By Paul Nwosu
DR Chinwoke Mbadinuju (June 14, 1945–April 11, 2023) was the Governor of Anambra State from May 29, 1999 to May 29, 2003. He was elected on the platform of Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP).
As the first Governor of Anambra State upon the return of civil rule in 1999, he had to confront many teething challenges especially security which he decided to tackle by setting up the controversial Vigilante Boys.
In 2016 as part of the activities marking the 25th anniversary of Anambra State, Paul Nwosu had an insightful interview with Dr Mbadinuju, including all the other past governors of the new Anambra State. In the interview Odera bared his mind on all the pivotal issues he had to confront. We bring you excerpts of that interview in fond memory of the man whose prayer and wish is that, “It shall be well with Anambra State”.
*What were your priorities and vision at the time you became governor of Anambra State?*
During the Governorship campaigns of 1998, my Odera Campaign Organisation ensured that we toured all the wards and local governments in Anambra State to appreciate their peculiar issues and to guide us in developing strategies to solve their problems when we won the elections.
The level of political apathy among Nigerians was high. Remember, this was a time that no-one believed that democracy would survive given the history of truncated civil rule that Nigerians had witnessed in the past.
The challenges facing Anambra State during that period seemed pretty enormous and peculiar in nature. We should remember that right from the creation of the current Anambra State in 1991, it had always been at a disadvantage when compared to its fellow newly created states. While the new state retained the old name of the state first created in 1976, all the major state institutions and infrastructures were located in the “new” Enugu State.
Personally, I was convinced of my pedigree to contest for the position of Anambra State Governor and tackle the state’s problems head on. In the 60s and 70s, I was fortunate to have studied widely in the US on scholarships where I obtained my Bachelors, Masters degrees and a Ph.D in Government from Cornell University and also rose to become an Associate Professor in the State University of New York by 1975. I obtained an LLB degree in Law from the University of Southampton, UK in 1977, completing my Law degree with honours in just 2 years. In my pupillage years as a young lawyer in 1979/80, I served under the legendary FRA Williams. Dr Dele Cole engaged me together with the late Stanley Macebuh, Tony Momoh and co to make Daily Times the number one newspaper in Nigeria at the time. I served as the Editor in Chief of Times International, their international news magazine. I was then invited by Governor Jim Nwobodo to help resuscitate the ailing state owned Star Printing and Publishing Company under Cyprian Ekwensi. From Anambra State, I was appointed to serve in President Shagari’s Government attached to the Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme as a Personal Assistant.
At the end of the second republic, I relocated to Onitsha and set up a Law Office and later became the first National President of the Christian Lawyers Fellowship of Nigeria (CLASFON) and later the first National Legal Adviser of Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International (FGBMFI).
My Christian upbringing, academic and work exposure over the decades preceding 1999 opened my eyes to extent of life deficits being experienced by our people in Anambra State in terms of security, living standards and infrastructural development. I became committed to counting in public service whenever the opportunity arose to utilize my experiences to make life better for as many of my people as I could.
With the myraid of problems in the state as at 1998, I focused on God because the state needed divine intervention in every facet of life at that time. We actively campaigned and invited Anambrarians to vote for a God fearing Government that will focus on developing our new State’s infrastructures, especially in state capital Awka, focus on the people’s welfare and secure the people’s lives and property.
In the end, Anambra believed in us and our policies and I was elected as Governor under PDP with a landslide victory over my nearest opponent in APP.
*What were your challenges and constraint at the time and how did you surmount them?*
In 1999, my new Government inherited a state lacking in both physical infrastructure and security. As I mentioned earlier, we had a 7 year old state with a “Big” name but hardly any significant Government presence in terms of infrastructure and development. The new state capital Awka, wore the look of a glorified local government headquarters. There were acute housing shortages in the state capital which meant that civil servants had to travel every day from Enugu and Ebonyi States to come to work in Anambra with the resultant lateness to work, low productivity and low morale among workers. At the time, Anambra had no Government House and Government business was undertaken in shabby containers littered all over the place. The State Assembly building had to be rebuilt and State Judiciary Complex was totally inadequate and unbefitting.
We were committed to moving the new state forward but our primary challenge was the acute lack of funds at the time. When I hear of the billions that my current colleague Governors receive these days as allocation, I marvel because we were in serious financial wilderness during my days as Governor. The state government received under N800m a month as our total monthly allocation, due to source deductions for several contentious projects awarded by previous administrations.
