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Return to earth of unsung philosopher king, Chinwoke Mbadinuju (1945–2023)


By Chuka Nnabuife 

 _Hence goes a hearty, happy man. He was good, tx and did his utmost to make humanity better than he met it_ .

 -- _Anonymous__ 

AS THE government and people  of Anambra State in South-East, Nigeria mark the rites of passage of their former governor, Chinwoke Clement Mbadinuju (June 14, 1945–April 11, 2023) in the  capital city Awka and his hometown, Uli in Ihiala local government area (LGA), this week, those words of a street minstrel would resound in many minds.

Dr. Mbadinuju who was Anambra State's first governor in Nigeria's Fourth Republic, May 29, 1999 to May 29, 2003, was one Nigeria's most educated, most cerebral and exceptionally down-to-earth political leaders of his era but he seemed to have come ahead of his time or just deliberately outfoxed by the many enemies he made among the fold of powerful, self-serving political godfathers for opting to do things, right. 

He was, without doubt, well prepared for office, given his vast education in politics, government and law; long experience as a former state and federal government office holder; erstwhile practicing journalist and an elite member of the leadership of non-governmental civil society bodies.

His tenure in the Government House at Awka was marked by visible Christian favour in governance and demonstrated fear of God as evident in the Prayer Meetings held every Monday in his office.

He also exuded positive energy with his natural gift of the garb and undeterred communication of positivity. Even at the worst turn of events, he professed: "It shall be well with Anambra State."

But things did not end well with his administration, hence his failed attempt to get a second term which he campaigned keenly for in the 2007 gubernatorial election. Scares of that failed bid still remained with him until he died just nine weeks short of his 78th birthday on Tuesday, April 11, 2023 in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.

The man from a family of church teachers in Uli who took a huge lot of his family's evangelical pedigree with him enroute Anambra's Government House was elected into office with an overwhelming majority in 1999 as the candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). As internal events Anambra State's PDP turned awry and governance became brutish towards the end of his first (and only) four-year tenure, the thitherto darling of Anambra people, fondly called, 'Odera' (if God wills) slid in popularity, lost PDP's gubernatorial candidacy ticket, joined the Alliance for Democracy (AD) which was very unpopular in the state, lost his second term bid and retired to a very quiet life of writing evangelical books.

Interestingly, most of the stories peddled about him were either exaggerated or falsified. Some never happened.

It is noteworthy that Dr. Mbadinuju's remains will be committed to earth on Friday, November 24 after a 10am interdenominational Burial Service at his country home, Uli as stated in the Anambra State-organised funeral program which also comprised laying-in-state the day before in Government House among other highpoints. Given the security challenges across the South-East in this period of his funeral it comes oddly as an uncomfortable reminder of his being right, by hindsight, on one major factor he was misrepresented and unfairly tainted during and after his reign.

Amid the current rise in insecurity as well as the hue and cry for state police or community security watch, it is worth recalling that Mbadinuju was about the first governor to advocate and create a state-controlled neighborhood security organ. Even amid his adversaries' deluge of disinformation on the Anambra Vigilante operation which they dubbed 'Bakassi Boys', almost a quarter century after, people know better.

In 2016, Mbadinuju granted the 'Anambra Times' magazine an interview in which he explained that insecurity, housing and daredevil godfathers were the most formidable problems of his regime hence the novel internal security initiative to tackle security.

Excerpt from the interview he granted Paul Nwosu for the magazine, ahead Anambra State's 25th anniversary explain many of the knotty circumstances around his stewardship as governor of Anambra which many agents of his adversaries unrepentantly, still misrepresent.

Mbadinuju's words: "...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 imbued 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... "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.'

"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...."

Most feats of the Mbadinuju era are contrived and subsumed in a myriad of falsehood, making his impactful contributions to solving Anambra workers' and establishments' early housing problems, for example, gradually exit in public memory but estates like the AHOCOL Phase 1 and Phase 2 and the current Governor's Office complex in Agu Awka, albeit temporary initiatives still exist as testaments. 

Among his most enduring is the Anambra State University, now Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, Uli which he founded and built.

Similarly, the protracted months of workers' strike during his reign, taints the period deeply but he offered his explanation with his narrative on the very poor economy of the state during the period.

His explanation: "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." 

No wonder, on the streets, across Anambra, there a joke that he once told people waiting for him that there was no money to share. Speaking in his native Ihiala dialect of Igbo language, he reportedly, complained frankly to the people who were eagerly waiting for payment: "Ego a dinwaa. Ataa m ata. Eloo m elo. Ihe mere ego mere ego" (there is no money anymore.

 I neither chewed not swallowed any. What happened to the money happened to it).

Though this is an unconfirmed comment, it is highly circulated in public like a brand marker of his reign.

 Whether true or false, what it however vitiates is that the late governor was somewhat ripped and harangued to the extent that he would neither find enough means to work nor the peace of mind to be left to think things through.

He was a political godson who found himself on crossroads with his godfathers from the outset of his administration.

He discussed the matter thusly: "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...."

Indeed, the world saw what happened to his successor in office.

Mbadinuju obtained his Bachelors, Masters degrees and a Ph.D in Government from Cornell University. 

He was an academic researcher and an Associate Professor in the State University of New York in 1975. In 1977, he obtained his LLB degree in Law from the University of Southampton, United Kingdom.  As a young lawyer in 1979/80, he served under the legendary F.R.A. 

Williams. Dr Dele Cole later engaged him and the late Stanley Macebuh, Tony Momoh and others to transform 'The Daily Times' to the number one newspaper in Nigeria at the time.

 He  served as the Editor-in-Chief of 'Times International,' news magazine. 

From there he was invited by Gov. Jim Nwobodo to help resuscitate the ailing old Anambra State-owned Star Printing and Publishing Company. 

Thereafter, he got appointment to serve in President Shagari’s Government of 1979-- 1983 as a Personal Assistant to the then Vice President, the late Dr Alex Ekwueme.

Beyond being a former governor, the state funeral being given to his remains this week is honour well deserved for what he achieved for his motherland.

By pedigree, practice and police, Mbadinuju was a fit and proper leader but he appeared underwhelmed in public reports, especially after his tenure in Government House.

Nevertheless, returns to mother earth, a giant of many feats though an unsung 'philosopher king.'

• *_Sir Nnabuife* wrote from Ubuluisiuzo in Ihiala LGA, Anambra State_

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