Former Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State has handed car gifts to key senators, including Senate President David Mark, in order to ease his path to appointment as Nigeria’s new Aviation Minister.
President Goodluck Jonathan has promised the post of Aviation Minister to Mr. Obi who in mid-March finished his second term as governor. Mr. Obi, a leader of the All Peoples Grand Alliance (APGA), is in line to be rewarded with a cabinet post for his political loyalty to the incumbent president.
But Mr. Obi has been handing out cars and cash to senators after discovering that there was significant opposition to him within the ruling party.
After his exit from Government House, Awka, Mr. Obi’s name was touted as a potential government appointee, first as a replacement for Pius Anyim, a former senator and current Secretary of the Federal Government who is believed to be seriously weighing a governorship race in Ebonyi State. But several political heavyweights within the PDP moved against Mr. Obi, two sources in the party said. One source disclosed that several of the PDP’s top members, including its national chairman, voiced their stance that an original member of the party, specifically Jerry Ugokwe, should be tipped to take any post for which Mr. Obi was being considered.
“It is true that Chief Obi helped us in the presidential election, but he is still a member of another party,” one source told SaharaReporters. “Why should we bypass somebody like Ambassador [Jerry] Ugokwe to give a plum job to a man from another party?” he added.
Our sources revealed that Mr. Obi also faced opposition from many PDP and non-PDP figures from Anambra because of what they termed the divisive politics he introduced in his home state during his eight-year governorship. The former governor was seen as the arrowhead of a toxic kind of politics that pitched Roman Catholics against Anglicans, Anambra South against Anambra North, and some traditional rulers against others. In addition, Mr. Obi was criticized for manipulating ethnic sentiments in Anambra State, even though the headquarters of his business group is in the southwest, specifically Apapa, Lagos in Lagos State, and he used his years in office to build one of the biggest malls in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.
Our sources said the combined efforts of PDP leaders and Mr. Anyim may have made President Jonathan to shelve the nomination of Mr. Obi as minister.
Wary of political intrigues that were threatening to sideline him completely, Mr. Obi launched his counter-move. He started giving away several Ford SUVs he had bought in the last few months of his governorship and which he carted away from the Anambra State Government House after he stepped down. A reliable source said Mr. Obi first gave one car each to senators from the southeast, one to the Deputy Senate President, Ekweremadu, and two to the Senate President, David Mark.
The gifts, which our sources portrayed as auto-for-minister bribery, are aimed at softening senators whenever Mr. Obi’s name is submitted for approval as a minister.
Mr. Obi publicly portrays himself as a miser, but insiders in Anambra and Abuja say he is a big player in corrupt deals. In June, 2009, one of his closest aides, Valentine Obienyem, was caught in Lagos along with police officers attached to Government House, Awka as they hauled N250 million in cash in a government vehicle that traveled by road from Awka to Lagos. A former commissioner in Mr. Obi’s administration told SaharaReporters that the former governor transferred between “security vote” funds of N250 million and N300 million each month from Anambra State to the Apapa headquarters of Next International, the ex-governor’s company.
Embarrassed by the police interception, Mr. Obi and his aides could not offer a tidy explanation of the source of the funds. A top political source in Anambra disclosed that Mr. Obi evaded prosecution by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) because of his close ties to then President Umaru Yar’Adua. In addition, he went unpunished by massively bribing the former Inspector General of Police, Michael Okiro, EFCC chairperson Farida Waziri, members of the Anambra state legislature, and many of Nigeria’s editors and reporters.
President Jonathan and Mr. Obi developed a close personal friendship and political alliance because of the former governor’s habit of befriending any president in power. Mr. Obi sang the praises of former President Olusegun Obasanjo at a time when most Nigerians were very critical of the Obasanjo Presidency. When Nigerians were disappointed in President Umaru Yar’Adua and called him “President Go-Slow,” Governor Obi ran to the defense of the ineffectual and ailing man. Mr. Obi stated that he and the now deceased ruler had a similar style of governance, claiming that Mr. Yar’Adua was first devoting time and energy to making solid plans as a prelude to implementation.
A source close to Mr. Obi told SaharaReporters that the former governor promised President Jonathan that APGA would not field a candidate in the 2011 presidential election. “The governor made sure that APGA focused on securing decisive victory for Mr. President in Anambra and the entire southeast,” said the source.