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Soyinka, Obi, Tinubu: When repayment of mafia debt is inescapable

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By Sunny Igboanugo

Amerigo Bonasera was a longtime friend to Vito Corleone, otherwise known as Don Corleone the alter ego of The Godfather – that Mario Puzo epic novel depicting the mafia influence of the American society. However, unlike many who had pitted their tents with the godfather, in the Italian neighbourhood, he would rather avoid him and his syndicate, because he felt the consequential backlash could rub off on his well-laid business and reputation as a law-abiding, straight American citizen. On many occasions, the godfather courted his loyalty, but he rebuffed it, feeling safe inside the protective cocoon of the American system.

But that same system failed him when his prized daughter was attacked and assaulted by his boyfriend and his friend. Maria Bonasera was not only his only daughter, but the only child and despite his fears, was the goddaughter of Carmela Corleone, the wife of Don Corleone. Kelvin Moonan, her new American boyfriend had tried to rape her after she rebuffed his sexual advances, but after succeeding in fending him off, the young man, aided by his friend, Jerry Wegner, beat her so badly and damaged her beautiful face.

Completely gutted, Bonasera, a successful owner of Funeral Parlour, did the right thing, or what he thought the right thing in America. He went to court to seek justice for his daughter. But instead of putting the rapists away, at the most for their clearly heinous crime, after finding them guilty, the judge did the unthinkable – he handed them – suspended sentence. So, the two young men walked out free from the same court leering and practically mocking him – no thanks to the powerful influence of their parents, who pulled the strings from behind.

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Suspended sentence?! Bonasere had exclaimed before the godfather in whose presence he ran to seek the real justice. After chiding him for rebuffing his earlier offer of protection in preference for trust in the American system, Don Corleone accepted his request to give him justice. However, he would not accede to Bonasera’s extreme demands. He had wanted the godfather to kill the two young men. But he declined. Bonesera’s daughter was still alive. Let her attackers suffer the same way she suffered, was his own option.

Pressed further to the option of murder, offering to pay for it, he again reprimanded his kinsman for trying to lure him to commit murder, particularly on the wedding day of his daughter. “Bonasera, Bonasera, what have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully? If you’d come to me in friendship, this scum who ruined your daughter would have been suffering this very day. And if by some chance, an honest man like yourself made enemies, they would be my enemies. And then, they would fear you,” he had emphasised?

Having agreed to help him in his own way in return for his “friendship” he had given the job to his executor to conclude. At the end of the day, the two young men were so beaten with so much damage to their faces that their parents could not recognise them. So, that was how Bonasera, who had earlier pledged his everlasting loyalty by kissing the shoes of the godfather, got justice. Nothing could have given him more excitement and satisfaction than the disfigured faces of the two boys, splashed in the newspapers the next day.

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But did Bonasera not pay eventually? Of course he did. But he did in a different way, different from monetary payment. Don Corleone, had visited him at the funeral parlour, three years after. His irascible son, Sonny had been heavily disfigured by the bullets of the competitors and enemies of his mafia organisation. He wanted his Italian brother and friend to fix him to look normal and fit for presentation for an open-casket funeral. Bonasera, who was the best in the land, ought not to have touched such a job, coming from Vito Corleone, a criminal to be avoided. But he was in debt, so high a debt. Backing out was out of the question. Either by way of gratitude and conscience or by knowing the grave consequences of saying no to the godfather, he was in debt.

How apt this story to the new reality in Nigeria of today. For years, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu had played the same role of Vito Corleone, though at a different level – politics. Countless Nigerians who were hurt one way or the other, have found succour in him and through him.

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When Muhammadu Buhari, before the end of his disastrous outing as President between 2015 and 2023, tried, or so it seemed, to shirk this obligation of playing ball after Tinubu single-handed made him President, either due to patriotism, knowing that Tinubu would probably be a worse calamity or out of mischief or desire to hand over to another Northerner, knowing his proclivity for nepotism, he was stopped in his track. Tinubu simply reminded him where he was coming from.

He was not only quickly reminded of his debt – remember Tinubu’s Abeokuta declaration and his infamous Emilokan speech – but the enforcers moved in. They were the ones who completed the first stage of the project at the All Progressives Congress (APC) convention in Abuja, beginning with the Northern governors, who took the initiative to rally around him. Now, you might be wondering why the North with their touted unquenchable taste for power could become so amenable. Well, mafia debts are paid to the full.

