In this interview with Punch, a former governor of Anambra State, Chinwoke Mbadinuju, speaks about the controversies which dodged his administration, godfathers and the inability of the Peoples Democratic Party to form government in the state since he left office
It was speculated that you were going to be among the governorship aspirants in the last election in Anambra; what happened?
The main reason why I didn’t pick any form and why I didn’t go into the contest is because already, most of the PDP members in Anambra were my boys, I brought them up. Some of them were my Special Advisers. Others were Special Assistants and Secretary to the State Government or one thing or the other. If I had gone into the contest with such people, the so-called godfathers will back them to try to disgrace me and win the election at all costs. Then, you would see money bags throwing their weight and money around and I might find myself alone. If I lost, it won’t augur well for me and my supporters. I consulted with my people although I had made up my mind under the circumstances at that time. It was a personal decision; nobody forced me to or not to. After four years in Awka and all the things that followed, I felt I did enough in four years and the circumstances in which I was stopped from going for a second term are now seen to be a mistake by whoever did that, especially the leaders. In fact, it was one leader, the former President Olusegun Obasanjo, he was the person who singlehandedly stopped me. I made up my mind it was not worth it, I have done my best for Anambra and I did not want to contest for governor again. I felt it was better I stay out to offer advice to those who were in the race. I never showed interest. If I did, it would be a different thing. My people in Anambra and the PDP here in Abuja know that I never made a bid for the job in 2013, I never picked the form.
But you sought for a second term after your first term in office…
(cuts in) It was unjust for former President Obasanjo to disqualify me even after I won the party primaries. Two times, Obasanjo disqualified me, the third time I was winning, Obasanjo sent Senator (Ibrahim) Mantu, he is still alive, to make sure I didn’t enter the hall. This is after he scored me “A” on security and infrastructure. When I delivered a paper on security, Obasanjo and General (Mohammed) Gusau (rtrd) commended me after the entire hall gave me a standing ovation. After Jerry Gana’s national media tour of all the 36 states he went, I received the gold cup for security and welfare; that is the first position. When someone comes first in the most important subject: welfare and security and infrastructure which the former President inspected and scored me “A”, is that a candidate that will fail in an election? If after all these things the then President stopped me from going for a second term, you will know that there is a problem. I didn’t even enter the race for a second term.
If I remember, you moved over to the Alliance for Democracy
… (cuts in) That was after I was stopped by Obasanjo from contesting on the platform of the PDP. Left for me alone, I would have simply left but my supporters were all over me for obvious reasons. I decided to accept their plea and we joined into AD. It was a mistake because I was thinking that AD had some governors I could just join. When I told former President Obasanjo that I was considering joining AD, he told me good luck. I didn’t know he had already perfected his arrangement to make sure that nobody gets re-elected under AD and that was exactly what happened. If I knew that was his plan, I didn’t need to go into AD. And as soon as elections were over, I quickly went back to PDP because that is the party we founded. I remain in PDP and I will be here till tomorrow.
What was your greatest challenge as governor?
Controversies. They all called me controversial. If things were going one way, there would be no need for controversy. Like the issue of security, it was the most challenging aspect of my administration because women were running into the churches to sleep because armed robbers had written that they would come to their houses on such and such a day and time. Most of the women chose to go to the church to take shelter every night. As a governor, I lived in Onitsha during this period, it was hell. This Umuleri/Aguleri and Umoba Anam have fought themselves for over 50 years. I said I was not going to preside over that kind of thing and decided to do something. Even when I said I was going to Umuleri to try and stop the fighting, the Police and SSS advised against it. I said okay deputy governor sit by my left hand side, you are from that area. I am going there, all of us are going but they said people don’t go there but I said we would go and if the governor and his deputy perish, then it will be news. We went and came back.
