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70 Garlands To Anambra’s True Hero

By Chuks Akunna – My first encounter with Igwe Peter Nwokike Anugwu, Eze Ukwu of Mbaukwu, Anambra State was on July 10, 2003.

Earlier that day, a detachment of armed policemen had abducted my boss, the governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chris Nwabueze Ngige.

They were led by an Assistant Inspector General of Police, Mr. Raphael Ige.

From about 9am on that fateful day, Ige and his men sealed off Government House, Awka.

He disarmed all our security men including the governor’s ADC, Innocent Umeri, Government House Chief Security Officer, Ogbonna Okoronkwo, and Tony, the Chief Detail.

None of us knew what was happening. In desperation, I called Major General Bashir Jinadu, the GOC, 82 Division, Nigerian Army, Enugu. About a week earlier the GOC had visited my boss. Realising I was fluent in Yoruba, we got talking and traded numbers. Without an idea of the situation in Awka, General Jinadu promised to deploy soldiers to rescue my boss.

I also called up my boss, chairman of THISDAY.

newspapers, Prince Nduka Obaigbena. “Sir, my governor has just been arrested or kidnapped by some policemen.” “Akunna, you know that is not possible,” he returned. My confusion heightened. More worrying was that I couldn’t reach any national officer of the PDP in Abuja.

I was to later learn they were all in a crucial meeting of the National Working Committee (NWC).

Meanwhile. media organisations were jamming my cell phones. They all wanted to know what was happening in Anambra, home of Olauday Equiano. The first African autobiographer, Equiono’s narrative inspired the abolitionsts to end the 500- year trans-Atlantic slave trade.

At about 2.30pm, to our relief, Ige led my boss out of his office, into a waiting car. Before boarding the car, Ngige charged me to tell the world that he was being punished for refusing to give Chief Chris Uba N3 billion.

With about half a dozen armed policemen as escorts, they whisked my boss away.

Shortly after, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) correspondent, Mr. Obinni Obinni, rushed to alert me some policemen were “looking for the pressman still talking to journalists.”

Moments later, a senior police officer came to the press unit, requesting to see the Chief Press Secretary. Since the officer didn’t know me, it was easy for Obinni to ferry me out of Government House to UNIZIK junction. From there, I monitored events.

At that point, I called Bassey, my governor’s Orderly. He told me the policemen had taken “oga” to Choice Hotels, not his village.

About a month earlier in Abuja I had visited my big friend and mentor, Chief Aminasoari Kala Dikibo, PDP deputy national chairman for the South-south zone.

As I breezed into his favourite suite at the Hilton hotel, I couldn’t but help admire this man of taste. His signature intitials were AKD, acronym for his names Aminasoari Kala Dikibo. All his cars bore the AKD number plates.

After our usual gossip about happenings in the polity, he asked we go and see Igbo Leader (Ngige).

I owed my reportorial success to the charismatic Dede Ukwu. He was the principal source of most of the exclusive PDP stories that brought me fame in THISDAY. He was the first person to tell me Ngige would be governor of Anambra State.

Sometimes, I would invite senior journalists, including the iconic Mathew Ogwuche of Champion, Sufuyan Ojeifo aka OJ Wonder of Vanguard, Segun Olatunji of Tribune and the great John Abba-Ogbodo of The Guardian (may God rest his soul) to interact with Dede Ukwu.

At such sessions, which was sure to have the cool Paul Mumeh of Independent, the dependable Wahab Gbadamosi of the now rested Comet, and the ever probing Alhaji Yusuf Ali of The Punch, among other greats, Dikibo would spend hours trying to sell Obasanjo and governor of his home state, Dr. Peter Odili.

When Chief AKD and I eventually saw Ngige, my jaw dropped. The last time we met was before the elections. I had driven Ngige in my same hotel to beg Chief Chris Uba to give us more money for media campaign. At the time, Ngige was a struggling Abuja-based politician who appeared to live off Dikibo.

Today, things were very different. My governor was attired in a very expensive designer suit.

His ADC’s uniform was well-starched. I sighted several policemen in shiny boots. There were at least five other men in suit clutching Uzzis. It immediately dawned on me they were SSS operatives.

“Look at this man! Where have you been?” Ngige began. Before I could mutter a word, he cut in, “anyway, I’ve appointed you Chief Press Secretary, so go and start work immediately!”

When we left, Dede Ukwu sensed I didn’t like the appointment. He spent some time counselling me to take it.

