By Ethelbert Okere
The last time I did an article on Senator Francis Arthur Nzeribe was exactly four years ago when he marked his 75th birthday. That article was, however, misinterpreted by some people who saw it as an indictment of one or two politicians because in the article, I opined that the set of politicians that stepped into the shoes of Chief Nzeribe and some others of his class are not as organized and steadfast as they were.
It took me quite some time to convince some of those who believed that it was an attack on them that I meant no harm. Five years later, I still mean no harm but things have even gotten worse for that set of politicians that took over, so to speak, from the class that had Senator Nzeribe and others like Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu who, incidentally, is also marking his 75th birthday anniversary this week.
Four years after, things have not only gotten worse for the current crop of politicians in Imo state but for the entire polity. The issues are there for all to see. Not only is there no political leadership in the state, Imo has become a microcosm of the larger Nigerian society where hatred among members of the political class and between members of that class and the very people they purport to lead, is the order of the day.
In Imo state, things have never been this bad. The political leadership that emerged in 2011 has put the people into slavery. A people that are otherwise known for being among the most republican and sophisticated in the entire Nigeria, have been reduced to mere on lookers as those they entrusted with the mandate to preside over their affairs philander the state while pretending to be developing it; with such things like putting ‘roofs’ on dual carriage roads; turning every available space into a “square”; endlessly building roundabouts, etc. Civil servants are made to sign undertakings to receive a fraction of their salaries but even that agreed on is not paid.
It did not take two years into the life of the extant administration in the state that the word, familiocracy, crept into the political lexicon of the state: Government of the family by the family and for the family. A couple of weeks ago, former president Olusegun Obasanjo was in the state as part of the witnesses to the obscenity that was tagged the fifty fifth birthday anniversary of the state governor, His Excellency, Chief Rochas Okorocha. The obscenity, which ran live, nonstop, on national television, was capped with the unveiling of a life size statute of President Jocob Zuma of South Africa.
Of course, the story is too well known to be elaborated upon here. At one of the events, President Obasanjo was reported to have asked the governor to look at the faces of those working with him. The ex-president, according to the story, thereafter told the governor that the faces showed agony. Chief Obasanjo reportedly further told the governor that those faces contrasted with those of his family members who, according to the former president, wore smiles. The story did not give the number of members of the governor’s family that were president perhaps apart from his spouse.
My take was that Chief Obasanjo had already made up his mind to give the governor a piece of his mind after hearing so much about his style of administration. However, my reaction to that story was to mentally thank Chief Obasanjo but to plead with him not to come to Imo again but to allow us carry our own cross. If he knew all that and he still came to banquet with Okorocha, then he can be accused of encouraging the perfidy going on. As a matter of fact, I had completed an article under the title, “OBJ THANK YOU BUT PLEASE DON’T COME AGAIN”. It is unlikely, however, that I will go ahead to publish the write-up after this particular intervention.
Among members of the political class, the level of animosity that currently exists has never been witnessed. Look at common intra party reconciliation that the teeming members and supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had expected their so-called leaders to embrace following the Supreme Court ruling. Till this moment, it is still “I can’t work with Emeka; I can’t work with Hope”. More than six months after the ruling, the state chapter of the PDP still has five factions each claiming to be the authentic one. Look at even the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state. The party does not hold meetings, from the ward to the state level. Minus the involvement of Senator Ifeanyi Araraume in the party which gives the APC a semblance of existence on its own, the party would have been consumed by a certain anonymity under the shadow of a bizarre and strange succession plan.
Where would Chief Arthur Nzeribe, whom we are celebrating today, have found himself in all this if he were in good health? The question may appear hypothetical and probably unattractive for further interrogation but I pose it nonetheless. As a matter of fact, Senator Nzeribe in his active days was particularly conscious about hypothetical questions. He would tell reporters to come up with questions that deal with live issues and not those that dwell on conjectures. It was from Chief Nzeribe that Nigerians learnt the following aphorism: Politics, he said, is like Mathematics wherein to solve any problem, you have to start from the known to the unknown.
Today, the known is that the Ogbuagu, Osiji, Demanze is not available in the political arena to make his inputs into how the myriad of issues bedeviling his state Imo, and, indeed, the country, Nigeria, can be addressed. Were Senator Nzeribe in good health, the recalcitrance in the Imo PDP would not have lingered this long. He would have in his characteristic few words told all the Ihediohas, the Uzodimmas, the Ohakims, the Anyaehies, the Chikwes, the Ezekwems etc that the peoples have waited for too long and have probably exhausted their patience. He would not have equivocated on issues as some of the leaders who currently enjoy a better health than him do. He would not have, for example, attendant Mass at the Assumpta Cathedral, Owerri on a Sunday to pray for the soul of Somtochukwu and on Monday occupy a front seat at the Imo International Conference Centre clapping for Governor Okorocha, as some leaders did during the Eke-ukwu Owerri saga.
Outside Imo, where would have Senator Nzeribe been on current national issues? He would have, of course, been on the side of the people even if he were to be of the ruling party. Most likely, Chief Nzeribe would have formed an independent movement to ensure that Nigerians are saved the current shenanigan on corruption. He would have addressed press conferences on the foot dragging over the grass cutter saga, the mystery Ikoyi flat bundle of dollars, the N25 billion dollar saga at the NNPC etc.
While I was gathering materials for my new book, “We Can’t All Be Wrong”, which will be unveiled in a few weeks time, I spoke with Senator Nzeribe to know his mind on the subject I was writing about: restructuring. Let me give just a snippet of what he said: “It is time for us to correct the mistakes of the military which lumped everything together under an all powerful central government. Nigeria is too diverse to be controlled from one office in Abuja. The system we run today is such that every state governor wants to be in the good books of the president…” That’s vintage Arthur Nzeribe who spent most his active political life fighting against timidity and lack of independent mindedness among politicians; currently the bane of Nigerian politics.
A couple of months ago, some newspapers published photographs of Senator Nzeribe at a public function, in a sitting position that tended to suggest that he was too ill to still be alive. The slant of the commentary around the photograph was such that suggested that the editors did not believe that an Arthur Nzeribe could fall ill. Many of his admires were quite angry with the publication but for me, it showed the completeness of the man Nzeribe. It was an admission that while actively on stage, Senator Nzeribe was awesome to the extent that some felt his life defied known rules for mortals, including falling ill. Rather than get angry, I saw the enthusiasm with which the photograph was trended, both in the conventional and social media, as a further affirmation of a once invincible perception of the political titan.