Nzeribe: The Nostradamus of Nigerian politics clocks 79, By Collins Ughalaa

Posted by News Express | 15 November 2017 | 3,118 times

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•Chief Senator Francis Arthur Nzeribe

For those who have chosen to cast themselves in the mould of detractors to the legendary politician, community leader, statesman and consummate investor and the Nostradamus of Nigerian politics – Chief Senator Francis Arthur Nzeribe, Damamnze, Ogbuagu, Oshiji, Oyimba Oguta – there is something they cannot take away from him. That is, Ogbuagu is the shield, armour and defender of his people. He does not deny the fact of his origin as an Igbo man, but flaunts his Igbo identity anywhere and anytime. He could do anything or offend anyone in the defence of his Igbo people and the Igbo race, without apologies.

For the sake of his people and to prove that the Igbo nation is a vital component of the country called Nigeria and therefore should not be treated as inconsequential, he single-handedly formed the Association for Better Nigeria (ABN), and went to court and got favourable judgment that forced military president, Gen Ibrahim Babangida-led government to cancel the June 12 presidential election.

The background to this action is a purported careless comment by then presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), late Chief MKO Abiola, that he would win his presidential election without Igbo votes.

Ensuring that the June 12, 1993 presidential election was cancelled is, perhaps, the greatest service Senator Nzeribe had rendered to his people. His belief that Ndigbo must be in the mainstream of Nigerian politics is never negotiable, and he does not regret taking any action to preserve the integrity of the Igbo nation. To him, a situation where the president, vice-president and party’s national chairman were shared, to the exclusion of the Igbo was highly unacceptable. What MKO gave to the Igbo was just Secretary to the Government of the Federation, which Nzeribe considered not good enough, or not commensurate to the efforts of the Igbo people in birthing the expected new government.

The Igbo have a popular saying that it is only a coward that would hear gunshots at the entrance to his father's house and run for cover. Thus, Nzeribe led a delegation of notable Igbo leaders to have frank talks with Abiola on how they would stand in the expected new democratic dispensation. But MKO chose to behave as if the Igbo did not matter to him, as he handed them a second-class status in their own country, by claiming that Igbo votes were inconsequential to his emergence as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This unacceptable arrogance forced down the sledge hammer from Ogbuagu Nzeribe. And the rest is history. Though Abiola would later come to the Ogbuagu's mansion in Oguta, the ‘revered haven of peace’ for peace talks, the deed had already been done. It was one second too late.

No matter how some people may tend to twist this story to mean that Nzeribe midwifed the abortion of MKO Abiola's envisaged presidency that would have taken Nigeria to the El-dorado, the fact remains that by his actions Nzeribe displayed unmatchable selflessness for the overall interest of Igbo people. This, too, is keeping with the Igbo value that ‘no one insults my mother in my presence and goes scot-free’. Again, the Igbo believe that ‘any market that will not accommodate my mother will not hold.’ What sort of El-doradocould happen to the exclusion of the Igbo? If we cannot be part of it, it is better it never happened.

Nzeribe's comfort means nothing to him, if his people are in discomfort. He would quickly sacrifice his comfort zone whenever anyone, no matter how highly placed, holds down any disdainful look on his people. For example, when former President Olusegun Obasanjo chose to dictate who became Senate president and national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), painting the false picture that the Igbo people were unfit for such high leadership positions, it was Senator Nzeribe that stood in the gap and questioned him. He even went ahead to move for Obasanjo’s impeachment on the floor of the Senate. Though the impeachment never worked and Nzeribe was tongue-lashed, his actions did not go for nothing, as Igbo people got stable tenures for Senate president, afterwards. The news about ‘banana peels’ ended too.

As the Nostradamus of Nigerian politics, it was Nzeribe who came with what is now commonly known as restructuring. In his strong belief in equity and fairness, he moved for the creation of additional state from the South-East, not minding that it was at a time the Igbo people were practically not interested in additional state, or the sixth state. Nzeribe's proposition on the sixth state also included creating Urashi State. This proposed state was to comprise the minority people of Urashi, who were forced to be in Rivers State by the military government, and parts of Imo and Anambra states, bringing together about 13 local governments of kit and kin, with abundant natural resources. Of course, Nzeribe's quest for the sixth state in the South-east did not work, for some political reasons. Later, the South-easterners became more aware,  as a result, the demand for a sixth state reached a deafening crescendo, to the point that it was a major issue in the 2014 National Conference, which report is yet to be implemented.

As a democrat, Chief Nzeribe believes in negotiations. It was for the sake of producing a stronger platform for more meaningful negotiations, so that his people would be the ultimate better for it, that led him to reason that if the Southeast and South-south came together, they would form a formidable front for better negotiations with other parts of the country; and also address issues of common concern better.

