STILL HAUNTED BY AN UGLY PAST
A former Senator And His Past “Dark Secrets”
The presenter and moderator of the popular television programme, Focus Nigeria, Gbenga Aruleba, could not have anticipated that his comments that morning would cause such a stir. That Tuesday morning at the studio of the African Independent Television (AIT) were some political heavy weights from Imo state including former National Vice Chairman (South East) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Nze Ozichukwu Chukwu. The Topic was the congresses of the party held in the state a few days earlier.
The discussants were reviewing the issues thrown up by the congresses against the backdrop of complaints by leaders of a faction of the party in the state, which goes by the name Alliance For Good Governance, and which stayed away from the exercise. In the course of the discussion, Aruleba wanted to know if it was true that one of the leaders of Alliance, Chief Ifeanyi Araraume, had perfected plans to defect to the Action Congress of Nigerian (ACN) where he hopped a ticket to run for the governorship election next year would be guaranteed.
In fact, the presenter mentioned that there were unconfirmed reports that some chieftains of the ACN, led by its foremost presidential aspirant, Mallan Nulu Ribadu, former boss of the anti graft agency, the Economic And Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), were expected to storm Owerri in a few days time to formally hand over the Imo state Chapter of the party to Araraume. Nze Ozichukwu Chukwu was said to have put up a wry smile as the presenter asked him if that does not worry the PDP in Imo state. Chukwu, known never to suffer fools gladly, observed a measured silence and when he was done said, “Well, it will be interesting seeing Ribadu come to Imo to install Araraume governorship candidate. Is it the same Ribadu who as boss of the EFCC once said that Araraume cannot be governor because of his past records? It will be interesting to see him recant”.
This magazine gathered that Ribadu, who must have watched the programme from his home in Abuja, promptly telephoned some chieftains of his party to say that he would no longer be able to go to Imo to install Araraume as the leader of the party in the state. Ribadu was said to have admitted that as EFCC boss, he once categorized Araraume as one of those unfit to hold the office of state governor because of his antecedents. And pronto, the leadership of the ACN, which holds the former anti corruption Czar in high esteem, cancelled the proposed Owerri inauguration.
Investigations reveal that the abortion of the Owerri event was a major set back for the Alliance camp headed by the former Senator and his ‘bosom’ friend, Chief Achike Udenwa, the immediate past governor of the state. Sources close to the camp reveal that its rank and file had hoped that the coming of Ribadu was going to be a big boost for their camp, against the backdrop of their plans to decamp from the PDP whose structure the state governor, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, had completely taken over. Last week, the ACN held its congresses in the state but contrary to earlier speculations, the turn out was scanty thus giving a lie to the claim that the party has mopped up pro-Ohakim members of the PDP into its fold.
Before now, the story was rife in the state of the stiff resistance of original members of the ACN (former AC) in the state to the coming in of Araraume and other members of the Alliance.
They feared that Araraume and his associates would hijack the party from their hands. Last week, a local newspaper in the state reported that members of the Alliance have injected the sum of One Billion naira into the state chapter of the ACN. A fortnight ago, a group which tagged itself Concerned Founding Members of Imo ACN published a newspaper advertorial titled “Why Udenwa And Araraume Are Now Political Liabilities In Imo”.
In the publication, the group said the ACN would have nothing to do with the duo especially Araraume who it said is yet to clear himself of criminal charges that were slammed on him even before he was elected a Senator in 1999. The publication naturally sparked a debate as to whether or not it still makes any sense to say that the former Senator has criminal charges hanging on him. The question is, if he had criminal records, why was he cleared by the relevant authorities to run for election in 1999, and re-election in 2003? Why was he cleared to even run for governor in 2007? Araraume had himself tried to address this issue in the past. For example, answering a question in an interview with Daily Champion of Tuesday December 4, 2007, as to how he feels about allegations of past “secret records” about him, the former Senator said, “You see, these are some of the things that people say and they cannot substitute, people just make these false allegations. So for your information if the party had, they didn’t confront me with it…”
Will the situation change this time around? Many observers of Imo politics answer in the affirmative. In their view, the situation in 1999, 2003 and 2007 are completely different from what obtains now. Then, Araraume was not seen as posing so much threat to his fellow politicians in the state. Even in 2007 when the former governor, Chief Udenwa, opposed his ambition to succeed him so vehemently, the issue could not be raised beyond mere beer parlour gossips.
Today, however, keen watchers of Imo politics believe that the situation has changed. Araraume is likely to be confronted with what many people like to describe as his “dark secrets” as he makes another attempt to rule Imo state. Already, he has got the first baptism of fire by the Concerned Founding members of the ACN in the advertorial referred to above. Part of the advertorial read: “… the reason given by the then PDP’s emperor for blocking Araraume was ‘unfavourable security reports’. As an aside, we believe Araraume still owes us a duty today to make a full disclosure of the real dark secrets”.
In the view of many observers, the former Senator may have to confront these realities this time around, akin to what happened in the count down to his bid for re-election to the senate in 2003. Then, those opposed to him didn’t mince words in saying that he lacked the credibility and competence to be a senator.
In a report in The Source, of October 28, 2002, the magazine gave a graphic detail of the several allegations of criminality against the Isiala Mbano-born Chief much earlier before he became a Senator. This was how the magazine began its story: “Ifeanyi Araraume, the Okigwe-born Senator representing Imo North, is in trouble… His people from his Okigwe area say… Araraume’s looks are deceptive. They say the degrees he parades are fake. They insist his character is questionable too. And they insist he is incompetent as a Senator… In fact, if the opposition, made up entirely surprisingly of people from his senatorial zone had its way, Araraume should not have become a Senator at all. As far as they are concerned, he should be cooling his heels in prison.
