How Senator Chris Ngige Destroyed His Political BrandArticles/Opinion Friday, September 27th, 2013
By Chukwudi Nwokoye
Senator Chris Nwabueze Ngige is a lightning rod any day, as far as Anambra State is concerned. In fact, he has admirers all over Nigeria. Anytime his name is mentioned, there is always a drawn battle between his ardent supporters and those that do not trust him and those who believed that he gets an undue attention for a weak performance while in office. But no matter what side of the debate one is about Senator Ngige, everyone always agree that from his time as governor until now that Peter Obi is in office, Anambra State has witnessed a rebirth in terms of political awareness and civic participation.
Senator Ngige built his political fortune out of combination of factors. First of all, he came to the scene following a disastrous tenure of his predecessor, Governor Chinwoke ‘Odera’ Mbadinuju. It was during the Mbadinuju’s administration that the state was left utterly paralyzed. Teachers were being owed salaries culminating in the teacher’s strike that sent school children home for about a year. Government workers are being owed arrears of salaries and pensioners were being owed their pensions while let to series of demonstrations in the Government House. It was also during Mbadinuju’s reign that extra-judicial killings were the order of the day which led to the brutal butchering of a harsh critic of his administration. Barrister Igwe and his pregnant wife was brutally murdered by unknown killers who were suspected to be members of the dreaded Bakassi Boys; since the method of the killing was same as adopted in killing their victims who were alleged to be criminals.
Also roads in the state were in a worst state of disrepair. Governor Mbadinuju was beholden to his political god-fathers who were bent on milking the state dry. He spent Anambra’s money ‘servicing’ Sir Emeka Offor and his group of cabals that were holding the state to ransom. Mbadinuju’s quarrel with Sir Offor became the former’s waterloo. It became a ‘cat and dog’ fight and Buju Banton It’s Not an Easy Road > Supporting Him in His…ambra people were weary and disenchanted about government.
It was in the midst of that madness that Ngige was rigged into office by a powerful cabal, The Uba
Brothers, during the 2003 governorship election. However, many Anambra people were ready to move on and gave him the benefit of the doubt. After he was sworn in, he went into a drawn battle with his own godfather, Chief Chris Uba (Eselu Uga) over who would pick Commissioners and Special Advisers; and who would control the state. He was said to have called Chief Uba’s bluff which led to his kidnap.
Ngige battled back and painted the Uba brothers as the villain. He was able to galvanize the Igbo nationalism by making the case that he was fighting a bully, General Olusegun Obasanjo, who was believed by many to be anti-Igbo, and was believed by every Anambrarian that OBJ was fighting a proxy war against the Igbos using the Ubas. Normally people support the underdogs in every fight, especially where the opponent is seen as a powerful person with immense authority. People love fighters and he appeared to be a champion of the masses.
He tapped into that disenchantment against Obasanjo as an Igbo-hater. He went to work and appeared to have started using Anambra state’s money to solve Anambra problems. He was also able to make the case that it was because he refused to let the cabals continue to plunder the scarce resources of the state that they were at his neck. He made the case that he stopped the perpetual hemorrhaging of Anambra’s money. People were very sympathetic to his plight and were ready to stand by him to fight off the bullies. Teachers were paid their arrears of salaries, pensioners received their pensions and roads were being constructed in some areas of the state. The people were elated that even though he didn’t win the election, at least he was doing the work that the governor that people had chosen for themselves would have done. After all, they reasoned, governors are elected to provide the basic needs of the state.
When he was governor, Ngige was able to build a brand name for himself as an un-compromising fighter for the people against the ‘devils’ that held the state down. After his tenure as governor was terminated by the Appeal Tribunal, he still remained relevant and not a few people gave him a fighting chance to return as governor. However, as fate would have it, he was schemed out in 2007 by the same OBJ’s cabal who wanted an easy ride for Andy Uba. Again, he contested for governor again in 2010 and could only win three (3) local councils out of twenty-one (21).
But the following years, he contested for Senate for the Anambra Central Constituency and was controversially declared the winner after a re-run. The stout court challenge by his opponent, Prof. Dora Akunyili, was aborted due to the 180 days rule within which a challenge to an election must be concluded. Off to the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Ngige went.
It was at the senate that Ngige’s brand started diminishing in substance and form. He became a proverbial dog that was chasing after a car, caught up with the car and then got confused as to what to do with the car, and why he was pursuing the car in the first place. Like the lizard that ruined its own mother’s funeral, Ngige slowly and steadily frittered away the brand name he created for himself. As far back as 2003, he had wanted to be in the senate and many Anambra people, and even his harshest critics believed that he is best suited for the senate where he could employ those bravados, ‘gra gra’ and his feistiness for the benefits of the Anambra Central Constituency. If his ardent supporters hoped that he would use the senate pulpit to reset his ailing political fortunes, he seems not to have found his bearing and his touch for over two years.
