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End of the Nzeribe Phenomenon inNigeria?

By Jonathan Elendu

Exclusive commentary for USAfrica The Newspaper,Houston

Maverick politician, Sen. Francis Arthur Nzeribe, was suspendedindefinitely from the Senate on
October 22. He contested for the Senate seat and won on the platformof the All Nigeria People's
Party, ANPP. Earlier this year, he resigned from the ANPP and joinedthe confused and ruling
People'sDemocratic Party, PDP. Watchers of the Nzeribe legend were confusedby this move as
the man has demonstrated over the years that he prefers to belong toorganizations he can control.
His role during the disgraceful Gbenga Aluko's motion that nullifiedall the indictments against
senators, who were involved in contract scams and other shenanigans,indicated that Francis
Arthur Nzeribe was up to something. His tone at that sham of a debateon the floor of the Senate
was uncharacteristically conciliatory.

To those who really know and understand Nzeribe, the man was in hiselement. Followers of
Nigeria'srecent past would remember Nzeribe as the man who, single-handedlydenied late
billionaire business mogul, Moshood Abiola's ambition of being thePresident of Nigeria. Abiola is
believed to have won the June 12, 1993 Presidential election reputedto be the freest and fairest
election in the history of Nigeria. In Abiola's calculations, he didnot factor in the Nzeribe
phenomenon. How could he? Abiola was a friend to all the top militaryofficers in the country,
including the ruling junta headed by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. In fact,Abiola and Babangida were
business partners.

Abiola was also an internationally acclaimed business man-- aphilanthropist whose generosity
touched people and causes all over Nigeria. Who was Arthur Nzeribe toget in the way of his
ambition? Nzeribe and some Igbo politicians who belonged to thedefunct Social Democratic
Party, SDP, believed they had been insulted by Abiola and theleadership of the Party. They were
reported to have asked for an apology and some concessions fromAbiola and the Party
leadership, but instead were scorned. That made Nzeribe vow thatAbiola would never be the
President of Nigeria.

A few months before the 1993 Presidential elections, I interviewedAbiola in Aba for my
television talkshow. The then Speaker of the House ofRepresentatives, Agunwa, was there.
There were also other prominent Igbo politicians at the residence ofElechi Ikoro, where this
interview took place. Ojo Maduekwe was one of them. I asked Abiola ifhe really said he did not
need Igbos to rule Nigeria. He denied it and sweeping his hand acrossthe room said: "How can
anybody say that a group that has produced people like these areirrelevant in Nigeria?" So how
did the story start? He did not know but waved it off as nothingserious. There is no doubt that
Abiola miscalculated and underestimated Nzeribe. I am sure that atsome point while in prison he
wished he had taken Nzeribe more seriously at the initial stage ofhis campaign. Nzeribe's
Association For Better Nigeria, ABN, got a court order that nullifiedAbiola's election to the
Presidency of Nigeria.   

Recently, Nzeribe has started to show his game plan. He wants to beSenate President. Pius
Anyim, whom he helped install as Senate President has disappointedhim and he is ready to take
him out of the throne. Anyim and other PDP stalwarts should have seenthis coming. The
proposed Obasanjo impeachment which everybody thinks is supported bythe National Assembly
leadership is the opening a man with Nzeribe's talents and resourcesneeds to upstage Anyim who
is not known for his political astuteness.

I was a very big fan of Nzeribe. Growing up on the streets of Aba, Iwas very familiar with the
Nzeribe legend. He was the man I wanted to be, the only human beingfor whom I desired to
work. His romance with Aminu Kano and Zik during the second Republicstood him out as a man
of power and great influence. He is the first man I know who donatedairplanes to his political
party. His life story as told by Dillibe Onyema in THE MAKING OFAN AFRICAN LEGEND
reinforced the Nzeribe myth. To this day, nobody can really sayhow rich this man is nor how
many businesses he owns. We only know that Francis Arthur Nzeribe isrich beyond the
imagination of the ordinary mind. At our first meeting on the tarmacof Portharcourt International
Airport in 1992, I was disarmed by his simplicity and attention tohis environment. I eagerly
accepted his invitation to visit his country home in Oguta.

Like many Nigerians, I was saddened by the annulment of the June 1993elections. After
reviewing Nzeribe's role in that sad episode of our history, I lostall respect and affection for the
man. Until recently, I have been disgusted by the man's utterancesand actions in the Nigerian
Senate. I am still not crazy about the man but I remain impressed byhis consistency. He
understands the use and dynamics of power. He is always willing tomobilize his resources to any
cause he believes in. He is one Igbo man who can challenge anybody inNigeria. He is not afraid
to speak his mind on any issue.