The former Senator’s troubles began in February 1999 after he got nomination as candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party for the Imo North Senatorial seat. On February 4, 1999, to be precise, a group called the Okigwe PDP Youth Forum represented by one Nkeiru Ihedinma and Innocent Nwanosike filed a three-page petition against his nomination. In the petition, the group described Araraume as a “criminal”. The petition, which was addressed to the then national Chairman of the PDP, the Chairman Board of Trustees of the party and copies of which were also sent to the then INEC Chairman as well as the INEC Commissioner in Imo State, read in part: “Your nomination of a known criminal as the Senatorial candidate in Okigwe senatorial zone (Imo North) is scandalous, shameful and unacceptable”. The group alleged that “Chief Araraume was sacked as the APP Chairman in Imo state for embezzlement of about N32 million …”
Before his nomination as PDP candidate, Araraume was the state chairman of the then All Peoples Party now All Nigeria Peoples Party. On January 7, 1999 he declared for the PDP, obtained the membership card on January 13, and by early February he had became a Senatorial candidate of the PDP.
Although close associates of Araraume had dismissed the allegation of embezzlement, the opposition did not relent. Although they acknowledged that he was wealthy before then, they alleged that he had a criminal background. To demonstrate their seriousness, they cited criminal charges in various courts against him. One of them was that of “The Commissioner of Police Vs Ifeanyi Godwin Araraume” with Charge No A/453/94 Court 1, Yaba, Lagos. Another was that of “Commissioner of Police Vs (1) Cletus Avuvu (2) Mohammed Abu Igbajo (3) Ifeanyi Godwin Araraume (4) Solomon Ojeifa Edoja with Charge No. A/509/94 also at Court 1 Yaba Lagos. The group had alleged that “these cases have not been fully dried and the suspect and his accomplices hence not acquitted”.
There was a particular case which had earlier been reported in the Sunday Champion of July 30, 1995 under the headline, “Businessman loses N15 million, Cries For Justice”. The case involved a Lagos businessman, Dr Metu Onwuamegbu, the Chief Executive of Master Trade PLC. According to the story, Dr Onwuamegbu had alleged that his residence was burgled while he was away in the United Kingdom and his personal belongings stolen, among them two Mercedes Benz Cars.
The businessman was said to have reported the matter to the police whose investigations led to the arrest of and subsequent arraignment of four key” rubbery suspects” including Ifeanyi Godwin Araraume alias Explosive. Sunday Champion further reported: “One of the suspects was said to be closely associated with the robbers that murdered Admiral Elegbede and has since been declared wanted while a warrant of arrest had been issued by the police”. The newspaper had further quoted police sources as saying that “when the police stormed the premises of a member of the gang, Chief Araraume in Benin, 15 other stolen cars were recovered. Sunday Champion learnt that the Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG) zone 5 Benin ordered the arrest of Araraume … for being in possession of 15 stolen cars”.
Apart from the Onwuamegbu saga, Araraume’s kinsmen had also accused him of presenting forged certificates. The Source magazine had quoted the petitioners thus: “Chief Godwin Ifeanyi Araraume, the Senator representing us (Imo North) at the National Assembly used faked documents for his elections as the various certificates he resented to both the PDP and INEC were all forged. He never attended or matriculated or graduated from any university in Nigeria or abroad, yet he parades B.Sc, M.Sc among several qualifications”.
In retrospect, investigations reveal that Araraume’s ordeals had to do with one Barrister Chubuzor Ziggy Azike who, in 2002, was warming up for the senatorial seat Araraume was then holding. In their petition of February 4, 1999 cited above, the Okigwe PDP Youth Forum mentioned that its preferred candidate for the Imo North Senatorial seat was Azike. Three years later, in 2002, Azike in an advertisement in Sunday Champion of October 13, 2002 offered himself as the would-be senator, after taking a swipe on Araraume. Azike had written: “Araraume has been implicated in every scandal that has rocked the senate in this dispensation including contract scandal, certificate scandal and attendance scandal …” Sources in the state revealed that in the 2003 election, Araraume had ordered his thugs to beat up Azike after which he was put in the boot of his car and driven around for several hours before he was let go. Ironically, Araraume and Azike, both kinsmen of Governor Ikedi Ohakim, are now hands in glove in their fight to unseat the latter as governor.
In its advertorial (The Nation Monday November 15, 2010 Page 57) referred to above, the Concerned Founding Members of Imo ACN appealed to the national leadership of the party to resist the pressure being mounted by Araraume and co to be allowed to take over the party, ACN, in Imo state. Wrote the group: “…knowing the illustrious pedigrees of … our leaders as men of high political integrity, we are rest assured that the squeakily-clean image we have built for Imo ACN will, on no account, be allowed to get rubbished overnight by admitting through the back door political lepers like Udenwa and Araraume”. Like Chief Araraume himself has always said, the political parties whose tickets he had sought in the past never confronted him with these allegations.
Some observers, however, explain that the reasons that was so was because in 1999, not much rigour was put in the screening of candidates for elections. In 2002, they say, Araraume may have escaped searchlight because, as an incumbent Senator, he was in a position to stopped prying eyes into his past. In 2007, the issues of dark secret past came up but it was bellied by the politics of the PDP governorship primaries and his wrongful substitution as candidate. In the view of many, the senator remains as vulnerable as ever and will this time around have to answer queries concerning his “dark secrets” as he aspires, once again, to have the nod of Imo people to preside over their affairs.