On issues after issues that are of interest to Igbos in general and Anambra people in particular, he became a ‘no-show! There is no appreciable impact felt by the people after over two years in the senate.
For instance, when the issue of the dumping of corpses at Ezu River by people suspected to be SARS at Amansea-Awka (Senator Ngige’s Constituency), many had expected him to get to the fore-front on that issue and see that justice is done or at least to unmask the mysteries surrounding that apparent cover-up. There were even rumors that Ngige and some other senators were complicit in covering up the findings of the Commission set up to investigate the deaths. Hopes of a breakthrough in the investigations faded after the Senate Committee that looked into the matter released a controversial report clearing the Anambra State Police Command, whose Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was accused of perpetrating the evil, of complicity. According to Comrade Emeka Umeagbalasi, Chairman of the Inter Society:
“Dr. Ngige, leading his other legislative colleagues, dabbled into the Ezu River SARS massacre with intent to extricate for political reasons, the strongly suspected culprits – the Awkuzu SARS, and as expected, the watery report, which he co-authored, not only exonerated them but also gave them more license to kill at will and extra-judicially.”
Then the Orient Refinery which Anambra State government from 1999 until presently had worked hard to achieve, Kogi and Enugu states now show up from nowhere to claim ownership of. The Kogi State Senator, Smart Adeyemi was at his best when he addressed the Senate in session on the issue, and declared confidently:
“The senators from Enugu and Anambra states are seated here and they know that the oil well belongs solely to Kogi State because it is within the territorial boundary of Kogi State. Mr. (Senate) President, my colleagues from these two states cannot and they are not disputing the fact that the oil well belongs to Kogi State. They can’t dispute it; they should leave our land with our oil well, please!”
One had expected Ngige to seize the moment and challenge the senator from Kogi State but surprisingly, he and other Anambra senators sat there looking ‘mooo’ while the young man made bizarre claim of ownership of the refinery and oil well that put Anambra on the list as the 10th oil producing state in Nigeria.
Again the issue of the Unity Schools came up. Anambra students are expected to score 139 points (highest in the country) out of 200 to be able to earn a slot in those schools. Many Anambra people vehemently protested against this policy and saw it as a ploy to put Anambra people and Igbos down educationally. People were expecting Senator Ngige to make a spirited case against the injustice that was meted out to hard-working Anambra students or at least lend his voice. At least he was expected to be on record as challenging the unfair practice and letting the whole country know that he would not tolerate injustice especially if it was seen to have been directed towards his own people. But as usual, he did not see the issue as deserving of his Senate presentation.
Another angle is that Boko Haram has been killing Igbos in the north including those from Anambra Central. A town in Anambra Central, Adazi Nnukwu, and other towns in Anambra were victims of the dreaded group. Again, Ngige did not do anything of value to reassure the people from the north of their safety or to help in bringing them back home safely to their respective towns. He did not speak out forcefully against the killing probably for fear of any political backlashes from the north. Anambra people began to wonder who he was actually representing in the hallowed chamber.
Finally his named appeared on the “Do Nothing” Senators’ List. He was among the senators that has never sponsored or co-sponsored any bill in the senate for the past two years. Besides, there has never been any project he has done for the Anambra Central Constituency using the Constituency Funds which is estimated to be N333,000,000 annually (N1billion for Anambra divided by the three Constituencies: Anambra Central, Anambra North and Anambra South). Others like Iyom Uche Ekwunife had been using the Constituency Funds to do great things for their Constituencies. Ngige is pocketing the money for his selfish ends and have never attracted any projects using his goodwill.
The erudite Professor Okey Ndibe summarized Ngige’s situation thus:
“Mr. Ngige benefited as much from the incompetence and greed of his predecessors as from a culture of low expectations where the payment of salaries or the provision of roads is rated an amazing achievement. But there’s no question that his image has lost much of its glitter in the last two years or so. After a bruising battle to claim his Senate seat from Dora Akunyili, Mr. Ngige, a medical doctor by training seemed to have gone to sleep. If there was any significant bill he sponsored or co-sponsored, or any legislative steps he took to boost the life of his constituents, he and his handlers must have worked hard to conceal it from the public. He has been quite, quite simply a mediocre, an underwhelming senator. Given his self-inflicted injuries as a weak senator, the question is whether he has the residual goodwill to pull off victory in a governorship election where he is almost certain to be outspent by his other opponents and their backers.”
Ngige was a member of the ACN (Action Congress of Nigeria) on whose platform he is holding the senate seat. Many Anambrarians cannot see themselves supporting him as they see the party as a Yoruba party against APGA that they see as an Igbo party. But some still differentiate between him and his party. When his party joined with APC (All Progressives Congress), it was like Yoruba and Hausa party versus Igbo party!
