NGIGE: The dealer who exposed the President and the PDP
|By Ochereome Nnanna |
Saturday, January 01, 2005
When the self-styled “godfather” of Anambra State politics, Chief Chris Ubah apparently secured the blessing of the powers that be in the PDP to produce the machinery of government in Anambra State, including all its elected and most of its appointed officers at the local government, state and national levels through the April 2003 polls, he went out of his way to forestall the type of problems he now has hanging on him “like a giant’s robe upon a dwarfish thief” (apologies, once again, Shakespeare). He knew the risks godfathers run when they put the wrong people in authority, especially a powerful executive authority such as the post of a state governor under the 1979 presidential constitution of Nigeria.
For one thing, Ubah once worked under the first godfather of Anambra State politics, Chief Arthur Eze, who had the blessing of the late General Sani Abacha. He was mindful of how easily all the Arthur Eze boys, especially himself, quickly deposed their master when the Abuja power base crumbled. For another, he saw how the second godfather, Chief Emeka Offor, who was instrumental to the picking of Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju as Governor of Anambra State, was spurned by Mbadinuju on assuming office. Outside the state, he was a living witness to the cavalier manner in which Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, crippled his benefactor, Chief Jim Nwobodo and reduced him to a persona non grata in Enugu State.
To avoid this type of problem popping up in his face, Ubah developed a watertight plan. Number one was the pattern of selection of people to occupy all appointive and elective offices in the State. In picking Dr. Chris Nwabueze Ngige for Governor, Ubah considered his lack of charisma, political base and his perceived servile disposition to be a great advantage to him in view of the structure of power he envisioned. Just to make assurance doubly sure, he arranged to have one of his elder sisters, Mrs. Eucharia Azodo, to emerge as the Speaker of the Anambra State House of Assembly. This would make the impeachment of Ngige easy if he became recalcitrant. Ubah also appointed another close loyalist, Dr. Okey Ude, as the Deputy Governor who would take over from Ngige if the occasion arose. Then he reportedly took Ngige and other beneficiaries of his overnight political power base to the fearsome Okija Shrine and made them swear an oath of allegiance to him. He made Ngige sign a resignation letter in advance and to voice it into a recorder.
When Ngige was sworn-in, Ubah gave directives that all his principal appointees, including his personal staff, must be cleared by him. He drew an organogram of what he called “The Anambra Political Caucus” in which he was placed at the top of the heap, with Ngige and a handful of others, including his Deputy, occupying the second layer of authority. In other words, Ngige was just one of the boys at the second level. Since Ubah had a free licence from Abuja to use the Nigerian Police Force as he saw fit, he retained their services and placed them at his beck and call. He had also forwarded the name of one of his elder brothers, Ugochukwu Ubah, to INEC to swear in as one of the three Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from Anambra State.
Being that most of the people Ubah put in elective and appointive offices did not even contest elections let alone winning or losing, the Ubah democratic magic was unprecedented in the history of Nigeria. The fact that it appeared to be allowed to stand made many people in the PDP to see this young man’s clout in the Party and the Presidency of Nigeria as an awesome one that was best cultivated rather than offended.
At first, Ngige himself, who would have felt fulfilled if he had been allowed to go to his dream position at the Senate, appeared happy to work within the structure Ubah had created. On May 29, 2003, he had already been sworn in when Ubah’s long convoy impudently stormed the venue. Ngige himself ordered the seated crowd of eminent persons to rise at Ubah’s arrival, eulogising him for his role in bringing about a new dispensation in the state. In fact, a week later when he paid a visit to Lagos, he wondered aloud why journalists seemed to detest Ubah’s political antics, adding: “he’s not as bad as you think”.
However, a few weeks later, on July 10, 2003 the aborted abduction took place and Ngige only escaped with his life by the skin of a tooth. The Anambra crisis was already in full bloom, barely a month after the new governor was sworn-in. That crisis was to continue for the rest of the year. But, as the year drew to a close, the National Vice-Chairman of the PDP, Chief Olabode George, made a round of the media houses in Lagos and boasted that the crisis would be solved “before the end of the year”, though he refrained from disclosing exactly how that was to come about.
Our democracy mirror
Nigerians looking for an answer to that soon had it – right between the eyes! Rather than end the crisis as the year 2003 ended, the year 2004 was opened with another phase of it. This time, the entire conspiracies, calculations and projections that produced Ubah as the godfather of Anambra politics, Ngige as the Governor of Anambra State, and the roles that the Presidency played in the entire saga, began to unfold in the public arena. On January 2, 2004, one Mr. Nelson Achukwu, one of the suspended members of the Anambra State House of Assembly and under the sponsorship of the deposed Ubah political structure when the abduction saga failed, had sued Governor Ngige at the Enugu High Court presided over by Justice Stanley Nnaji for what he described as the abuse of his rights.
Quaintly enough, he sought the court’s relief to order the removal of the governor from office for having resigned his office on July 6, 2003. On January 2, while Nigerians were still groggy from the New Year’s Day revelries, Justice Nnaji granted Achukwu’s prayer by ordering the Inspector General of Police and the Minister of Justice to forcefully remove Ngige from office as he had resigned. However, Ngige quickly went to an Awka High Court presided over by Justice F. C. Nwizu and got a counter-order restraining the IGP from executing Justice Nnaji’s order. Ngige subsequently won an Enugu Appeal Court ruling on the matter.
This legal brick-batting led to the withdrawal of police security personnel from the governor, a situation that persisted until the recent invasion of the state by suspected hired thugs. Before the court ruling, there were media reports that a plot to use this strategy to remove Ngige from office had been hatched at the Ota Farm residence of President Olusegun Obasanjo during the Yuletide festivities, with Nnaji in attendance.