When they say that you are controversial, you can’t just be controversial for nothing because you are trying to do good. I was there to do good for Anambra State, I started prayers every Monday morning in all government establishments, I used to go to the Onitsha Market and town halls to conduct prayers and God kept answering the prayers and performing miracles. Those who didn’t like my style said it was controversy. I wrote on the entrance to my office “It shall be well with Anambra State.” it shows that this man is with God, he respects God. When my successor came, he removed it and since then, it has never been well with the state. God is watching everybody, if I am controversial because of God, wasn’t Christ controversial? But now he is the Lord of All, the Bible says he made us. If you read John Chapter 1, it says he is the word and nothing was made without him. But when he was here nobody believed him, they called him all sorts of names. I was happy, I said let them call me all sorts of names but go on and do what God has assigned you to do. I believed I was on an assignment in Anambra and I accomplished it.
With your experience as governor, what would you say about godfatherism?
Well, a godfather has many connotations. You could have positive godfathers and negative ones. The good ones work towards making things work and succeed but if you have a godfather that is always challenging, he wants to make appointments, if you have 10 commissioners, he would want to have three or four. After you have given him two commissioners, he will say he wants Special Advisers, Special Assistants and he will even want to choose their portfolios but I said these things are not done like that and they said it is done like that, that is controversy. You are the governor and you run your administration the way you want it. I know some people helped us. There is nobody who campaigned for elections or any position who was not assisted. I have not seen one person who will come out and say I didn’t have any help and it was the same type of help I got and I was in trouble. Some of them wrote a petition to the President and the petition was carried by the then Vice-President Atiku Abubakar to the President. They said I had N3.5bn abroad and I told the President- we were in his office that I never saw such money in Awka. After attending the federal allocation meeting, sometimes Anambra State will get N200m, sometimes N600m; it was never straight. I couldn’t pay salaries in some of the months so where could I get such money to send N3.5bn abroad? I told him it was not possible, he said, if he didn’t approve it for investigations, some people would think that he was colluding with me. I said okay. Atiku brought the petition and Obasanjo looked at the petition and said but there is no covering letter, Atiku put his hands into his pocket and brought out a covering letter. These people were ready, everything that they could do to get me jailed or killed, what did I do? I was doing well. Christ was doing good, healing all types of diseases. It is my experience to be doing good while people that run me down go through all sorts of problems, it was terrible I must tell you. In any case, they went to Europe, London where I studied, they went to Russia where we visited when I played football, I played in Spain, everywhere, they saw my CV and thought that all the places I went, I put money there, they went to America where I also studied and saw nothing and at the end, President Obasanjo called me on phone and said “Governor Anambra,” I said sir, he said you can walk with your head high and I said I told you sir. The only thing I had was three pounds in London at the University of Southampton where I studied Law and I had left in Lloyds Bank three pounds, I couldn’t have finished it. I kept it there. Godfather or no godfather, in my own case, they were negative even in the case of those who came after me, they had it rough with godfathers. The person who started godfatherism in Anambra State was former President Obasanjo because he wanted his boys to be governor. In my own case, he wanted his boy Andy Uba to rule Anambra and indeed his nominee became governor for a few weeks. Anambra State is not an easy state where you can go and do two terms, it’s tough. You can ask Peter Obi what he went through to get a second term; he succeeded because he had godfathers who were positive. In the case of the PDP, we had godfathers who were negative. I was sent to prison pending bail but 5,000 hoodlums were hired to start a riot and attack the prison with the aim of killing me. They came to the prison where I was. They trampled upon the prison gate and came to my cell but I was gone. One judge told me their aim was to arrest me, tie my hands and feet and drive me through the streets of Onitsha main market in an open van, the same market I go to for prayers, before killing me.
Is it correct then to say that godfatherism hindered your performance?
If you performed 90 per cent with all these distractions, there is no way you can tell anyone that you performed 100 per cent but the important thing is if you go to Anambra State today, they will tell you that my four-year administration was the only time politicians could come to Akwa and go back home with money to take care of their families. No governor from then till date has done it. I did the best anybody in my circumstance could do, I am happy with what I was able to achieve. When you read my book which I entitled: “How I governed Anambra State,” after reading it you can read: “Legacies and Challenges” and you will know what I went through to achieve whatever we achieved in Anambra State.
What do you feel when you are described as the least performing governor since the creation of the state?
