By OBINNA EZUGWU
At 72 and worth an estimated $5.7 billion, Anambra State born oil business man, philanthropist and politician, Prince Arthur Eze has every reason to look back at his journey through the years and feel contented. An elder statesman by every standard, the Atlas Oranto Petroleum CEO – largest indigenous oil exploration and production group – is a fulfilled man who has acquired enough wealth to last him a lifetime and serve his generation.
To the surprise to many, however, Eze has remained at the bus stop, bare chest, throwing punches, and jumping from one controversy to another. The latest being his spat with governor of his home state, Anambra, Chief Willie Obiano.
It was Australian psychotherapist, financial therapist and author, Jane Monica-Jones who argued, that although money is important, “It is not important because it gives importance, but rather it is a scholar for the soul. It teaches us to be noble or teaches us to be woeful!”
In essence, Jones argues that wealth doesn’t confer nobility, but its acquisition can teach one to be noble or awful. Being wealthy and being born of royal blood are often associated with nobility, but Eze, who is a prince of Ukpo Community in Dunukofia, is by his actions and words, many have argued, is calling that popularly held notion to question.
Many have compared and contrasted Eze’s character with his ‘billionaire contemporaries’ like Aliko Dangote, Mike Adenuga, Femi Otedola and so on, who though exceedingly wealthy, maintain dignified distance from politics, especially those of their home states.
But Eze is a different breed. He remains ever in the picture, playing godfather role in Anambra politics – though he hasn’t quite succeeded in installing a governor – and positioning himself, it would appear for contracts in Abuja; a game he knows too well.
Eze announced himself during the regime of late dictator, General Sani Abacha in the 90s when he achieved notoriety as one of the regime’s strongest supporters. A support for which he reaped rewards by way of contracts.
Eze so revelled in the Abacha regime that he was said to have vowed to go into self exile or commit suicide if the late dictator did not become a civilian president. Well, Abacha died and Eze is alive and well in Nigeria.
From relative quietness over the few years, Eze dragged has, for the umpteen time, dragged himself back into the limelight. First there was a trending video of him in warlike outing in an armoured convertible, escorted by a convoy of expensive cars in the fashion of a Nigerian president.
He followed up by granting an interview to journalist in his Ukpo country home in which he stirred even bigger controversy, arguing that the Igbo don’t love themselves and that it would take God’s intervention to make an Igbo person president of Nigeria in 2023.
Predictably now a member of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), he went on to praise President Muhammadu Buhari for being ‘a blessing to the Igbo”, while recalling how he was awarded contracts to build TV stations by then governor of Kano State, Abubakar Rimi who also, according to him, took him to Solomon Lar in Plateau State. Rimi and Lar were governors of Kano and Plateau respectively during the second republic between 1979 and 1983.
“We shall pray to God to find an Igbo man who has character to help people, like the Northern people who are kind. I would prefer someone who has conscience; somebody who will remember you. I don’t care where you come from,” he said in the interview.
“I went to the north; they didn’t know who I was. Former Governor Abubakar Rimi gave me $12 million to build Kano TV in 1980. I didn’t have N1 then. He also called Governor Solomon Lar and he gave me $12 million contract for Plateau TV. It was the same thing in Katsina, Borno and Kaduna. Then, they put me in oil business. They didn’t care where I came from. Tell me any Igbo man who can do that.”
Sure enough, his remarks frayed nerves in the Southeast, and not a few reminded him that it was Senator Jim Nwobodo, then governor of the Old Anambra State who took him to meet his colleagues in the North, and who had first awarded him the contract to build the Anambra Broadcasting Service.
Eze, of course went on to attack both former president, Goodluck Jonathan and former secretary to the government of the federation, Anyim Pius Anyim.
“During the time of Jonathan, we had the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. What did he do for Igbo people?” he wondered. “He brought Julius Berger and they tarred his own road; the one leading to his house. All our roads were bad. It is President Buhari that is tarring our roads now. Look at Enugu-Onitsha road, Enugu-Port Harcourt road, Second Niger Bridge. He modernized Zik’s grave. Did Jonathan do that?”
Anyim fired back, reminding him how, during the administration of Goodluck Jonathan, he was running after him for contracts. The former SGF went on to suggest that Eze was only attacking the former president because he is no longer in power and would do same to Buhari when he is out of office, as according to him, he is an “ungrateful person who is only interested in contracts.”
The exchange between the duo had rarely petered out when Eze stirred yet another controversy. He gathered 12 Anambra traditional rulers and took them to Abuja to see President Buhari, supposedly to complain over Governor Willie Obiano’s refusal to conduct local government elections.
Prior to the trip, Eze had been hitting the governor in what is generally believed to be part of the plot leading into the state’s 2021 governorship election, of which the billionaire is said to be backing a certain contender.
He had in the last governorship election in November 2017, allegedly bankrolled the campaign of APC candidate, Hon. Tony Nwoye, after ensuring that he emerged candidate of the party. Nwoye eventually came second behind Obiano who retained his seat under the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) platform.
The trip to Abuja, however, proved ill-thought. Buhari snubbed him and his entourage, only making his Chief of Staff, Professor Ibrahim Gambari available to receive them.
The action has since led to heated exchange between him and Obiano who did not hesitate to suspend the traditional rulers.
There was soon another twist in the tale. Labour and employment minister, Chris Ngige would enter the mix in defence of Obiano. He intervention has since pitted him against Eze. For days, both men tore at each other. But Eze has moved on again to refocus his attention on 2021.
Last week, pockets of protests broke out in the state with protesters demanding that Obiano conducts local government election. The Ukpo money man may yet have other tricks coming.