By OBINNA EZUGWU
From relative obscurity, Anambra State born, oil mogul billionaire, Prince Arthur Eze has, for the past two weeks, taken up a large portion of the Nigeria’s media space, both traditional and social media. First, a video of him in warlike outing in an armoured convertible, escorted by a convoy of expensive cars in the fashion of a Nigerian president attending high profile function, was top trending video on various social media platforms.
And when it looked as though the attention on him was about to fade, he granted an interview to journalist in his Ukpo town, Dunukofia country home which he stirred the hornet’s nest. In the interview which has continued to generate angry reactions from many in the Southeast, the Atlas Oranto Petroleum CEO, argued that the Igbo don’t love themselves and that it would only take God to make an Igbo president of Nigeria.
Eze who is a member of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) also praised 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.
“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.
“During the time of Jonathan, we had the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. What did he do for Igbo people? 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?” he queried.
The interview has continued to attract reactions across social media platforms, with many accusing him of intentionally denigrating his own people for political reasons, even as others picked holes in his claims about the help he got from northern politicians.
“In his attempt to tell who cares to hear that Igbo doesn’t love themselves, he fail to tell his audience that Jim Nwobodo gave him his first major contract to build ABS and after that Jim took him to Abubakar Rimi where he was given another contract to build for Kano,” wrote Udumeze Ukwu.
“Rather he only mentioned that Rimi did not know him and gave him a contract of $12m and still took him to Solomon Lar who gave him the $12m to execute the contract. The amount of the contract to build a state radio station is questionable because if the federal annual budget of 1980 was $10 million, how much will state budget be?
“It is important to note that those mentioned were NPP associates of which Jim was NPP Governor of the then Anambra State. Was Arthur Eze a well known NPP member then. Without Jim how could he have gotten those contracts yet to him Igbo don’t love themselves.”
Another commentator, Chuma Obi argued that, “Arthur Eze is actually one of the reasons the South East is lagging in development. During the military era he was able to infiltrate the military hierarchy and he knows all the Milads even before they resume. He will take all the contracts for the south east especially Enugu and Anambra and he would not execute any.
That was why he ran away when Obasanjo became president. He thought they would get him because of his ties with the military. It was only when he pledged that he would support Andy Uba to become governor of Anambra that they gave him breathing space yet he could not fully come back to Nigeria until Buhari came in.
“Arthur Eze is a very dishonest man who can sell anybody for a pot of porridge; he does not pay his workers and even his philanthropy is questionable. When he announces a donation, it is war to get even half of what he pledges publicly.”
The rebuttals have been robust, diverse but not unexpected. Eze has historically had reputation problems stemming from alleged contract shenanigans, and not helped by his godfather role in Anambra politics. His godfather role in the state’s politics started when he sponsored Senator Joy Emordi in 2005 to emerge Anambra North Senator after the annulment of Emmanuel Anosike’s election.
In the last governorship election for instance, he was said to have bankrolled the campaign of APC candidate, Hon. Tony Nwoye, after ensuring that he emerged candidate of the party. Nwoye eventually came second behind the incumbent governor, Willie Obiano who retained his seat under the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) platform. But even so, he is only one of Anambra’s many political godfathers.
Eze acquired some notoriety during the late Gen. Sani Abacha regime as one of his strong supporters. In fact many people believe that it was the Abacha regime that actually established him in the oil and gas sector as benefitted with some oil leases. He also enjoyed a major water contract for Enugu state, a federal and World Bank project, which was hardly executed before the fall of the regime.
He was quoted to have vowed to go into self exile or commit suicide if Abacha did not become a civilian president. Abacha died and Eze is alive and still living in Nigeria.
Yet, Eze’s interview has led to many questioning his business philanthropy and role during the Biafra war which started when he was only 19 and ended when he was 22. While he is reputed to be a philanthropist, some have alleged that he rarely makes good his promises. But even his fiercest critics would agree that the 72-year-old has more than paid his dues as an astute business man, and has featured as key sponsors of many developmental projects in Anambra and the country in general.
Only recently, a list of prominent Southeast business and political leaders who donated to the N25 million old Imo State development fund in May 1985 surfaced, with Eze who had his secondary school education at St. Augustine Secondary School in Nkwere in the state in 1970, before proceeding to California State University, Long Beach, to study mechanical and chemical engineering from 1974 to 1978, donating N100,000, a princely sum at the time.
More recently, Eze is known to have donated $12 million for the construction of St. Stephen’s Anglican Deanery and Youth Development Center in Otuoke, Bayelsa State in 2013; N25 million for the ‘Russia 2018’ FIFA World Cup in 2018; $800,000 for the construction of two primary schools in Yirol and Rumbek communities in central South Sudan; $800,000 at a fundraiser for Boko Haram victims in Abuja; $6.3-million to the flood relief efforts in Nigeria in 2013 ; a medical research unit for the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, among others.
Currently estimated to be worth more than $5billion, about the 8th richest person in Africa, Eze has also demonstrated uncommon resilience in business. Atlas Oranto Petroleum which he founded in 1991 remains one of the most prominent players in the oil industry in Nigeria and beyond, with 22 oil and gas licenses in 12 jurisdictions across Africa, and is, in fact, the company with the largest oil exploration blocks in Africa. Oranto has assets in Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, South Sudan and several operated blocks across the continent.
Eze also tried his hands in the airline industry with the establishment of Triax Airlines in 1992, after the deregulation of airlines in Nigeria. The airline which had its base at the Enugu Airport, had three B727s and continued operations until 2000.