By Nwachukwu Obidiwe
On the eve of another governorship election, fear of missing out (FOMO) is enveloping the ruling party in Anambra State. The image-maker of the incompetent governor, James Eze, has been doom-scrolling, an attempt to re-wire our nervous system and force our brains to process our dear state as unsafe without APGA. James is very unlikely to succeed but in converse, anyway, the fast-tracked retardation of the state is capable of causing that post-traumatic stress disorder for anyone who knew the prosperous state Governor Willie Obiano inherited in 2013.
In the back page of Daily Sun of Friday, February 26, 2021, Eze put up a fickle thesis in a piece, “The Imo Debacle and Obiano’s Power of Turning the other Cheek.” It was another futile exercise to shut out a meteor, to badly deconstruct the Sen. Chris Ngige enigma. Unfortunately, one ugly phenomenon developing among the ruling class at Awka Government House is the decline of readership. This may have led to a radical decline in the sophistication of thoughts and acts of governance.
A foremost scholar of mass communication, Prof. Charles Okigbo, had, in an NIPR lecture years back in Lagos, warned that today’s generation will have to battle the decline of readership as it was being eclipsed by viewership. But this scholar from Ojoto in Idemili South might not have thought of the debilitating effects of his warning in Anambra Government House. The culture of watching Africa Magic during office hours has successfully infested Obiano’s exco chambers from a nearby educational institution sharing fence with it. The non-academic staff of the institution were lately in the news for obsession with films during working hours. Except a few, I doubt anyone reads or is interested in research among the clique that govern the state. Otherwise, how could the spokesman of the governor, not ignorant of the court judgements, which declared that Sen. Chris Ngige was governor and all actions he performed in office legal, go ahead to claim that “Obiano restored erstwhile Governor Chris Ngige to the official memory of the state”?
For the record, Obiano did not restore Ngige to the official memory of the state. The courts did on one hand, while his unbeatable achievements as governor did the rest. Recall that Speaker Mike Balonwu and other members of the House of Assembly had approached Justice C.O. Nweke of the state High Court, with pleas bordering on the tenure of the House and other reliefs, implicit with annulment of the tenure of Ngige as governor and, by it, all his acts in office. The Honourable Justice, on September 17, 2007, dismissed the case and chided the applicants thus, “Anambra people knew that Chris Nwabueze Ngige passed through this state as governor and that it was only when Dr. Chris Ngige left the scene that members of the House started to act like sheep without shepherd.”
The judge added that, before the nullification, the governor was lawfully sworn in and all acts performed as governor were legal and enforceable in law.
Not satisfied, Governor Peter Obi, who was sponsoring the senseless suit as part of his scorched earth measures to ghost Ngige’s legacies, did not rest as he egged on the ‘boys’ to the Enugu Division of the Appeal Court, where in a lead judgement on June 26, 2008, Justice Victor Omage upheld the judgement of the high court and declared, “Governor Ngige exercised for two years (sic) all the functions of a governor. Nothing in law has nullified those actions, though his appointment has been nullified. All the acts performed by him in that period as governor are legally performed. The nullification of his election has made him to cease the performance of those functions as governor, but the actions made by him at a time before his nullification remain valid and enforceable at law. To hold otherwise will engender chaos.”
When the matter came before the Supreme Court, the team of justices, led by Mahmud Mohammed, on December 4, 2009, upheld the Appeal Court judgement and directed that “the fact he (Ngige) had to vacate office at the end of the court proceedings challenging his election in accordance with the provisions of the Electoral Act cannot invalidate any powers or duties exercised or performed by him while in office.”
It is very unfortunate, therefore, that Obiano’s managers do not know this while selling ignorance in the market that Ngige was “stripped of the halo of all former governors.”
The truth is that Obi did not obey these judgements and it is no surprise. All through, Obi licked his wounds that he didn’t succeed in obliterating Ngige from official records through the courts. The Justice Ononiba panel, which he earlier set up to nail Ngige after denying that he left a whopping N13.8 billion, also failed him. Ononiba didn’t only confirm Ngige left the money but also heaped encomiums on him for selfless service to the state. So, Obiano merely discharged an obligation after his executive council drew his attention to the judgements. It is not a favour, sure!
But which pension is being talked about here? Ngige has neither received pension nor the status-approved perks of office for former governors of the state. As a member of the seventh Senate (2011 to 2015), he declared ineligibility for pensions and notified the state government to that effect. That status remains ever since his appointment as minister in 2015. Or will anyone kindly provide evidence that he has ever drawn pension from the state government?
To further argue that Ngige “rose to power through the back door and flushed out through the court,” also holds no water. It is illogical that, at that time of bandwagon politics, a ruling political party lost the governorship but won the presidential poll conducted in the same booths, on the same day. The connivance of the Presidency and the pressure on the Justice Nabaruma Election Tribunal is well known but probably not to the governor’s aide who is a complete stranger to Anambra State and only interested in his pot of soup.
Is anyone surprised at the dismal fiasco in Anambra government circles when our governor, another Tiberus Caesar, flees here and then to the Island of Capri in chase of pleasure, while Caesar’s wife, Vipsania, bursts the trove of foolish megalomania with regular show-off of opulence? Where a commissioner resigned to shield his integrity from festering corruption and is kidnapped for weeks? When the head is rotten…is a well-known dictum.
