When the Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano, and oil magnate, Prince Arthur Eze, recently engaged in diatribes, many were surprised.
The impression that most people in the state had before the feud became public knowledge was that the two were bosom friends.
Obiano, upon assuming office, described the oil mogul as the strength of his administration.
He had stated, “We are lucky to have been enjoying the support of Prince Arthur Eze. I recall that the $1m that he donated to our security fundraising marked a watershed in our efforts to create a safe and secure Anambra State.
“Besides his huge donation to the security efforts of the state, Prince Eze has continued to identify with the All Progressive Grand Alliance in Anambra State. He is a true son of Igboland, whose philanthropic gesture knows no bounds.”
Expressing surprise at the way Eze suddenly turned against Obiano, the state Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, C. Don Adinuba, described the development as strange.
“The sudden activism of Arthur Eze is strange and baffles everybody. It’s funny. He’s not known for activism. I want to believe that he has not forgiven Governor Obiano for beating him all-round in his Dunikofia Local Government Area in a recent election in the state,” Adinuba said.
While stating that officials of the state government had decided to maintain a dignified silence on comments by Eze, the commissioner warned the oil magnate not to provoke the government to start opening files on his alleged abandoned contracts in the state.
The rift between Eze and Obiano might have begun when the duo allegedly battled for the location of the Zone 13 Police Headquarters in Anambra. While some sources said the governor wanted the facility to be located in his Aguleri home in the Anambra East Local Government Area of the state, Eze, it was learnt, wanted it in his own Ukpo community in the Dunikofia Local Government Area of the state.
In the end, Eze had the upper hand and won the battle and the Zone 13 headquarters was inaugurated by the police authorities in Ukpo.
Speaking on this, Eze said, “Governor Obiano wanted it to be sited in Aguleri, his hometown. Aguleri and Umueri have been fighting a war for many years, killing themselves. They are not on good terms. He (Obiano) has never reconciled them and he was talking about where to cite the Zone 13 headquarters. The most important thing is for him to reconcile Aguleri and Umueri communities. They are still fighting up till today.
“If he wants to take Zone 13, let him go and take it. It does not bother me where it is located. How many years more shall I live? Five or 10 years, and I will go. Where you locate it does not bother me and doesn’t make sense to me.
“The point is that I didn’t even fight. I didn’t have the impression that I was fighting, but when I heard that Obiano wrote a petition against me about it, I knew that there was war. I thought that he would have been happy that we brought it to a central place. From here to his place is less than seven minutes; from here to Onitsha is seven minutes.
“I thought we were working together until I heard that he went to Abuja to protest against it.”
While Obiano maintained silence on the impasse, his media warriors took to the social media to deride Eze, describing his wealth as of no benefit to the state as he had no single industry in the state that was providing employment for anybody.
Not deterred by the barrage of attacks, Eze returned the following week to his Ukpo home, invited some stakeholders in the state, including some traditional rulers, and addressed a press conference, where he stated that he would sue the governor for allegedly misappropriating local government funds and not paying monarchs in the state their five per cent entitlement from the local government allocations.
“There was a law for all state governors to reserve five per cent of the local government allocations for the traditional institution. Go to the North, they are paying; even in Enugu, the governor is paying; but here, Obiano is not paying. I will drag him to court for that,” Eze stated.
His addressed persuaded some stakeholders to his side. A few days later, the traditional ruler of Ukwulu in the Njikoka Local Government Area of the state, Peter Uyanwa, called an enlarged meeting of monarchs in his palace for Eze to address them.
The billionaire oil dealer told the monarchs among other things, “I have been in and around the government since 1970, and within that period, I have made many governors in Nigeria. Since Obiano is not ready to pay you people (traditional rulers), I shall be giving N200,000 each to all monarchs in the state every month. I shall also give N10m to former local government chairmen to pursue their matter in court against the governor for removing them from office before the expiration of their tenure.”
At the end of the meeting, 13 monarchs in the area became Eze’s converts and followed him.
Uncomfortable with the development, the state government slammed a one-year suspension on the host monarch, Uyanwa.
Although the government, in a statement, said the monarch’s suspension had nothing to do with his association with Eze, many knew the battle had begun.
Adinuba, who issued the statement said, “Following a series of petitions against the traditional ruler of Ukwulu in the Njikoka Local Government Area from many people in Ukwulu and elsewhere, who want to forestall an impending huge crisis in the community, the Anambra State Government has decided to suspend Chief Peter Uyanwa as the Igwe of Ukwulu for one year with effect from Friday, July 24, 2020, in the first instance.
“His certificate of recognition as Igwe is also withdrawn with immediate effect. Consequently, Chief Uyanwa can no longer function as Chairman of the Traditional Rulers Council, Anambra Central Zone. These actions have been taken in the public interest. The appropriate security agencies have been notified.”
Reacting to the monarch’s suspension, Eze stated, “Go and tell Obiano that we are the people who make governors. He is fighting a losing battle. The people of Ukwulu installed the monarch and not the government; so he (Obiano) cannot remove someone he did not make a king.”
A few weeks later, the Anambra State Government suspended 12 other monarchs, who followed the oil magnate to Abuja to see the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd).
According to the government, the monarchs travelled outside the state without its approval as required by rules and protocols guiding their movement.
A circular issued by the Commissioner for Local Government, Chieftaincy and Community Affairs, Mr Greg Obi, titled: ‘Suspension of 12 Traditional Rulers in Anambra State’, dated Tuesday, August 11, 2020, said the suspension took effect from that date.
The commissioner listed the affected traditional rulers as Alex Edozieuno of Mkpunando, Mark Anthony Okonkwo of Alor, Chukuwma Bob Vincent Orji of Ezinifite, G. B. C Mbakwe of Abacha, Chijioke Nwankwo of Nawfia, Nkeli Nelly of Igbariam, Anthony Onyekwere of Owelle, A. N. Onwuneme of Ikenga, Simon Ikechukwu Chidubem of Umumbo, S. O. Uche of Ezira, Dr Emeka Ilouno of Ifitedunu and Peter Ikegbunem Udoji of Eziagulu Otu.
While one of the monarchs, Igwe Mark-Anthony Okonkwo of Aloh, apologised to the state government for embarking on the Abuja trip without permission, others are of the opinion that a state rule cannot abridge their fundamental rights of movement and association as contained in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
One of them told our correspondent on the telephone, “It’s unfortunate and laughable that our dear governor had to carry out this despotic action in a democratic dispensation.
“Why should a governor of a state punish his subjects, especially, traditional rulers, for trying to see their President?
“The government said we didn’t get clearance from it before travelling outside the state. Don’t we have our fundamental rights of movement and association anymore? Are we in a state of emergency or war?
“We pray Obiano will not attract some kind of wrath upon himself, because of his desperation to perpetuate the infamous government of the All Progressives Grand Alliance in the state.”
Some major players in the 2021 governorship election in the state are tacitly making the Obiano/Eze feud a political capital by surreptitiously sponsoring protests for and against the gladiators.
The Anambra State Chairman of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Damian Okeke-Ogene, told our correspondent that the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation would not stay aloof and watch the situation degenerate further.
“We’ve had this kind of experience in the past in the state, where the government was distracted by this kind of trend. We won’t allow this again. We’ll come in by way of advice to the two parties. They can’t continue this way,” he said.