Is Chris Uba, Anambra’s Don Corleone?

In the search for the torch bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in next year’s governorship election in Anambra State, one name that has kept recurring is that of Enugu-based Chief Chris Uba. He means different things to different people. The sweet-sour story of this man, who before clocking four decades on earth, declared himself the ultimate godfather.

To his elder brother, Andy who was a powerful aide of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and former Governor Chris Ngige, Chris may be a killjoy. To the likes of former Senate President Adolphous Wabara, he is a straightforward man who is ready to die for what he believes in.

His name is Christian. And, to some extent, like a true Christian, he is simple. Chris Uba, as he is fondly called, dresses simply. Most of the time, he goes about in his trademark short-sleeved shirt or jacket. It is hard before you see him dressed in agbada, like a typical Nigerian politician. He, however, never forgets his necklace. He likes it big and dropping. And he usually buttons his shirt or jacket in such a way that the necklace shows.

The way he talks paints the picture of a simple and easy-going man. But Uba is not that simple. His state of origin, Anambra, is getting set for another governorship election. His party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) paraded 47 aspirants who all wanted to get the party’s ticket.

Thirty six of the aspirants accused the chairman of the Ward Congress Committee, Benue Governor Gabriel Suswam, of succumbing to Uba to deny them of equal opportunity to get the party’s ticket. Suswam said he did his best and did not compromise. Before then, Uba was accused of hijacking the party’s machinery. The national secretariat of the party was said to have aided him in doing this, by installing the Uche Emordi-led Executive Council.

Every election year, since 1999, Uba has become an issue in the state. In the last election in the state, it was a straight battle between him and his elder brother, Andy Uba who was then Special Assistant on Domestic Matters to the then President Olusegun Obasanjo. The former presidential aide had the upper hand and emerged the party’s flag bearer. He even went on to win an election, which the court later ruled out of place. Chris then accused his elder brother of stealing his political structure.

In the 2003 election, Uba was also a major issue in Anambra. At that time, he was only 38 and had amassed so much wealth, enough for him to answer Eselu, which means the man who swims in money. By the time the PDP was going to choose its candidate for 2003, the then governor, Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju was told to forget it. Obasanjo made it clear to Mbadinuju that he was not wanted. He ran to the Alliance for Democracy (AD) to test his popularity with the people. After intense power play, the PDP gave its ticket to Ngige, who was not interested in being the governor of the state. All he wanted to be was a senator. But with Uba behind him, Ngige got the governorship ticket of the PDP without spending a kobo. He also got a good friend of Ngige, Okey Udeh to be his running mate.

When the results were announced the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Ngige was declared winner. Not a few shouted foul play. Why? It was generally known and accepted that Mr. Peter Obi of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) won. The APGA candidate, despite his oratorical challenge, spoke and the people believed him. He was different from the lot. He had no godfather. The Catholic Church in the state saw him as its own candidate and rallied support for him. INEC said he did not win.

Ngige was sworn in. Obi went to the Election Petition Tribunal. One month. Two months. One year. The case dragged on. Ngige continued ruling. But he led with his heart in his mouth. He had hardly spent two months in office when he was kidnapped. His abduction was carried out by a team of police men led by a senior police officer. They were said to have been acting the script of Uba.

The dirty details began to spill in the open. It was the first time Okija shrine would hit the limelight. Ngige was taken there to swear allegiance to Uba. He said he went with his Bible. A tale of serving God and mammon together? His key aides were given to him by Uba. Key commissioners were also handpicked by the godfather. Ngige was more like a surrogate governor. He survived the ordeal. But his deputy and long time friend, who was said to have been his Best Man at his wedding, Udey was removed. Ngige said he could no longer work with him. He accused him of working in tandem with Uba to bring him down.

After the bitter experience, Ngige caught the picture of the man who liberated Anambra State from the shackles of oppression by godfathers. He became popular among the people and he cashed in on the situation by embarking on projects, mainly road constructions. He opened up, even areas that had never seen roads before. But the Uba forces did not give up. There was another instance when hoodlums took over the state and vandalised government properties.

Irrespective of what happened later, by Uba’s grace, Ngige became the governor of Anambra State. It was not only Ngige that benefitted from Uba’s large heartedness at the time, several members of the state and federal legislature from Anambra also did.

Uba himself boasted in an interview at the time: “This is the first time in the history of Anambra State that one single individual would be putting every public office in the state in power. It is not just the governor and his deputy (that I sponsored). There are also three senators, 10 members of the House of Representatives and 29 members of the House of Assembly of the state. I sponsored them.”

