousands of Anambra men, women and children kept vigil at the Government House. Notable poets such as Chiedu Ezeanah of Delta State waxed poetic on the unprecedented phenomenon, celebrating particularly the doggedness of the never-say-die Anambra women.
At about 4 AM on November 10, 2004 I got a call from a major Anambra stakeholder that some hoodlums brought into the state in 40-odd buses had burnt every building of government business and the broadcasting houses while the police stood idly by, obeying “orders from above”. The mayhem lasted all of three days with the law enforcement agents of Nigeria in support. I was moved to write the article “A President Smaller than Anambra State”. I felt sad, not for my State, but that Obasanjo was needlessly demystifying himself as the head of the larger Nigerian family. Eniola Bello of THISDAY posed this ominous question in his column of Sunday, November 14, 2004: “Could Obasanjo have been taken to the Okija shrine before the 2003 presidential election?” Due to Chris Uba’s unfathomable influence on Obasanjo, the Nigerian Tribune coined the unflattering acronym: President UBASANJO! The Ubasanjo of the title of this article is thus neither a mistake nor my coinage.
Obasanjo received a direct slap in the face when the oracular Chinua Achebe turned down his offer of the national award, CFR, and forwarded a stinker to the then imperial president: “I write this letter with a very heavy heart. For some time now, I have watched events in Nigeria with alarm and dismay. I have watched particularly the chaos in my own state of Anambra where a small clique of renegades, openly boasting its connection in high places, seems determined to turn my homeland into a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom. I am appalled by the brazenness of this clique and the silence, if not connivance, of the Presidency.”
Then PDP chairman Audu Ogbeh was pained enough, fearing that the regime may collapse over the Anambra matter like the NPN in the 2nd Republic, that he courageously wrote to Obasanjo: “I call on you to act now and bring any and all the criminals, even treasonable activity, to a halt. You and you alone have the means.” Audu Ogbeh lost his job for his effrontery in the court of the emperor.
It should not be forgotten that Obasanjo at his “intellectual” best wrote a public letter to press home the fact that Chris Uba once led Chris Ngige to Aso Villa to confess that Ngige was rigged into office without knowing how it was done! Chris Uba who had no immunity was not arrested. When the influential magazine FARAFINA asked me to write a signed editorial on the Anambra matter, I wrote: “We insist that Chris Uba and his cohorts should be immediately arrested and made to face the law. Since Peter Obi the obvious winner of the election is still alive he should be given back his stolen mandate. We would be toying with the destiny of this potentially great nation when we wantonly let people who abuse the constitution to get away with it.”
All weapons no matter how ridiculous were deployed in the Anambra war; for example, Obasanjo’s protégé in the state was encouraged to take his case to the ECOWAS court when the Nigerian courts threw him out of the House of Reps! The ECOWAS court upstart, Jerry Ugokwe, has since been rewarded with an ambassadorial posting. Cry the unloved country!
With the likes of Jerry Ugokwe and Chuma Nzeribe doing the bidding of Abuja, Ngige was shot at in the direct view of some visiting National Assembly investigating team and his house was bombed to no avail.
By fighting Ngige so furiously without success, Obasanjo created arguably the most popular politician of his era. For instance, when Ngige showed up at Stella Obasanjo’s funeral in Ogun State the crowd could not be controlled in their excitement while hailing the diminutive man. A voice with Northern accent was heard over the hubbub saying: “Haba, this man na touch and die!”
Having failed in his bid to find reasons to declare a state of emergency, Obasanjo had to reluctantly bow to the wishes of Anambra people and the rule of law by letting Ngige be removed by the election tribunal, thus paving the way for the coming to power of the man who the people originally voted for: Peter Obi. Even so, the war on Anambra continued with Governor Obi being unconstitutionally impeached in an unholy hour by a handful of legislators holed up in the hotel room of a neighbouring state. Governor Obi’s deputy, Dame Virgy Etiaba was sworn in as governor and had to be led to Aso Villa to pledge her loyalty to Obasanjo by his factotum Andy Uba whom he had promised to hand over the state for his dutiful service!
As ever, Peter Obi went back to court to win back his mandate. In the 2007 gubernatorial election in Anambra, Obi was excluded from the ballot by INEC on “orders from above”. Andy Uba, who had supplanted his hapless brother Chris as the grand “godfather” of Anambra State politics, was declared the winner of the election with a number greater than the list of registered voters in the state! The number had to be changed after the announcement of the result.
The irrepressible Peter Obi was back at the Supreme Court, asking for the determination of his actual tenure. Anambra people turned into prayer warriors in solidarity with Peter Obi.
Poor Andy Uba, he served only 16 days as “governor” before the Supreme Court in a landmark ruling sent him packing. As his mentor Obasanjo was no longer in power, Andy Uba had to quickly flee from Government House, Awka. The rejoicing in Anambra was total. By overthrowing the yoke of Obasanjo without firing a shot, Anambra taught the entire country a sophisticated lesson in the rule of law. The sublime demystification of Obasanjo and his Federal Might by Anambra State was a complete thesis in political sophistication.
Chinua Achebe wrote in The Trouble with Nigeria: “Nigerians of all other ethnic groups will probably achieve consensus on no other matter than their common resentment of the Igbo.”
According to Wole Soyinka in Jero’s Metamorphosis, “in time of trouble it behoves us to come together, to forget old enmities and bury the hatchet in the head of a common enemy.”