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I had taken a friend to a popular motor park in Lagos, and as I waited with him for more passengers to come so they could set out on their journey, I noticed a very stocky man,....
The Verdict according to Olusegun Adeniyi
I had taken a friend to a popular motor park in Lagos, and as I waited with him for more passengers to come so they could set out on their journey, I noticed a very stocky man, decked in heavy necklace and surrounded by a bevy of women. In front of his makeshift table was a plate of food containing assorted meat and many bottles of beer. As he ate and smoked, he used one hand to carouse the women ministering to him in full view of everyone while passers-by hailed him 'The Chair!', a sort of homage to his ability to exert maximum control over the drivers.
I was fascinated by that scene and on enquiry, I discovered 'The Chair' does not even drive any vehicle but he gets more money at the end of each day sometimes than all the drivers put together. He was also not elected yet he wields enormous power and control over the drivers who slaved for him. The question is if he was not elected how come 'The Chair' is so powerful that not only does he control the driver, he most often also dictates the transport fare for the commuters? Because that interested me I took time out at the motor park to find out a few things about 'The Chair' and what I learnt is rather instructive for a time like this.
Those who have been wondering how Governors emerge in Anambra State and why the godfathers wield so much power, especially in recent times, may have to take a study of the motor park as to how 'The Chair' emerges among the touts. Because in Anambra, as in motor park, might triumphs over right. It is in Anambra State that to be Governor, Deputy Governor, Senator, House of Representatives member, Commissioner and indeed anything, you will be wasting your time campaigning for the votes of the electorate which would not matter at the end of the day, all you need is the anointing of one man who must have close link with Aso Rock.
How Anambra, which boasts of the highest concentration of the educated elite east of the Niger (Chike Obi, Chinua Achebe, Onwuka Dike, Alex Ekwueme, Chuba Okadigbo, Odumegwu Ojukwu, the Mbanefos et al), came to this sorry pass should provoke a serious study but the phenomenon was first noticed during the era of General Sani Abacha when his friend, Chief Arthur Eze, ensured he had a say on which military officer would govern the state and then when the transition programme started everyone knew who was going to be the Governor of the state: Chief Joy Emordi of the Congress for National Consensus. The election, if it had held, would have been a mere coronation and where the people voted would not have mattered. Because she was Eze's anointed. But death put paid to that permutation and given that godfatherism in Anambra state is seasonal, with no one capable of securing a 'second term', in 1999, Eze's 'mandate' ended. It was then the turn of Sir Emeka Offor who settled for Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju even when the choice of the people was Professor ABC Nwosu. What qualified Mbadinuju for the office was the pre-dinner prayer he offered in the house of Offor before the primaries, a prayer that convinced Offor and his wife that such a 'man of God' was the one needed to take Anambra to the promised land. The problem, however, began shortly after the swearing-in when the 'man of God' wanted to outsmart his benefactor by positioning his own man to be Speaker as against the candidate of the godfather. Then as it is now, Mbadinuju's deputy sided with the godfather and that began the endless crisis in Anambra State which lasted the four years Mbadinuju was in office.
Having learnt from Eze for whom he was the enforcer and Offor to whom he was a co-traveller, Chief Chris Uba, who, I have been told, used to wash cars at Allen Avenue in Ikeja before hitting the jackpot, would not take any chances when his own 'tenure' as godfather came late last year hence he took time to pick his puppets. He also set his own rules which must be obey. While we will soon come to this 'resourceful' businessman, not a few Nigerians were, however, bewildered by what happened last Thursday in Akwa when the chief security officer of a state was abducted in broad daylight and was 'replaced' by his deputy. Last weekend, Ngige gave his account of how as Governor-elect, Uba presented him a basket of demands which he had to meet. And to show the master-servant relationship between the godfather and the governor, on one occasion, Chuma Nzeribe, the former 'Bakassi Boys' supremo now in the House of Representatives, 'assaulted me physically. He tore my dresses and clothes, with the deputy and Uba standing by.'
Ngige, from his own recollection, did not see anything wrong in a governor-elect becoming a punching bag and being treated like a Lebanese company factory worker by Nzeribe in the presence of his own deputy and I have it on good authority that even Uba used to slap him at will and he tolerated all that. They also told him as governor-elect to broadcast to them a letter of resignation in a toilet and he agreed. 'They said if I did that, it would show that I was loyal to them. I said is that all you want and they said yes...I read it because it was of no effect that I was resigning as governor-elect.'
There was nothing wrong with all these as far as Ngige was concerned. The third request of Uba was that Ngige should sign for him N3 billion which he knew could only come from the coffers of Anambra state and as shocking as it is to believe, the Governor admitted he actually signed two cheques for him to cover the amount. But he signed his personal cheques, perhaps with the understanding that they would get the money from his 'profit' in government, afterall it is what Afenifere now appropriately describes as a contactor-financed project. Ngige who had no accommodation of his own in Abuja where he was until recently squatting with Udeh, his present deputy, then a member of the House of Representatives at his Apo quarters, said he had 'investments that can sum up to one or two billion naira'. I hope someone has not made any anticipatory assets declaration in his Code of Conduct Bureau form. 'I wrote the cheques, N1.5 billion, two places and gave them. They looked at it and Uba took the two cheques and after reading and was satisfied gave them to Odunze'.