Asari Dokubo, currently has a standing army ready to go to war against naysayers on his behalf. His reason: Tinubu was his patron when as the leader of the Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF), he was arrested and detained by the Federal Government. Tinubu fully provided for his family including a home in Victoria Garden City (VGC), one of the most glamorous areas of Lagos. Debt!

If, perhaps, you are wondering what debt Yakoub Mahmood, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), who virtually threw caution out of the window by practically killing the 2023 presidential election owed, listen to Chibuike Amaechi. The former Governor of Rivers State and former Minister of Transportation, provided the answer when he told the world how his appointment came via the Tinubu camp.

See also  Ogbonnaya Onu: Where is the justice? How APC broke his heart!

So, why then would anyone be surprised about our own dear Prof. Wole Soyinka? Not a few saw his recent diatribe against Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP) in the February 25 election as shocking, but needless, especially given his enviable place in the history of the Nigerian struggle as well as global reputation.

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The Nobel laureate at a recent event in South Africa entitled: The Lives of Wole Soyinka — A Dialogue, organised by Africa in the World, in the Cape Winelands city of Stellenbosch, had this to say about Obi and the 2023 presidential election: “I can say categorically that Peter Obi’s party came third not even second and the leadership knew it but they want to do what we call in Yoruba ‘gbajue’, that is force of lies.”

While acknowledging that Obi achieved “something remarkable” by breaking the monopoly of power established by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), he also tongue-lashed the Labour Party through which he contested for the presidency, accusing it of taking over the organised labour movement in the build-up to the 2023 election.

“This recent election – two things happened first of all. One party took over the labour movement, which is not my favourite movement, and then it became a regional party. Whereas it was a marvellous breach into the established two camps. Peter Obi achieved something remarkable there, that he broke that mould. However, he did not win the election.

“They were going to send some of the hardliners, proud young people into the street to demonstrate. I’m also ready to be among such demonstrators but only on the banner of truth not on lies, and deceit. This party wanted the same thing (referring to 2011 post-election violence) to happen on the basis of a lie and we find this vice-presidential candidate on television boasting, insisting, threatening and trying to intimidate both the judiciary and the rest.

“What kind of government will result from that kind of conduct? In addition, they did not know this but they were being used. Before the election, there were certain clandestine forces, including some ex-generals, who were already calling for an interim government before the elections began. Some of them were known figures, including a proprietor of a university calling for an interim government before the election took place.”

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Why this descent into the muddy arena, many people have continued to ask. But he provided the answer to his current wacky undertaking long before now. To every ear, he had told the story of how Tinubu and his family provided for him when he was down and out on return from exile imposed on him by former Nigerian despot, the late General Sani Abacha who went after the necks of leaders of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), of which he was one during his iron-fist reign.

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He himself narrated how Remi Tinubu, the supportive wife of the former Governor of Lagos State, now President, provided him with pots and pans and other household utensils to start life anew. He also told the world how Tinubu it was that got him a letter of recommendation with which he then approached the government of Taiwan for the rice contract that supplied his daily bread. Nobody knows whether that source and the stream of income thereof has closed yet. Kongi did not tell us.

So, what would you not do for someone who fed you when you were hungry and probably saved you from the frustration of starvation and even death? Today, South Africa, despite all the threats from Europe and the US, has remained the major ally of Russia in Africa for the simple reason that the country was its bastion of struggle and hope in the bid to extricate itself from the vice grip of white man’s rule during the struggle for apartheid.

It is not that Soyinka is not aware of the parlous situation in Nigeria today. It is not that he does not know that from the way things are going the country is fast descending from the critical to the fatal condition and soon there might not be a country anymore, at least the way it is presently known. But what could he do, when he is in so much debt over the years of favours?
Like Bonasera, he would have opted to be excused from the evil and putridity of the mafia, having built up such an enchanting record as a nationalist and world renowned icon in many respects. But he was the one who ran to Tinubu like Bonasera ran to Don Corleone for help when the system failed him. Like Bonasera nobody bothered him before now. But now his services are required.
Currently, Tinubu’s political face is as badly battered as Sonny’s bullet-riddled body and needed to be prepared to look decent to the public. Who else to do the job than the master of words, grit and skills, who could, by his pedigree, practically make the dead appear alive? Soyinka has the personality and the voice to do the job of painting Tinubu white or at least try.
Incidentally, choosing to do so from South Africa, is instructive too. Remember that South African woman, who spoke in that viral video, telling the world that Tinubu’s presidency lacked legitimacy. What could be more practical that tackle her in her own land and attempt to change the narrative, which surely must have pervaded the land of the Mandelas? But it would surely not stop there. Watch out. South Africa may be the starting point. Don’t be surprised to see the Nobel Laureate expanding his campaign further and farther. For even Kongi must pay his debt. Even if Nigeria falls! He has no choice. It is the way of the mafia!
Igboanugo, a journalist, wrote from Lagos

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Ogbonnaya Onu: Where is the justice? How APC broke his heart!

