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July 10, 2003, my experience and why I may not write a book; By Fred Chukwuelobe

•Fred Chukwuelobe

Yesterday was July 10, 2020. Seventeen years ago, on that date, His Excellency, Senator Chris Nwabueze Ngige, OON, then governor, Anambra State, was abducted from office and taken to Choice Hotel, Awka, where he was held incommunicado while a plot to swear in Okey Udeh, his erstwhile deputy, as the utilitarian governor, was being perfected. It was never meant to be. The plot was anchored on a purported letter in which Ngige resigned as governor, Anambra State.

The Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG), Raphael Ige, who led the team of policemen that carried out a script by the former governor’s political opponents, was later disgraced and he died broken hearted. So many others who allowed themselves to be used in subsequent plots have also suffered varying miserable fates.

Many things happened that fateful day, have happened afterwards and the full story has not been documented yet. Not by me nor by His Excellency. It is not that both of us are poor writers or that we do not have “things to say”. We do and have plenty of things to put down for posterity. But for the purposes of this piece, let me be brief and write for myself only.

Our respected warrior, late Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, wrote “Because I am involved”. It was not an account of the civil war many expected. He refused to write “the book” we looked forward to. He was wise. He knew why. And I do not resent him for that.

Why I am writing this is because I have received several promptings from respected colleagues and prominent members of the political class to put down in a book my experiences to enable them to “learn more” of what happened on July 10, 2003 and afterwards; what led to the removal of governor Ngige from office by the appeal court in Enugu. “It will make a good read”, one told me yesterday after I posted on Facebook, a 17-year remembrance of what we, the principal participants, call The Liberation of Anambra State. “Let’s hear it from the horse’s mouth”, he demanded politely.

A friend of mine has also asked questions about claims made by some politicians as to how they helped secure governor Ngige’s freedom after his abduction. My answer to that is simple: Recall what Chief RBK Okafor said, when it was rumoured that Nigeria’s first president, late Rt. Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Owelle of Onitsha, had died. Recall the lies the late Chief Okafor told, claiming the great Zik handed over to him and called him “my son”. As it turned out, those were lies as Zik didn’t die then until later and never spoke to Chief RBK.

I will not like to open contests with anybody even though I know who did what. It is not important. Trust politicians to cash in on any viable opportunity! Ngige’s abduction was one. And so many people claimed credits.

I started a book, had a draft, sent it to two people – a security chief and a respected legal practitioner – discussed the direction of the book with them. They both returned the same advice: “Do not. Don’t stretch your luck too far”. One told me pointedly, “some of the things you want to write about are heavy and are actionable. Do you have hard evidence to support them”?

Why not? What luck? Why are you afraid? You may wish to ask.
The answer is simple. And like the security chief said, I am lucky to be alive today. It was decided at a point in the crisis that “taking me out” would limit the governor’s ability to tell the world why he was being hounded and who and who were behind the plot. I will not go into details because I do not want to divulge sensitive privileged information on Facebook. It will not serve any purpose except regale you with somewhat of a tale.

However, let me give you a foretaste.

The plan to abduct the governor, lock him up in a toilet and replace him with his deputy was to have taken place on May 29, 2003, the day he was eventually sworn in. The godfathers had extracted a resignation letter from him in which he signed to have resigned “as governor-elect”. They were to present that letter to the Chief Judge of the State on that day and ask him to swear in another instead of the governor-elect. But they were not certain the plot will sail through without legal hitches, especially as there was no such thing known to our extant laws as “governor-elect”.

So, while the governor-elect proceeded to then governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju to receive the handover notes, his deputy didn’t do likewise. Then deputy governor, Chinedu Emeka, waited in vain to hand over to his inheritor because the plot was being cooked and the treacherous was waiting in the wings.

I recall that after receiving the hand over notes, Senator Ngige was tardy with proceeding to Alex Ekwueme Square to be sworn in as governor. He was waiting the advent of his godfather before presenting himself to be sworn in.

