At the same plenary session where Chief Evan Enwerem was impeached, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo was elected to replace him as senate president. That thus ended months of restlessness among his, Okadigbo’s, supporters and anti presidency elements in the senate who did not want to let go even after their effort to get him elected earlier as senate president failed as already seen in the last chapter. As expected, Okadigbo’s ascendancy brought back verve and enthusiasm to the senate. Wrote Banjo again: “His colleagues would for the first time hold their head high since they had a good leader with presence of mind and the requisite intellectual capacity needed for the office”. The senate became more focused and result oriented. For example, in the nine months Okadigbo held sway, more the 40 bills were presented compared with just 16 under Enwerem’s six-month long reign.
But Okadigbo’s tenure was again short-lived. For not long before some of his colleagues, including the ones that helped him climb to power, began to feel disenchanted with his style of leadership. Okadigbo was accused of arrogance and a tendency to look down on his colleagues. He was accused of swollen headedness on account of his high academic qualifications and previous political exposure which only perhaps one or two other of his colleagues could boast of. In short, it was not long before moves began for his impeachment and the Ogbunike, Anambra state-born, colorful politician, in spite of his erudition, began to suffer from distractions that made him loose focus and the senate once again drifted.
Naturally, the presidency, which had been looking for a way to fight back especially following Enwerem’s ouster, was quite excited at the development in the senate under Okedigbo. But it bided for time; and that came during the impeachment (of President Obasanjo) saga in April 2000. As already noted in chapter Three, the presidency was incensed that Okadigbo allowed Senator Nzeribe to bring the motion to the flow of the senate in the first place, regardless of the fact that it was later withdrawn. Okadigbo was accused of collaboration and beginning form that point, his traducers, both within the senate and in the presidency, began to look for ways of nailing the senate president.
The plot came to the notice of Nigerians when the police raised Okadigbo’s country home in Ogbndike, Anambra sate, following allegations that he had taken the senate mace there, in order to avoid his impeachment which was coming out from the rumor mill on a daily basis. The dusts raised by that episode were yet to settle when the same traducers brought up an issue that led to the final nailing of the coffin of Dr. Chumba Okadigbo’s senate presidency. Dr. Okadigbo was accused of financial misdemeanor on the basis that he approved anticipatory payments on some contracts to be awarded and in expectation of release of funds from the executive arm. Among the allegations against Dr. Okadigbo were (i) inflation of an electrification contract from an estimated value of 55 million naira to over 150 million naira (ii) disregard of the tendering process and favoring cronies in the award of contracts; (iii) award of contracts to unregistered companies; and (iv) recklessness in expenditure.
Overwhelmed by severe criticisms, Dr. Okadigbo on June 8, 2008 set up a senate panel to investigate the allegations. The panel was headed by Senator Idirs Kuta and had Senator Francis Arthur Nzeribe as one of its members. The rumor on the plot n to impeach Okadigbo generated a lot of heat in the polity especially among the Igbo Southeast. The plot, which was thickening by the day, was seen as a continuation of a deliberate anti-Igbo agenda of the Obasanjo administration. With the removal of Enwerem as senate president barely six months earlier, many Igbo saw any possible impeachment of Okadigbo as a deliberate attack on the psyche of the Igbo and which should be resisted.
On Sunday, April 30, 2001, the Ohaneze Nidgbo, the apex socio-cultural Igbo organization, convoked a meeting of Igbo leaders in Enugu to deliberate on the rumored plan to impeach Okedigbo. In attendance were eminent Igbo politicians, representative of youth organizations, traditional rulers and representatives of Christian religious bodies. Okaigbo led a team of Igbo senators and members of the House Representatives to the meeting. Among them were Senators Ike Nwachukwu, Arthur Nzeribe, Jim Nwobodo and Hon. Mao Ohuabunwa. Card-carrying youths chanted war songs in the premises of Nike Lake Hotel venue, of the meeting. “Onye Akpala Nwa Agu Aka N’odu, Ma Odi Ndu, Ma Onwuru Anywu Let no one touch the lions tail whether it is alive or dead”, they chanted. Some of the placards read: “There Must be Respect For separation of Power”; “Okadigbo is Our Choice Leave Him Alone”.
Once the meeting began, the moderator, Professor Ben Nwabueze, then Secretary-General of Ohanze Ndigbo, called for comments and speaker after speaker said emphatically that the time had come for Ndigbo to speak in unison on the deliberate attacks on the psyche of the Igbo collective and the policy of marginalization against it. The late Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegu-Ojukwu, when it was his turn to speak, in his usual drama said: “Chuba Nwa Nnem, Ma Ina Eje Eje, Ma Ina Anata Anata, Ndi Igbo Nine Kwu Gi N’azu Chuba My Brother ,whether you are going or coming, the entire Igbo is behind you”.
Another prominent Igbo leader and frontline politician, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, in his contribution told the gathering the Okadigbo’s matter was beyond politics. He said: “it has now become a political gang up against Ndigbo. For long Ndigbo have been treated with disdain and disregard because other tribes think we are nothing. The time has come for us to stamp our feet and stand up to our fights”. Then, alluding to what was generally believed was the main reason why Dr. Okadigbo was being haunted, Iwuanywu said further: “Blaming the senate president for Arthur Nzeribe’s petition against the president was to call a dog a bad name as to hang it. Nzeribe was exercising his constitutional rights and was performing his function as opposition party member who would want to bring down a PDP government. However, I, as a PDP member, I am against the impeachment of my party-produced president”.
