Succession Blues: As Obiano Stalks Obi’s Shadow
The Grandstanding, Politics Of Shifting Alliances
THE practice of state governors fighting their ‘shadows’ is fast becoming a constant feature of fourth republic politics. Just when it seemed the incessant squabbles between governors and their godfathers/predecessors have ebbed, Edo State broke the ice.
The incumbent Comrade Governor, Adams Oshiomhole dug into the archives of the state executive council and began a campaign of attrition against his distant predecessor, Lucky Igbinedion. Charging like a bull and swearing to high heavens, the incumbent declared his intention to prosecute Igbinedion. When that threat seemed not to be making the desired impact, Oshiomhole added a new angle. He said he would jail father and son for appropriating the land and commonwealth of Edo people.
Believing that the former labour leader was taking the drama too far, Igbinedion junior exposed his antics, saying that the incumbent was the greatest blackmailer and jester in town. The former governor added that the tricks of Oshiomhole were to distract Edo people from focusing on his eight years of absent development in the state.
While the verbal pugilism between the prominent Edo politicians went on, analysts recalled how similar godfather and son schism between former old Anambra State Governor, Senator Jim Nwobodo and the then incumbent Enugu State Governor, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, around 2002 brought the dangers of godfathering to the front burner of national discourse. After that, the scuffle in Enugu, the ones in Oyo State between Governor Rashid Ladoja and Chief Lamidi Adedibu happened, leading to Ladoja’s loss of second term in office. In Anambra, Nigerians easily remember the adventures of former Governor Chris Ngige and self-acclaimed political godfather of the state, Chief Chris Uba. Yet in recent times, the loss of camaraderie between the Kano State Governor, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje and Rabiu Kwankwaso, was brief but far reaching.
Shortly after mounting the saddle on May 29, 2015; Dr. Ganduje, who was deputy governor to Kwankwaso, rebuked his predecessor for piling debts for the state. The incumbent alleged that Senator Kwankwaso failed to pay N3b being tuition fees of overseas students from Kano. Speaking when a delegation of Kano students in overseas institutions under the auspices of General Association of Northern Nigeria Students (GANNS), based in Egypt; visited him, the governor said: “For one year, Kwankwaso did not pay a single kobo as tuition fee for our students studying abroad. Right now, Kano State government owes the students N3billion. And painfully, our revenue is dwindling and we would be cautious in handling the situation. For whatever reasons, the Kwankwaso administration distorted the scholarship programme. I have decided to let the cat out of the bag so that, as educated people, you would understand where your problems lie.”
Not long after the cat was let out of the bag, there were hints of an impending trial of Kwankwaso by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The former governor, who contested the All Progressives Congress (APC), presidential primary alongside President Muhammadu Buhari, curled his tails between his legs and swallowed his spittle. As a clever politician, the former Kano strong man, who acceded to making his long term critic and former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the emir of Kano; decided to withdraw from any further battle with his former deputy. If there were lessons to be learnt from the Kano example, it seems Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State imbibed them. Perhaps he thinks that the best way to exorcise the shadow of his godfather and benefactor, Mr. Peter Obi, was to adopt the Ganduje treatment, by attacking the legacies and reputation of his predecessor as a prudent manager of resources.
Governor Obiano had, through the Secretary to Anambra State Government (SSG), Professor Solomon Osita Chukwulobelu; accused his predecessor of lying about the financial position of the state at his point of departure. Insisting that the N75billion Obi claimed to have left behind in cash was a big ruse; the government noted that the impression created by Obi that he left a debt-free treasury was inaccurate. The succeeding government said it was only “handed over N9b cash and N26b near cash as well as contract liabilities to the tune of N185.1b.” The SSG said the clarification became necessary owing to the fact that “the rumour of the N75b was gaining grounds in the social and traditional media in the country.” “The N75b was not there; it was not handed over to anybody.
