One interesting thing about the African culture is use of folklore. The black culture is rich with this. Whether those fables are real or mere myth, what is certain is that they are good points for illustration. A story was told about the death of a warrior who never lost any battle in his lifetime. So powerful was he that virtually everyone kowtowed to him. One evening, the town crier went round to announce the death of this warrior after which a crowd thronged his residence. Among them was a man, who had issues with the deceased, but while many wailed, the man shouted, “The strong man has finally become weak!”
The above story sums up an incident concerning Senator Francis Authur Nzeribe, who breathed his last on May 6, 2022, but the news broke two days after. Five years before his death, a picture of Nzeribe went viral on social media. The influential businessman and maverick politician was seen sitting languidly, with medics around him. This literally set the internet on fire. The agile, ebullient and energetic member of the aristocratic class had become transfixed.
SETTING THE INTERNET ‘ON FIRE’
One of the several comments, which trailed the photograph read, “Above is Authur Nzeribe living like an invalid at his country home in Orlu, Imo State. At the height of his life, he lived at the Presidential Suite of Nicon Hilton Hotel, Abuja, for over 20 years. So also Federal Palace Hotel, Lagos. He rode on Rolls Royce cars in London and Lagos. Had Mansions in major cities of the world. Had private jets. Was one time an enfante terrible of Nigeria’s politics. He helped to lead IBB to June 12 imbroglio and late Abacha’s attempted transmutation to Civilian President in 1998.
“Today, he lives a pathetic life at the mercy of aides and nurses. Life is moving on in Nigeria and the world without him. Money, cars, houses, private jets, and jet life are all vanities upon vanity. May God Almighty continue to bless us with good and sound health, peace of mind and contentment today and forever, Amen”.
But the politician who hardly missed the opportunity to speak responded via a statement issued by one of his aides.
“At 79 years old, I am hale and hearty and not suffering from a stroke. I am not in my community, Oguta, in Imo State. I am resting in my house in Abuja. And I thank God for keeping me healthy and allowing me see old age. Life and death are in God’s hands, and God willing I will remain hale and hearty and not suffer a stroke until such a time when God calls me home. And no amount of hateful speech can change or alter God’s plans for me or anyone else.”
MAJOR SUPPORTER OF ZIK
Nzeribe started playing politics long before the names we currently know in the game got into spotlight. He was one of the financiers of the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP), the platform on which legendary Nnamdi Azikiwe, popularly known as Zik, contested the presidential election in 1983. Nzeribe was said to have provided the private jet that Zik used to tour the country during his campaigns.
He was also a senatorial aspirant of the NPP in Imo. His flamboyant style of politicking stood him out. From the aircraft which he used to campaign, Nzeribe threw out money and people on the ground scrambled for the cash.
He had a gubernatorial ambition which led him into publishing the masterpiece “IMO MARSHAL PLAN CHARTER 90: HOW ARTHUR WILL GOVERN IMO STATE.”
One of the ways Nzeribe thought he could use to cut the cost of governance was the apartments he built at ‘Haven of Peace’, his Oguta country home. In his plan, the apartments were meant for commissioners that were expected to serve under his administration had he won the 1983 governorship election.
He wanted all the commissioners to reside there and go to work in Owerri, the state capital, from the mansion. By his calculation, the government would not spend so much money if all the commissioners were to reside in his Oguta home.
Nine years after his governorship ambition hit the rock, Nzeribe decided to run for president on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). However, the Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) junta cancelled the primaries, citing electoral fraud.
IBB then restructured the military government, with the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) replaced by the National Defence and Security Council. A civilian Transitional Council was created to deal with government administrative and economic tasks. The council was led by Chief Ernest Shonekan, who would later take over from IBB on an interim basis.
The new nomination process supervised by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) involved a knockout contest from the local to the national level, using an open ballot system – Option A4. The nomination process resulted in the emergence of Bashir Tofa and MKO Abiola, who contested the June 12 1993 election.
