By Collins Ughalaa
For those who have chosen to cast themselves in the mould of detractors to the legendary politician, community leader, statesman and consummate investor, the Nostradamus of Nigeria's politics, Chief Senator Francis Arthur Nzeribe, Damamnze, Ogbuagu, Oshiji, Oyimba, there is something they cannot take away from him. That is, that 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 the President Ibrahim Babangida led military 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 the Igbo votes.
Ensuring that the June 12, 1993 presidential election was cancelled is perhaps the greatest service Chief Senator Arthur Nzeribe has rendered to the Igbo people. His belief that Ndigbo must be in the mainstream of Nigeria 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 National Chairman were shared to the exclusion of the Igbo was highly unacceptable. What Chief MKO gave to the Igbo was just the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, which Chief Nzeribe considered not good enough for his Igbo people or not commensurate to the efforts of the Igbo people in birthing the expected new government.
The Igbo people have a popular saying that it is only a coward that would hear gunshot at the entrance to his father's house and run for cover. Thus, Chief Nzeribe led a delegation of notable Igbo leaders to have frank talks with Chief MKO on how his Igbo people would stand in the expected new democratic dispensation. But Chief MKO chose to behave as if the Igbo people did not matter as he handed them a second class staus 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 he would later come to Ogbuagu's mansion in Oguta, the revered Haven of Peace, for peace talks, the deed has been done. It was one second too late.
No matter how some people may tend to twist this story to mean that Chief Nzeribe midwifed the abortion of the MKO Abiola's envisaged presidency that would have taken Nigeria to eldorado, the fact remains that by his actions Nzeribe displayed unmatchable selflessness for the overall interest of his Igbo people. This too is keeping with the Igbo value that no one insults my mother in my presence and goes scort free. Again, the Igbo believe that "any market that will not accommodate my mother will not hold". What sort of eldora could happen to the exclusiob of the Igbo? If we cannot be part of it, it is better it never happened.
Chief 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, it was Senator Arthur Nzeribe that stood in the gap and questioned him. He even went ahead to move for his impeachment on the floor of the Senate. Though the impeachment never worked and Chief Nzeribe was tongue lashed, his actions did not go for nothing as the Igbo people got stable tenures for Senate President afterwards. The news about banana peals ended too.
As the Nostradamus of Nigeria's politics, it was Chief 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 Southeast, not minding that it was at a time the Igbo people were practically not interested in additional state, or the sixth state.
Chief Nzeribe's proposition on the sixth state also included creating Urashi State. This new state was proposed to comprise of the minority people of Urashi who were forced to be in Rivers State by the military government, parts of Imo and Anambra states, bringing together about 13 local governments of kits and kin, with abundant natural resources. Of course, Nzeribe's quest for the sixth state in the Southeast did not work for some political reasons, the whole of the Southeast are now more aware and the demand for the the sixth state has reached a deafening crescendo, to the point that it was a major issue in the 2014 national conference whose 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 Southsouth 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, Chief Nzeribe created the CARIA Movement, comprising of Cross River, Abia, Rivers, Imo and Anambra states. Today, this spirit lives on as the governors of the Southeast and Southsouth 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 Chief 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, Senator Nzeribe ensured that the executive did not pocket the Legislature, because he believed in separation of power and the 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 stabilizer in the Senate.
He served as the 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). This is not mentioning other meaningful successes recorded in the Health sector.
However, it needs to be mentioned that some people have made some baseless falsehood about whom Chief Nzeribe has empowered. Except for those engaging in mischief, Chief 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 Chief's empowerment is the National Chairman of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie Oyegun, whom he had sponsored for the governorship of Edo State. What Chief needed was demonstrable competence, and once he saw it in you he would spend his money and activate his wife 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 times in Oguta LGA, made him the Secretary of then All Peoples Party (APP).
By Chief Nzeribe's empowerment drive Hon Irona became two term Executive Chairman of Oguta LGA. Chief also sponsored other candidates from Orlu Zone for Imo the State House of Assembly, including Hon Irona. He did not stop there: he was instrumental to Hon Irona going to the Federal House of Representatives. He also sponsored Dr Gideon Nwaeze to be the Executive Chairman of Oguta LGA.
Chief Nzeribe's magnanimous 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 development.
Away from political empowerment, Senator 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 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 chose 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 Chief Senator Francis Arthur 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 that "Arthur Nzeribe is the people's choice". This love is also found in the fact that the people of Oguta are fund 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 came from Nzeribe's place, Oguta; that we are Nzeribe's brothers. Such was the love. And we remain proud of him snd his achievements.
At 79 we celebrate a legislator per excellence, a man of uncommon courage and foresight with huge international network of relationships with global financial structures and major political players and influencers.
Happy birthday, my boss, and may we have more years to celebrate you on earth.