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My problem with Peter Obi is political not personal – Emeka Etiaba

They started out as friends. But in the last couple of months, their relationship is anything but  rosy. If the truth be told, things have fallen apart between Emeka Etiaba and his friend the Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi such that the centre can  no longer hold.

But anyone with a political nose would concede that  politicians actions cannot be taken too seriously. But Mr. Etiaba’s  position is particularly difficult because his mother is deputy to  Obi.  So what is the problem? He did not hesitate to supply an answer:  “I have political problems with him, nothing personal”.

By Judith Ufford , Features editor

WHAT are the political issues you disagree on? The story out there is that you fell apart with Peter Obi because he refused to  open Anambra treasury for you to do as it pleases you with, is that true?
Before I answer that question, a brief of my background is necessary. I am a lawyer and was called to the Bar in 1987. My practice has always revolved around corporate commercials especially in banks. At a time I was an alternate director in Orient Bank (now defunct).

I was alternating for Metu because I was representing the Nnewi block, that was over 10 years ago. My office used to be in Ikoyi but when I built an office here in Lekki, I moved out of Ikoyi for Lekki. I live in Lekki. My father was a lawyer and I can remember that as a child, I used to go to court with him. He had always been in Nnewi, Anambra State. He died in 1987 just before I was called to the Bar. I started my practice in Lagos and  revived his chambers in Nnewi. Since I have also added two more chambers, one in Port Harcourt and another in Abuja,  the one in Abuja was turned into a partnership two years ago but the other is  Emeka Etiaba & Co (Etiaba Chambers).

I do quite a lot of estate business – buying, building and selling properties. That I started three years after my legal practice took off and I have done quite a lot in practice areas, which are corporate, commercials and litigation. During the banking industry consolidation, I was the lawyer who did the private placement for Fidelity Bank Plc. I was also the one who did the merging of Manny Bank, FSB into Fidelity Bank during the consolidation jointly with Banwo, Ighodalo & Co.

Emeka Etiaba
Emeka Etiaba

Then in the practice we have over 30 lawyers, four branches and over 15 para-legal staff and in my property company, I have seven staff; and The Gallery Magazine, we have over 15 staff. That is what I do and because I am interested in estate, I also got interested in building; I love building. My first house was in Yaba, in the Tajudeen Olanrenwaju Housing Estate; I was the first occupant and the owner of the building and for all the years I lived there, I was the chairman of the estate. I moved in there in 1999.

The estate was build by Abacha  regime, opposite Presbyterian Church;  the first house you meet in the estate was mine. Thereafter, I  moved to VGC and while in VGC, I built my first house in Lekki in the late 1990s and I moved into my second  in April 2002. I am giving these details because what people hear is that I used Anambra money to do this, to do that. Peter Obi used to come here and eat bitter leaf soup cooked by my wife; so when you hear about the Etiabas, all you hear is ‘they made so much money when their mother was governor.’ This is  my third house in Lagos.

The issues are very simple. I believe in sincerity and that is one of the things I will introduce into governance when I am elected. After his impeachment, a mutual friend of ours called me and said ‘Emeka, I don’t like the way your relationship with Peter Obi is drifting, can you guys meet in my house and let’s talk?’ and I told him ‘no problem.’ Both of  us (Obi and Etiaba)  came together and we spoke one on one, the guy wasn’t there. He just received us and we sat together to talk and he left.

I don’t like discussing personal things but one thing I remember very well is that I did call him and told him ‘do you see this your boy whom you think is working in your favour, he is the one that will destroy your administration’ and that has happened today.

All of you know his errand boy, I don’t even glorify him by calling his name. He is the one who has worsened the problem for Obi’s administration because what they embark on is what I call blackmail. And I told him that blackmail cannot help your government and that is what has happened today, the blackmail has not taken the government anywhere.

In 2003, we won the election because we were discussing issues. We just had a government that behaved so badly, that was the Mbadinuju administration. So, we came up with the issue of what we were going to do for the state and people bought into our vision. Today, they are not talking about any vision, what they say is that they have fulfilled all the promises they made to the people. I read in a paper  recently  where he said that the only reason 65 people are jostling for the office of the governor of Anambra State is for the treasury. Let me also tell you that for two and half years I was at the tribunal in Awka, I did the election petition, in fact, while I was doing the petition my wife was here alone.

She is an engineer but I figured that the election petition will take a long time and asked her to go overseas and study law just to keep her busy because I was no longer a husband. I was rarely in Lagos. She went to the UK and read law and today she is a lawyer. The day his government was inaugurated on March 16, 2006, I drove with him to the inauguration ground and I called him, ‘your Excellency,’ (I want you to confront him with this) ‘ask every human that is around you today what he/she expects from you because they are not just jubilating because you have won your case, some people have their own ambitions, please go ahead and talk to them.’

He said ‘okay’ and in the evening when we retired into Nike Lake Hotel, he called and said ‘I have done what you said I should do what about you? What do you want?’ What I am telling you now is the reply I gave and if it is not true, let God take my life. I told Mr. Peter Obi ‘all my life I want to be a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), my office in Lagos will make me a SAN, I am out of here tomorrow.’