To give life to this idea, he created the CARIA Movement, comprising Cross River, Abia, Rivers, Imo and Anambra states. Today, this spirit lives on as the governors of the South-east and South-south have found the need to form a forum, speak with one voice and address issues of common interest. The governors met in Owerri last month, and would meet again in November in Akwa-Ibom State. When the success story is told about this new-found regional integration, I am sure the governors of the two zones would write Nzeribe's name in gold.

I have listened to some people who did not know much about the senator, while he was in the Senate, ask what he achieved as a lawmaker. The fact is that as a lawmaker, Nzeribe ensured that the executive did not pocket the legislature, because he believed in separation of powers and independence of the legislature.

As a lawmaker, Senator Arthur Nzeribe's functions were lawmaking and oversight functions, and he discharged them creditably. Not many knew that he was the highest-ranking senator at the time, having been in the Senate for four terms. This put on his shoulders the role of a stabiliser in the upper chamber.

He served as Senate committee chairman on power, and later on health. It was his Senate committee on health that gave Nigeria the first-ever National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). That is, besides other meaningful successes recorded in the health sector. However, it needs to be mentioned that some people have made some baseless falsehood about whom he had empowered. Except for those engaging in mischief, Nzeribe's empowerment has remained classical.

Not many know that the political lexicon of ‘human empowerment’ was created by Senator Arthur Nzeribe in the first place. His kind of human empowerment spread across the country and many people benefitted.

Among those who benefitted from the chief's empowerment is the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie Oyegun, whom he had sponsored for the governorship of Edo State. What Nzeribe needed was demonstrable competence, and once he saw it in you, he would spend his money and activate his wide-reach contact to sponsor you, not minding where you come from. Hon Gerald Irona is another person that was empowered by the senator. He sponsored him to be councillor for two terms in Oguta Local Government Area, and also made him secretary of then All Peoples Party (APP), executive chairman of Oguta LGA. He equally sponsored some candidates from Orlu zone for Imo the State House of Assembly, including Irona, whom he was instrumental in his election into the House of Representatives. He also sponsored Dr Gideon Nwaeze to be the executive chairman of Oguta LGA.

Nzeribe's empowerment also touched on Senator Osita Izunaso, Hon Jeff Ojinika, and others too numerous to mention. These people are still alive and active in Nigeria's political and economic terrain.

Away from political empowerment, Nzeribe is a huge philanthropist. He created the Arthur Nzeribe Foundation, where he empowered countless number of people in agriculture and education. As an act of philanthropy, Ogbuagu Nzeribe did not need to know the beneficiaries and where they came from. No one was required to pay a dime too.

Chief Nzeribe also provided free medical program for pregnant women, children and the elderly. The huge benefit to the beneficiaries cannot be quantified as most of those who could have died without the medical interventions are still alive and doing well in their different endeavours. And Chief never thinks they owe him anything.

It is in recognition of his good heart towards all that God may have chosen to bless him with old age. And despite the frailties and other nagging challenges of old age, Nigerians, nay Igbo people, are grateful to God that Nzeribe is alive and enjoying his old age. Growing up, we were told that old age is a reward from God. That is why all cultures demand total respect for the elderly. In some cultures, it is believed that respect for the elderly brings God’s blessings. That God has rewarded Ogbuagu with old age is a pointer to the fact that no good deed passes unnoticed before God.

As Ogbuagu clocks 79, we celebrate an enigmatic leader, a colossus, an institution, maverick politician, philanthropist and consummate businessman, who has recorded earth-shattering results for himself, Nigeria, Imo State and the entire Igbo nation. We celebrate a legend whose firm belief in progressive constitutional democracy, negotiations and people’s power has paid off. His belief that, ultimately, power belongs to the people has remained unwavering.

We celebrate the man that saw ‘change’ in Nigeria as far back as 1983, when he campaigned for change, decades before the change mantra took over Nigeria. We celebrate a man who is loved by his people. This love is found in the lyrics of his 1983 campaign jingle, which succinctly and solemnly declared: “Arthur Nzeribe is the people's choice.” This love is also found in the fact that the people of Oguta are fond of naming their sons Nzeribe and, in my community, I have some people by that name. At a point, Chief Nzeribe became our address. When asked where we came from, we would say we come from Nzeribe's place, Oguta; that we are Nzeribe's brothers. Such was the love. And we remain proud of him and his achievements.

At 79, we celebrate a legislator per excellence, a man of uncommon courage and foresight with huge international network of relationships, global financial structures, major political players and influencers.

Happy birthday, my boss! May we have more years to celebrate you on the earth.

•Collins Ughalaa, , a lawyer, writes from Oguta. He can be reached via

Source: News Express

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