The developmental and infrastructural grants given to Anambra as a new state had been frittered away by past contractors and on our assumption in office, these same people constituted themselves as godfathers and friends of the powers in Abuja demanding payments for unidentifiable projects executed! The new minimum wage initiated by the Federal Government meant that the state had a monthly wage bill of N582m a month, leaving the Government with little over N200 million a month to solve the rest of the state’s pressing problems.
But it was the issue of security that posed the greatest challenge. The pervading insecurity of life and property was so great that it threatened to kill off all social, business prospects and investment opportunities in the state. Aguleri, Umuleri and Umuoba Anam were particularly no-go areas due to the incessant communal clashes that led to destruction of lives and properties. There was a serious need for peace in the state.
To surmount these daunting challenges, we felt that there had to be a total re-engineering of our people’s psyche and beliefs. I started my administration by leading the state to God, presiding over the popular weekly Monday morning prayers with civil servants, traders and everybody. I recall today, that in those days, prayers endued me with inner strength and spiritual wisdom, not to adopt an eye for an eye approach, in order to ensure the sanctity of peace in the state.
Throughout my tenure as Governor, I continued to promote peace and reconciliation with God and man. Through prayer, there was a gradual re-awakening and the people began to believe in God and in their Government. Hope returned as the state prayed and at the same time we devised a new slogan based on faith that “IT SHALL BE WELL WITH ANAMBRA STATE”.
*One of the challenges you had was from your political godfathers who stifled governance. What is now your view on political godfatherism in Nigerian politics having been a victim yourself?*
Political mentorship, sponsorship or godfatherism as many would want to describe the phenomenon, has come to stay in Nigerian politics and is a good thing as long as both parties share common political objectives to the benefit of the state. My colleague, Tinubu succeeded in installing his successors as Governors of Lagos State because he and his political godsons continue to share the same vision and ideology of Lagos State as the hub of cosmopolitan Nigeria, with all the benefits the title entails.
However, where the godson is confronted with a situation where his political mentor or sponsor has conflicting objectives concerning the way forward for the state, then serious problems develop. This was the unfortunate situation in which we found ourselves at the inception of my administration. Many influential contractors who worked with the previous regimes were not happy with our decision to enhance transparency and accountability by liberalizing the contract bidding and award processes for state contracts to all competent parties rather than a selected privileged few. These individuals, due to their influence and connections with the federal government in Abuja constituted themselves into godfathers and stakeholders with the sole purpose of making the Government work according to the frivolous whims or suffer maximum political inconvenience.
It is quite amazing to recall that long after the opposition went into their different trenches, determined to fight my government to a stand-still, I was still suing for peace. I reached out to elders, statesmen and clergy pleading with them to intervene. I did not want to fight back because no theatre of war remains the same. I was elected to keep watch over the state and not to balkanize it. Therefore, I swallowed every pride and went for peace.
*You used the ‘Bakassi Boys’ to fight crime but their method created more controversies than solution. Do you regret using the ‘Bakassi Boys’?*
Recall that Anambra was ranked amongst the unsafest states in the country due to the constant threats which armed robbers and hooligans posed to lives and property in the state. The situation in Onitsha was particularly dire as thugs, ritualists, marauders, armed robbers and assassins effectively took over the city. Our people were being killed every day and even passengers in luxury buses were not spared. The level of criminal audacity was dumbfounding. The Government could not stand aside and watch as the whole state was wiped out of existence by these hoodlums and something drastic had to be done.
On assumption of office, we were committed to uprooting these evil doers and sanitizing the state. And we accomplished this objective through the establishment of the Anambra Vigilante Service Law to provide for the registration of Vigilante Groups in the various communities of the state and to make it an offence to obstruct any of the groups from carrying out their functions as shall be provided by law.
The “Vigilante Boys” (which our opponents called “Bakassi Boys”) was an abnormal but ingenious creation which with inter-disciplinary training in political science and law I understood that their methods, though unorthodox, was constrained to adapt the outfit to meet the exigencies of the time. I believed that unorthodox times and events demand also unorthodox solutions.