That’s politics. What are they calling President Jonathan today? They say he is not performing. Opponents will want to say anything and if you continue to listen to the opposition, you won’t go anywhere, you won’t do anything. They will tell you oh, Mbadinuju did nothing! Nothing? But Obasanjo came and inspected my infrastructure and gave me “A” yet I am nothing, Jerry Gana and his team came and toured the whole country and Anambra State under my watch took the gold cup, yet Mbadinuju did nothing. If you don’t ignore some of these people, you will run mad.
How do you feel about the murder of Mr. Barnabas Igwe and his pregnant wife who were murdered during your tenure in office?
Anybody who listens to the rubbish being peddled about allegations that I was involved in the dastardly act has nothing to do. The person does not fear God. How can a governor who was leading a whole state in prayers every Monday morning and God’s blessing was visiting the state and I was going to markets and town halls preaching goodness and after I have done that, then I will relax and go home and pick up my gun and begin to shoot the people I prayed for? It’s not possible. I was in Huston, Texas attending a meeting when I was called and told this couple who were lawyers had been assassinated. This man and his wife were among those who supported me and planned for me to become chairman of Onitsha Bar Association, that is the highest you could go in law practice in the state. I was told they had been murdered. I knew that the man who was killed was the chairman of the Onitsha bar at the time I was governor, he was from Imo State, we were together, and he and his wife were my supporters. How could I go back and begin to kill those people who supported me to rise? These things are not possible. The chairman was very concerned about the welfare of the people; he was always urging that we pay salaries. I used to explain to them that the money they were giving us was not enough and it was deliberate on the part of the Federal Government. They seized most of our money in the allocation waiting for my replacement. Once my replacement came, he was receiving N3bn to N4bn within the first month. I never received more than N600m; you can see the whole thing. When I came back I surrendered my immunity and told the police because the Onitsha Bar Association said they won’t appear before the committee I was going to set up to find out who killed the couple because they already suspected that I did it. To cut a long story short, when I came back, I surrendered my immunity as governor and asked the police to investigate. I gave them a 20-page report and the police went through. After this, they arrested 14 people to be charged. The police let me go because they saw my passport and visa and they knew that on the night that the couple was killed in Onitsha, I was in Huston. There was no way I could have left Huston to kill them and then go back to Huston; it’s not possible. Two, was there any conspiracy? Since I didn’t kill, was there conspiracy? The police said for the 15 weeks they did their investigations, nobody mentioned my name. That was a no case submission. I went on leave in London, before I came back, the same problem of the Presidency here in Abuja developed. They called upon Sunday Ehindero, the then IG and asked him to arrest me. They dismissed the earlier report which acquitted me; the Presidency said it didn’t accept the earlier report. There was nothing I didn’t suffer. I am not a person that can turn round and kill his friends. He was from Imo State, I was not contesting against him, and he was not contesting against me, least anybody will say he was blocking my way. They killed him; the police report was that those who kidnapped (Chris) Ngige who was the governor after me, those who kidnapped him were the same people who killed Igwe and the wife. Why did they kill Igwe and the wife? To make it impossible for me to do a second term, how could I have killed Igwe and his wife? I did not. That is what some people based their arguments on, not to allow me run for a second term. Since then, who in the PDP has been able to go for a second term in Anambra State? The issue is that if you cannot be fair to other people, God will not be fair to you.
Even though legally, nothing linked you with their murder, do you think people would stop linking you with the murder?
Most of them are already mental; some of them one way or another are facing judgment. Those in government will always be criticised.
How were you so comfortable when so many unions went on strike for as long as one year as governor of the state?
It was not peculiar to Anambra State. Schools were closed nationwide that year. Even under President Obasanjo, the Police went on strike for the first time in history. It was a general problem; Obasanjo caused it by inflating workers’ monthly emoluments and hyped it. We didn’t have enough money to pay teachers. The governor of a state today who was the leader of workers was always coming to Anambra State riding a rickety Volkswagen beetle to camouflage and go to one of the godfathers, receive money from them and insist that no teacher would go to the classroom. Even the women who were willing were chased out of the classrooms. As long as the labour leaders were fed by the godfathers, the schools remained closed. There was little one could do.
