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OBITUARY: Arthur Nzeribe, the maverick instrumental in annulment of June 12 election, dies at 83

OBITUARY: Arthur Nzeribe, the maverick instrumental in annulment of June 12 election, dies at 83
May 08
16:47 2022

The name Arthur Nzeribe elicits polarising reactions depending on the part of Nigeria it is mentioned. While his legacy as a political maverick with precocious business acumen is hailed in one region, others regard him as an overbearing instrument used by an autocratic regime to smoulder Nigeria’s democracy in its cradle. Yet, none is untrue. 

Family sources told TheCable that Nzeribe died in a UK hospital on May 5.

Nzeribe was a man of complicated qualities and contradictory deeds. A self-serving rebel to many and an altruistic freedom fighter to others. He befriended and worked with pioneer pan-Africanists and revered democrats like Kwame Nkrumah, the first prime minister and president of Ghana, yet conspired to scuttle Nigeria’s freest and fairest general election ever. He was regarded as a sympathetic philanthropist but got thrown out of the senate for nine months over alleged involvement N22 million fraud.

The Ogbuagu of Oguta, as he was dubbed in his hometown, was a man whose image is almost antithetical, with several interpretations of his perceived stubbornness. Still, his impact on the history of Nigeria looms large like his “Heaven Of Peace” country home on the banks of the Oguta lake.

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GROWING UP INTO A YOUNG MILLIONAIRE

Nzeribe was born on November 2, 1938, to an influential family in Oguta, Imo state. He, however, grew up in the care of Catholic priests after his mother died while he was still in primary school, and his father was away in the UK studying Law. He attended Bishop Shanahan College, Orlu, and the Holy Ghost College, Owerri, before travelling to Lagos State in 1957. He got employment with the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) as an Engineering Cadet.

Eager and talented for further education, Nzeribe won an NPA scholarship and went on to study marine engineering at the Portsmouth College of Technology and Chesterfield College of Technology in England.

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In the UK, Nzeribe first displayed his business acumen by selling life insurance schemes to black immigrants in the country at 22. And a year later, he bought his first Jaguar.

WORKING FOR KWAME NKRUMAH

In 1960, while in the UK, Nzeribe met Kwame Nkrumah, who had led Ghana to independence three years prior. An amiable, well-dressed and persuasive Nzeribe won over Kwame and became his public relations officer, which led to a spell in Ghana.

Nzeribe grew rich and influential among the Ghana elite and became one of the most influential immigrants in the country.

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REMOVAL OF JOSEPH ANKRAH AS GHANA’S HEAD OF STATE

A coup ousted Nkrumah on February 24, 1966, but the influence of the Nzeribe did not wane among the Ghanaian elite. He found favour with the newly-enthroned National Liberation Council (NLC) and Joseph Ankrah, the head of state.

However, on April 2, 1969, Ankrah admitted he was involved in a bribery scandal that led to Nzeribe manipulating an opinion poll in the country. A commission of enquiry revealed that the head of state received C6,000.00 from Nzeribe, which might have influenced the outcome of the polls. As a result, Ankrah was forced to resign.

THE ASSOCIATION OF BETTER NIGERIA (ABN) AND JUNE 12 ANNULMENT

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Nzeribe proceeded from the scandal to establish himself as a prolific businessman around the globe with dealings across Europe and the Middle East. He also entered the political scene in Nigeria and became the senator for the Orlu constituency in the 1983 elections.

But his most significant contribution to Nigerian politics came during the lead up to the June 12 presidential election in 1993. While the whole country wanted a change from the protracted reign of successive military regimes, Nzeribe wanted the opposite. He created the Association for Better Nigeria (ABN), a group of private citizens sponsoring a campaign calling for Ibrahim Babangida, the then military head of state, to remain in office for at least another four years.

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In a 1993 interview, Nzeribe had said: “If Babangida goes, the country will break into pieces. There will be another Bosnia.”

The businessman claimed the organisation had garnered petitions from more than 25 million Nigerians who supported the cause.

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On June 10, 1993, two days before the election, the organisation obtained a high court injunction against the holding of the poll based on alleged corruption. Little credence and attention were given to the injunction by Nigerians and politicians alike as the election proceeded as planned. Moshood Abiola, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate, established a significant lead in the poll.

On 15 June, as the collation of the votes was ongoing, ABN obtained another court injunction to halt the counting and verification. This time, however, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) accepted the injunction and announced on 16 June that it was suspending its announcement of the results, indicating a court order prohibiting it.

Then eight days later, Babangida announced the annulment of the election.

Although many Nigerians believed Nzeribe was used by the military government to derail the elections, he repeatedly denied personal ties with the junta.

SUSPENSION FROM THE SENATE

After Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999, Nzeribe contested for the Orlu Senatorial constituency and won.

In November 2002, however, he was suspended indefinitely by Anyim Pius Anyim, the then president of the senate, over his alleged involvement in a N22 million fraud. Nzeribe will be exiled from the legislature for nine months until his re-election in 2003.

He would eventually lose the seat in 2006 after suffering a defeat to Osita Izunaso at the primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

There began the decline of the political strongman from the limelight.

LIVING IN HOTELS FOR OVER TWO DECADES

When the photograph of a sickly Nzeribe emerged on social media in 2017, Nigerians expressed mixed reactions to the sorry state of the businessman.

One comment largely shared along with the photograph says: “Above is Authur Nzeribe living like an invalid at his country home in Orlu, IMO State. At the height of his life, he lived in Nicon Hilton Hotel Abuja Presidential Suite for over 20years. So also Federal Palace Hotel, Lagos.”

Nzeribe was 83 years old.

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