On the surface, no one will believe that the Anambra State governor, Chief Willie Obiano and his predecessor, Mr Peter Obi are at war. They will stop at nothing to embrace and throw banters when their paths cross at public events. But IKEUGONNA ELEKE in this piece writes on the cold war between the duo, mostly fought on their behalf by their foot soldiers in the papers and social media. He also attempts to trace its history.
Even before the swearing in of Chief Willie Obiano as the governor of the state in 2014, a misunderstanding was said to have already ensued between then Governor Peter Obi and his godson, Obiano. Those who know say the problem may have started after Obi gave conditions to be fulfilled by the incoming governor for helping to win him the governorship seat of the state. But during the handing over to Obiano, Obi had stated clearly that by helping Obiano win the election, he had kept his promise of ensuring that an APGA governor succeeded him, and also giving power to the Anambra North zone of the state as they have never tasted the position since the creation of the state.
The godfather, godson relationship of both men, it was also gathered, started from their secondary days at the Christ the King College, Onitsha which is most popularly known as CKC, Onitsha. In a radio programme once, Chief Joe-Martins Uzodike, an old boy of the college and former information commissioner in the Obi administration, who also worked as the Director General of Obiano Campaign Organization, revealed that he and Obiano were both seniors in the college as at the time Obi was a junior student in the same college.
Some people have even said that Obiano was godfather to Obi at the college, and that both men had maintained a very cordial relationship then. Their relationship then may have also been the reason Obi, while scouting for a successor from Anambra North, dumped all his allies and went for Obiano, who had at that time retired from Texaco as a senior staff and was enjoying his retirement in the US. This and the victory of Obiano at the polls, had contributed to now make Obi, Obiano's godfather, as against what it used to be in their college days.
At the swearing in ceremony of Chief Obiano in 2014, Mr Peter Obi while delivering an address, had said that he had fulfilled his promise of producing a governor from the northern zone of the state, and that he had satisfied his conscience by doing so. Obi added that in 2006 when he was sworn in after a protracted legal battle with the then governor, Dr Chris Ngige, he was never given any hand over note, nor was he handed any official vehicle. 'I used my own car, and I came to work from my house in Agulu because both the government house and the governor's lodge were all burnt during the crisis.'
Obi expressed happiness that he was on that day handing over a very buoyant economy to the new governor, with N75 billion in cash and investment, and had also ensured the provision of bullet proof Toyota Prado SUVs to him to ensure that Obiano functioned optimally in the office. He added that having done all that, he was expecting nothing from Obiano for himself personally, and that the only thing Obiano owed him was to ensure that Anambra was taken to a better height, higher than where he left it. For this, Obi was hailed for his selflessness, and love for Anambra State.
That however was not to be as soon after, stories of estranged relationship between the duo started circulating. Those in the know said that the problem with both men started when the former governor allegedly gave the present the bill with which he was enthroned as governor, which sources said, ran into billions. Obiano according to the source, had declined payment and was also said to have sought advice from his Aguleri kinsmen who were said to have advised him to discard the debt notice from his predecessor, leading to the war between both men.
Even before his first year in office, Obi's loyalists had already accused Chief Victor Umeh, the former National Chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) of being responsible for plotting the alienation of Obi from the party with the collaboration of the governor, leading to his exit as against his previous vow that, 'I will quit politics any day I leave APGA'.
Speaking once on the reason for the exit from the party by Obi, his media aide, Mr Valentine Obienyem, said the leaders of the party collaborated to shut Obi out of the party. He stated how he and his boss Obi were in Owerri one weekend for a function when they saw buses with APGA inscription all lined up on the road, and also saw the convoy of the state governor and the national officials of the party in the town for a major rally to support former President Goodluck Jonathan's second term bid for the presidency. It took calls from the former governor to know the reason APGA was literally relocated to Owerri that day, leading Obi to suspect that he had been edged out of the party, the main reason he left without waiting to be pushed out.
The former governor's exit from APGA fully showed the misunderstanding between both men and further fuelled the war between them. While Obi joined the PDP team, and amassed more followers to fight his battle, Obiano deployed the arsenal within his reach to ensure he was not outdone. Though the war is mostly fought on the social media, the state broadcasting outfit, Anambra Broadcasting Service, ABS, also helped to fight for its principal.
Obi's supporters accused Obiano of commissioning the ABS to air clips of his promise never to leave APGA except he wished to retire from politics. To this, Obi stated during a visit to his Onitsha home by the leaders of PDP to woo him to the party, that with the calibre of politicians in the party who had consistently wooed him, it would be foolhardiness for him to remain adamant, the reason he accepted to join them.
On Obi's side in the internet and social media war are his media aide, Mr Valentine Obienyem and Mr Stanley Chirah who operates with several pseudonyms, including APGA Alaigbo and Mazi Odera.
For Obiano, his media aides are Mr James Eze and Ifeanyi Aniagoh. Though these men are mostly civil with their support for their principal, several other names which are suspected to be fake, also give the governor support, while attacking his predecessor.
If the war between them was fought in secret, then the recent declaration by Mr Peter Obi to vie for a senatorial seat to represent Anambra Central on the platform of PDP against APGA's Victor Umeh may have aggravated the fight. The Obiano/Umeh faction views this as a move to dislodge Umeh from what would have been a smooth sail to the senate after PDP's Uche Ekwunife was dislodged from the senate through a court judgment, and also stopped from contesting the rerun election.
