By Okey Maduforo [Daily Independent correspondent, Awka]
The long stretch of those that had besieged the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) mega station, Awka, Anambra State, was unprecedented. The crowd had literally blocked the Awka-Enugu expressway waiting patiently for one of the most essential commodities every average Nigerian home need – kerosene.
Soon, the oil tankers arrived and the crowd surged to obtain what it had come for. Standing beside Governor Peter Obi of Anambra is the chief executive of Capital Oil and Gas Ltd., Ifeanyi Uba, who had been on a tour of states in Nigeria selling the product at an astonishing low price of N50, while the black market price is N120 to N150 per litre, as it were.
A similar development took place in Onitsha and Nnewi commercial towns, and Uba became the toast of the masses.
Heightening his public acceptance was his Ifeanyi Uba Foundation, which had empowered small and medium scale business men and sponsored youths from primary school to the university level.
Even state governors battled to associate themselves with the benevolence of this young business magnate and some of them gained more political millage through his philanthropy to.
Uba not only extended his hand of fellowship to politicians and business men, but also undertook the patronage of the Nigerian union of Journalists (NUJ), Anambra State council. He had sponsored the 2011 NUJ week and assisted members with working aids which earned him the NUJ Man of the Year and Grand Patron of the union.
Perhaps, it was the kerosene revolution that ignited the clamour by some section of Anambra people to suggest the idea of his venturing into contesting the gubernatorial seat of Anamlbra in 2014.
To Uba, going to politics is for service to humanity, hence if it would be for the good of all and sundry, he had to oblige. Uba has not made any formal declaration to contest, but it is widely speculated that he has interest and may contest on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
Uba’s incursion into APGA, though subtly, became an issue for some party stalwarts who became apparently apprehensive of his presence. Even the powers-that-be in the corridors of Anambra Government House never liked this development; hence they started sounding the war drums.
Most public functions where Uba is expected to grace were avoided by his political foes in the party and the organisers were branded Uba’s surrogates and were avoided like plague.
The disdain against Uba deepened when the bottled-up cold war in APGA exploded and the two kinsmen, Peter Obi and Victor Umeh, went their separate ways.
At the peak of the intra-party fighting, he was branded a strong supporter of the national chairman, Victor Umeh, and also a political ally of Governor Rochas Okorocha, hence drawing the battle line.
Uba’s fate was further reduced to a fate of a cockroach when the oil subsidy matter was brought to the picture. Though he was the least business man allegedly fingered in the gains of subsidy, his political traducers celebrated it in a bid to rubbish his profile.
Later, stories went to town that Uba has abandoned his gubernatorial ambition and has indeed left APGA. It was also alleged that the subsidy saga has affected his oil business negatively and that several banks are on his neck over unpaid loans.
But Uba choose the part silence and refused to comment on the allegations against him. However this silence was broken two weeks ago when flood swept across the coastal regions of Nigeria. Countless number of people had been paying condolence visits to the victims of flood in Anambra and making heart-warming donations to the admiration of the public. But a day to the slated date for Ifeanyi Uba Foundation to visit the victims, he was arrested by the police and this laid to public outcry.
Speaking with reporters in Awka, the Congress for New Anambra State, led by Osita Obiekwe, contended: “Is it a crime for someone to commiserate with his brothers and sisters affected by flood? This man had planned to visit the camp with a trailer load of rice, beans, 5,000 cans of kerosene, mattresses, drugs and clothes to help them cushion the effect of the disaster, only for some people who do not like his face to do a petition against him. We know that this is politically-motivated because those people are afraid of him contesting the 2014 governorship election.
“As I speak with you, he has not shown any intention and has not even declared for any political party. But we, the Congress for New Anambra State, know that this may not have been unconnected with the lingering political crisis in APGA, which his enemies are accusing him of backing a faction.
“We are also aware that due to his planned visit, which they feel would endear him more to Anambra people, government has banned the visitation and presentation of relief materials directly to the victims, and we ask: when has it become the practice in Igboland that you must take permission from the Igwe (monarch) of a town to pay condolence visits? People should stop playing politics with this flood problem, as it will not do us any good.”
At the camps in Aguleri and Otuocha towns, score of refugees told reporters: “We were told that Ifeanyi Uba is coming and later they told us that he could not make it. But we also hear that some people took him to the police because he wanted to come and visit us. Please, we want him to be released because we need help from everybody to survive what we are currently going through. No gift would be too much or too small for us at this most difficult hour.
Reacting to the allegation by the congress, Anambra State Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Jeomartins Uzodike, said: “What we said is that people should go to State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) and deposit their gift items, so that the quantity of what they bought would be documented and published on the internet. Some people went to the camps and deposited 15 bags of rice and what we heard in the news was that it was 15 bags each to all camps and communities affected, and those in the camps were fighting, alleging that some bags had been stolen.