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By Sunny Igboanugo

“What is very, very important, exceptionally important, is that we must ensure that justice is upheld. Naturally, it should be somebody from the South East that will replace (President Muhammadu Buhari), and that will give the opposite South versus North and Christian versus Muslim a balance, and it will bring stability to the nation. It will strengthen Nigeria.”

These were his exact words on June 8, 2022, when it was his turn to address the crowd at Eagle Square in Abuja. Ogbonnaya Onu, PhD, first civilian governor of Abia State, had come to the convention of the All Progressives Congress (APC), to appeal to the conscience of his party men, and from there to Nigerians, flaunting not only his personal credentials, but those values to which all men – all good men – must be beholding – justice, equity and fair-play.

So, he went on: “The South West had eight years as president, eight years as vice president; the South South had eight years as president and vice president; where is the justice? Where is the justice?

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“I held the presidential ticket for one of the three parties then, but I had to let it go in order to solve a problem with the South West, to make sure that two Olus contested for the presidency, that head or tail, one will become the president and that brought down tension within the country. This is what would have happened if we allowed the South East at this time.”

It was a speech dripping with emotions, akin to Marc Antony’s address to the crowd in the Roman street that roused the people to action against the conspirators that planned the killing of Julius Caesar. The only difference here is that Onu, spoke to the conspirators themselves – the culprits – men and women, whose conscience had since gone the abyss.

Onu’s appeal to the APC bigwigs could be like Antony directing his speech Brutus and Cassius, the ringleaders, who led other Roman Senators to perfidious plot at the Capitol, where the Roman General and statesman, was viciously murdered, rather than the people who avenged Caesar’s murder.

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So, naturally, they discountenanced him. Justice? What justice. Is there justice in politics? Had the people not been told severally that power is not served a la carte? Did he not hear that you must snatch it, grab it and run with it? So, while Onu’s pleas, reverberated across the nation and became the main topic on the media – social and traditional, where it went viral, those he spoke to kept mute.

Not only that he must have left that arena more heartbroken than he came, the subsequent months must have shattered him completely. It is not yet known whether it was the APC that ignored him or that he decided from that moment to go into his own cocoon and live the life of a recluse.

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What is known is that he was never near any of the party gatherings subsequently. Was he not invited? Was he conveniently excluded or did he return home like the big masquerade whose powers were subdued in the market place and suffered the indignity of being decorated with sands from little children and catcalls from women? The jury is out. All that is known is that it did not end well for him.

This was the same Ogbonnaya Onu that in the 1999 presidential election was approached by then Alliance for Democracy (AD), to give up his presidential ambition, having emerged as the presidential candidate of the All Peoples Party (APP). In a country where people register political parties of no more than 20 members to contest presidential election, just for the appellation – Presidential Candidate or its better elevation – His Excellency, he practically buried that ambition.

Not only that he sacrificed that ambition – a high sacrifice to say the least, he collapsed his structure with Olu Falae of the AD, meaning that whatever votes the party got from the South East in that election, must have had his imprimatur. Of course, the joint ticket did not win, no thanks to the abracadabra of the Nigerian electoral system. So, he had to bear the consequences of the loss like other people in his camp.

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But he held on, regardless. By the time the clock turned its hand, he was now the National Chairman of the party, now rechristened – All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP), after the initial leaders abandoned it and ran to then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in the lecherous manner of Nigerian politicians. Onu was not a lecher. So, he held on.

In 2014, at the formation of the APC, it was Onu as the ANPP leader that collapsed the party into the new arrangement in the same way Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who had since left office as Governor of Lagos State Government, led the AD, which had then metamorphosed to Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the same Muhammadu Buhari led his Congress of Progressive Change (CPC), the same way Rotimi Amaechi, then Governor of Rivers State and Bukola Saraki, former Governor of Kwara State, led the New PDP or N-PDP members into the party before Rochas Okorocha, as Imo State Governor, completed the formation with a faction of his then All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).