At best it can be half-truth,” Chukwulobelu stated reiterating, “what the Obiano administration inherited from Obi in real sense was N9b cash and N26b near cash.” The SSG added: “Based on the figures detailed above, which are taken from the handover notes from the previous administration to the current administration, it is evident that the actual and voluntary cash investments made by the previous administration amounts to approximately N35.5b consisting of mobilisation paid on contracts for shopping malls and hotels, cost of two business parks in Onitsha, investments in Eurobonds, amongst a few others.”
Unlike Kwankwaso, Mr. Peter Obi has not kept quiet to bear the social burden of the ‘misrepresentation’ of facts by his protégé. Though retooling himself at Havard, Obi has through his aide, Valentine Obienyem, decided to take up the challenge of confronting the shenanigans of the government of his successor. First, Obienyem played up the contrasting lifestyles of the two political leaders. Then he expressed outrage that the incumbent had to wait for two years before picking holes on the handover document that was delivered publicly in the presence of bank managers and investment consultants during the transition. And as one that had been with his master from day one, Obienyem tasked Obiano to recall how he promised Anambra people that he would run an administration based on continuity. Governor Obiano had promised that his methodology would be to complete projects initiated by Okwute, as Obi is called; and conceive new ones.
But Obi’s spokesman maintained that the present state government was veering off the tangent by denying that the preceding administration actually left behind N75billion in the coffers. He contended that Obiano’s action should be seen as a deliberate attempt to misrepresent facts. He stressed that as at March 17, 2014; when he handed over, Obi got all the certified statements of Anambra’s accounts from the banks where these monies were and handed them over to his successor. Further, Obienyem said the breakdown of the funds reveals “N27b in local currency investment; N26.5b in foreign currency investment; N28.1b in Certified State/ MDS balances.”
He revealed how in the final handover document, Obi deducted N10b being approved federal government refund as well as the salary, pension, gratuity, money on certificates raised on contracts for the month of March, put at N5b; before arriving at the balance of over N75b he left for his successor. “As a financial expert, at the end of his tenure, Obi went to the event with Obiano, where he said all that in the presence of all the bank chiefs in whose banks the monies were. Obi’s aide added that apart from the incorrect figures the SSG gave in his press conference, it is on record that “Obi paid contractors owed by his predecessors and did not owe a single contractor before leaving office.” Or, “are they saying he should have paid for contracts awarded but not yet executed before he left office? Obienyem asked rhetorically.
Short of accusing the incumbent of squandering what Obi prudently left in the state coffers, Obienyem remarked that it could be a matter of style, stressing that “while Obi tried to save for the state, the executive council of his successor approved N5b for him to celebrate his first 100 days in office.” “He charters plane, something his predecessor never did. Today, Government House hosts all manner of parties cum orgies. It is pertinent to note that two years have gone, and Anambra State Government is still debating what was left or not, even when other governors that inherited huge debts, unpaid salaries and repayable loans and bonds have all taken off. In Obi’s first six months in office, he had already saved enormous money for the state before he was illegally impeached. I do not know by what economics principle they classified some money put in certain areas as not investment. I think they need to explain further. Did Obi use the money to organise parties, as is now the order of the day?
It is shocking to note that Anambra State Government said they only met N9b cash in the treasury. One of the most confounding claims by the Government of Anambra State government is the issue of dollar investment. They tried to prove that the investment has diminished in value, when, on the contrary, the investment has earned N8b for the state. Let it also be noted that the investment is held-to-maturity and not for them to seek ways to sell it as they do now.” It is common knowledge in Awka that quite unlike Peter Obi; Governor Willie Obiano enjoys life to the fullest.
As a connoisseur, he graduated from St. Remy to such other choice aristocratic wines as Crystal and Angel that British Lords consume. Consequently, it is not out of place that Obi’s aide itemized possible areas of waste by the incumbent to include the following: N5 spent on celebrating 100 days in office; N1b security vote; N40m as cost of mounting Government Lodge gate; N35m as cost of mounting Government House gate; N30m spent on purchasing gold bed from the US; N25m as cost of buying gold bed from US for his wife; N150m spent on musical sets for his Aguleri country home among other mindboggling expenditures including using more cars in two years than Obi used in eight years.