Was there an agreement you had with these godfathers that you reneged on?
How can anybody say I was paying godfathers while at the same time they said I reneged on an agreement? There is a godfather who had an arrangement with the military that he would be paid N10m every month, I wasn’t there when the agreement was made. When I tried to stop it, I was dragged to President Obasanjo’s office and I told Obasanjo this is the situation I found on ground and Obasanjo said I had to go back and continue paying it; that it was legal. At what stage did I renege? They will always try to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it. Obasanjo gave them contracts worth billions of naira, they were super rich, there was nothing I could give to them.
You mean Obasanjo asked you to pay this godfather; who is he?
Yes, Obasanjo asked me to pay. The godfather is one of the Uba family.
Have you met Obasanjo after you left office as governor?
Yes, I have met him and we are friends. When I first visited him, he received me well and even took me to his chapel where I preached because I am now an evangelist. He has received me very well after then. But I don’t know whether all those things enter his heart. I like to see him as my friend because he was once my leader being a former president. Again, you should know that being a former military officer, you can not blame him if he still exhibits traits of a former military man. I consider him as a friend anyway.
Why do you think governors in Anambra usually have it rough?
I think it has to do with the nature of the people. I can only talk about my time, the situation was chaotic. There is no governor who has ever governed the state that did not have it rough. When Ezeife was there, they practically chased him out, my first term was largely peaceful. The turbulence started when I wanted to go for a second term. It was not a problem caused by my people in Anambra, our problem came from Abuja, and you know what Ngige went through. Then Peter Obi, you know what he too went through; it was President Jonathan that helped him. In my own case, it was my President then that was finding a way to do away with me. President Jonathan has helped Peter Obi a lot. I started the oil exploration activity in my state. When I went to President Obasanjo and asked him to support the activity, he said no. Now, with the support of Jonathan, Anambra State is (an) oil producing state but today nobody remembers I started it all.
How did you conceive the idea of vying for governor in the first place?
I served Jim Nwobodo, then transferred to Lagos under President Shehu Shagari and he wrote my letter of appointment and attached me to the office of the Vice President. While we were doing it, there was the military coup that toppled Shagari and I returned to Onitsha to set up my law practice. I was doing well as a lawyer. Suddenly, Abacha died and they threw open the issue of politicking and I became interested because that was what I studied in the university. I studied Political Science, International Law and Foreign Affairs. It was a miracle, I received support. At first, somebody approached me and said I should give him N5m to be deputy governor but my brother who was an entrepreneur said if I had N5m, why won’t I run for governor myself? He assisted me and I campaigned in every ward and I succeeded and became governor.
Do you have any regrets becoming governor?
No. When you read these books, you will know I have no regrets. Nobody can regret being a governor of a state, whether good or bad. I contributed my part to the development of my state. Only opponents will see nothing good in everything you do. I can go anywhere in Anambra with my head held high.
President Obasanjo recently wrote an open letter to President Jonathan. What do you make of it?
It is very doubtful that OBJ wrote the letter, it is very likely that Femi Fani-Kayode, the former Aviation Minister who has been taking up issues against PDP and ministers of the PDP did. I know how he coins his words. This 18-page letter was not written by Obasanjo, he signed it. Just like you read the Presidency, it could be Reuben Abati who wrote a statement. In the 18-page material, one can see clearly what he (Obasanjo) and the APC are trying to do. They want to bring this government down, they are saying impeachment; if that does not work, they are saying let military take over. The libellous and defamatory letter from Obasanjo, indications are rife that the real author of the said letter was Hon. Femi Fani Kayode, a restive youth and a political trouble maker. However, since Obasanjo signed another person’s letter, the former President must prove all his allegations, and not Jonathan to prove them, or even reply to the spurious letter, after smuggling the former military heads-of state into Obasanjo’s personal troubles. In fact, indications have it that the G7 contributed ideas to the troubler’s letter.