As a political scientist, I understood the principles of Mutually Agreed Deterrence as a potential tool for balance of terror and also I knew that when terror is squared between the predator and the prey, peace results. For the state to become free of criminals, terror must be squared between the agents of state and the hoodlums. The situation in Anambra was beyond the ordinary and only extra-ordinary measures could sanitize it.
The evil “emperors” were out-numbered, out-classed, and completely overwhelmed. They were pursued and fished out from churches, temples, shrines, creeks and forests. “Vigilante Boys” turned them into gold fishes and there was no place safe enough to hide. The hunter became the hunted and when hunted down, they sang the names of their paymasters and “Vigilante Boys” went after them too.
Businessmen opened shops again. Fleeing indigenes returned. Churches re-started night vigils and everything just became fine again. Night life was no longer an anathema. Christmas celebrations became blissful again. Car snatching ceased. Rape and other crimes became things of the past. Anambra was back to civilization. As long as the Anambra Vigilante Service lasted, any one could forget a bag of money on a street of Onitsha and returned to find it intact.
*But “Bakassi Boys” were banned because of their excesses.*
Political opponents were envious of the success we recorded. So working together with their cronies in the Presidency, my opponents were becoming intimidated and overwhelmed by my soaring popularity, which convinced President Obasanjo to order me to disband the “Vigilante Boys”.
In ordering the disbandment of the Anambra Vigilante Services (AVS), the president gave two hilarious but inexcusable reasons, which may be extended to expose the Presidency’s degree of scorn and insensitivity towards the welfare of the people of Anambra State. First, he told me that my political opponent was complaining that I am using the outfit to terrorize them. Secondly, that I was using the “Vigilante Boys” to revive Biafra.
These two Presidency reasons did not represent the truth in any way. They were like a bad name given to a dog to hang it. So many states at that time had their own vigilante services and none of them was disbanded on the recommendation of political opponents of the various State Governors. The accusation of Biafranism was entirely mischievous because the Anambra Vigilante Service restricted its operations to the state and majority of the criminals they were after were of Igbo Stock. How can one revive Biafra by hunting down criminals?
So I did not disband the AVS but amended their operations and collaborations with the Police and other security forces. The AVS continued to do service to Anambra people not minding the activities of 5th columnists, deriving their power from Abuja.
It took the unfortunate assassination of the NBA Chairman Igwe and his wife for the FG to deploy troops to the state and carry away all the “Vigilante Boys” and haul them all into detention, indefinitely at Abuja. Thanks to the timely intervention of Barrister Prince Nwafor-Orizu who came to the aide of the boys after every person’s patience has been exhausted.
The assassination of Barrister Igwe and his wife perhaps represents the major downside to our successes in security during that trying period in our state’s history. My personal ordeal has been well chronicled in various mediums. Knowing this to be criminal matter and despite my immunity as Governor of the state, I still waived the immunity and submitted myself to investigation and possible prosecution if anything was found against me. I was thoroughly investigated and the Police in their own report stated that I couldn’t have killed anyone in Onitsha as I was in Houston USA at the time. The same report also said that till date, no one mentioned my name as a co-conspirator in that crime.
Nevertheless, I was still unjustly dragged to different courts on this matter. The Hon. Justice of High Court, Onitsha, in discharging and acquitting me, regretted my ordeal stating that it was a breach of my rights under the constitution to be treated in the manner in which I was being treated. The Federal Attorney-General and Minister of Justice finally wrote me a letter of final discharge based upon all the evidence or lack of it in the Police Report Files.
It is instructive to note that a Vanguard Editorial of July 2003 makes it explicit that the assassination plot against the Igwes was hatched by the same people who fanatically opposed my Government and who engineered the subsequent abduction of my successor, Dr Ngige and that the evil was hatched to finally discredit my administration and foreclose my chances of re-election as Governor of Anambra State, amongst other landmines and obstacles that were placed in my Governments path to progress. Be it as it may, I have forgiven them all because despite all inconveniences I went through, my ordeals cannot be worse than that our Lord Jesus Christ who was betrayed and crucified by his own people despite being blameless in all things.
My one consolation is that despite all the furors about the Vigilante Services, my successors have come to see wisdom in direct community policing and have continued to adopt the AVS model, which we established into law for the first time, although with variations. Today, Anambra State continues to be rightly regarded as one of the safest and most conducive states in the country.
***Paul Nwosu is the commissioner for Information, Anambra State
November 8, 2023 @ 5:36 GMT|