As one of the 25 “millenium reporters” THISDAY employed in 1999, I felt I was doing just well reporting the three political parties- PDP, All Peoples Party (APP), and Alliance for Democracy (AD). I had great bosses- Razak Yusuf, Isibor Osadebamen, Collins Edomaruse, Chukwudi Nwabuko- who encouraged me to get great exclusive stories. As far as I was concerned, I was a very happy man.

Besides, my first child had just arrived and I had my eyes on settling down in the beautiful Abuja. I had spent the better part of my life in Bacita, a sleepy industrial town in Kwara State. I didn’t like the idea of going to work in Awka, a town I imagined wouldn’t be much different from my dear old Bacita. I wanted to remain an “Abuja boy”.

Later that day, I ran into Mr. Gbenga Onayiga and Ms. Chinwe Ononye, both editors at Radio Nigeria. Incidentally, both had been Chief Press Secretaries (CPS). When I told them of the offer, they excitedly advised me to “jump at it!” What is more, Ononye had been CPS in Awka!

As I sat in a business centre at UNIZIK junction reflecting on how I came to work in Awka, I hit at a plan. Choice hotel was just across the road. Why not go by commercial motorcycle to see what had become of my boss. That was about 3.30pm.

Fearing my governor’s abductors might spot me, I changed into a pair of jeans and a T-shirt I bought for the purpose.

When I arrived at Choice hotel, I noticed a huge crowd. Equally heavy was police presence.

From a safe distance, I spotted my boss, Governor Ngige, sitting on floor of the hotel’s courtyard. Attempting to force him to his feet was a police Sergeant. Ngige wasn’t in a hurry to get to his feet. The situation was very chaotic. As I tried to figure out what was happening, a heavily bearded man in a monarch’s regalia joined the fray. That man was Igwe Peter Anugwu, Eze Ukwu of Mbaukwu.

Igwe later told me he came to visit the hotel’s owner, Chief Nwofor, and heard he was in the annex.

“As I passed through the courtyard to connect the annex, I noticed a swarm of policemen. I tapped at one policeman, a Constable ‘My friend, what is happening here?’

“To my shock, the policeman shoved me, so much that I nearly lost balance.

“When I recovered from the shove, I returned the favour. The policeman hit the ground, his rifle in tow. As he made to cork his weapon, I quickly pulled my pistol. Apparently, this stunt shocked all the policemen. At that point I heard a man screaming ‘Igwe! Igwe!’ Please save my mandate!

“I turned around and spotted Ngige sitting on the bare floor. I noticed a policeman trying to force him to his feet. Ngige resisted. At that moment, I walked up to the angry police officer. I heard the policeman barking at Ngige, “Which mandate? No be we rig your election? No be Peter Obi win?’

“At that moment, I realised we had a big problem in our hands. Turning to me, the policeman narrated how Ngige resigned, and how his bosses had detailed him to escort the governor to Alor, his village.

“He also relayed how Ngige had begged to be allowed to pass through Choice hotel to pick his personal belongings. That my boss got there and refused to leave the hotel, daring him to ‘shoot me dead.’ And that he was on the verge of losing his police job.

Igwe told me he began by handing the police officer his Julius Berger complimentary card. “My friend, if you lose your job today, I’ll get you a better job tomorrow with Juilius Berger.” This calmed the officer.

At this point, Igwe was able to speak with Ngige. He quickly told Igwe how the Assembly falsely claimed he resigned, and how AIG Ige detained him for hours on end.

“Have you spoken to any of your people in Abuja?” Ngige shook his head. Igwe then pulled out his mobile telephone and called Second Republic Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme.

Having briefly narrated what was happening to Ekwueme, Igwe handed the phone to Ngige. Like a charge of lightning, the policeman plucked the phone off Ngige’s hands.

A visibly angry Igwe yelled at the policeman, “The Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is on the line!” The officer, apparently thinking it was Atiku Abubakar, quickly apologised and handed the phone to Ngige.

This was Ngige’s first contact with the outside world via telephone since 9.30am. Thus was how many falsely credit Atiku Abubakar with helping to restore Ngige.

Done with speaking with Ekwueme, Igwe called the office of the PDP national secretary, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor. Incidentally, all the journalists covering PDP had swarmed the party’s national secretariat, to get the party’s official reaction to Ngige’s reported resignation.

Leading the pack was Alhaji Yusuf Ali, then of The Punch. We had spoken several times that day on the confusion, so he was determined to get the PDP side of the drama.

When Ogbulafor’s secretary, Mrs Nkechi Anyaegbu got a call from Awka requesting to speak with her boss, she broke into the NWC meeting and whispered same to her boss. Ogbulafor hurriedly left the meeting to see several journalists who had laid siege to his office.

