By Sam Onwuemeodo
Francis Arthur Nzeribe’s closest constituency, was the media.
Right from the outset, he made the media a very strong partner in his politics.
In 1979, people heard much of Nzeribe’s helicopter throwing money in millions for people to scramble for. People heard about Nzeribe’s rice, scholarship schemes and political sponsorship, vis-a -vis administration of oaths on those chosen for such sponsorship.
Most people heard about all these but didn’t see any. The dynamic power of the media at the disposal of Nzeribe.
To further dramatize his soft spot for the media, Nzeribe established a newspaper, The Spectator. With that, he became a publisher.
Nzeribe, to a very large extent, never made any serious political move without a good number of journalists following him.
ln the politics of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the media created the impression that Nzeribe made the emergence of Babagana Kingibe as the national chairman of the party possible. With that impression, the number of political pilgrims to his house in Oguta snowballed on daily basis.
That was how he fronted Prof. Fabian Osuji for the governorship of Imo State. Ezekiel Izuogu resisted that.
At the end, Osuji and Izuogu were disqualified by the Prof. Humphrey Nwosu-led NEC. Yet, Nzeribe was allowed to bring a replacement. He brought Dr. Alex Obi. The rest is history.
Outside Imo, he also sponsored others like Rev. Moses Adasu, of Benue State, et al. The military later came.
When the military lifted the ban on politics, and allowed the emergence of UNCP, DPN, CNC and GDM, Nzeribe did not hasten to join any of the parties. However, Iwuanyanwu and Enwerem were calling the shots in the UNCP, while Sam Mbakwe and Prince Pat Abii were the leaders of the DPN in Imo.
With Iwuanyanwu and Enwerem in UNCP, the DPN leadership in the state felt threatened, financial-wise, over the local government election slated for March 1997.
Abii and the DPN chairman then, the late Chief Anamaekwe, began the move to bring Nzeribe into the party, unknown to Mbakwe and his crew.
Anamaekwe was later replaced by Val Mbamara, as the state chairman of the party.
One Saturday night, a meeting had been scheduled between Chief Nzeribe and DPN delegation, led by the then national vice- chairman, South-East, Chief Forte Dike, at Nzeribe’s house in Oguta.
The meeting was scheduled for 8pm. But by 6pm, Nzeribe had sent his driver to pick six journalists from Owerri, including yours faithfully, to Oguta. We were in the room when the DPN delegation arrived.
Nzeribe made sure that members of the delegation did not see us, until the meeting began. After the opening prayer, followed by the presentation of kolanuts, Nzeribe ushered us into the meeting, to the dislike and shock of the DPN delegation.
People like Abii knew us very well. They were looking at us with astonishment, but with suspicious smiles on their faces. They could not help the situation.
The meeting lasted about four hours. And the issue was that they wanted Nzeribe lo enter the party and take over its leadership. But they were careful in handling that, to avoid losing Mbakwe, since the local government election was at hand.
At the end of the meeting, they pleaded with us not to publish. They pleaded that we should keep the story arising from the meeting in abeyance.
Nzeribe said he invited us so that nobody would accuse him tomorrow of hijacking the leadership of the party.
Meanwhile, the local government election came, without making public the membership of Nzeribe in DPN. The UNCP won in 14 LGAs, while the DPN had 13 LGAs.
When Nzeribe’s membership of the party was finally made public, Mbakwe and his men in the party had no better option, than to leave. Rochas Okorocha also left the party and Nzeribe became the leader of the party. At a stage, Abii tried to “fight.” He became uncomfortable with Nzeribe’s style. Nzeribe wrote him a stinker.
In his letter to Abii on May 12, 1998, Nzeribe reminded him that, “Alhaji Saleh Hassan, the national chairman of the DPN, talked, negotiated and brought me into the party. Not you.”
Nzeribe continued in the same letter, “the total assistance I have given to the party, since I joined is N10.6 million, all of which are well receipted and documented. Since I did not lobby or sought to be appointed or selected by the state leaders, I will not lose any sleep if you get me removed as the leader.”
You can see why Nzeribe invited journalists to witness the DPN leaders’ lobby, for him to join the party and lead it.
Another task in Nzeribe’s hand in the DPN was how to go to the Senate. Knowing Gen. Sani Abacha’s modus operandi and modus vivendi, Nzeribe held the view that, with his antics, Abacha might not want him to come to Abuja as a senator.
Nzeribe had A1 in reading political situations to achieve his goal.
To take care of the Abacha angle, Nzeribe invited five correspondents of the major national newspapers in the state, including this writer, to Concorde Hotel, one Monday morning. The time was 7am.
He was seated before our arrival and we were wondering what could have prompted the early morning invitation by the Ogbuagu (Lion killer) of Oguta.
He knew our names and called us as such. As usual, he sought our individual analysis of the political situation in the state and in the country, generally.