Even as he accused the Obiano administration of “incestuous reasoning”, Obi’s aide conceded “governments borrow money whenever there is need.” However, he noted that Mr. Peter Obi did not borrow mainly “because he felt Anambra State needed to be stabilized first” explaining that if well managed, the money saved for the state in foreign currency could go a long way in sustaining the development of the State. “Now, his successor thinks differently; he plans to undertake massive borrowing,” Obienyem declared, calling for a public debate on the cash reserve imbroglio.
But not to be undone in the proxy war, Governor Obiano’s Special Adviser on Media, Mr. James Eze, reacted to Obienyem’s depositions, gloating that at last the whole episode about the N75b residue comes as “a happy ending to the long tale of a wise, prudent governor who is renowned for his frugality. After all, it is no mean feat to leave all of N9b behind by a Nigerian public official.” Projecting his sarcasm further, Eze contended that “basic accounting principles demand that once we look at assets, we must almost impulsively, also look at the liabilities.” He noted that a look at the liability side of Obi’s handover notes indicates that out of the N185b due to be paid to contractors at the end of his two terms tenure, the former governor was only able to pay the sum of N78.9b, leaving a staggering N106.2b overhang on contractual debts alone.
It would have been just okay if it had not also come to light that the handover note throbs with so many half buried skeletons. For instance, Obi’s categorisation of the N9b that his administration invested in the Nigeria Independent Power Project, which the federal government unilaterally exacted from the accounts of all states and local governments in the federation, as part of the assets in the handover note does not smell very nice,” Obiano’s aide stated. He added: “The perplexity grows even more with the discovery that Obi also seemed to have been too clever not to know that some of the investments he brandished as part of his legacy are even not qualified to be classified as investments… Even so, it must also be noted that Obiano’s eventual breaking of silence on the contentious N75b is a direct response to the endless campaign by Obi’s loyalists to reduce all his achievements to the existence of a phantom N75b legacy somewhere. In the final analysis, it is never late to set the record straight; it might take months or years but truth pressed to earth will rise again!”
Ever since the rumble in Awka boomed, a lot of interpretations are being weaved to explain the sudden loss of amity between Obiano and his soft-spoken godfather. A lot of people say though the trouble had been simmering, Obi did not want to escalate the subtle attacks and conspiracies against him. On his part, Obiano’s loyalists have been pushing for the man to snatch his independence from the apron strings of Obi. Those who prop the incumbent to carve out his own political structure and image conclude that the departure of Obi to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was to leave the Aguleri-born latterday politician, defenseless. Others hold that the second term ambition of Obiano propelled the altercation. Rival governorship candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA); Dr. Chike Obidigbo, said the catfight between Governor Obiano and Mr. Peter Obi, over N75b cash left over was needless.
Though he doubted that such amount was left behind during the transition, Obidigbo queried why the incumbent should be making the revelations two years after. He added: “It looks foolish to start the debate now because it seems as if it is to justify the squandering of whatever Peter Obi left behind or to convince Anambra people on why the government is seeking money from the capital market.” While insisting that the recourse to borrowing was not necessary and uncalled for, Obidigbo enjoined Anambra people to speak up against it and challenged the government to first of all, prove how judicious it has been in spending public money arguing that if Peter Obi did not leave debts behind, Obiano should not plunge Anambra State to ill-conceived debts. He reiterated that the two major reasons why Obiano started talking about the N75b include preparing the minds of Anambra people for the loan facility in the capital market and paving the way for his eventual defection to APC despite all he did and said about Buhari and APC during the last election.
Governor Obiano had declared that his second term in office was not negotiable, stressing that “nobody can stop me.” He made the assertion while inspecting the Nkpor section of the Onitsha-Enugu Expressway. “I am going to stay eight years in office and nobody can stop me,” he declared with his eyes blazing menacingly. The question, which the governor could not answer as yet is on which political platform he intends to seek his re-election.