The Obiano/Umeh faction believed that Obi was the brain behind the decamping of Ekwunife from PDP to APC, but was still stopped by the court which insisted that only those who contested in the original election in 2015 could participate in the rerun. According to a source in the Anambra Government, Obi's quest to contest the senatorial election was not borne out of a desire to give service, but to fight Umeh who he believes, was the brain behind the shielding of Anambra Governor from paying him the money expended to win Obiano the election.
To outwit Obi, Obiano has further made incursion into the community of the former governor, Agulu, and also secured the love of the traditional ruler of the community, Igwe Innocent Obodoakor, who was said to have pledged support for Obiano, describing his tenure in the state as the best. According to those who attended the meeting, the traditional ruler who the governor has also pledged to renovate his palace, flayed Obi for not remembering a simple task like renovating the palace of his traditional ruler, whereas Obiano from far Aguleri in Anambra North area of the state had come to his rescue. To this, the allies of the former governor had attacked the traditional ruler, and accused him of selling out to a 'foreigner' for the favour of his palace being renovated.
Recently, a new twist appeared, with Obi's internet warriors reporting that at the wedding of the son of Prof Ben Nwabueze in Lagos, Obi and Obiano had come close up, and as usual had thrown banters, with cameras picking them out. But reports by Obi's allies stated that in the house of the constitutional lawyer, Obiano had threatened Obi with the words, 'I will finish you and your family'. This had been dismissed by media handlers of the governor as mere lies.
But in a swift response to the allegation, some indigenes of Agulu, Obi's hometown, under the aegis of Agulu Leaders of Thought (ALT), in a press release signed for it by its interim chairman, Chief Joachim Emegwamuo warned Obiano not to harm their son.
Part of the press release had read, "When the news of threat to the life of our son, Mr. Peter Obi, started circulating, we ignored it as one of those online rumours until Barr. Joe Martins Uzodike made allusion to that in a programme on Blaze Radio. Investigations also revealed that Mr. Peter Obi related it to Chief Willie Obiano's Omabala people during a peace meeting in the house of Chief Nwobu Alor on Saturday, the 11th of June.
''Anambra politics is not synonymous with political murder and assassination and we hope and pray it remains like that,'' the group concluded and added a caveat that if anything happened to Mr. Peter Obi or any of his aides, that Obiano should be held responsible.
As the governor and his school son, but political godfather, remain at war, many believe that the state is losing with this protracted battle by their prominent sons. The Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, His Lordship, Paulinus Ezeokafor, while admonishing both men in one of his attempt to resolve the 'war', called on them to sheathe their swords, noting that the state was losing a lot from their frosty relationship. The bishop also called on them to rein in their supporters as they were the reason the battle had remained unresolved.
Several notable personalities in the state have also waded into the matter with a view to settling the rift between them, all to no avail. Council of Bishops of the Catholic and Anglican stock in the state, Traditional Rulers Council, and even the clergy of the Pentecostal stock, are some of the groups that have tried to settle the rift at different times to no avail.
The main reason for the inability of these prominent people to settle both men have never also been made known, but a source who claims to be in the know, and who does not want his name in print, however stated that the problem had remained campaign funds used in 2013. According to the source, 'Obi and Obiano will never agree, unless Obiano accepts to pay the money which was used to fund his campaign. The money for the campaign was said to have been borrowed from some powerful people in the state who accepted to do so because of Obi.
'Obiano was even said not to have contributed any money to his election, the reason for Obi to borrow to fund the election. Obi had refused to surrender state funds for the election, but borrowed monies running into billions, with the hope that Obiano will pay back when he has won,' the source said.
He revealed further that as a result of the debt, Obi had to sell off his Next Shopping Mall in Abuja to pay off the debt which was given because the persons trusted him to pay back.
Obiano has also been accused of dumping projects initiated by Obi as a way to further spite him, but during the official opening of a mall in Onitsha, which also houses Shoprite, Obiano stated clearly that the project was initiated by his predecessor and completed by him, which is a testimony that he is not abandoning projects by his predecessor, stated a source.
The frosty relationship between the men has also been the reason for the halt in the Anambra Central Senatorial Election, but should that scale through, and the barrier holding it is removed, and if the feud persists, the governor may have an uphill task when the next election comes up, especially as he has indicated interest to vie for a second term.
Then, he will not only be battling fellow contestants from other parties, but with a predecessor who is known to be powerful in the state.
Meanwhile, contrary to information passed through the social media on the feud between Obiano and Obi, the state publicity secretary of the All Progressives Grand Alliance in Anambra State, Hon. Chinedu Nkwonta, has faulted such information, insisting that there is no war between the duo.
He said it was wrong for any person or group of persons to say that the former governor and his successor were at loggerheads over some unresolved issues.
Nkwonta who made the position of the party on the issue known at the party secretariat, Awka, wondered why some people would make such insinuations.
He however reminded the bearers of such information and the entire citizenry that the present government's success is anchored on the legacy of the former APGA government led by Mr. Peter Obi.
Although the state publicity secretary of the party noted that the former governor made a mistake by walking away into what he described as a den of confused people, he said the prayer of the party remained that the prodigal son should return home.
He further disclosed that Peter Obi did not belong to PDP but APGA and noted that no matter how badly he felt he had been treated by his former party, he would be treated even worse in the People's Democratic Party.