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But that might be where the heartache that must have culminated into the heartbreak must have started. For no sooner did the APC emerge as a political party than Onu and his Igbo brothers, must have been shocked at what they were handed – the very short and blunt end of the stick.

In all the positions that were shared, the highest position the entire South East got was Organising Secretary – the man saddled with the responsibility of hiring venues, canopies, sound systems and other items used during party functions. Gratuitous insult?! You could say that again!

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Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu

Yet, Onu stayed! Was it patience, resilience of naivety? Have your pick. Then the party won power. You would have thought that he would have his reward. But whosai! Nada! Everyone was sure that the position of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) was there for his picking. Again, whosai? What did he get in the end – Minister of Science and Technology. Figure out what that Ministry in the scheme of things and order of importance.

In the end, even after boasting that with him in the saddle, Nigeria would now be able to produce pencils – one of his hugest task – laughable as it appeared, was not met. Who knows why? Perhaps, he was not even given the necessary assistance to achieve the feat, for reasons including those that appeared quite obvious.

But the hardest hit was to come. Who knows what he must have been promised? Everything he said in that convention of June 8, was spot on and fitted into the argument. Pray! Who could have presented a better logic? The North was just about to finish its tenure through Buhari. The South West had first taken through Olusegun Obasanjo – 1999-2007. Even the South South, had also taken through Goodluck Jonathan.

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So, when he cried out – where is the justice – those eternal words clearly captured the pains, as he saw the humiliation of not only himself, but his Igbo people – the unarguable third leg of the Nigerian Tripod. It was like the stab of Brutus at Caesar’s heart that made him cry out – et tu Brutus – you too Brutus. Just like that blow from Brutus epitomised the betrayal of his trusted friends and led Caesar’s eventual death, the APC final dagger-blow would have been too much for him to bear.

And he died! Good night, Ikeoha Uburu!

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Garlands, as Umeoji, ‘Ijele’ of Nigerian banking steps out

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By Sunny Igboanugo

Ijele is the greatest masquerade in Igboland in every material particular. It is the largest, most beautiful, most feared, most adorned and most adored. So, naturally, it is rarely seen. Its appearance, is only to mark the biggest events. At such events, it is the last to perform. Why? It does not share space with others. After its performance the event closes and everyone is supposed to disperse, for there is nothing more to expect and nothing more to see. What other spectacle or performance would near or equal that of the Ijele?

That is exactly the message Zenith Bank seems to be passing when it announced the appointment of Dame Adaora Umeoji, as the Managing Director, Chief Executive Officer (MD-CEO), on Tuesday, March 20, 2024. It was a momentous break from its 34-year-old history, as she became the first female to occupy that position.

Though the late Maria Sokenu, the first Managing Director of the now defunct Peoples Bank of Nigeria (PBN), is the first in history to emerge as a CEO of a bank in the country, that piece of history pales into insignificance in the context of the emerging scenario, as it was not only part of the military adventure in Nigeria, due to its peculiarity. The PBN, was a government institution established to provide special needs and cater for a segmented interest.

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What comes more closely to women playing key leadership roles in the banking sector began when First Bank of Nigeria (FBN), in 2015, appointed Ibikunle Awosika as Chairman, the first in history. This was followed by Access Bank which went for Mosunmola Belo-Olusoga and Guarantee Trust Bank (GTB) going for Osaretin Demuren, all in the same year and in the same capacity.

In the last decades or so, the sector has however upped the ante with the emerging trends, particularly Deposit Monetary Banks (DMBs). The appointments of female MD-CEOs, a fad, consistent with global thinking of equality where women share the space in virtually all human activities, particularly those hitherto depicted as exclusive preserves of the men, has now taken a pride of place.

That was how Miriam Olusanya, a pharmacist, financial and accounting guru, became the first female Managing Director of Guarantee Trust Bank (GTBank), in July 2021, and still holds the position to this day, the same year Yemisi Edun emerged in the same position for the First City Monument Bank (FCMB), armed with a chemistry degree from the University of Ife and a master’s in international accounting and finance from the University of Liverpool, England.

