Senator Jim Ifeanyichukwu Nwobodo has the looks of a television personality. Were he to be a Yankee, Jim, as he is fondly called by admirers; ought to be in the circles of Hollywood actors. Yet in real life, despite his inclination to politics, Jim loves play acting. His recent visibility on the media space was accompanied by theatrics!
In a spate of three days, Jim Nwobodo changed his political party, his church and his habit! He departed from his trade mark traditional attire of white jumper and trouser into a pinstripe suit, just for the sake of a supplementary wedding with his second wife. Thirty years ago, Jim wedded same woman at a Lagos Parish of the Anglican Communion. At the wedding reception, Jim testified of how caring and supportive his heart throb was, detailing how the young lady dutifully and constantly visited him at Kirikiri maximum security prison. As former governor of then Anambra State, Nwobodo was among the politicians jailed by the Buhari/Idiagbon military junta on charges of corruption!
What the former governor did last week at the Bishop Court, Enugu Diocese of the Catholic Church, Ogui, Enugu; could be his own way of remembering those bad old days when a new sheriff chased politicians away and shepherded them into various prisons. But, that curious entertainment did not do much to explain his decision to turncoat from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), where he had hitherto been respected as one of the elders.
Yet the defection of Jim from PDP to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), seemed to be motivated by the recollections of the harrowing experiences of 1984 when he was sent to the gulag! The year 1984 was a thoroughly bad year for Jim. In fact if George Orwell’s novel, 1984, was part of his bookshelf, Jim must have thrown the book away. Orwell is also the author of Animal Farm. What happened to the bubbly politicians like Jim that year was like a replay of Animal Farm. For Jim, it was even worse! Not only was he defeated the previous year at a hotly contested governorship election, the coupists that sacked the civilian regime, descended on the members of the second republic of which he was very vocal and visible.
Jim was thrown into jail. He must have woken from the mental recollections of that nightmare penultimate week and decided to bury shame, borrowed dog’s legs and urged PDP to get behind him.
But for those who know, Jim may be his name but defection is his real title. Jumping from one party to another had been Jim’s style of political activism. In 1978, he looked into the possibility of joining the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), but seeing the array of high net worth contractors, Jim tagged along with his friend, Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim in the NPP. When the Chief Obafemi Awolowo started making waves in the South west, Jim joined with other like minds in Waziri’s Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) to conscript Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe into the party. Climbing on the back of the Great Zik, Jim supplanted Ifeanyi Obiekwe and became the NPP governorship candidate. And he won the governorship poll easily!
Apart from Zik’s good name that recommended him, Jim’s boyish good looks and foppish carriage won Igbo voters to his side. He became to many an emergent leader and in the estimation of few, a possible heir to Zik’s political dynasty. Perhaps challenged by the ruling and overbearing NPN, which had the vice president from his state, Jim made bold efforts at developing Anambra State. He was innovative and tended towards populism. The construction of Nike Lake Hotel and ABS/TV channels Channel 50 as well as the dual campus of Anambra State University of Science and Technology, were some of his imprints in addition to the electrification of 157 towns in the state.
But out of office in the turbulent way he did, Jim began to manifest his real title. The good looks enhanced by grooming and cosmetology began to fade. Instead of the swashbuckling young man full of zeal and passion for the people, a deal maker emerged. His rehabilitation had begun. The military junta of General Sani Abacha made him part of the crowd to draft a new constitution for Nigeria. He stepped up to become minister of Youth and Sports. And within the highly elastic transition to civilian rule conceived by the military, Jim himself had transited through the Social Democratic Party (SDP) under President Ibrahim Babangida’s two-party experiment; the Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM) and United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP), of Abacha’s five fingers of a leprous hand.
At the dawn of the Fourth Republic, Jim manifested further. Like a changeling he dangled between the PDP and Alliance for Democracy (AD) and waltzed his way to the senate. And just when he found that his return ticket to the senate could not be okayed, Jim experimented with the idea of becoming Nigeria’s president in 2003 under the United Nigeria Democratic Party (UNDP).
