By Paulina Ede-Nnaji
Arthur Eze, the Anambra State prince who delights in being called a billionaire, the other day identified Nigerians of northern extraction as only those who gave him contracts and oil blocks which changed his life forever. He mentioned such wonderful northerners as ex-Kano State Governor, Abubakar Rimi, who awarded him a $12million contract to build a television station; former Plateau State Governor, Solomon Lar, who also gave him another $12million contract for a TV station and erstwhile Petroleum Resources Minister, Jibril Aminu, who gave him an oil block. And General Ibrahim Babangida who approved the oil block licence.
The recollection is commendable. After all, gratitude is a great virtue. Only ingrates forget those who assisted them, especially in difficult circumstances. Every scripture, from the Bible to the Koran, commends grateful people and at the same time severely criticizes ingrates. Arthur Eze’s public expression of gratitude to northern benefactors would not have generated a torrent of adverse reactions if he had not gone rather gratuitously to excoriate his Igbo brothers. He accused them of all manner of vices, from not awarding him contracts or oil blocks to a profound lack of unity. He did not stop there. He launched public attacks on former Senate President Pius Anyim and even the popular Anambra State governor, Chief Willie Obiano.
Arthur Eze has not told the world about his Igbo benefactors. How can he forget, even for a minute, the critical role in his life of someone like Barrister David Ogbodo from Agbani in Nkanu West Local Government Area of Enugu State? It was Chief Ogbodo who took Eze into oil business. Even when Eze’s businesses, like Triax Airline and Triax Engineering were struggling, he was able to stay afloat through Atlas Petroleum which won an oil block when Professor Jibril Aminu was the Minister of Petroleum Resources under General Ibrahim Babangida.
Prof Aminu did not know Prince Arthur Eze from Adam. The old good professor of cardiology, who graduated on top of his class at the University of Ibadan in 1965, had never heard about him. The two men had no relationship whatsoever. Still, Eze got an oil block from him which was to change his life forever. How did this happen? The credit goes to David Ogbodo, Prof Aminu’s competent and powerful Special Assistant. When the Babangida regime decided to give oil blocks in the 1990s to Nigerian businesses, so as to increase indigenous content in the petroleum industry, it was pleading with Nigerians with means to invest in the upstream sector. Many were reluctant because they didn’t understand the field at all and because it involves fortunes and because the risk is so high that whoever hits a dry well is likely to go bankrupt if he is the sole risk taker.
Chief Ogbodo went to Prince Eze, as he went to ex-Anambra State Governor Jim Nwobodo and other Igbo entrepreneurs, several times to convince him to invest in the upstream sector of the oil industry. Ogbodo went as far as writing the application letter and filling the forms for Arthur Eze to ensure that he did not miss out. It is, therefore, surprising that Prince Arthur Eze has not publicly acknowledged Ogbodo’s role in changing his life, but is ever enthusiastic to recognise the roles of people like Professor Aminu and General Babangida. Critics can argue that it falls into an obvious pattern: have no good words for the Igbo but rather demonise each and every one of them as much as possible.
Prince Arthur Eze creates the impression that the TV stations in Kano and Plateau states were the first broadcast stations he built. This is contestable. Was Arthur Eze not working on the Onitsha station of the Anambra Broadcasting Service long before he met Alhaji Abubakar Rimi and Chief Solomon Lar? Why is Prince Arthur hesitant to mention the Onitsha station of the ABS? Arthur Eze has sought to create the impression, through the recent public declaration under reference, that he has not received contracts from Ndigbo which can be considered huge. This is truly surprising. Who won the multimillion dollar contracts financed by the African Development Board (AfDB) for rural water supply and rural electrification as well as the building of an Industrial Development Estate in old Anambra State which today comprises Enugu, Ebonyi and Anambra States? Prince Arthur may need to tell Ndigbo and, indeed, all Nigerians how Asea Brown Boveri (ABB), then the biggest electricity firm in the whole world, lost to his firm despite the fact that the Swedish-Swiss multinational quoted a lower figure for the rural electrification job.
The AfDB-financed contracts came to old Anambra State courtesy of Dr Chu Okongwu, who, as Minister of Finance under President Babangida, did the groundwork. The negotiations in Lagos and Cote d’Ivoire were led by Chief Luke Okonkwo, the brilliant principal secretary to Colonel Robert Akonobi, then the state military governor. But the contracts were awarded by the government of Col Herbert Obi Ezeh, who succeeded Akonobi. Poor Col Ezeh! He awarded the huge contracts as directed from above. Meanwhile, it will be great if Prince Arthur Ezeh tells the nation about the contracts for the rural water supply, rural electrification and the building of an Industrial Development Centre in Awka. The state governments pay through the irrevocable standing payment orders (ISPOs).
It is, indeed, intriguing that Prince Arthur Eze could afford not to acknowledge the monumental role of Igbo people in his emergence as an oil tycoon. The fact that he could forget to recognize the role of people like David Ogbodo, a retired Group General Manager of the Nigerian Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), is indeed amazing in the truest sense of the word.
• Mrs Ede-Nnaji is a business consultant in New Haven, Enugu.