Embattled former governor of Enugu State, Senator Chimaroke Nnamani may go down in history as one of the biggest casualties of the anti-graft war. The court has ordered that he should forfeit his assets and companies to the federal government in his ongoing corruption trial. EZUGWU OBINNA reports
Former governor of Enugu State, Senator Chimaroke Nnamani, is passing through a difficult period in the journey of his political life. Reason: The former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s godson has fallen from grace to grass as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has taken over his properties for alleged corruption.
Elected governor in 1999 following the return of civilian rule, Nnamani, or ‘Chiboy’ as he was fondly called, grew to become the most feared and at the same time revered political figure in Enugu State; an emperor of sort who hated dissenting voices. He entertained no opposition, it was either you were with him or you were against him, and if you belonged to or even perceived to belong to the latter category, you hard to tread carefully.
But at the end of the day, Nnamani succeeded in planting his own political nemesis; he fed mouths that quickly turned back to bite him relentlessly.
The story began in 1999 when democracy was restored after years of military rule in the country. The battle over who becomes governor of the Coal City State pitted top political figures against one another in a war of wits and intrigues. But in all, it was always all about one man; the one time governor of the old Enugu State, Senator Jim Nwobodo.
As one of the founding members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a party that was sure to take Enugu State and being its most influential figure in the state, Nwobodo was always going to have a huge influence on who becomes governor. In fact, the answer to who would emerge governor was simply a matter of who Nwobodo wanted.
And he was to provide the answer when he went all the way to the United States to fetch the relatively unknown Chimaroke Nnamani who was then a practicing medical doctor. Once Nnamani became the candidate of the PDP in 1999, the rest was history. He won the governorship election by a landslide and consequently ascended the throne of governorship; the beginning of an era.
Soon after Nnamani took office as governor, he turned around and literally chased Nwobodo away from the state’s political scene. As the king maker who had crowned a new king, Nwobodo stayed behind and wanted to call the shots but Nnamani was not in for it, he immediately showed Nwobodo who the real boss was. Some said that when he acted, Nwobodo literally ran from the government house.
With the king maker out of the picture, Nnamani held sway in the state politics; the fear of ‘Chiboy’ became the beginning of wisdom. But the years were also running fast and Nnanani was soon to make the mistake of his benefactor, Nwobodo when he also picked a new governor, Sullivan Chime to succeed him in 2007.
Having completed two tenures as governor in 2007, Nnamani tapped on Chime as his successor, but it was a decision that incidentally turned out to be his greatest political blunder; it marked the beginning of the end to his political dominance in the state.
As soon as Chime was sworn in, he stunned the supporters of Nnamani and his ‘Ebeano’ PDP family at the Okpara Square when he made it clear that the reign of his boss had come to an end. “This is the beginning of a new era in Enugu State,” Chime declared. And so it was. Many expected the all powerful Nnamani to react however; to probably fling Chime over the fence of Lion Building and appoint another governor. But it was rather too late.
Those who held this believe remained firmly with Nnamani and his Ebeano camp and fought. Nonetheless, it didn’t take too long for them to realize it was a lost battle. The almighty Nnamani was gradually reduced to a mere floor member in the senate. Battling with EFCC on charges of financial misappropriation and with absolutely no stake in the state he once ruled like an emperor. Nnamani’s political influence waned rapidly.
Not even his forming a new political party, the People’s Democratic Congress (PDC) in 2011 could secure him a second stint at the national assembly as a senator. He lost to PDP’s Gilbert Nnaji, another man picked from nowhere and made a House of Representatives member four years earlier.
Rejected by his chosen successor, Nnamani soon became a regular guest of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). He was arraigned by the anti-graft agency in 2007 over allegations of money laundering, alongside his companies he set up while in office, including Rainbownet Nigeria Ltd, Cosmo Fm, Hillgate Nigeria Ltd, Capital City Automobile, renaissance University Teaching Hospital and Mea Mater Elizabeth High School.
Assisted by the ever willing Chime, the EFCC made sure that Nnamani’s tenure as the senator representing Enugu East Senatorial zone between 2007 and 2011 was marred by controversies, and even when he was humiliated out of the senate by Chime and Nnaji during the 2011 polls, his travails with the EFCC continued.
That same year, he was arraigned for a second time at an Enugu High Court. But not much was heard of the case afterwards until in 2013 when he was yet arraigned along with his companies for a third time before a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos.
While the case dragged however, Nnamani struggled to revive his political career, and in the 2015 national assembly election, he fought relentlessly to return to the senate under the platform of his party, the PDC. During the electioneering campaigns, the ex-governor gave his all, campaigned vigorously and indeed won the support of his people of Nkanu land. During this time, Hallmark went to Enugu to feel the pulse of the people he wanted to represent and the result was a resounding approval for a man they said did a lot for them when he was governor.
”Gilbert is not outspoken; he does not mix with the people and has not attracted much projects to his constituency. He does not even speak on the floor of the senate,” said Mr. Ezeani Nnaji, an Nkanu indigene. “Although Chimaroke did not do much when he was in the senate, we understand he was struggling with the EFCC throughout his tenure and couldn’t concentrate.
He did well for us when he was governor,” he noted.
That was indeed the general assertion of many at the time; definitely for them it was only a matter of the April 28 election, before Nnamani went back to the senate. Surprisingly however, and contrary to what anyone could have predicted, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) once again declared Nnaji as the winner of April 28 Enugu East Senatorial election. Nnamani, for the umpteenth time got humiliated by those he nurtured into political relevance. But he was not going to take it without a fight. He, alongside his supporters laid siege at the INEC office in the state, demanding that what they believe to be the actual result be declared. He even went ahead to declare himself winner and swore to reclaim his mandate. The case eventually ended up in the tribunal which is still ongoing.
While Nnamani was still awaiting the outcome of the case at the tribunal however, his case with the EFCC came to a head. It was to be another deadly blow to the already embattled former governor. A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos ordered the forfeiture of multi-billion naira assets allegedly owned by him to the Federal Government. The forfeited assets included undeveloped properties and transmission equipment of Rainbownet Nigeria Limited; properties of Hill Gate Investment Limited/Cuena Phones Limited; assets of Cosmo 105.5FM, and 22 duplex buildings at Ebeano Estate (now Fidelity Estate).
Others are Rainbownet shares in Zenith Bank and Guaranty Trust Bank, with a combined account balance of N4.6 million; as well as monies in its bank accounts.The balances in different accounts with GTBank (total of N313,700); Sterling Bank (N986,958); Ecobank (N24.5 million); First City Monument Bank (N3.8 million) and Zenith Bank (N761,156) are also to be forfeited.
Nnamani has since become a political godfather defeated and humiliated by his godson, punished by the EFCC over his financial dealings during his tenure as governor and ultimately beaten and abandoned by Senator Nnaji, the masquerade he dressed.
Indeed, this is the sad story of how Obasanjo’s favourite son fell from grace to grass.