Incidentally, Mrs. Nkechi Anyaegbu’s husband, Don, was in Awka to see Governor Ngige. He was scheduled to see the governor that morning at Government House. AIG Ige changed everything. He had been relaying situation reports to his wife hours before Ngige’s call came.

Another person billed to see my boss that day was Hon. Kene Nzekwe, a Kaduna-based quantity surveyor. Out of concern, Nzekwe had graciously given me the N6,000 from which I bought the pair of jeans.

Done with speaking with Ogbulafor, Yusuf Ali promptly requested Ngige speak with reporters. It was the tape of Ali’s interview with my boss that Radio Nigeria played at its 4pm news bulletin. That also was how Ogbulafor was credited to helping to foil the coup.

In Nnewi, the Chief Judge of Anmbra State, Justice Chuka Okoli had just returned from Abuja. As he drove into his home, he got word the Clerk of the State Assembly was waiting. Brandishing a resolution of the House accepting Ngige’s resignation, the Clerk requested the Chief Judge to come and swear-in Ngige’s deputy, Hon. Okey Udeh as governor.

As the baffled Chief Judge was changed into his ceremonial robes, he heard Radio Nigeria relaying Ngige”s interview. In the bulletin, Ngige said he remained governor as the letter upon which the Assembly acted was forged.

More confused, Justice Okoli advised the Assembly Clerk to return to Awka, that he would come in his official car. The Chief Judge simply went into hiding. Thus the Chief Judge refused to swear-in Udeh, averting what would have been a major constitutional crisis in Anambra State.

The battle did not end there. After the calls and Radio Nigeria broadcast, the story of AIG Ige’s infamy went viral. PDP got in touch with Andy Uba, President Obasanjo’s Special Assistant on Domestic Affairs. The president was abroad. PDP officers at the time believe that was Andy in the know of the coup in Anambra, he probably would not have handed the call to the President.

Once contacted, President Obasanjo got in touch with Mr. Tafa Balogun, the Inspector General of Police. At about 6 pm, we got word that AIG Ige had been ordered to return to his office in Umuahia. Out of concern for Ngige’s safety, Igwe Mbaukwu took charge of securing the hotel. The anti-Ngige’s forces mounted pressure on Choice Hotel to throw my boss out that night “or they torch the hotel.”

At about midnight, the generator set ran out of diesel. Igwe sent his aides to fetch a drum of diesel from his palace. On that fateful night, devoid of any police or SSS details, Igwe Anugwu, with his pistol kept vigil, becoming our Chief Security Officer.

Ngige’s elder sister, Mrs Berne Nwachukwu, her son, Emeka, Personal Assistants Sunday Nwejeh and Ndudim Agomuoh, the governor’s nephew Chidiebere, two aides of Igwe- and Yours truly- were all who kept Dr. Chris Ngige company on the night of July 10, 2003 up till the morning of July 11, 2003.

At about 10am on July 11, when we saw all of Ngige’s police and SSS details had been fully restored, Igwe Anugwu had to leave for his palace. We were all full of praises for this remarkable traditional ruler who dramatically saved our lives.

Sadly, a few months later, Ngige wrote President Obasanjo alleging plots by some “highly placed persons in Anambra State to eliminate me”. Top on the list of persons plotting to kill Ngige, according to his petition, was Igwe Anugwu, the same man who single-handedly saved his life a few months earlier! To confirm Ngige’s position, when a year later he celebrated Anambra Liberation Day, Igwe Mbaukwu wasn’t invited. Several persons who jumped ship on that trying day won laurels for “gallantry.” Ngige told friends and associates that Igwe wasn’t invited because he had turned “enemy of Anambra State.”

The puzzle was how a man who staked his life to save Ngige’s would now plot to kill the same man? For several years, the thought that a man whose life he helped save could turn around to falsely accuse him for political ends haunted Igwe Anugwu.

I ran into Igwe Anugwu a couple of months ago in Abuja, and was delighted to see Igwe looking like a 50 year-old!

He told me that the key to his good looks lay in his ability to forgive those who wronged him unjustly, Ngige inclusive! We laughed our hearts out.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised to get an invitation via SMS to attend Igwe’s 70th birthday on Saturday 27th December, 2014.

As this great man of courage and wisdom clocks three score years and ten, may the Almighty God grant him many more decades of a rewarding life. Ezeukwu Mbaukwu, Happy birthday!

Akunna wrote from Abuja.



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