By Prince Charles Dickson
‘Nigeria’s condition today under your watch is, however, too dangerous for silence.’ – Chinua Achebe to then President Olusegun Obasanjo
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s memoirs entitled ‘My Watch’ has just been published and launched. Back in time, he had published My Command in which he won the Nigerian Civil War all by himself. Obasanjo is entitled to author whatever he calls his watch, but for me the story of the so-called nascent democracy in Nigeria cannot be fully told without a recall of the terror that reigned in Anambra State in the eight years that General Obasanjo served as the President of Nigeria. Let’s just start the peep into history with the Thursday, July 10, 2003 kidnapping of the then sitting governor of the State, Dr Chris Nwabueze Ngige by a host of federal forces led by Police AIG Ralph Ige and, of course, Chief Chris Uba. It was only Ngige’s miraculous phone call to then Vice-President Atiku Abubakar that spawned a chain reaction that restored him to power. This treasonable act was dismissed as ‘a family affair’ by Obasanjo.
The abductors of Ngige claimed that he had resigned his office at gunpoint in a nondescript toilet! It was also revealed that the haunted governor swore to an oath of loyalty to Chris Uba at the dreaded Okija shrine. Ngige on his part stated that he played along by going to the shrine with his Bible! According to Ngige, ‘I never did resign. They forged my signature and whatever they are taunting about. If I am going to sign such a letter, I will ask my party. I have not done so.’
Justice Egbo-Egbo gave the ruling that Ngige actually resigned. Egbo-Egbo had to quit the judiciary in disgrace. 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 police guard for months. People’s power kept Ngige in office as thousands of Anambra men, women and children kept vigil at the Government House.
Then, at about 4 a.m on November 10, 2004 some hoodlums brought into the state in 40-odd buses burnt every building of government business and the broadcasting houses while the Nigeria police stood idly by, obeying ‘orders from above’. The mayhem lasted all of three days with the law enforcement agents of Nigeria in support of the state-sponsored terrorism.
A prominent son of Anambra State, the novelist Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart, turned down the offer of the national award, Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR), and forwarded a stinker to President Obasanjo thusly: ‘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…Nigeria’s condition today under your watch is, however, too dangerous for silence. I must register my disappointment and protest by declining to accept the high honor awarded me in the 2004 Honors List.’
The then PDP chairman, Audu Ogbeh, fearing that the regime may collapse over the Anambra matter like the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the Second Republic, courageously wrote to Obasanjo: ‘About a month ago, the nation woke up to the shocking news of a devastating attack on Anambra State resulting in the burning down of radio and television stations, hotels, assembly quarters, the residence of the state chief judge and finally, Government House, Awka. Dynamite was even applied in the exercise and all or nearly most of these in the full glare of our own police force as shown on NTA for the world to see. The operation lasted for three days. That week, in all churches and mosques, our party, and you as Head of Government and leader of this nation came under the most scathing and blistering attacks. We were singly and severally accused of connivance in action and so forth. Public anger reached its peak… 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.’
It was an angry Obasanjo who fired a letter to Ogbeh in reply: ‘I am amused and not surprised by your letter of December 6, 2004 because after playing hide and seek games over a period of time, you have finally, at least in writing decided to unmask, and show your true colour.’ Obasanjo then goes ahead to reveal the election-rigging antics of his party thus: ‘I got the real shock of my life when Chris Uba looked Ngige straight in the face and said, “You know you did not win the election” and Ngige answered “Yes, I know I did not win.” Chris went further to say to Ngige, “You don’t know in detail how it was done.” I was horrified and told both of them to leave my residence.’ In this obviously self-indicting exposure, Obasanjo failed to tell Nigerians why Chris Uba, who had no immunity (unlike Governor Ngige) was not arrested on his presidential orders! Adamant Ngige of course replied Obasanjo with these damning words: ‘The result of my election was written on the same table as yours!’
Audu Ogbeh promptly lost his job for his effrontery in the court of the then Nigerian leader. Ogbeh was reportedly forced to resign as PDP chairman at gunpoint!
All weapons, no matter how ridiculous, were deployed in the Anambra war; for example, Obasanjo’s protégé in the state, Dr Jerry Ugokwe, was encouraged to take his case to the ECOWAS court when the Nigerian courts threw him out of the House of Reps! Ugokwe was then rewarded with an ambassadorial posting. In his letter to Audu Ogbeh, Obasanjo had written: ‘In the case of Anambra, if I had wanted to support anybody at all, it would have been Jerry Ugokwe because he was one man I knew…’ With the likes of Chris Uba, Jerry Ugokwe and Chuma Nzeribe doing the bidding of the emperor of democracy, 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 paradoxically created arguably the most popular, if not notorious, politician of his era. For instance, when Ngige showed up at Obasanjo’s wife Stella’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 in Anambra State, 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 siege 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 Obasanjo’s factotum, Andy Uba, whom he had openly in a campaign rally promised to hand over the state for his dutiful service!
As ever, Peter Obi went back to court to win back his mandate. Then 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 pretender 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! In the results declared initially by INEC, Andy Uba scored 1,930,004 votes. The number had to be changed after the announcement of the result to read 1,093,004. The ‘0’ in the middle of the figures of the first result had to be brought forward to fix things up!
The irrepressible Peter Obi was back at the Supreme Court, asking for the determination of his actual tenure. Poor Andy Uba 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, with his tail between his legs. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who had taken over said that unlike his predecessor Obasanjo he would respect the rule of law, and Anambra State has known no trouble ever since. The besieged state that missed an entire academic session under Obasanjo’s watch now tops the other states of Nigeria year after year in the WASC and NECO examinations.
In his last book, There Was A Country: A Personal History Of Biafra, Chinua Achebe put out these words on the Anambra matter: ‘For any clear-headed observer such a scenario would be unimaginable – that the head of state, or his government or his office, should be encouraging crime in one of the federation’s constituent states, encouraging anarchy in a part of the country, Nigeria. That state, of course, as you might know, is also my home state. It’s also part of Igbo land, which has had a peculiar history in Nigeria, some of which involves this particular former president of Nigeria – his attitude to this part of Nigeria, which he and some like him consider responsible for the troubles of the Nigerian civil war. And so it just seemed to me totally irresponsible for the leadership to be involved, to be promoting chaos instead of preventing it. It was in a sense the very end of government itself, where government leaps beyond the precipice, dismisses itself, and joins ranks with crime.’