While he was campaigning to be president, he continued the political battle with his protégé, Governor Chimaroke Nnamani. It happened that Nnamani was not only seeking a second term in office, but waging a battle against godfathers and rent takers in politics. Father and son clashed. Supported by the federal might, Nwobodo’s attempt to use his personal charm, rather than might; to undo Nnamani and produce a governor in Nnamani’s place failed.
Earlier in 1998, Jim’s escapades at the Jos convention of the PDP became his hunchback. Voters in the Southeast, which ordinarily should fly his flag without prompting, refused to take him serious. They recalled how Jim went to Jos to speak Hausa language just to cut am impression and complicate matters for former Vice President Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, who was seen as a more serious contender for the PDP ticket. It was a dent. Despite the fact that he starred in the presidential debate, Jim neither scratched the votes cast nor returned his pupil governor to office in Enugu.
Like a journey man, Jim returned to PDP unabashedly and infact became a member of the reconciliation committee set up by then national chairman, Prince Vincent Eze Ogbulafor. It was a bold effort to return the man’s political vitality but the sagacity never returned: his preoccupation became what he could get! Jim started making himself available for small political errands. In 2011 he played in the middle of the road until victory went the way of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. He circulated, waving the old glory of being the former governor of old Anambra and a political ally of Zik. At the build up to the 2015 general election, apart from taking shifty positions on the political crisis in Enugu State, the much that was heard of Jim was an issue with rented apartment.
Perhaps that embarrassing face-off over his residence in Abuja may have prompted his participation in the disbursement of campaign funds to PDP stalwarts. But finding his lot on the wrong side of the dice, no sooner had the result of the presidential election been announced than Jim summoned a meeting in Owerri to discuss the modality of sharing federal positions in the Southeast. Stunned, other key players in the zone must have asked: “Who made you a divider among us?”
Last week, Jim strolled to APC State Secretariat in Enugu to signpost his membership of the ruling party. The welcome song sounded much like a dirge to a fallen leader. Papa anata ayanyo! (Father had returned from exile). Could that be the same Jim that squared it up with Ikemba Nnewi during the 1983 election? Was it the same Jim that showed strength against the federally-backed Bishop Eyitene? Could it be Jim, for whom songs were composed to eulogise his charisma and humanity? Indeed, was that the same Jim that taunted Ojukwu as being a deserter and runaway soldier (Ogbaoso1)? But the people visited him with befitting reception! Remembering how he spoke Hausa language in Jos, one confounded party faithful raised his voice in Hausa saying, politicians ba su da kwunya (politicians have no shame)!
Spokesman of Southeast caucus of APC, Mr. Osita Okechukwu, struggled to make sane meaning out of Jim: “To be candid, Chief Nwobodo used to be our model, a principled politician and a Zikist; but in more than a decade he has shed his principle and kind of descended into the arena of Food is Ready politicians.
“For instance in 2004, one led all the opposition leaders to his residence after Ikemba and Buhari’s post-election tribunal sitting, with all the who is who, Ikemba Nnewi, Balarabe Musa, Olu Falae, Tunde Braithwaite, President Buhari et al. Nwobodo automatically became the chairman of the opposition and another meeting was scheduled. Guess what? Before the meeting, he summoned me and with his wife they declined to lead the opposition. He narrated how he got the advice to withdraw so that the then President, Chief Olusegun Obasnjo would not close his bank, Savannah, indefinitely.
Even his decision to change church received similar opprobrium in Enugu, where he used to electrify every gathering that he attended with the greeting of Jeeeeeeeeeeeeem, from the audience. His respite was that St Matthews Church, Amechi Awkunanaw, is not a political party. Otherwise they would have taken out a page of advertorial or addressed a press conference to announce how they excommunicated the former governor for ‘engaging in anti-party activities by dragging the image of the party in the mud during the burial of his first son’.
However, embarrassed by the taunts and unwelcome glances, the old man offered a disclaimer. He explained that he was not joining APC to take anybody’s position. But as the party faithful look away, were their minds to be read, their response seemed to be, “You may not have come to take anybody’s position, but Oga, what you have become, upsets us!”
(Source: The Guardian)