BusinessDay

Life and times of Arthur Nzeribe whose light dims at 83

The Nigerian nation was on Sunday put in a mourning mood following the unpleasant news of the departure to the great beyond of one of the Second and Third Republic politician, Francis Arthur Nzeribe.

He was reported to have died at a foreign hospital due to an undisclosed ailment.

In 2017, the photograph of ageing and sickly-looking Nzeribe, sitting languidly, with medics around him, went viral on social media.

His political career was one embedded in controversy, especially given his role in the scuttling of the June 12, 1993 presidential election widely belived to have been won by the late Moshood Abiola.

Nzeribe, a multi-billionaire investment mogul, was born in Oguta Imo State on November 2, 1938.

A search on his profile shows that he had an aristocratic background. His father, Oyimba Nzeribe, was a lawyer and former state counsel, and his grandfather, Akpati Nzeribe, held the traditional title of Ogbuagu, Oshiji, Damanze Oyimba of Oguta.

His second wife is the sister of Hajia Asabe Yar’Adua, wife of the late General Shehu Musa Yar’ Adua, who was brother of late President Umaru Yar’Adua

Nzeribe lost his mother when he was a primary school student, while his father was away in Great Britain studying law.

His care was taken over by Catholic priests who were involved in furthering his education.
He attended Bishop Shanahan College, Orlu and Holy Ghost College, Owerri.

In 1957, he travelled to Lagos where he obtained employment with Nigeria’s Port Authority as an engineering cadet, and a year later, he received a scholarship from the organisation to study marine engineering. He took courses at Portsmouth College of Technology and later attended Chesterfield College of Technology in England.

By 1960, he was selling life insurance to black immigrants in Britain. Returning to Nigeria in 1961 he was briefly an employee of Shell, then for a few months an Air Force cadet.

Thereafter, he worked for Gulf Oil at the firm’s Escravos facility.
Nzeribe soon left Gulf Oil and returned to London, where he opened Jeafan, a public relations firm, with one Ghanaian and two English partners. The firm worked with a number of African diplomatic missions in London including the Ghana High Commission.

The well-dressed and mannered Nzeribe was able to gain the confidence of a few notable clients. Through the Ghana Commission, he met Kwame Nkurumah of Ghana and started to work for him in public relations. Nkrumah also introduced him to other African leaders.

In 1966, when the National Liberation Council (NLC) overthrew Nkrumah, Nzeribe and Jeafan briefly lost influence in Ghana but the NLC leadership soon turned to Jeafan to help improve the public image of their administration.

Nzeribe developed a working relationship with Joseph Ankarah head of the liberation council, but when Ankrah left office in April 1969, Nzeribe lost influence in Ghana.

In 1969, Nzeribe started up the Fanz Organization based in London, dealing in heavy construction, arms, oil brokerage, publishing, and property investment, with much business in the Middle East and Gulf states. By 1979, Fanz had an annual trading turnover of £70 million. He is believed to be worth over 1.5 billion dollars as of 2018.

In Nigeria, Nzeribe built up Sentinel Assurance and other companies. His country home in Oguta is called “Heaven of Peace” an estate that contains multiple mansions.

In 1983, he spent N12m to win a Senatorial seat in Orlu. Ten years later, he was a prominent supporter of the Association for a Better Nigeria, which backed General Ibrahim Babangida.

Read also: Ihedioha at 57: The unfinished business in Imo

On June 10, 1993, Nzeribe tried to stop the election, relying on a court order which his group, Association for Better Nigeria (ABN), got from a midnight ruling from late Justice Bassey Ikpeme of Abuja High Court. ABN was known to be pro-Babangida.

Arthur Nzeribe was elected Senator for the Imo West (Orlu) constituency in 1999 and was reelected in 2003. In November 2002, Senate President Anyim Pius Anyim indefinitely suspended Senator Nzeribe due to an allegation of a N22 million fraud. Nzeribe was said to be planning an impeachment motion against Anyim

In April 2006, the Orlu People’s Consultative Assembly, sponsored by the then governor of Imo state Achike Udenwa , staged what it called “One million March” to drum up support for Nzeribe’s recall from the Senate.

In the December 2006 PDP primaries for the 2007 Senatorial candidates, he was defeated by Osita Izunaso who himself was later defeated by Hope Uzodinma the incumbent governor of Imo state.

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