Mbadinuju: The vanity of power

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By Ebuka Onyekwelu

The late Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju was governor of Anambra State between 1999 and 2003. In 2003, he did everything within his power to return for a second term but could not secure the ticket of his former party, the PDP. He then ended up running on the platform of the AD, but still failed to make it. At the time, the Anambra political landscape was so dramatic that it became ideal for the dramatisation of the ills of godfatherism in politics. That Dr Mbadinuju and his political godfather were in serious fisticuffs was well known public information.

Although the cause of the disagreement between both men is not easily disclosed and many guessed that the problem was financial or better, repayment of election expenses. Dr. Mbadinuju himself later revealed in his book “How I Governed Anambra State”, that Dr. ABC Orjiako made far more financial contribution to his political career when he vied for governor, than Sir. Emeka Offor, his estranged godfather. Mbadinuju in fact, plainly denied the popular knowledge that Emeka Offor was his godfather by the reason of being his sole sponsor or major sponsor. The former governor maintained that Offor was neither his major sponsor nor his sole sponsor. It was Sir Emeka Offor who publicly vowed to use everything within his disposal to stop Mbadinuju from securing his second term bid.

More recently, the former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, friend and ally of Emeka Offor, has said that he was the person who stopped the PDP from giving Mbadinuju a second term ticket. He further narrated that after visiting Anambra State during the time Mbadinuju was governor, he saw that the state was at standstill and upon his return to Abuja, he made a case to the president against Dr. Mbadinuju. Consequently, the PDP ticket was not given to him and that ultimately stopped his reelection bid, leading directly to the inevitability of his early retirement from politics and public life.

After Mbadinuju left office in 2003, not much was known or heard about him. Most people did not know or hear anything about him till his demise some months ago and burial days later. But till date, Dr. Mbadinuju has popularly become the yardstick for measuring poor performance in government in Anambra State. This is largely for two reasons; one, as governor of Anambra State, public schools went on strike for a full year and the governor could not resolve that disagreement for that long, which forced public school students to stay at home for a whole year.

Therefore, any mention of Mbadinuju’s administration is greeted by the unfortunate memory of such a long industrial action, which nearly destroyed public schools in Anambra State. The other reason is the near total collapse of almost all Anambra roads under Mbadinuju’s watch. This was so severe that his immediate predecessor, Dr. Chris Ngige, immediately set road construction as his topmost priority upon assumption of office and gave it his best shot before he was removed by court a little over two years later. However, while Mbadinuju failed in education and road infrastructure, one needs to be fairly grounded about the enormity of challenges that he faced at the time, to be able to appreciate his contributions.

As at the time Mbadinuju took over office as first democratically elected governor of Anambra State in Nigeria’s fourth republic, there were no government and governance structures. Nothing serious was bequeathed to him by the military government to aid him in governing the state. Accordingly, in 1999 upon assumption of office, Mbadinuju met a state that was comprehensively traumatised and nearly overrun by criminality and crime. As the governor, Mbadinuju fought crime and criminality with both conventional – use of police and other government security and unconventional means – use of Bakassi Boys.

He started from ground zero to develop the required apparatuses of government. The current Government House and Governor’s Lodge, including the State Secretariat were all put in place by Mbadinuju, as they were not in existence before. It was Mbadinuju’s administration which initiated and undertook the establishment of enabling structures for governance in Anambra State. But somehow, Mbadinuju is always remembered for failing in education and in road construction. This was so intense that the former governor literally disappeared for years, maybe for security reasons, till he was seen in one of the functions organised by Governor Willie Obiano. Even in that public function, although a lot older, yet, he was taunted and harassed by security operatives.

At Dr. Alex Ekwueme Square in Awka, the venue of the public event organised by Obiano, the late Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju, former governor of Anambra State, attended a state function, some three years ago. At that event, he wore a long tie on a short sleeved white shirt, matched with a pair of black trousers and a pair of shoes that look a bit worn-out. Seeing the former governor, first of all, I was surprised to observe how aged he looked and just couldn’t stop looking at him. He looked aged, kind of weak, with grey hair. It was as if he aged so quickly. Everything does appear to happen so fast! I think people age faster than we are willing to accept. Well, it was then over 15 years since he left office. He died at 77 years, 20 years after he left office. But this is not the story.

Given my focused attention on him, wondering what had happened, I noticed when Mbadinuju got up from his seat and left. For whatever reason, Dr. Mbadinuju stepped out from his seat, walked to somewhere within the square in what looked like he went to answer a phone call or just went to answer a call of nature. Upon his return, he tried to get back to his earlier sitting position. But to my shock, before my very eyes, the security operatives bounced him. One even pushed him, pointing to a direction he should rather go. They refused to allow him to get on the red carpet. He didn’t resist or try to make any point and he was all alone. This was so difficult for me to comprehend. What has happened to Odera as he was fondly called? Where are all his admirers then chanting “Odera”?

This was a man who, between 1999 and 2003, was the centre of attention and favour, and power, in Anambra State. No human being would have done that to him as a sitting governor of the state right inside Ekwueme Square which he built. In any case, that experience was a summary of political power once it’s over. In the end, after sometime, a once powerful political office holder becomes another ordinary Nigerian susceptible to the regular abuses that greet normal Nigerians, except he has enough money to oil his former status or escape to foreign country. In the end, politicians and beneficiaries of power must learn that power eventually ends. Life also ends, but a legacy of good governance endures.

Last weekend, many gathered in Uli, a community in Ihiala LGA where Dr. Mbadinuju came from, to pay him the last respect. That event marked the finality of an eventful life of Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju, a brilliant lawyer who miraculously served as Anambra State Governor between 1999 and 2003. The public perception and rating of Mbadinuju, right or wrong, must serve as a lesson to all public servants. Indeed, nothing lasts for so long. Life happens so fast.

*Onyekwelu, a political scientist, writer and good governance advocate, who wrote in from Awka, the Anambra State capital, can also be reached [email protected]