He enjoyed my company because     I was not demanding for anything, that is why when he came back after the impeachment and started talking about money or no money, I was surprised because the Etiabas are not moneybags and they are not known for money and they are not  looking for money and when he started saying that money was missing I told him ‘you got it wrong.’

Up till today, N40billion allegedly got missing from Anambra State account and Ndi Anambra (people) are not looking for their money. N250 million just got missing the other day and everybody is shouting. Today, if you drive around Anambra, you will see little signposts “this road was constructed by Peter Obi administration;” those are the roads her Excellency awarded and paid for and for which she has been blackmailed.

The man is obsessed with money, naira and kobo and unfortunately for him I was also his lawyer and I know the state of his accounts before he was sworn in; if he can prove to any human being in Nigeria, using his statement of account before he was sworn in as governor that he was a rich man, I will apologise to him publicly. He was the chairman of Fidelity Bank, mark my word, he was the custodian of quite a lot of shares and two people, Obieri and Erastus Akingbola, nominated him to be the chairman of the bank. I did transactions with him and I know how we borrowed money to pay for them.

It was not about money; the reason why you are here is not for what you can get from me and go but for service. A young man says he wants to be governor, let’s hear him out. So when I hear all those stories about treasury, I laugh. It was in your paper, Vanguard, that all those jostling to be governor are in a race for the treasury. Peter Obi is the only one who does not like money, he is the only that can protect the state treasury.

On the issue of Anambra stolen money, when he came to power, he said that the state was broke, that Ngige left an empty treasury, Ngige said he left N12.8 billion, Obi said it is not true; eventually he admitted that Ngige left only N6 billion and,  six months after, he was impeached. The allocation of Anambra State at that point was under N1.5 billion; so N1.5 billion multiply by six months is N9 billion, N9 billion plus the N6billion Ngige left is N15 billion.

Our IGR (internally generated revenue) at that point till date is less than N200 million, multiply N200 million by six, you get N1.2 billion and add it with N15 billion you get N16.2 billion. So with this, where is theft coming from? If such money was missing why has EFCC and ICPC not waded in? My incursion into this race is enough embarrassment for Obi. If he has any evidence against the Etiabas, do you think he would allow me to be doing all that I am doing now without showing the evidence that the Etiabas stole Anambra State ‘s money?

There is this feeling out there that you actual ran the affairs of the state when Obi was impeached and that the missing money was  used for the contract you awarded?
And I still repeat that I was not the one that ran the affairs of the state.What I did was what I did under his own government – advisory. I advised my mother and she implemented most of what I advised her. I advised Peter Obi, he never heed advice and that is where we are today. Money that grew wings cannot grow wings without evidence of were they where taken out from. If such evidence exists, why would he not use it against the Etiabas by sending a petition to the right quarters for investigation and prosecution?

Are you in the race to get your pound of flesh from Obi?
If I was in the race to have a fight against Peter Obi, I would tell you that a psychiatric needs to rush to my house to check my mental state. The reason is that with or without my entry in the race, Obi cannot win a second term. So why would I leave what I am doing in Lagos to go and fight him in Awka?

And I hope you know how dangerous what we are doing is, how dangerous the terrain is for me to leave the comfort of my home and go to Awka. I cannot get even with him; I am a Christian in every sense of the word. I can’t do that. A lot of people who are against him are not against him because he has been sleeping on duty, a lot of people are against him because he is the only pope, and he is the only person who knows everything, who can save Anambra State.

If you are not in the race to get even with Obi, why are you in it?
I am not joining the race for that reason; I am in the race because this is the auspicious time to say ‘let change come.’ I am in the race because I have seen the rot in the system and I want to address them. My state needs help, there is a total breakdown of security and it is not his making. The problems he has in Anambra State are not his making, you can say that he has not solved them but yet he keeps saying that he has fulfilled all the promises he made to the people of the state. And I am in the race to solve these problems.

You have been part of the Obi administration by the virtue of the fact that your mother is the deputy governor. How are  you going to explain to voters that you will do better?
The Bible says ‘for this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and cling on to his wife and they both shall become one’. The Bible did not say mother and child will become one. My mother is the deputy governor of Anambra State. If there is a problem with that administration; she carries it with her head.

Your mother is the deputy governor of the state and you are aspiring to take over, does that not point to the fact the party is not united?
Was it not in this country that the late Sam Ikoku and the father contested the same election and the young Ikoku defeated his father? We all knew about this, the father did not disclaim his son. Two, what we are talking about is giving Anambra State the right of choice.

Tell me, what exactly are you promising that would make Anambrians cast their vote for you?
God bless you; I am bringing greater good for the greater number. I am bringing a listening governor, a governor that people can approach and talk with; a governor who has told whoever cares to listen that he has never come first in an examination.

All my days in school I never came first. I have been within first 10 but I never came first. My best result was third position and that makes me a human being who knows that he is insufficient because there is no way a man who has never come first in an examination would be saying I was the first to do this or  that. Are you a rocket scientist?


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