The APGA Dimension
THE path to enthroning Obiano as his successor was strewn with a lot of political bumps of intrigues for former governor Peter Obi. Coming at a time when the leadership crisis in APGA was at a crossroad over the party’s convention, Obi had to bend backwards to reconcile with the embattled national chairman of the party, Chief Victor Umeh. Sources said the former governor had to appease Umeh with much money before the later could agree on the plot to railroad the little-known Obiano as the APGA governorship candidate for the 2013 election. As part of the plot, most visible candidates, including Professor Chukwuma Soludo, Dr. Chike Obidigbo and Senator Uche Ekwunife were either disqualified or manipulated out of the APGA primary.
However, repudiating the breach of due process in the nomination of Obiano, including the former Fidelity Bank director’s alleged double registration, the parallel APGA leadership of Chief Maxi Okwu, which was produced via a national convention sponsored by the then Governor Obi; decided to hold its primary while contesting the constitutionality of Umeh’s continued stay in office. While the Court case against Umeh lasted, especially the January 15, 2014 ruling by Justice Abdulkadir Abdul-Kafarati, that Okwu, rather than Umeh was the authentic national chairman of APGA, former governor Obi started his plans to jettison APGA. The plan came to fruition when barely three months into his tenure, certain characters, including Umeh started hinting Obiano that Peter Obi was the architect of the problems in APGA.
That if he was to enjoy seamless governance and smooth passage to a second term, every effort should be made to excuse Obi from the party; they suggested insinuating that two captains do not man one ship. Such was the curious scenario playing behind the scene in Awka that at the approach of the 2015 election, Obi moved over to PDP, having encouraged some APGA stalwarts like Ekwunife, Chris Azubuogu and others to precede him in decamping to the then ruling party. The defection of Obi caused not only panic in Awka, but also stirred much apprehension as to what could be the likely effect on Obiano’s tenure and politics.
To make matters worse, during the March 28, 2015 presidential and National Assembly election, PDP overwhelmed candidates of other political parties, defeating even the garrulous Umeh. Frightened by this untoward outcome, Obiano was said to have mobilized men and financial resources to arrest the impending Tsunami at the state Assembly election. Some political jobbers were said to have intimated the incumbent that both Umeh and Obi planned to produce state legislators so as to be able to impeach him with ease. In the end, through a combination of factors, including the loss by then President Goodluck Jonathan and the huge amount of money released by the state government, APGA garnered more than 80 percent of the 24 lawmakers. But the scar on the state’s treasury remained!
Bereft of a father figure or political playmaker, Governor Obiano began the search for new masters, at least, to weather the challenges posed by Obi’s looming political shadow. That search explains the much-publicized congratulatory visit the governor paid to Buhari, as President-elect, during which he pleaded for accommodation for Nd’Igbo. That visit was followed up with attempts to clear the way for his eventual defection to the ruling party as Obi did. When he was reminded that charting his entry into APC through former Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi, might not bear immediate fruits, Obiano retraced his steps and decided to seek the face of Anambra APC leader, Senator Ngige.
To win Ngige over, Obiano was said to have paid the present Minister of Labour and Employment all his pension arrears and entitlements, as well as, regaling the Alor-born politician that he has broken from Obi’s apron strings. But while Obiano was busy smoothing his path for eventual cross over to APC, the Supreme Court fixed January 15, 2016 to deliver judgment on the prolonged APGA leadership challenge. During the last sitting, Justice Suleiman Galadima expressed surprise that the APGA case has lingered, declaring that the present disposition of Supreme Court is to hear every matter and deliver judgment immediately.
Could it be then that Obiano’s frantic search for a new platform is to escape the eventual collapse of the APGA structure on January 15, 2016? Much as the recent quarrel with his benefactor, Obi, suggests a calculated attempt to denounce political sonship to the former governor, the fracas is not helping Obiano’s political clout. Rather, it has rekindled a fresh re-examination of his suitability to be governor of Anambra State in the first place. Event at that, Obiano may have decided to square up with Peter Obi to show APC chieftains that he is no longer Obi’s boy, but a man of his own. The coming months would show to whose side the balance of probability slants.