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Before them was Halima Buba, who was appointed MD-CEO of SunTrust Bank, in January 2021, spirted from her desk as Deputy General Manager of Ecobank. With Bachelor of Science in Business Management and MBA from the University of Maiduguri, and Ireti Samuel-Ogbu, who became the MD-CEO of Citibank Nigeria, with Bachelor of Arts in Accounting and Finance from Middlesex University and an MBA from the University of Bradford, in September 2020.

Three months after, in December 2020, Fidelity Bank (FB) announced Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe, a lawyer, as the MD-CEO, the first in the history of the bank, which was established in 1988, who fully assumed her role in January 2021., six years after Tomi Somefun became the MD-CEO of Unity Bank, in August 2015. A graduate from the prestigious Harvard Business School and Columbia University, Somefun, who took a degree in English Language from Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), has been playing that role since then.

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There is also Kafilat Araoye, who was appointed MD-CEO of Lotus Bank in May, 2021. The pioneer boss of the bank, one of the latest entrants in the Nigerian financial sector, with a degree in History and an M.Sc. in Industrial Relations and Personnel Management, is said to have come into the bank with over 30 years of banking experience.

Then there is Bukola Smith, who was a month earlier, appointed as the MD-CEO of FSDH Merchant Bank. Armed with B.Sc. in Economics and an MBA from Alliance Manchester Business School, in the UK, has remained in that position since April 2021.

The emerging trend also saw the appointment of Yetunde Bolanle Oni as the MD-CEO of Union Bank, a significant part of the history of one of Nigeria’s oldest banks. She is said to hold degrees in Economics and Business Administration, including executive training at Oxford University.

The entrance of Umeoji, seems to be the icing on the cake. It is akin to the popular saying of saving the best for last. That the entire Nigerian media space has been awash with the news of the appointment, since it was posted on the bank’s website on Tuesday morning, is indicative of the significance of the development.

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The statement read: “Zenith Bank Plc has announced the appointment of Dame (Dr.) Adaora Umeoji, OON, as Group Managing Director/Chief Executive with effect from June 1, 2024, subject to approval by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

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“She takes over from Dr. Ebenezer Onyeagwu, whose five-year term expires on May 31, 2024, after a very successful tenure. Dame (Dr.) Adaora Umeoji is the first female GMD/CEO since the inception of the bank, and her appointment is consistent with the bank’s executive transition tradition, succession plan, and strategy of grooming leaders from within.

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“Prior to this appointment, Dr. Umeoji has been the Deputy Managing Director of the bank since October 28, 2016 and has close to thirty (30) years cognate banking experience of which twenty-six (26) years has been with Zenith Bank.

“She is an alumnus of the prestigious Harvard Business School where she attended the Advanced Management Program (AMP) and an alumnus of Columbia Business School with a Certificate in the Global Banking Program. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Jos, a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting and a First-Class honors in Law from Baze University, Abuja.

“She holds a Master of Laws from the University of Salford, United Kingdom, a Master in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Calabar, and also has a doctorate in business administration from Apollos University, USA. She holds a Certificate in Economics for Business from the prestigious MIT Sloan School of Management, USA, and has attended various management programmes in renowned Universities around the world including the strategic thinking and Management programme at Wharton Business School, USA. She also attended the executive program in Strategic Management, and has a Certificate in Leading Global Business all from Harvard Business School, USA.

“She is a fellow of notable professional bodies including the Chartered Banker Institute, UK, Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, Nigerian Institute of Management, Institute of Credit Administration, Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Nigeria, Institute of Chartered Mediators and Conciliators, and the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators of Nigeria among others.

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“In 2022, the Federal Government of Nigeria honored Dr. Umeoji with Officer of the Order of the Niger, as a recognition of her contributions to nation building. She is a Peace Advocate of the United Nations (UN-POLAC).

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“She has impacted many lives through her philanthropic and humanitarian activities through her NGOs; Pink Breathe Cancer Foundation and the Adorable Foundation that educates, caters for Cancer patients and indigent children education especially the Girl-Child. Her contribution to humanity was recognized by the Sun Newspaper which recently bestowed on her the Humanitarian Service Icon Award for 2023.

“As a result of her passion for promoting professionalism in the banking industry and improving the well-being of the less privileged, Dr. Adaora Umeoji, OON founded the Catholic Bankers Association of Nigeria (CBAN), a platform she uses to promote ethical banking and service to humanity. She is a Lady of the Order of Knights of St. John International (KSJI), and was awarded a Papal Knight of the Order of St. Sylvester by His Holiness Pope Francis.”