Nzeribe's ambition has always been to rule Nigeria. He participatedin Babangida's option A4
charade and was among the disqualified presidential candidates in thetruncated 3rd Republic.
Shortly after Abacha took over the reins of power in Nigeria, Nzeribegave a press interview
where he solemnly declared that he knew he would never realize hisambition of being the
president of Nigeria. However, he declared that nobody would ruleNigeria without his support.
Ironically, he has supported everybody who has ruled Nigeria since Ibecame an adult. He formed
a movement that would have helped Abacha transform into a civilianpresident but was schemed
out by forces that backed Kanu's movement.

There is no doubt in the mind of any Nigerian that Nzeribe is a veryambitious man. Those who
do not respect him, fear him. Pius Anyim, Nigeria's Senate President,has been an incompetent,
sluggish leader. He succeeded Chuba Okadigbo, who was removed becauseof alleged corrupt practices.
Anyim seems not to have learned any lessons from that episode. He hasshown that he is power
drunk, vindictive, and is also reputed to have taken advantage of hisposition to enrich himself. He
has political troubles at home as he is locked in a battle with hisState governor, Sam Egwu. He
wants the President impeached and has alienated some of hiscolleagues in the Senate.

It is my considered opinion that Nigeria, and indeed Ndigbo, willbenefit more from a mature and
visionary leadership in the Senate. The Senate has not been aninspiring institution because of
Anyim's leadership. Nothing has come out of that body that one can beproud of. If anything, they
have continued amassing wealth at the expense of ordinary Nigerians.No bill that directly and
positively affects the life of the ordinary people have come out ofthe Senate chambers. Anyim has
clearly demonstrated that he lacks vision and leadership. In someways, we should blame those
who installed him for this lackluster performance. Anyim is one ofthe least experienced people in
the Senate and should not have been chosen to lead the body, exceptof course, he was chosen for
that particular reason. In other words, he was programmed to fail.Could this have been Nzeribe's
original plot?

The Nigerian Senate has been led by Igbos since the inception of the4th Republic. Evan Enwerem
was the first President and was forced out in disgrace. Same for hissuccessor Chuba Okadigbo.
Anyim may be in his final days as the Senate President. The abovescenario is the reason I do not
support the call for an Igbo Presidency. I want a Nigerian Presidentwho is of Igbo extraction.
There is a difference in the two positions. The Senate Presidency waszoned to Igbos and what
have we done with it? In what way have Ndigbo benefited from havingthe position of Senate

It may not be out of place to liken Igbo politicians to Nigeria'snational football team, the Super
Eagles. Individually, they are skillful, very experienced, and highachievers. As a group, they lack
cohesion, are timid and indecisive. They try to pull each other downat the slightest opportunity. If
truly our senators wanted Ndigbo to benefit in this dispensation,Pius Anyim should not have been
chosen to lead the Senate. He is not the most experienced orqualified person we have in the
Senate. They chose him because he was considered the leastthreatening. He had a good
opportunity to show maturity and statesmanship. Instead ofvictimizing those that oppose him he
should have reasoned and negotiated a peaceful settlement.

Fighting with other Igbo senators and politicians only exposes Anyimas a man who has little, if
any, leadership skills. Jonathan Zwingina, the man who moved themotion for the suspension of
Nzeribe was Abiola's campaign manager. Anyim may be fighting Abiola'sbattle, unbeknownst to
him. None of these petty squabbles has produced any meaningfulbenefits for our people.
Accusation and counter accusation of corruption between Pius Anyimand Arthur Nzeribe
perpetuates the erroneous view held by other tribes that the Igbo manor woman would sell his
kith and kin for money. Besides, it is easier to believe that anallegation of corruption against
Anyim is true than it is to make such a case against Nzeribe.

The Zwingina connection makes one wonder if Abiola has come back tohunt Nzeribe. Could this
suspension be the end of Nzeribe on the Nigerian political stage? Idon't think so. It is my
considered opinion that Anyim's victory will be short and costly inthe long run. Nzeribe is a man
with a long memory and his antecedents show that forgiveness is not aword he understands. This
promises to get uglier and Ndigbo is the worse for it.
Elendu is a contributing editor and columnist and USAfrica The Newspaper

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