By Osita Ike
My Life, My Story: Autobiography of Nigeria’s First Female Governor,? By Virgy Etiaba, Gallery Publications 2012
“Welcome. Come share my life, my story,” appears to be what the smiling, elegant, traditionally-attired Dame Virgy Etiaba is saying to you. That indeed is the impression you get as you take the beautifully finished book off the shelf. The clean, clear photograph of the lady is set on a black background, with both name and title embossed in gold.
I looked for this book, in my quest for answers to nagging questions about Etiaba’s brief tenure as governor of Anambra State. There had been rumours that humongous sums of money, in the billions, had been spirited away in a matter of weeks! It must be quickly noted here that Anambra has probably the most vibrant, productive rumour mills in the world, so I had to be cautious. If however, in just 100 days of her “reign” as empress, Etiaba flagged off several road projects and invested heavily in the state’s Orient Petroleum company, where were the billions left to be spirited away? How many “billions” did Anambra State have, in the first instance? We would get answers from the book after all!
I wanted a clear picture of the process that led to the emergence of Peter Obi as governor, especially in the light of the common belief that Uncle Peter did all the electioneering work and that Mama Anambra was just the token face of the female race! I also sought insight into who vivacious Dame Etiaba really is, especially in the light of her lawyer son, Emeka’s attempt to succeed the administration his mother served in, as executive governor. Did Mr. Peter Obi actually vow not to contest for a second term? Was this Emeka’s raison d’être? Did Dim Ikemba Odumegwu Ojukwu endorse Emeka Etiaba for governor? Why did Ojukwu later capitulate and swing in favour of incumbent Governor Peter Obi? Was the fact that Emeka Ojukwu, Jnr worked in Government House, a factor here? Or did Mr. Obi present a better “package”, when he decided he wanted a second term, after all?
Etiaba is the only person I know of any where in the world, who has served as deputy governor, governor and then deputy governor again, in the same administration. Since Mr. Peter Obi is yet to give an account of those interesting times, this book would thus provide an invaluable firsthand account, whatever biases there might be, if any. And, wait a minute; did Dame Etiaba really leave APGA to join PDP? How could she have survived such apparent political hara-kiri?
Few people would have placed a bet on the duo of APGA’s Philosopher/Trader Peter Obi and “School Ma’am” Virgy Etiaba, winning the gubernatorial election in Anambra State, the home and strong hold of the People’s Democratic Party. Not a few were shocked when they eventually won, fair and square. Etiaba has given an interesting, illuminating account of that process. She also examines the developments that followed, barely seven months into their tenure, as Governor Peter Obi received his political baptism of fire in an impeachment that was later reversed. For the first time, I read the peculiar Impeachment Notice served on “Mr. Peter Obi and Dame Virgy Etiaba”. A process that created two Speakers in the same House of Assembly. Of significance is the fact that the Impeachment Train took off in full steam after the visit to Anambra State by the amiable, foxy Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR!
A newspaper review is too short to highlight the myriad issues, events and experiences captured in this largely historical 320-page narrative dedicated to Dame’s beloved late husband, Bennet “BMC” Etiaba, Esq. It examines some aspects of education, lauding strides in girl child education, which Dame notes she benefitted from. Community health, social welfare, nationhood, nationalism, ideology, politics, religion and religion-in-politics are also dwelt upon in different contexts. Dame signed Anambra State’s Child Rights bill into law as governor and flagged off “Suba kwa Igbo”, an attempt to stop Igbo language and culture from sliding irreversibly into extinction! It was thus not surprising that the altruistic Dame set up the philanthropic Dame Virgy Etiaba Foundation that has catered to widows, orphans, the physically challenged, prisoners and the less privileged.
The book’s 35 chapters, divided into five parts, run through her childhood, education, her spiritual journey and family life. It records the battle with cancer, challenges of widowhood, on to Nigeria’s variegated history, the economy and expectedly, politics and religion, from the vantage position of a major player. A generous dose of photographs and the selected speeches of some Nigerian heroes make this book an invaluable reference work. Sadly some of our present national leaders do not appear to learn from history or want to avoid making the mistakes others made, so I shall not bother to recommend the book to them.
For instance, not many Nigerians have actually read the speech Major Nzeogwu made, so they cannot understand the patriotic zeal and passion he embodied. His speech and other speeches made by Gen Odumegwu Ojukwu and Gen Effiong at critical moments in our nation’s history, need to be re-examined if we hope to get through our present bomb-blasted tragic circumstances. If only we had heeded the advice of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria’s first President, who in a statement issued in London in January 1966, noted among several pertinent facts, that “Violence has never been an instrument used by us, as founding Fathers of the Nigerian Republic, to solve political problems.”
Ironically, Nzeogwu dreamt of facilitating the emergence of an equitable nation, a utopia of sorts. He had then solemnly declared that “We are not promising anything miraculous or spectacular. But what we do promise every law-abiding citizen is freedom from fear and all forms of oppression…We promise that you will no more be ashamed to say you are Nigerians.” Today, can we say we are no more ashamed to be called Nigerians? Are we free of fear and oppression? How did Awolowo’s “Twenty Pounds” compensation at the end of the war, really work out for the Biafrans, in spite of Gen Yakubu Gowon’s pledge that there were “No victors, no vanquished”? Are Ndi Igbo marginalised and treated as vanquished people, more than 40 years after the Gowon Declaration? Etiaba offers interesting insight.
The book’s Post Script’s introductory quote is most apt for a nation planning to celebrate its centenary. In the words of Mahatma Ghandi, “To call women the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman. If by strength you meant brute strength, then, indeed a woman is less brutal than a man. If strength is moral power, then a woman is immeasurably a man’s superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not got greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her, a man could not be. If non violence is the law of our being, the future is with a woman. Who can make a more effective appeal to the heart than a woman?” I shall thus pray for Nigeria with a woman as President, a woman as IGP, a woman as Chief of the Army, Air Force and Navy and we shall see, as we say in pidgin, “Who born Boko Haram dem”!
I shall end where I started – the rumours of billions of airborne naira…The answers, my friends, lie in the book. Grab a copy, all ye women, activists, Anambra aspirants, Aso Rock spin doctors and lovers of good books too. Enjoy reading it as much as I did.
Prince Osita Ike writes from Lagos.