JUNE 12 DEBACLE
Protesters run after police fired teargas during a June 12 Democracy Day rally in Abuja, Nigeria June 12, 2021. REUTERS/Afolabi SotundeThrough the Association for Better Nigeria (ABN), which he created, Nzeribe tried to stop the election, saying IBB needed to spend four more years in power.
In an interview he granted the New York Times, Nzeribe had said, “If Babangida goes, the country will break into pieces. There will be another Bosnia.”
The ABN got an injunction to stop the election from holding. Justice Bassey Ikpeme of an Abuja High Court ordered NEC to scrap the election because of ABN’s claims of campaign irregularities by the country’s two political parties were justifiable.
″With the evidence before me, the planned election can no longer be free and fair. The National Electoral Commission is hereby restrained from going ahead with the said election,″ Mrs. Ikpeme said.
But the chairman of the NEC, Humphrey Nwosu, dismissed the injunction, citing the high court’s lack of authority on election-related matters. The election held and when NEC began announcing the first batch of results, Nzeribe had obtained another court injunction to halt the counting and verification of results.
It was a shocker as the injunction was obtained at midnight. MKO Abiola was leading by a wide margin from the results that trickled in. NEC accepted the fresh injunction and announced that it was suspending its announcement of the results.
In the heat of the crisis that followed the annulment of the election, IBB stepped aside after setting up an interim government headed by Shonekan. But General Sani Abacha seized power three months after.
POWEFUL FRIEND OF ABACHA
Nzeribe was among the powerful civilians in Abacha regime. He was said to have warmed his way to Abacha’s heart due to his relationship with the IBB regime, where Abacha was the Chief of Army Staff.
Like he did under IBB, he floated the Union of Democratically Elected Representatives of Nigeria (UDERN) which championed the call for Abacha’s self-succession, on the assumption that Nigeria would disintegrate if Abacha did not succeed himself.
But Abacha died months after. Despite Abacha’s death, Nzeribe relaunched himself into prominence, winning a senate seat under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
When his party moved to endorse ex-President Goodluck Jonathan as its sole candidate in 2011, Nzeribe made reference to the Abacha era.
“It was only on Friday (two weeks ago) that he made it clear that he wants to run. All the statements he made in the past were playing what I call the Abacha game. He (Abacha) was very lucky, sitting down there and every group came to pledge their loyalty to him and offered their votes, and he said nothing.
“He would just put on his sun glasses and shake his head; after that the people would go away. The five parties then all went to Abacha; where is democracy in that? And that’s what might happen to Jonathan, everybody is going there, pledging their votes; all groups and parties. We will wait and see,” Nzeribe told New Telegraph in an interview, while attempting to conceal the role he played in the Abacha era.
OBASANJO’s ‘49 NECK’
During the cold war between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, there were calls on the senate to invite the former president for questioning.
Things broke down to the extent that the centre could no longer hold. In an interview with The Sun, Nzeribe was asked whether he supported calls to invite Obasanjo to face the Senate, to which he said, it was the right thing to do “but the person you are talking about happens to be a being with 49 necks; there is no how you can strangle it. You know Ali Baba and the 40 thieves? This one is the other way round. Nobody is going to touch him. He’s the boss; he’s the mother of anti-corruption campaign that did not yield one conviction”.
JOURNEY INTO POLITICAL OBLIVION
In November 2002, he was suspended indefinitely by the then Senate President Anyim Pius Anyim over alleged N22 million fraud. The move followed claims that Nzeribe was plotting Anyim’s impeachment. Anyim himself was reported to have initiated the move to impeach Obasanjo, but it failed. Anyim did not seek reelection in 2003, knowing fully well that under Obasanjo’s watch, he would lose and lose. Instead of contesting, he mobilised resources for All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) candidates in Ebonyi State to challenge his party.
But Nzeribe, the cat with nine lives, bounced back into the senate as he was reelected in 2003. However, he suffered a heavy blow which sent him into political oblivion. Towards, the end of his second term at the senate, Nzeribe lost the ticket to seek another term to Senator Osita Izunaso, who was a teenager when the maverick politician entered politics.