Chief Ayo Adebanjo as usual, got the bull's eye during the week when he said 'I think you have a situation where people now finance particular candidate for elective post; after that, they take over the state apparatus and milk the state, first of all, to recover their money and then to make profit.'
Uba of course could not trust the judgement of Ngige when it comes to appointments so he had to pick everyone who would work in the State Government, the same way he picked Ngige and all other public officers in the state. Let us hear Ngige again: 'He said he wanted to do appointments of all categories of people who will work in government from the transition committee chairmen and members, commissioners, special advisers, etc. I said fine but do me a favour, and that favour is my personal staff people who will work in my office would be my prerogative...The first appointment made in this Government House was the Principal Secretary to the Governor, a personal staff of the Governor. Somebody was foisted on me. However, as a team player I said we could carry on'.
Ngige did not make noise while this charade was going on because his deal with Uba was trade by barter. He wanted the office of Anambra State Governor to do God-knows-what while Uba, a contractor who saw the state as another business venture, had made it very clear that he would hold the power so as to take the monthly monetary allocation. That was why he made sure he had the Accountant General in his pocket. The Anambra tragedy will definitely make a good thriller though it is actually the kind of things that happen in many states across the federation where government has become a bazaar: in Nigeria, when we say government is a serious business, we now mean it in the literal sense!
It was while I was reading all this drama, the interesting account of the Governor as published in the media on Monday afternoon, that I received a visitor, a politician from Anambra State. He was brought in by a colleague. After the usual flattery of how this column is respected bla, bla bla, he said he had come because he knew I would comment on the Anambra crisis this week and he needed my help because everybody seems to believe Governor Ngige was an innocent victim. He said he came with incontrovertible evidence that Ngige resigned. Since I pass 'verdict' he apparently believes I must have all the 'exhibits' on the Anambra case. He also brought for my perusal some documents which I will refer to later and a video cassette which he said would more than convince me of what happened. Since I had no video in the office I immediately left for home very excited and on my way I called my brother, Obi Adimora, who happens to come from Anambra, that I had the smoking gun as far as the crisis in his state was concerned.
At home, I wasted no time in slotting in the cassette. First to appear was Dr Okey Udeh, the Deputy Governor, who 'took over' as Governor last Thursday. He was flanked by three men, including Chief Raymond Okechukwu Odunze, a veteran of several gubernatorial ambitions in the state. These were the same men who were sacked at the weekend by Ngige. You could see that the Deputy Governor was lying from his account of what happened just as it was very clear he was in on the dirty plot against his boss and bosom friend. What most people don't know is that Udeh was best man at Ngige's wedding while Ngige was also the Master of Ceremony when Udeh married two years ago in Abuja. In the film, apparently produced by Uba, Udey tried rather laboriously to argue that Ngige resigned and he remained the governor. The more he talked the more you would pity Anambra state and to think this is one man I used to have respect for while he was Transport Committee Chairman in the House of Representatives. After him came Odunze who described Ngige as his good friend. Almost shouting, Odunze, in typical motorpark language, said Ngige promised to make him a minister. When that failed he said Ngige then told him he wanted him (Odunze) to be around because he needed a real politician to help him (Ngige) make money. From what Odunze said, it is enough for Justice Mustapha Akanbi to have a clue as to how and why corruption is defying all efforts under the present dispensation.
After Odunze's cock and bull tale came the Speaker of the House of Assembly, a woman who could hardly read the prepared speech apparently written for her, echoing what others had said. Senator Abana's bicycle tale followed after which came one man called Egboka who was said to be the director general of the campaign organisation in the state. This rather interesting man provided more insights into the root of the crisis than all the other people. I enjoyed Egboka, even with his bolekaja English, because he was the most honest of the lot and his story provided some insights as to how Uba could mass all elected public officers in Anambra state against their Governor because this coup, contrary what we are hearing now, was not a one-man-show.
After this man, there was no longer any picture and I was disappointed, wondering whether the so-called resignation was not altogether a hoax and as I made to put off the film, it came alive with Ngige, standing in a place that looked like a toilet, since one could see the WC behind him. He was wearing a black caftan and holding a sheet of paper: '...I hereby resign as executive Governor of Anambra State. Thank you and God bless. Dr Chris Ngige'. As he read the 'speech' which lasted about five seconds, he did not look up and immediately he finished, he handed the paper over to someone who was standing by but it was only the hand of the person that was shown. The film ended on that note.
That is exhibit number one.
To continue next week while the 'Amber Light' series is suspended till further notice