At the end, his countenance changed, to show that the time for business had come. He told us he would want to go to the Senate, but his fear was whether Abacha would want him there. That was why he had invited us to assist him proffer solutions. It was the Guardian’s correspondent then, Chuks llozue, who said, he wondered the sort of help, ordinary journalists would give to a political giant like Chief Nzeribe to go to the Senate. We all laughed.
At the end of the laughter, Nzeribe announced that we should go and tell the world, through our individual medium that, he was fully in support of General Abacha, continuing or transforming into a Civilian President.
All in all, he told us that, “Abacha could, Abacha would and Abacha should, become president, and without Abacha, there would be no Nigeria”.
It worked for him as planned, because, while Chief Iwuanyanwu, who wanted to run for Owerri Senatorial Zone seat and Dr. (Mrs.) Gloria Chikwere, for Orlu Zone, on the platform of the UNCP, were disqualified few days to the election, in controversial circumstance, Chief Nzeribe was left to stand for the Senate election for Orlu Zone on the DPN ticket and he won.
One of his opponents in the election, Chief Iwuala, who contested on the platform of the CNC, went to the tribunal to challenge his election. ln spite of the quality of exhibits, Chief Iwuala paraded at the tribunal, his petition was dismissed.
That was how Chief Nzeribe out¬smarted Abacha and his cohorts.
When Abacha died, and Abdulsalam Abubakar came on board, Chief Nzeribe went back to his Haven of Peace residence, Oguta, waiting for the next political action.
The time came, when APP, PDP, AD and others, were registered as political parties.
Chiefs Nzeribe, Iwuanyanwu, Enwerem, Josiah Odunna and Izuogu joined the APP, while the younger elements like Chief Greg Mbadiwe, Achike Udenwa, Rochas Okorocha, Humphery Anumudu and Martin Agbaso pitched tent with the PDP, with Senator Emeka Echeruo and Chief Innocent Nwoga providing the leadership then.
Dr. Alex Ekwueme had started talking about the presidency of the country, and with the enthusiasm that ambition had generated, Nzeribe and co, in the APP, had obviously had the fear that, APP might not find things easy at the poll.
To checkmate the Ekwueme influence in lmo, especially with his Presidential ambition, Nzeribe decided to act.
Through repeated radio announcements, Nzeribe summoned a meeting of all the political leaders in the state on non-party basis, traditional rulers and religious leaders, to the Rosy Art Theatre , Ikenegbu, Owerri.
Expectedly, Imo people responded, and the crowd was overwhelming.
His boys distributed his prepared speech, titled, “IGWE BU IKE, BUT CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME “.
ln other words, though we believe in Igbo solidarity, but our own charity should begin at home (Imo).
In the speech, Nzeribe catalogued the number of Anambra people that had held positions, believed to be meant for all the Igbos.He asked whether the word Igbo, meant ANAMBRA only ?.
He therefore urged Imo people, to unite and resist the Anambra domination and incursions.
At the end of the speech, he gave a sign to one of his boys, to bring the Ghana-must-go bag , loaded with money. He announced that, it was one million naira (N1m) and he donated it for the take-off of the Imo Solidarity Committee .
He asked for the setting up of the Solidarity Committee there and then, that would manage the fund and the ones to come.
Enwerem and Ifeanyi Araraume later left the APP , following Nzeribe’s heat . And they joined the PDP.
When Nzeribe discovered that Imo people did not buy into the anti-Ekwueme campaign, he restricted himself to Orlu Senatorial Zone, where he was to contest for the Senate, on the APP ticket .
Nzeribe went to the Senate . He moved the first motion for the impeachment of President Obasanjo and later, began the campaign for the re-election of Obasanjo in 2003 .
Before the 2003 election, the general feeling was that Obasanjo and his presidency, hated the lgbo. Nzeribe decided to leverage on that, to go back to the Senate .
He wrote 10-page book , titled “ NDIGBO AND OBASANJO: FALLACY OF THE HATRED THEORY “.
The summary of the book was that, Obasanjo and his government never hated the lgbos, but loved them greatly. That was the story of Nzeribe in his book .
We had also asked or desired to know Nzeribe’s real political friends in the Country .
What could be taken as the opportunity to know his friends, came when his son, Uzoma Nzeribe died.
On the day of the burial, we all rushed to Oguta as journalists, with the expectation of meeting key political players from all parts of the country.
To our utter dismay, it was only Uche Chukwumereije, we were able to identify as prominent. And we had our opinions.
When we met with Nzeribe at the end of the burial, the first question was, why did his friends stay away from the burial?
He kept quiet for some minutes. At the end, he asked us to tell him, the reason he should have invited his friends for the burial of his son , while he was still alive. He disarmed us.
Nzeribe was exceptionally intelligent. He never felt bad over any question , no matter how annoying such question could be.
Nzeribe’s story is a very lengthy one. lt can’t be finished in one trip. May His Soul Rest in peace, while we continue to clap earnestly for Jesus.