His lack of quality representation at the senate, though surprising, was not what put a heavy dent on his standing among most Anambra people. Many are still ready to cut him some slacks about the joining ACN/APC. The main issue that killed what was left of his political capital was the deportation of over 70 Anambra so-called destitute by the Lagos State government on the 24th of July, 2013, by 2am! Ngige stoutly supported the Lagos State government’s action and began to rationalize it! By so doing, he confirmed the fears of many that he would sell Igbos to Yorubas! It was finally discovered that the destitute deported to the Head Bridge are not all from Anambra but some are from other states. So by deporting them to Onitsha Head Bridge, every Igbo included should find his way back to his own state?
Ngige missed the golden opportunity to show Anambrarians and Igbos that he is their own and that he still has the fight left in him. The main reason why the deportation was caustic politically was that on any issue concerning Igbos and Yorubas, any Igbo politician or leader that takes sides with Yorubas no matter how objective he is on the issue is seen as a sell-out! Is it fair or unfair to Ngige? The answer is contained in the fact that politics is not fair. Ngige came to limelight through unfair practices to begin with. Igbos felt rightly or wrongly marginalized and shortchanged in the hands of Yorubas before, during and after the war. It even dated back to the time of Zik/Awo rivalry. The mutual distrust is there and it is not going away anytime soon. Any politician of Igbo stock that doesn’t understand the politics is naïve.
This issue of deportation brought back the memories of the Nigeria/Biafra Civil War, “Abandoned Property”, “2 Pounds”, “Oso Abiola” etc all put together. Every grouse or competition that Igbos felt against the Yorubas was brought to the fore by this deportation issue. How can anyone defend the deportation of a Nigerian from Nigeria? Is Lagos now a country where other Nigerians or Igbos need visasd to travel to? How can a Senator defend a seeming or perceived act of injustice against his own constituency? An astute politician would parry or punt the issue while he buys time to navigate through the obvious political mine. A good politician would condemn it totally, assuming it is true, in a ‘shoot from the hip’ or ‘gun-slinger’ manner (to borrow the American Football terminology) with a little caveat: “I will investigate this issue thoroughly and get back with you.”
But Ngige and his handlers fail to understand the psych of the average Anambra man or woman that they claim to lead. Every politics is local. One can stay at Abuja and say or do whatever he likes but if he doesn’t connect with the local issues that his people care about, he is just there representing himself and not his people. An online friend of mine who is always an ardent and fanatical supporter of Ngige was so bitter that she said “Ngige should be impeached”! My friend, one Mr Ugoben Udeka, a dependable Ngige foot-soldier said that Peter Obi had been hunting for the head of Ngige for years; but now Governor Fashola handed Ngige’s head to Peter Obi on a platter with the deportation issue.
I could add that Fashola did not just hand Ngige’s head to Gov. Obi, Fashola actually made a pepper soup out of Ngige’s head and handed to APGA and others that were salivating for the opportunity to rubbish Ngige. But his handlers are political amateurs that don’t know how to manage success or how to navigate political landmines on behalf of their principal. They do not understand that an average Anambra man hates imposition moreso when that ‘overlord’ happens to be across the River Niger. Most Anambra people cannot imagine a Tinubu or Aregbesola or even Fashola crossing the River Niger to come and campaign for Ngige. He doesn’t understand that the Anambra people cannot stand the notion that he would be answering to Tinubu and funneling Anambra money to him! It is quite a pity that they don’t appear to get the negative politics of it.
Even as the controversy is about to die down, the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, few days ago was reported to have apologized to the Igbos for the deportation! He now finally recognized that he could not defend the indefensible and that this is a political ‘loser’ for him. Where does this leave our diminutive Senator Ngige? Fashola’s act was two months late and kind of pull the rug off Ngige feet. By apologizing to Igbos, he has put the issue back to the front burner and effectively destroyed Ngige’s chances of even retaining his seat at the senate in 2015!
Even though I am not a fan of Ngige, but it is sad to see politicians go down like this and throw away his political capital even if it was undeserved. But the irony of it all is that the same thing he used to come to limelight and build his brand on as a fighter against god-fatherism and a champion for the Igbo cause against Obasanjo (seen as an Igbo hater/conqueror), is the same thing that leads to his waterloo. He rubbished everything that he stood for just for political support from across the Niger. By going for a different god-father from the same tribe as Obasanjo, he destroyed what led him to stardom. He is now seen as a puppet for Fashola and Tinubu and that it was for that reason that he supported his own people being deported from Lagos. The same tribal politics he used to his advantage is being used against him in a different setting. He and his handlers either do not notice that the ground has shifted from under Ngige’s feet. Some see it that he is doing the “Sarah Palin” of Anambra politics which means that he is just using his popularity to earn cash donations from fanatical supporters who don’t know that his stock has already gone down; only for him to spend a little of the money for campaign (as he knows that he is no longer electable in Anambra) only to then pocket the change.
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