Ngige did not deny that he was a beneficiary of Uba’s questionable grace. At the inauguration of his administration, Ngige declared: “I will like to publicly acknowledge the untiring and relentless effort of my old and very dear friend, Chief Chris Uba, Eselu Uga, Ochiaga Awka, Onwa Aguata in making today a reality. Eselu, I want to assure you that you have set the pace for the indigenes of Anambra to emulate. You have written your name in gold. I want to reassure you that you will not have cause to regret your good works.”

But it did not take long before Uba regretted installing Ngige. From revelations made by Ngige at the time, he and Uba were actually being economical with the truth by creating the impression that all was well. Ngige, in interviews granted in the heat of his abduction supervised by late AIG Raphael Ige, a known friend of Uba, revealed that the problem started after he was named the party’s flag bearer. According to him, Uba wanted him to give up the ticket, but that he pleaded to be allowed to contest the election. Uba conceded and Ngige was declared winner after the election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Ngige said from the look of things, he knew Uba only wanted him as a figure head governor, while he would be the defactogovernor.

The bubble finally burst on July 10, 2003 when the late AIG Ige led policemen to abduct Ngige allegedly on Uba’s instruction. The police leadership at the time said Ige acted on his own. But he never lived to tell the story of who asked him to abduct Ngige. The Kogi-born police chief died in mysterious circumstances not long after he was disgraced out of the police for his role in the ‘civilian coup.’

Ngige also alleged that Uba collected N800 million for a contract to build the permanent Government House and did not execute it. Uba denied this and said: “for the governor to say that I have been paid N800 million without doing any job on the project is very unfortunate and it shows that he is not in touch with reality.”

At that time, his brother was a powerful aide in the presidency, who even state governors envied because of his influence. Aside his brother’s link in the presidency, he also had the likes of Professor Jerry Gana as friends at the federal level. Gana was a minister. The then Senate President Adolphous Wabara was also his friend and he once described Uba as “a straightforward person and a man who when he believes in you is ready to die for you.” He was not done: “I cannot write the history of my ascension to this seat without mentioning him. He is a very good friend, a younger brother of mine who really has met so many people.” He said this at a reception Uba held in his honour at his Enugu GRA residence, which had Gana, the late AIG Ige and the Minister of External Affairs Ojo Maduekwe in attendance. Three then serving state governors and members of the National Assembly also graced the occasion.

After the abduction saga, Uba revealed how Ngige was rigged in. An angry Obasanjo said he threw both men out of his office after they confessed how the 2003 election in Anambra was rigged. All these were public knowledge by the time Justice Garba Nabaruma, who led the tribunal, ruled that Obi won and should be sworn in immediately. But as allowed by law, Ngige appealed. The appeal returned a verdict in Obi’s favour. And Obi was sworn in March 2006.

For Obi too, it has been a slippery journey. Some have, without proof, mentioned Uba’s name in Obi’s ordeals. First, he had to work with law makers from the opposition. They did not even allow him settle down before they impeached him in 2006. They swore in his deputy, Virgy Etiaba, whose son, Emeka now wants to wrest power from Obi next year. By the time he got a judgement reinstating him the 2007 elections were almost here and the PDP had anointed Uba’s elder brother, Andy, to take over the Government House. Instead of seeking re-election, Obi simply went to court for a declaration that his tenure began March 2006. He won. Uba was told to leave office just two weeks into it.

But Uba’s ascendancy to ‘fame’ in the state predated the democratic era. Until the despotic regime of the late General Sani Abacha, he was just part of the statistics as far as the population of the state was concerned. His affinity with an Abacha confidant, Chief Arthur Eze, did the magic for him. Ngige said he met him through Eze for the first time in 1993. Then, Abacha was believed to have released funds for his self succession project to confidants like Eze.

He hit the headlines in 1997 when a house he was building in Enugu collapsed. That was on June 12, 1997, exactly four years after the June 12 presidential election won by the late MKO Abiola. He was quoted as saying the building caved in as a result of bombs planted in there by the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), which was then fighting Abacha for the restoration of the mandate won by the late Abiola in the June 12, 1993 presidential election.

Certainly, Uba may not have the education of Don Corleone, the protagonist in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, because he is said not to have secondary education, not a few have argued that like Corleone, he carries on as if ‘crime and politics are one and the same thing’. The likes of Wabara have, however, vowed that in Uba, they have found a straightforward human-being ready to die for what he believes in. Thus, generating the question: who is this Chris Uba? Can the real Chris Uba step out for recognition? So long Eselu, so long!