SUPREMACY BATTLE WITH OKOROCHA
Rochas Okorocha was a presidential aide, a two-term governor and an incumbent Senator, who is aspiring for the highest office in the country. This is no doubt a solid pedigree, but in the days Nzeribe reigned, Okorocha could not move close to him. Nzeribe was a thorn in the flesh of bigwigs in the region. However, things got so bad for him that Okorocha almost turned him into a punching bag.
In the buildup to the 2015 election, Nzeribe threw his weight behind former Governor Emeka Ihedioha for governor. Rather than get scared of losing his reelection, Okorocha boasted, “I pray that Nzeribe does not endorse me, because he is bad news. He has never been known to endorse anybody in a better way. His song is old-fashioned and no longer in vogue. For those who have retired, may their political soul rest in peace.”
Four years later when Okorocha was trying to pave the way for Uche Nwosu, his son-in-law, as his successor, he attacked Nzeribe again, mocking his perceived irrelevance.
“Don’t be afraid , I am there, I have retired the Arthurs Nzeribes, the Udenwas, now I will retire the rest of them finally, I know them and they know me, their plan is to push me, so they can get the Senate, it’s a lie, I will run for Senate,” Okorocha had told his supporters.
RAISED WITHOUT PARENTAL CARE
The journey of a thousand miles, they say, begins with a step. On November 3, 1938, Nzeribe was born into an influential family in Oguta, Imo state. Unlike many of his peers, he did not enjoy the undying love of a mother. His mum died while he was in primary school. His father was also in far away UK where he was studying law. He was instead raised by Catholic priests.
But for a precocious kid consumed by unmatched passion for greatness, his lack of parental care did not deter him. Nzeribe blazed through the four walls of Bishop Shanahan College, Orlu, and the Holy Ghost College, Owerri, before travelling to Lagos State in 1957.
His sheer grit and brilliance soon paved the way for him as he landed a job with the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) as an Engineering Cadet.
Nzeribe, however, wanted more. He knew he was destined for the top and realising education is integral to achieving his lofty dreams, he decided to further his studies.
A year after working with the NPA, Nzeribe won a scholarship to study marine engineering at the Portsmouth College of Technology and Chesterfield College of Technology in England. In the UK, his innovative and innate abilities to create solutions fetched him immense goodwill.
By the time Nigeria got her independence in 1960, Nzeribe was already selling Life Insurance to black immigrants in Britain.
ENCOUNTER WITH KWAME NKRUMAH
During his youthful days, Nzeribe’s industry and charming personality was one that could melt any heart. Such must have caught the attention of Kwame Nkrumah, the influential Ghanaian leader. Nkrumah met Nzeribe while in the UK and after they formed strong bond, he enlisted the Nigerian as his public relations officer.
Nzeribe soon became a popular figure in Ghana where he wined and dined with the country’s crème de la crème. However, after Nkrumah was ousted through a coup in 1966, his power and influence in Ghana dwindled. But that didn’t stop him.
In 1969, Nzeribe started the Fanz Organisation based in London. The organisation dealt in heavy construction, arms, oil brokerage, publishing and property investment. It also engaged in businesses in the Middle East and the Gulf region. By 1979, Fanz had an annual trading turnover of £70 million.
YAR’ADUA’S IN-LAW WHO BELIEVED IN ONE NIGERIA
Nzeribe believed strongly in one Nigeria until his death. In an interview with New Telegraph, he dismissed a report credited to a US group which predicted that Nigeria would cease to exist by 2015 due to insecurity in the country.
His believe in one Nigeria was also manifested in his marital life. Nzeribe was married to Joan Edugie. He also married sister to Asabe Yar’Adua, wife of the late General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who was brother of President Umaru Yar’Adua.
In one of his last interviews on earth, Nzeribe had said, “I know I’m going to die… but nobody wishes to die.” Wishes are not horses; good night, Pa Nzeribe.