“This is not good for us. So I urge our people to see this as something being done in good faith and for the good of the flood victims.”
The police had claimed that it was directed to investigate Uba’s involvement in the fuel subsidy saga, and instead of releasing him on bail or charging him to a proper court, the police rushed him to a magistrate court in Lagos where it prayed the court to have him remanded for 14 days on a holden charge, which had been known to be alien to the Nigerian constitution. They claimed that it needed the 14 days to gather evidence against Ubah. The speed with which the magistrate court granted this strange request by police, the subsequent introduction of the story of Cosmas Maduka of Coscharis Group and the petition he was alleged to have written against a business transaction he had with Uba opened the eyes of many that Uba may have been caught in a syndicated web, grandly designed and laced with fundamental mischief to discredit and humiliate him.
His team of lawyers, therefore, rushed to the high court to seek his fundamental right, and after two different appearances by his counsel led by Joseph Nwobike (SAN), the court fixed Monday, October 22, for ruling.
However, on Wednesday, October 17, the police led by a superintendent was said to have stormed Uba’s residence in Ikeja, and, when he did not find any incriminating document, took away three cars – Range Rover Vogue, GCM and Bentley – thereby giving credence to the thinking of many at this point that the police had agenda different from pursuing the subsidy money which they put at N43 billion, because the cost of three cars was a far cry from this amount in question.
Consequently, words began to filter out that Uba’s travail may not be unconnected with his rumoured intention to contest the Anambra 2014 governorship election and may have been aggravated by the magnitude of relief materials he had planned to take to the flood victims, which, in their calculation, would give him unassailable popularity among the people of the area. The announcement by the Anambra government, a day after Uba’s arrest, banning individuals from donating relief materials directly to the flood victims, except through SEMA operated by the state government, further raised suspicion of the people about the involvement of the powers-that-be in Uba’s persecution.
Uba’s release, indeed, became a synthesis of how much he is accepted among the masses of Anambra.
His incarceration may have resulted from both intrigues surrounding the Anambra 2014 as well as competing business interests.
Uba’s supporters are of the view that the major actors in the mysterious petition against him and the fuel subsidy brouhaha appear to be webbed around Access Bank Plc. The chairman of the presidential review panel on fuel subsidy, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, is currently the bank’s Group Managing Director, while Maduka of Coscharis Group is one of its directors. While Uba has had a frosty relationship with the Access Bank boss in negotiating the various instruments granted Capital Oil and Gas, even before the subsidy saga, mainly because his opponents in the bank were alleged to be eyeing the expansive Capital Oil jetty in Apapa for possible acquisition, their appointment as members of subsidy probe review committee and the subsequent inclusion of Capital Oil in the list of defaulters, despite the earlier clearance the company got from the House of Representatives probe panel, took the saga to an intriguing dimension.
As tension continued to rise both in Anambra and among the Igbo in Lagos where Uba enjoys immense popularity because of his fabulous generosity, protests began to break out among the youths and the flood victims, whose hopes that their sordid condition at the camps would be ameliorated with Uba’s visit were dashed by his arrest.
As if they read the mind of people, the police released Uba unconditionally on Friday October 19, three days before the date fixed for court judgement on his suit challenging his wrongful detention and attempt by police to hold him in their custody without any readiness to prosecute.
Secretary-general of Congress for New Anambra State, Sebastian Adindu, told Sunday Independent in Awka: “We are happy about his release and we also know that the arrest was politically-motivated. They had no reason whatsoever to arrest a man that has good intentions for his people. We the youths in Anambra State are very happy about what happened.”
Meanwhile, a faction of APGA known as ‘The Positive Force’ has warned that any party member found to have had a hand in the petition against Uba would be expelled from the party.
According to a statement signed by the faction’s coordinator, Freeman Nwokoye, “We are all aware of the campaign of calumny among party members since the crisis between Sir Victor Umeh and Governor Peter Obi. We are also aware of the dirty politics and in-fighting that pervaded the party in the past few months…
“Much as we would not want to join issues with the personalities concerned, it has, however, become imperative that we state as follows: that the authorship of the petition against Chief Ifeanyi Uba emanated from the ranks of APGA and we have knowledge of how it was plotted to discredit him. In the light of the above, we shall set in motion machinery to ensure the suspension of those who have been plotting the death of APGA because they have perfected plans to join the PDP.”
The body also warned that the idea of imposing a governorship candidate on APGA in 2014 would be highly resisted, urging for an internal democracy in the party.
As at press time, it is not clear what next may become of Uba who is currently receiving treatment at an undisclosed hospital. But the coordinator Ifeanyi Uba Foundation, Benson Nwosu, explained: “The manner and form in which people are being branded as criminals smacks of desperation by some very infinitesimal minority to reduce the virtues of a common Nigerian to his kith and kin, and the society would one day rise against those evil machinations to the peril of the enemies of the masses.