Though some chose to take the report with a pinch of salt, incredulous that the President could descend so low to defend the political interests of his nephew in-law and younger brother of a trusted personal aide, it was however, becoming more and more evident that the nation’s number one citizen had more than a perfunctory personal interest in the matter. After all, many people reasoned, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and the Police, it must require his personal consent for the Ubah camp to so brazenly use the Police Force in feathering its political nest. Secondly, the President had preferred to treat the abduction saga as “a family affair” of the PDP, rather than order the arrest of the violators of the constitution as many saw the abductors.
Apart from retiring the leader of the abduction team, the now late Assistant Inspector General of Police, Raphael Ige (who was in any case due to retire in a couple of weeks) Obasanjo ordered the IG, who was also seen to be a culprit in the abduction plot, to probe the incident. This meant that the President was not only bent on sweeping the crime under the carpet but also, by consenting to the withdrawal of Ngige’s police security, was interested in his removal from office by any means possible.
In fact, the federal government, in March 2004, actually sought Supreme Court injunctions for Ngige’s removal, which was not granted. Rumours made the media rounds to the effect that a certain candidate for governor during the 2003 polls in Anambra State, was being considered to replace Ngige, whether he was removed by a court or through another option on the cards, the imposition of a state of emergency.
The survival strategy
One of the means by which Ngige plotted his own survival in office, apart from tackling Ubah and the Presidency, was the self-recreation as a populist governor. Ngige had captured the imagination of many Nigerians when he alleged that the primary reason for the attempted abduction of him by his estranged godfather, was due to his refusal to honour a plot to loot the sum of N3 billion from the Anambra State treasury, being a sum that was allegedly spent in securing the job for him. Ngige also commenced a series of road construction and paid off all salary arrears owed workers. He was gradually getting himself accepted by the generality of the Anambra populace, even though many could not forget that he was ruling the state with a stolen mandate.
However, there was a potentially explosive issue waiting to test the clout of the Ubah and Ngige camps in the State. This had to do with the tussle for the control of the party at the local council levels. Whoever controls the Party in the State and is able to win the majority of the local government areas stands a chance to decide who would occupy the Government House in 2007. Anambra was one of the states where local council polls could not take place in 2003, mainly for the fact that the Anambra State Electoral Commission (ANSIEC) said it was not ready. Besides, Ngige made it clear that he would not okay the local poll unless his police security was restored.
These contributed in creating an atmosphere of impatience in the Ubah camp, which, on November 10th, precipitated the invasion of the state by thugs, who proceeded to burn, bomb and loot the government house, governor’s lodge, state judiciary building, state House of Assembly, state radio, and other public buildings. The Nigerian police was shown on national television clapping for the brigands and giving them covering fire as they moved from one venue to the other. Clearly, the idea was to stage a situation of total breakdown of law and order in the State. President Obasanjo had used the Plateau crisis as an alibi to remove his foe, Governor Joshua Dariye from office for six months. A state of emergency clamped on the heels of the sponsored mayhem in Anambra state would follow the pattern of the Plateau precedent.
On December 6, indications emerged that members of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP was no longer together with the Presidency in its handling of the Anambra crisis. Perhaps, matters had gone beyond the borderline of decency even by PDP standards. The National Chairman of the Party, Chief Audu Ogbeh, an old school democrat, wrote a letter to President Obasanjo, warning of the danger of continuing to treat the Anambra situation without proper regard to good conscience. Obasanjo, a couple of days later wrote him a scathing reply, in which the President himself, unwittingly exposed a can of worms that put it beyond reasonable doubt that he was a pro-Ubah partisan in the crisis. He treated Ogbeh’s letter as the work of a traitor, and among others, made a number of disclosures that shocked Nigerians beyond description. These were as follows:
l Chris Ubah, in his presence, openly told Chris Ngige that he did not win the election, and that he did not know “how it was done”. Ngige admitted he did not win. The President sent them out of his residence. He did not take any action to bring the lawbreakers to book, in line with his touted anti-corruption crusade and his duties under the Constitution.
l Obasanjo said when two robbers complete an operation, and one of them becomes greedy, he should be condemned and prevailed upon to do justice and equity to his colleague! Meaning that Ngige should compensate Ubah for helping him into office through the robbery of the Anambra people’s right to elect a governor of their choice.
l IGP, Tafa Balogun had told him that the thugs that attacked Anambra state had “overwhelmed” his men. Balogun needed to be told to beef up from other states before he did so, and Obasanjo did not spot a display of commonplace incompetence on the IG’s part.
The Anambra crisis was the year’s starter for Nigeria, when Justice Nnaji gave his strange ruling that the IG should remove Ngige from office. The Anambra crisis has consumed the careers of two high court judges – Stanley Nnaji and Wilson Egbo-Egbo, for giving verdicts that were widely described as “black market” judgments. It has exposed Governor Ngige as the holder of a stolen democratic mandate and Ubah as rigger of the polls that denied Anambra people their political right to choose their leader. It has exposed the Nigerian Police as a tool in the hands of the Ubah camp, ultimately the President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, as the muscle behind the use of the Party, the Police, some high court judges, and the presidential office to protect the narrow interests of the chief stealer of the Anambra mandate, Ubah, his in-law.
In all this, Ngige has survived in office. In this wise, he has proved, once again, that his perception as easy and usable by his political sponsors was totally misplaced. But most importantly, every Nigerian now knows, rather than suspects, that the 2003 polls in Anambra State was stolen by the ruling Party, the PDP.