Notwithstanding the sentiments expressed by the participants at that meeting and the Igbo generally on the matter, Okadigbo’s removal as senate president starred everybody at the face. Back in Abuja, the Idris Kuta panel was the cynosure of the entire country. Not unexpectedly, the membership of Senator Nzeribe was one of the major attractions to the panel. Reporters covering the senate usually clustered around him, with the hope that he would say something, one way or the other, which would normally make big news.
One day, before the panel began sitting, I and some of my colleagues (I was Publisher/Editor in-chief of ABC Magazine), were at the venue in one of the meeting rooms. Journalists usually looked into for a pre-session briefing and to see if something worth reporting could be seen or heard. Senator Nzeribe in his characteristic manner of keeping to time, was the first to arrive. I was sited among the other journalists when he walked in and went straight to the high table. About five minutes later, two other members arrived and joined Senator Nzeribe at the high table. I did not realize that senator Nzeribe had spotted me but the moment he got up from his seat at the high table and started walking towards the door, I looked at his direction. Our eyes met and with his right hand, he signaled to me to come. The other colleagues of mine noticed it and many be them stirred on their seats.
Senator Nzeribe was already standing along the corridor when I came out. He asked what was “new in town” and I replied that it was his (idris Kuta’s) committee that was the talk in town. He went further to ask what people were saying about his membership of the committee. Of course, my answer was direct and sincere, which was that he was the person that Nigerians were afraid of. But just then we sighted the chairman of the panel, Senator Kuta, walking towards the venue and quickly Senator Nzeribe went back to the meeting room without saying anything further to me. I also went in but a few minutes later, one of the Senators asked the journalists to “Kindly excuse” them. Once Outside, my colleagues besieged me, wanting to know if I got any lead from senator Nzeribe.
But the D-day came for the appearance of Dr. Okadigbo himself. It was an open session and the venue was full to the brim. Members took the turn to ask questions but the one that later made rounds among the public outside was the one by Senator Nzeribe which he asked the senate president in Igbo. Speaking against the back drop of allegations of contract value inflation and favoritism to cronies, Senator Nzeribe asked Dr. Okadigbo: “Ole Ka Ndi Igbo Ketara?” (How much was the share of the Igbo in all that). The question sparked off a spontaneous noisy reaction as Igbo members of the crowd apparently appreciated the question even though it was a rhetoric one.
Long after Okodigbo was impeached, that question and remark kept coming up each time Chief Nzeribe appeared at an occasion that had something to do with Igbo interest or simply where Ndi Igbo were gathered. The allusions were not necessarily as a snide on Dr. Okadigbo whom the Igbo, generally still held in very high esteem in spite of those allegations and subsequent impeachment as Senate president. For a period of more than one year after that famous remark by senator Nzeribe, I was present in at least two occasions where the speakers or masters of ceremony made reference to it while acknowledging the senators presence. It usually elicited a level of applauded and general excitement.
As a matter of fact, that question was so taken in by the generality of Ndi Igbo that it bellied the notion, as erroneous as it was, that Nzeribe was working against Igbo interest in the senate, especially on account of the fact that he was the fellow who moved the motion for the impeachment of Enwerem as seen in an earlier chapter. Looking back, only a bold and courageous fellow Igbo could have come out with such a comment or question at such a critical moment when a fellow Igbo was in such a tight corner.
Of course, Senator Nzeribe was not just playing to the gallery. He was not just out to impress his fellow Igbo or to make up for own apparent loss of face following the Evan Enwerem saga. In any case, Nzeribe was to again be the mover of the motion for the impeachment of Okadigbo on August 10, 2001. As Nigerian would have since come to attest to, Nzeribe stands for the truth regardless of tribal or sectional proclivities.
Throughout his active days in politics, he never lost sight of the fact that his people, the Igbo, are not getting the best deal from their fellow compatriots but he does not, at the same time, believe that that is enough to make his people resort to self help or take laws into their hands. For example, the Igbo attitude to the solution of “marginalization” is the advocate for an Igbo president or Nigeria president of Igbo extraction. But while Senator Nzeribe agrees completely with his kinsmen on the imperative of this, he has not minced words in stating that the Igbo have not pursue that objective with the necessary strategy. For example, Senator Nzeribe for a long time cautioned against the habit of Igbo seeing every election session as the “turn” of Ndigbo to produce the “president of the country”.
He once asked in an article: “It was our turn in 1999. It was our turn in 2007, in 2011. When will it ever not be our turn?” As crucial as the Igbo desire for the presidency is and which he fully recognizes, Senator Nzeribe does not believe that the Igbo should circumscribe themselves with what he refers to as a “calendar mentality”; that is counting days and months to the date the Igbo president will come. Senator Nzeribe is not usually enamored by such things as “detribalized Nigerian” because he believes that that is the reason some sections or parts of the country try to take others for granted. Rather be believes that it is only when Nigerians recognize that they are different people who have agreed to stay together that they will try to respect the beliefs fear and aspirations of each other.
In a subsequent chapter, we will see other instances where Senator Nzeribe at once showed a glaring consciousness of the need to protect the interest of his Igbo kit and kin and an uncommon sense of pan Nigerianism.
Excerpts From, “Arthur By An Eye Witness” Written By Ethelbert Okere