But James did not obviously seek to understand or find out from his boss why Ngige has a “word of reproach for Obiano.” Now, know it. Obiano represents the allegory of a child whose parents readied for the farming season by providing a fertile piece of land and everything needed for bumper harvest. The child did not only eat all the yam tubers, arguing it was profitable to buy from the market, he also sold the farm, hoes, and squandered the proceeds at a local palm wine joint, only to go about borrowing, like Unoka in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. James, this is why Ngige criticizes Obiano. Anambra was a metaphorical fertile farm with predictable successive bumper harvests, until the locusts and weevils landed in 2013 and devastation set in.
Ngige did not only lay the foundation, he took the building above the lintel level despite meeting the state in coma. He had to fight godfathers to liberate the state in the midst of dilapidated infrastructures, salary and pension arrears, debts to banks and international lenders. He received not even a formal handover note, much less a dime in savings but did not sell state assets to take off. Ngige criticizes because his efforts and subsequent consolidation by Obi have been brought to the nadir by Obiano. The governor inherited everything needed to succeed but chose to play Khedive Isma’il whose extravagance pushed Egypt into bankruptcy, paving the way for British occupation in 1882.
Alone in less than three years, Ngige built 105 roads, cutting across the three senatorial zones of Anambra State. He laid a solid foundation for quality education by returning 51 primary and 13 secondary schools to the missions in 2005. He renovated all the schools and paid UBEC counterpart fund of N1.6 billion, winning laurels as the second best state in 2004, 2005 and 2006. He further built infrastructures at the state university and decentralized it into a multi-campus, securing accreditation for 32 courses, including Law, Engineering and Medicine, in 2005.
Ngige ended the infamous 18-month strike by doctors and partnered international donor agencies to revolutionize healthcare delivery in the state. He revived the Onitsha and Awka township water schemes and restored water to the taps. All have collapsed under the APGA government of Obiano. Ngige also decongested the Onitsha metropolis by developing new markets for building materials, textiles and electronics/electricals in Ogidi, Ogbunike, Bridge Head and Oba, respectively
Importantly, through an executive order, he brought the payment of salaries of civil servants to first line charge, and ensured hitch-free payment of salaries till date. He also recalibrated pensions, making Anambra State the first to pay 143 per cent rise. Further reforming the civil service, examinations were set for would-be permanent secretaries, leading to the emergence of not just qualified but competent technocrats, and further engineering same reform in the judiciary with the unbiased emergence of competent young judges and judicial officers. He also established Anambra Vigilante Service and ensured security.
Without going to all that Obi also did and bequeathed, what has Obiano done with all than the malfeasance and mis-governance we notice around? If it is not about squandering N75 billion in local and foreign currencies, it is about promissory notes, running into billions of naira, being sold prematurely or valued state assets being auctioned off to fund squandermania. Has anyone considered destabilization of once peaceful communities, many of which are now under imposed caretaker committees? The only government in the states of the South-East afraid of conducting local government elections to save untrammeled diversion of local government funds.
The collapsing overhead bridges in Awka built at almost three times the cost, cannot take heavy duty vehicles, thus, causing unprecedented traffic jam. We hear of an airport being built at an outrageous $2.2b since 2017, blasting its original 36 months completion time, and now in the 48 months yet undelivered by fake Chinese companies. Another conference hall in Awka when the Women Development Centre is underutilized. Out of 69 road projects he inherited, over 90 per cent are abandoned with few claimed to have been done collapsing. We hear of friendly social and business environment, yet the internally generated revenue of the state takes a progressive dive, even with mindless triple extortion in all the markets of the state. Anambra, they claim, is lightened up with street lights, yet, they give no lights and where they do, too little to help one out of deep gullies that our roads now are.
To think that so many communities in the state are engulfed in state-sponsored crisis yet the governor is said to be turning the other cheek; it is numbing. It is this same governor who, without justification, has taken destabilization to Ngige’s backyard. But for the minister’s statesmanship to this deliberate provocation, the situation would have been worse than what his spokesman has written about Imo State.
But here is a role reversal. In 2004, a certain Chris Nwabueze Ngige, OON, was governor of Anambra State and on this late evening, his Aka Ikenga brother and friend, Prince Tony Idigo, arrived Government House, Awka, with a delegation of Aguleri Town Union Home and Abroad, without an appointment, to see the governor. Prominent Aguleri sons from Lagos, including a mid-level banker, Mr. Willie Obiano, were in this delegation. Their mission was to plead with the governor not to recognize an usurper being funded by some 419 boys to the Aguleri throne. Notwithstanding their gatecrashing, Gov. Ngige listened to Tony who had left his New York base. He asked the delegation to give his Special Adviser, the Aguleri people’s constitution, which made Igweship in Aguleri hereditary. The rest is history, as Igwe Engr. Idigo was certified as Igwe Aguleri and given staff of office within three months.
In Alor, for eight years, Obiano had not only certified an usurper but is abusing Ngige for not succumbing to his political antics and subtle intimidation of the entire community for voting APC in all elections since he came into office. Otherwise, why an undemocratic caretaker committee to govern the town from 2011 to 2019 and why appeal the judgement of Justice Oguji of Anambra State High Court declaring this committee illegal and ordering the conclusion of the stalled town government election? Who is turning the other cheek, Ngige or Obiano?
Let me end by reminding Eze of the declarations of Justice Nweke in that famous judgement, “Anambra people knew that Chris Nwabueze Ngige passed through this state as governor.”
That is the portrait that matters the most and not the one hanging in the Exco Chambers. And that is why Ngige is worried Obiano is not striving to hang his own portrait in the minds of Ndi-Anambra.
•Obidiwe is an Abuja-based journalist and public affairs analyst.