The import of this historic appointment is not farfetched. It is not only captured in the tall credentials Umeoji is putting on the table or in her exquisite personality, but also her track record both in the bank itself, and the Nigerian financial sector in general, where she has played a progressive role in the last three decades.

Just as Zenith Bank, which began operation in July, 1990, two months after it was registered in May of the same year, about 34 years ago, is considered arguably the biggest bank in Nigeria, Umeoji, who is a key contributor to that enviable status, is reputed to be the biggest female player in the Nigerian banking industry today.

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For 26 years of the 30 she has spent in the industry, she is believed to have buried herself in work and more work, which has contributed quite significantly in the great fortunes of the bank and the outcome is the symbiotic relationship, where the bank is posting the hugest profits, while she is reputed to be the highest paid female banker in Nigeria today, both in dividends as a director and personal wages.

As the counting begins for the full takeover of affairs at 83 Ajose Adeogun Street, Victoria Island, home of the Zenith Heights, on June 1, it is salute to the amazon from Ezinifite, Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State. It is salute to the Ijele of Nigerian banking. Nigeria, nay, the world stands still!

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Who says Akpabio should shut up?

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First, let me tell you how much I know about Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital. One Sunday afternoons, during one of my regular visits in the 1980s, my elder brothers, who were actually among the big boys, decided to give me a special treat in town.

Back then, it was a one street town, with the Aba-Ikot Ekpene Road, to show as the best and only major road to give it a semblance of a city.

The Honda CD-195, today’s equivalent of a top-notch Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV), which my brothers owned then was demonstrable evidence of this affluence for the middle class where young men of their ilk belonged. Mind you these were ordinary artisans. Their major business was constructing of aluminum water tanks. But because of the thriving economy then across Nigeria, what they made as incomes were enough to make them paint the town red.

They actually started off in Calabar, the Cross River State capital with the workshop at Wapi Junction by Highway, but had to split for business reasons when Akwa Ibom was created, one moving to Uyo and the other retaining the Calabar business.

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You know the treat? I’ll tell you shortly. But let me first tell you that when the Akwa Ibom or Cross River man tells you that they own the franchise for the best culinary ability in Nigeria, don’t even argue. No one else comes close.

For instance, I never knew that unripe plantain was such a good delicacy until I ate it in Uyo. I hardly accepted it from my father, the only one that relished it in my family back then. Whenever I did, it was, like other children, with squeezed face. Of course, he’s was prepared roast, with the popular ukpaka, fresh pepper and red oil to go with.

Never mind that I now throw glances and salivate like Pavlov dogs whenever I pass through the streets and see local women preparing the same recipe. But try the Akwa Ibom variant with bush meat and scent leaves mixed with vegetables. That was how I fell inseparably in love.

Come to think of it, was it the white soup at that popular joint in Calabar that I couldn’t recall the name or the ekpang nkukwo or the afang or edikang-ikong that I didn’t fall in love with? Or the fisherman soup?

So, the treat! Atop our ride, we soon arrived at the spot and a table was quickly arranged for the three of us. It was obvious that my brothers were quite popular with the owner of the joint who saw them as prized customers, hence the special treatment. It was also obvious that he knew their purpose and specialty.

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We were actually in our third bottle of ukot, the brown-coloured variant of palm wine, quite different from what I used to know, when it arrived.

You would have thought, like I used to think that ishi-ewu was the best thing on earth after rice and banga stew until you have tasted a steaming hot head of J5 the euphemism for the delicacy, surrounded with periwinkles as I did that day.

Those and many other escapades, were the experiences that drew me to Uyo like a bee to the nectar. Not anything else and certainly, not the attraction of a city! There was actually no part of the town that I didn’t traverse in search of the good life in the company of those my brothers. That was how I got to know every nook and cranny of it.

But go to Uyo today. I have on many occasions. I could testify to the sharp contrast. The grand transformation is clearly not contemplatable. Who could imagine that the nondescript enclave, no more than a vintage Nigerian village, or at best the local government town, it actually was, would transit into the modern town that it is today?

Who could contemplate the exquisite edifices that have now replaced those weather-beaten structures that hitherto dotted the town or the glittering streets that practically bring it close to some of the celebrated cities of the world in terms of beauty?

