By Tony Adibe
The last time Senator Francis Arthur Nzeribe, a one-time powerful and influential businessman and politician made public appearance (at least the one witnessed by our correspondent) was at the Enugu State House of Assembly few years ago during a meeting of Igbo leaders and other groups in southern Nigeria. He managed to walk with the assistance of his aides, wearing a long chaplet (rosary). Those who did not know him as a Christian wondered why he wore a chaplet.
In 1983, Chief Nzeribe reportedly spent a whooping N12million to win a senatorial seat in Orlu on the platform of the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP).
In 1993, he was a prominent supporter of the infamous Association for a Better Nigeria (ABN), which backed the General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) military administration. Through this association, he campaigned and convinced IBB to annul the June 12, 1993 presidential election, adjudged to be the fairest, freest and most transparent in the history of Nigeria. The election was said to have been won by the late MKO Abiola. The annulment of that election practically took the political calendar of Nigeria several years backwards.
Nzeribe, a multi-millionaire, was born in Oguta, Imo State, on November 2, 1938, to a prominent family. He is the Ogbuagu, Oshiji, Damanze Oyimba of Oguta. Ogbuagu is said to be the highest traditional chieftaincy title in Oguta.
Described in some quarters as the original evil genius, Nzeribe attended the Bishop Shanahan College, Orlu and Holy Ghost College, Owerri. He got a scholarship from the Nigerian Ports Authority in 1958 to study Marine Engineering in England. By 1960, he sold life insurance to black immigrants in Britain. At a point, he was said to have met Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana that year and started working for him in the area of public relations.
He bought his first Rolls Royce car a year later. After the fall of Nkrumah in 1966, he lost power and influence in Ghana.
In 1969, Nzeribe started the Fanz Organization based in London. The organization dealt in heavy construction, arms, oil brokerage, publishing and property investment. It also engaged in businesses in the Middle East and the Gulf region. By 1979, Fanz had an annual trading turnover of £70 million. Today, he is believed to be worth over $1.5 billion.
In Nigeria, Nzeribe built Sentinel Assurance and other companies. His country home in Oguta is called Haven of Peace, a plush estate that has multiple mansions that still compete with anything you can get anywhere in the country.
The billionaire businessman was elected into the Senate in the Third Republic. He represented the Orlu senatorial zone in 1999 and was re-elected in 2003.
However, the tide seem turned against him in November 2002 when the then president of the Senate, Anyim Pius Anyim, suspended him indefinitely following an allegation of a N22 million fraud. Nzeribe was said to be planning an impeachment motion against Anyim at the time.
Arthur Nzeribe’s power and influence further declined in April 2006, when the Orlu People’s Consultative Assembly, sponsored by the then governor of Imo State, Chief Achike Udenwa, staged what it called a “One-million-man march” to mobilize support for Nzeribe’s recall from the Senate. In December 2006, Osita Izunaso defeated him during the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) primary election. However, in August 2007, Nzeribe was appointed a member of the Board of Trustees of the PDP.
Since his defeat by Izunaso, with the assistance of Udenwa, Nzeribe appeared to have disappeared from the public scene. That was before he became sick, a situation attributed to old age and a domestic accident he had in his country.
Daily Trust on Sunday observed that there is growing anxiety over the health condition of Senator Nzeribe, now 79 years old. It is said that he hardly rides in his fleet of Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) because of his inability to walk into any of them easily. Recently, the social media was a wash with rumors about his health condition.
Commenting on Nzeribe’s current predicament, a native of Oguta, Gozie Odum said, “We know very well that as a senator, Arthur Nzeribe didn’t do anything for us, but we would have loved him to remain there for certain reasons. At least, if anybody wants to make trouble with Oguta people, once such person remembers Arthur Nzeribe and his capacity to do anything, the person will think twice before carrying out his mission. We wouldn’t want any harm to befall him.”
Odum said that although Senator Nzeribe might not be loved by all Nigerians, Oguta people “still tolerate him for his toughness and fearlessness.”
However, according to the News Agency of Nigeria, in a statement released by Mr. Collins Ughala, who identified himself as Nzeribe’s chief press secretary, the politician informed his teeming supporters and all Nigerians that he was “hale and hearty and not suffering from stroke as suggested in some quarters.”
According to the statement, “The attention of Senator Francis Arthur Nzeribe has been drawn to the hateful speeches going on against him in the media, especially the social media, including the unfounded rumor that he is suffering from stroke.
“Chief Nzeribe should have ignored this hateful rumor, but to set the record straight, this brief response is offered to the effect that the rumor is false.
“At 79, I am hale and hearty and not suffering from stroke. I am not in my community, Oguta, in Imo State. I am resting in my house in Abuja. And I thank God for keeping me healthy and allowing me to see old age.
“Life and death are in God’s hands; and God willing, I will remain hale and hearty and not suffer a stroke until such a time when God calls me home. And no amount of hateful speech can change or alter God’s plans for me or anyone else.
“I am not suffering from stroke and I cannot wish anyone to suffer stroke. But to those manufacturing and spreading this hateful speech against me, I wish them the best.
“God has deemed it fit for me to see old age in good health, and there is nothing more to ask from God.”
This is not the first time the senator would be debunking rumors of ill health and death about him. In 2015, Chief Nzeribe had debunked a rumor that he was terminally ill and that his wife had abandoned him.
Ughala had explained that the septuagenarian only had “a domestic accident, which resulted in some pains in his hip region and he had to be hospitalized in hospital in Abuja. He added then that Nzeribe was a hospitalized for 10 days, during which he successfully underwent surgery.