At a point, the security chief in the State lost his cool and asked Ngige why he was “waiting for a private citizen when in a few hours’ time you’d become the Chief Executive of this State”. (I am paraphrasing please). With this said Ngige proceeded to the swearing in venue.

While he was being sworn in, the godfather arrived and something intriguing, but somewhat upsetting, happened. It turned out that the guy, who wanted to take over in Ngige’s stead, had purportedly arrived at the venue in a black Mercedes Benz with the inscription, GOVERNOR ANAMBRA STATE, carefully covered on the plate number. But because “an-all-clear” was not received for the plot to proceed, the Mario Gianluigi Puzo’s godfather arrived late in a long limousine and drove straight into the swearing in venue to the consternation of non-plot members. He watched as his plot failed. And Ngige became governor, Anambra State.

After being sworn in, the governor “continued to prove stubborn”, refused to “play ball” and with a purported letter he signed resigning as governor, they went to the House of Assembly. Meanwhile, AIG Ige was holding the governor hostage in the latter’s office. Because they controlled the house, they had members debate and endorse the letter and with the help of AIG Ige, who held the governor at gun point, “picked” the miniscule governor and “removed” him from office by force.

Now, why am I not willing to put these and more in a book for your reading pleasure and praises? I was then Special Assistant (Media and Publicity) to the governor. I thwarted their plot to install another after abducting the governor. I was thoroughly beaten when the plot failed. I declined an offer of money to switch camp. My colleague did, pretended to be with us, leaked information about our counter plans to the enemy and was rewarded when the chief plotter took over. I was rewarded with a promotion to Senior Special Assistant to the governor on Media and Publicity after the “civilian coup plot” failed.

I became a marked man for my loyalty and the subsequent roles I played to thwart the plans of the enemies in what I call The Anambra Debacle.

These guys may have read The Prince by Machiavelli, but they didn’t reckon that “man proposes while God disposes”. God came to our rescue and we escaped unscathed. You see why I am asked and I agree not to push my luck too far?

Because I was ‘lucky’ to escape with my life and reputation intact, any book I write will contain what I know are facts, but will lack hard evidence such as video clips, written documents, and while the facts may be collaborated by some of the thespians, especially His Excellency, without hard evidence, whatever you write would be actionable in court. Many of the things I would write in any book would be privileged information. For the book to make a “good read”, it must contain such information, dates, time, names and it will ruffle feathers, naturally. But can I defend them?

Also, the dramatis personae in the debacle are still in the corridors of power; they are highly connected; their financial biceps are huge and toughened; they have judges in high places. I don’t have any of these. How then do you expect me in this beleaguered and dysfunctional country to be so careless as to put myself in harm’s way? It is not that I am cowardly. No. I am being tactful; I am being wise; I listen to sound advice. I weigh my options carefully. I am not stupid. I do not play to the gallery to receive accolades at a great risk.

However, one thing gives me joy each time I ruminate on the events that happened in our 33 months in office, particularly on July 10, 2003, and each time I smile. I do so because, first, I am alive and second, Anambra State is better today, and it is because governor Chris Ngige refused to “play ball” and told the people that federation allocations and the few IGR were enough to give them democracy dividends in visible infrastructure and quality life.

Subsequent helmsmen had performed and while their respective performances may be subjective, fact is that the State is better because one man refused to allow godfathers benefit from “Irrevocable Standing Payment Orders (ISPOs): payments running into millions of naira monthly for no specific jobs done; refused to open the treasury to godfathers and did so at the risk of his life. For these we shall remain eternally grateful.

So, forgive me if I don’t give you my experience in a book form, for as Patrick Ness, the British-American Journalist, said, “You do not write your life with words…You write it with actions…” And Eleanor Roosevelt, former First Lady of the United States of America, said, “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility”.

Thank God I am alive to write this. And thank you for indulging me by reading this so long a post.

•This piece was initially posted on Facebook on 10 July 2020

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