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Who would have thought that after Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, the next city on the cards today in Nigeria is Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital? That is why I enjoin anyone that sees Godswill Obot Akpabio to greet him. Hail him wherever he is sighted. His good deeds are certainly more than his sins. He is the one that did the magic.

I actually told the story above to underscore that I met Uyo at its virgin state and now its present status as a mega city. As an undergraduate in the 80s and a journalist two decades later I wasn’t only deeply into this town, but witnessed the instant revolution in a matter of few years.

Of course, while not denying credit to Obong Victor Attah, his predecessor, who started the process of moving the state away from the inglorious era the late Vice President, Alex Ekwueme described as the years of the locusts, with some ambitious projects, the trophy belongs to Akpabio. He breathed life into the state. Visiting the two at their own times, I knew when the wine fermented into its rich taste.

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He was the one who took the gown to town not only in physical development, but doing the work of the salesman. He virtually sold it not only to Nigerians, but the world.

You may have heard about the legacy projects – the Ibom Tropicana Resort, a five-star hotel, which boasts of Nigeria’s best golf course and other facilities that makes the city the attraction for billionaires and playground for tourists both locally and foreign or the Uyo Township Stadium, which during Akpabio’s time became the home-ground to the Super Eagles of Nigeria and other top football and sporting events.

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You may have heard about the first-grade roads across communities in and outside the state capital and the highways that crisscross the state. In fact, in one of the occasions I was in the state, the campaign and focus of his government, was operation zero potholes in the whole of Uyo.

Yes! You would certainly must have heard about the multi-purpose Akwa Ibom Ecumenical Centre – that grand edifice that was supposed to cater for religious activities, conferences and other local and international events.

But what about the little details of that government? Did you know that Uyo, was never ever supposed to be flooded in Akpabio’s visionary thinking? He took care of that. In one of my trips, I saw the huge underground pipe jacking drainage facility that was meant to collect storm water in the state capital. I learnt the project, then under construction by Julius Berger slashed the purse of the state by a whopping N13.6billion. It was the epitomic demonstration of Yo shinai, Yo kangai, the popular Toyota advert in the 90s, meaning Good thinking, Good product.

There are so many similar projects like that gives impetus to those, inclusive of yours truly, who see Akpabio as a man of vision and mission, regardless of the other side of his political story.

So, when I hear Pat Utomi, Nigeria’s most respected political economist, asking Akpabio to shut up the other day and Reuben Abati, prolific journalist following suit, by injuncting him to speak less, and after taking a cursory look at the entire park of the All Progressives Congress (APC) government of President Bola Tinubu, the abiding question I ask myself is who else is qualified to speak from there outside Akpabio?

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In my view, Akpabio is the most highly rated official in that government with tangible things to show in his political years. I have provided the basis for my assessment. In fact, save for the uncanny penchant for reversal of roles in Nigeria, where the tail wags the dog rather than the reverse, what is the explanation for Tinubu being the President with Akpabio as the Senate President?

But Nigeria is already what it is. Is it not evident that Akpabio is the real visioner in that APC house of commotion? For one, he is an orator extraordinaire. On the many occasions I had encountered him, then as a governor, I never saw him read a prepared speech.

Yet, he would speak for two hours, still making sense and presenting figures. It was that immense gift of the garb and general carriage that made him practically sell Akwa Ibom to the world. It was like the recreation of Michael Iheonukara (MI) Okpara of Eastern Nigeria.

Indeed, has anyone wondered the sudden dim surrounding that state since Akpabio left as governor? Who is still remembering that state now? Why is Akwa Ibom no longer in the national spotlight as it used to be? Does it mean the state is getting less money than it used to, since many people seemed to suggest that the sudden high profile it attained was as a result of the high revenue accruing to it? Isn’t it obvious that it has to do with that extra shine, the debonair air around him, which his successors have failed to replicate or sustain?

The major snag, if not the only one, is that he has found himself in bad company. APC is a bad product, in fact and in deed. Since Nigerians bought into it through former President Muhammadu Buhari, who should not have risen beyond the Emir of Daura, it has continued to decay.

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With Tinubu’s listlessness, the rot and degeneration have since worsened. How does anyone defend this President and his underwhelming performance and still come out smelling roses? This is Akpabio’s dilemma and not the inability to say the right thing. As long as he remains in that crowd, nobody is qualified more than him to speak. So, speak, Akpabio must!

My name is Sunny Igboanugo and I’m The Tiny Voice!  

 

 

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