January 10, 2020

Behold Reuben Obi: The man who holds ace in Anambra state politics


Since Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999, the political space has thrown up interesting individuals who became cult-like personalities over time. With no little or no formal education, these individuals have made a mark in politics that they are considered very relevant in their constituencies, states of origin, and the nation at large. Their influence looms large, and they play a key role in deciding who gets what when political offices and appointments are distributed in local, state, and national governments. These individuals are courted, respected, worshipped, and feared because of their wealth and influence. Indeed, any serious politician who underrates or ignores their influence and ability to manipulate things in their favour when it comes to winning election in their constituencies or states does so at his peril.

Reuben Obi, a prominent political figure in the ruling All Progressives Congress, is a good example of such an interesting character in Nigeria. Since shooting his way into limelight in a period of less than fifteen years in the Anambra political arena, Reuben Obi has become so influential that he is courted by prospective candidates for elective offices even when such elections are yet to be conducted. Through a host of nefarious activities, Reuben Obi has assumed notoriety in the murky waters of Nigerian crude and mundane politics that his anointed candidates never lose elections in his constituency, state, and even at the national level. It is, therefore, not surprising that he is respected, adored, and worshipped by members of the political class. He enjoys the patronage, recognition, and protection of both the state and federal government. Such a meteoric rise in Nigerian politics is attributable to the role played by Mr. Chris Uba, a wealthy but dangerous character with large followership, who headhunted Reuben Obi as one of the political thugs that ensured that former Anambra state governor, Dr. Chris Ngige, emerged victorious in the 2003 gubernatorial elections in Anambra state. Ironically, when Dr. Chris Ngige fell out of favour with his political godfather, Chris Uba, Reuben Obi was one of the few trusted individuals who worked in concert with the police in the abduction and detention of a sitting governor, the first in the history of Nigeria. When Dr. Ngige was eventually removed by the Supreme Court as the governor of Anambra state and Peter Obi became the governor of the state, Reuben Obi continued to pitch his tent with Chris Uba who was enjoying so much power and influence in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the government at the national level.  

Born into a respectable family in Umunze community in present-day Orumba South Local Government Area of Anambra state, Reuben Obi chose a different path at a tender age. Even though he was gifted with good brains, his penchant for violence and troubles overshadowed his intelligence. He gained admission to study medicine at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, when he was barely sixteen. But he never became a medical doctor. He became a member of Eiye Confraternity, one of the dreaded secret cults that terrorize the Nigerian universities whose negative influence has permeated virtually every aspect of the Nigerian society. Bold, heartless, and never afraid to shed blood or eschew violence, he was soon known throughout the university community, dreaded, and avoided by fellow students, lecturers, and non-academic staff. He quickly rose through the ranks in the Eiye Confraternity and became the “Capone,” an appellation for the head of Eiye confraternity on campus. Reuben Obi was expelled from the university in 1984 after he bathed a fellow student whom he claimed was interested in his girlfriend with acid and the victim subsequently died from his injuries. Reuben Obi was sent to prison, and for inexplicable reasons, he was released two years later.

Broke and frustrated without any job or means of survival, he became a motor park tout selling bus tickets and sometimes helping to load and offload wares from vehicles in Onitsha Main Market. It was at the motor park that Reuben Obi became exposed to an environment where deviant sub-culture rivalry, the battle of supremacy for leadership and control of motor parks, thuggery, brute force, violence, bloodshed, and even murder was a way of life. Barely three years at the motor park, his fame as a rugged and fearless warlord has spread among the over twenty-five motor parks in Anambra state, where he became a wealthy and active member of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW).

His first exposure to politics came in 1999 when he was one of those recruited by the NURTW to ensure the ruling party won all the elections in Anambra State. Armed with guns, battle-axes, cutlasses, cudgels, and other dangerous weapons, he teamed up with other trusted fighters for the NURTW, snatched ballot boxes, and disrupted elections by beating, maiming, and intimidating voters in opposition strongholds.

Reuben Obi was soon recognized as an asset by the leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party for weakening and silencing the opposition. For the numerous dirty jobs he did for the party, Reuben Obi was appointed the Grassroots Mobilization Director in the Anambra State Chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party in 2011. He became a contractor enjoying juicy and overinflated contracts from the government. He invested in several businesses and became a very wealthy man. But his influence is mainly due to his ability to use his wealth to induce voters for his party during elections and maintaining an unorthodox army of able-bodied boys comprising of university students and outlaws who are members of the Eiye Confraternity. Over the years, Reuben Obi has effectively used these outlaws to terrorize his home state and the South-East Geo-political region, silence members of opposing political party and even dissidents within his own political party. On Reuben Obi’s instruction, his army of thugs have snatched and destroyed ballot boxes during elections, beaten, maimed, and attacked members of the opposition political party. Reuben Obi’s “unorthodox army” of Eiye Confraternity members have equally engaged in a host of other activities aimed at not only disrupting elections, but also ensuring that the wish of the people expressed by casting their ballots are subverted. A few years ago, Reuben Obi was said to have ordered a recalcitrant opposition party member who refused to yield to his attempt to manipulate election results in Owerre Ezukala ward II in Orumba South Local Government Area of Anambra State to be shot dead. Reuben Obi and some of his thugs were arrested for a few days but admitted to bail, and later discharged and acquitted by a shambolic and kangaroo court whose decision was rumoured to have been ordered from above. It is alleged that he supplies these boys to cause problems even in other states especially during elections.

In a country where the law enforcement agencies can easily be corrupted, Reuben Obi enjoys near absolute immunity from arrest and prosecution. For a private citizen, it is strange that he has several police officers attached to him. It is alleged that senior police officers are on his payroll and has a history of using the police to arbitrarily arrest and harass anyone he considers an enemy.

Last week, Anambra state and indeed the whole nation was greeted with the appointment of Reuben Obi as the Director of Finance and Administration representing the South-East Geo-Political Zone of the All Progressives Congress at the national level. This appointment is considered by many as the handiwork of Dr. Chris Ngige, the present minister of Labour and Employment, who many believed knew of Reuben Obi’s nuisance value in his party, made peace with him, and eventually convinced him to leave the Peoples Democratic Party. But the appointment is being seriously resisted. The national office of the All Progressives Congress has received over a hundred petitions from Anambra State and over three hundred petitions from the other geo-political zones in Nigeria urging the party to reverse the appointment because Reuben Obi is not a fit and proper person to occupy that office. According to a top officer of the party who pleaded anonymity for fear of backlash and sanctions, he sees the appointment as the party’s own way of showing gratitude to Reuben Obi for his inglorious roles of ballot snatching, voter suppression and even burning of some collation centres in electoral wards in Anambra State where the All Progressives Congress lost to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party in the 2019 presidential elections. For all these actions, some people at the top echelon of the party believe there is nothing wrong in compensating Rueben Obi with an appointment at the national level of the party regardless of his character or academic qualification.

At a time when democratic structures and institutions are struggling to take root in a country rising from the rubbles of almost complete ruination by several decades of military rule, many Nigerians are saddened by the fact that appointing Reuben Obi, who is notorious for violence, thuggery and all sorts of anti-social activities clearly spells danger for the country. Nigeria is in dire need of properly educated people with impeccable character who can provide a focused, disciplined, and purposeful leadership to steer her fledgling democracy in the direction of growth and development.