Fred Chukwuelobe relives how Chris Ngige, then sitting governor of Anambra State, was abducted from office by non-state actors

Today, July 10, 2024, makes it 21 years since an infamous and illegal attempt to forcefully remove Governor Chris Ngige of Anambra State from office was made. His godfather and his gang sent a forged letter of resignation to the House of Assembly purportedly signed by him. The house debated the letter and endorsed it, asking the State Chief Judge, Hon. Justice CJ Okoli to swear in his deputy, Dr. Okey Udeh.

While that was going on, then Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG, late Raphael Ige) led a team of policemen which held Ngige at gunpoint in his office after disarming all his security details and forcefully took him out. They forced him to return to his town, Alor, Idemili South Local Government Area, but on the way to his village, he outwitted them using his native language which the captors did not understand to communicate with his driver and instructed him to detour to Choice Hotel, Awka, where he was then detained in an open courtyard. 

So much had been said and written about the abduction and the aftermath, which was the first of its kind in the nation’s political trajectory. However, providence smiled on Ngige because as disconcerting as abduction was, it marked a turning point in his political career on which he rides till date. 

 Signs of cracks in the relationship between Ngige and his godfather emerged early in the administration and got people worried. Before the abduction, all the key appointments of the administration, except the media team, were made by the godfather. From his security details to the Principal Secretary and the Secretary to the State Government, Ngige had no input. His insistence in appointing most of his commissioners was the first major disagreement he had with his godfather after the May 29, 2003, inauguration. 

 The first sign that things would fall apart was when two of the principal officers wrote memos to the governor requesting for bank loans to run the government as the treasury was empty. He stoutly declined the request, and they reported that to the godfather, who became furious.

One thing that got me seriously confused and worried at the early stages of the administration was that every evening after the day’s work, Governor Ngige briefed ‘somebody’ on the phone, giving him details of what was done that day. Because he spoke in English and Igbo, I thought he was speaking to a high-ranking personality of the state and a national officer of the party in Abuja, but certainly not President Olusegun Obasanjo. I was to learn later that it was his godfather, and this got me seriously worried. 

I also observed that each time we went for an event, Governor Ngige would arrive before his godfather and leave after him in complete disregard to existing protocol. The governor would also speak before the godfather. 

I became worried that the administration was going to implode with time and July 10, 2003, became the date of that implosion, which happened to be one of the best things that have happened to the state and to Governor Ngige’s political career. 

So, on July 10, 2003, banking on his ASO Rock connection, the godfather thought it would be easy to pick the diminutive governor and throw him out of office. It boomeranged, and the subsequent events turned Ngige into a darling of the people, with the godfather becoming a pariah of sorts.

I recall the statement I issued after speaking to Ngige in captivity. The one-page statement was instantly broadcast on state radio and on Radio Nigeria. It frustrated efforts by the godfather and his motley crowd to get the Chief Judge, Hon. Justice Okoli to swear in Ngige’s deputy. If that had happened, it would have led to a constitutional crisis, which, going by events of that day, would have been resolved in Ngige’s deputy’s favour.

As a key aide to Governor Ngige who witnessed the events before, during, and after the abduction, and who played a major role in thwarting the plot, I will always present the facts as best as I possibly can, because ‘if you don’t tell your story, someone else will’.

Each year, at the return of that day, I try to keep the events in the memories of the witnesses and those who read the accounts from different sources. Many have attempted to tell it from second-hand sources. Others try to give credits to those who do not deserve them for reasons best known to them. 

Therefore, today, I pay tribute to those who helped him survive the abduction, many of whom are hardly ever mentioned or given recognition in what I call ‘The Anambra Political Debacle’.

I recognise Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who spoke with the governor while the latter was in captivity, and asked him “if he truly resigned” to which the governor replied in the negative. He then ordered the Inspector General of Police (IGP) late Tafa Balogun to “return the Governor to office as you removed him since he said he had not resigned”. President Obasanjo was out of the country attending an AU meeting in Addis Ababa and his relationship with Atiku at that time was at an all-time high. So, Atiku was effectively in charge in the absence of the president.

I remember that when the abduction failed, the actors resorted to the courts to get Ngige out. I remember Rt. Hon. Ben Chuks Nwosu, who moved a motion in the House to stop an illegal ex-parte order issued by Justice Wilson Egbo Egbo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, directing Ngige to vacate office and ordering Hon. Justice Okoli to swear in his deputy. Mr Nwosu became known as “Egbo Egbo” in the house following the success of that motion.

There are many more who helped Ngige on that day, and after he left office and whose names I will give in a detailed form later for want of space in this short account.

Of all who came to Ngige’s rescue, President Bola Tinubu, who was then Governor, Lagos State, remained committed to the last day and ensured Ngige survived the onslaught until the courts removed him. When Ngige lost at the appellate court, the final court on governorship elections’ litigations, it was Governor Tinubu who helped him escape Obasanjo’s hunt through the so-called NADECO route to a nearby Francophone country. 

 It is also worthy to point out that Chief AK Dikibo, then National Vice Chairman, South South of the PDP was killed by yet-to-be identified assassins on his way to Asaba for a meeting of the South South zone of the party, which was scheduled to discuss, among other items, the Ngige abduction and the subsequent attempts to remove him at all costs. 

Having survived the abduction and the shenanigans that followed it, Governor Ngige become popular with the people of the state who were horror-struck after his declaration by INEC, and with many Nigerians as he effectively diminished his godfather as one who wanted to continue to have unfettered access to the treasury of the State than allow him deliver the so-called democracy dividends which the people badly yearned for. Anambra State also benefited because under the four-year lackluster administration of late Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju, the people were told that funds accruing to the state could not pay workers’ salaries much more be enough to develop the state. Schools were closed for a full academic session as the gladiators bickered.

All that changed as Ngige began to work; building roads hitherto untouched for years; clearing workers’ salaries and pensions; restoring people’s confidence in government business.

Although he was eventually removed from office following a successful challenge to his emergence by Mr. Peter Obi of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), his 33-month reign remains a watershed in the chronicles of the state’s politics, and, indeed, in the nation’s because for the first time, a sitting governor was abducted from office by non-state actors. Till today, nobody has been prosecuted for that affront to our constitutionality.

©Fred Chukwuelobe

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