What many of those who were around during the First Republic saw as extra-ordinary has become much less than the norm now. Even children born decades after the end of civil rule in 1966 have heard about the late Chief Festus Okotie Eboh and his flowing traditional gear. It was often said then that the cloth the former Finance Minister used to wrap around himself was more than enough to sew outfits for three adults.
By 1979, things moved higher a bit, politicians amassed expanses of land, built eye-popping mansions and lived life to the hilt. Among politicians, the ownership of private jets and the reigning Mercedes-Benz models became status symbols and yardsticks for measuring wealth.
Many Nigerians have not forgotten how the then Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon displayed cartons of customised champagne, specially made in France for a party to be hosted by the then Chairman of the National Party of Nigeria, Chief Augustus Adisa Akinloye. The label on each bottle bore the inscription “with compliments from Chief Augustus Meredith Adisa Akinloye”.
Those who lived in Anambra State when Chief Jim Nwobodo was the Governor will not forget his lifestyle in a hurry. Those who were privileged to attend his parties then would attest to the fact that “Jim” was indeed a man of class. Apart from the best of food and drinks which were handled by the best caterers around, companions were always made available for whoever so desired. Sleek, young maidens were always attractions at such parties.
All those have however become things “ordinary people” do.
These days, politicians do not only live in super affluence, today, most Nigerians see politics as the easiest way to make money. Nigerian politicians love the very best of fashion and office holders at almost every level get allowances for their wardrobes, so none of them has an excuse not to look good. What some politicians are paid as “wardrobe allowance” is enough to make significant changes in the lives of those who voted for them. The best and most expensive lace and brocade materials and matching shoes, especially those made from the best animal skin and Italian leather have become the trademarks of Nigerian politicians.
Incidentally, lives of many political office holders became transformed overnight. People who could barely afford to live normal lives have suddenly become wealthy, thanks to the fat salaries and allowances as well as contracts. The Governor of the Central Bank once stated that members of the National Assembly accounted for over a quarter of the Federal Government’s overhead spending of 536 billion Naira in the budget last year.
Not a few people still remember that before Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was released by the Abdulsalami Abubakar administration, the powers that kept him in detention had almost crippled every business interest he had. By the time the Ota farmer left the Aso Rock Villa, his farm already had outlets located on large expanses on land in almost every state capital.
When Dino Melaye started the “integrity war” against Bankole in the House of Reps then, one of those who claimed to know the Kogi Honourable wondered when he too started speaking on such matters. Dino was alleged to have issued someone a bounced cheque of a hundred thousand Naira just before he was elected into the House of Representatives. Not up to a year after he became a lawmaker, his love for exotic automobiles became known. Today, Dino talks in millions and he is one of the men people would give everything to know in Abuja.
Findings revealed that he has at least 12 exotic automobiles in his garage and he has been painting Abuja red lately with his convoy of cars which on a normal day include models like Pontiac, Mercedes G 500 and Toyota Land Cruiser, all bear customised plates ranging from “DINO 1” to “DINO 12”.
The story is almost the same for the immediate past Governor of Oyo State. Though his associates claim he has never been a poor man, having served as a Local Government Chairman before emerging as the choice candidate for the Deputy Governor’s position in 2003. Those who worked closely with him as Deputy Governor disclosed that “Otunba could not approve anything above N50,000. It was well known then that the then Governor was rather prudent.” Before the end of his first eleven months as Governor, his very close pals had awarded him the sobriquet “Bayo Billionaire” as he was alleged to have amassed so much wealth between the period Governor Ladoja was impeached and when he was re-instated.
Meanwhile, some of those who bankrolled Senator Ladoja’s impeachment disclosed that Otunba Akala confided in them that he did not have up to N 100, 000 in his account as at that time. A cheque of N 100,000 he gave to a chieftain of the party bounced.
Not only has the former Governor become a “big man”, he has acquired choice properties all around the state and beyond.
One of his predecessors too shared a somewhat similar fate. His neighbours swore that before he became Governor, he used to park his rickety old car on a slope on his street, reason being that the car’s engine does not start normally. Boys in the neighbourhood were always on hand to give the car a push or to help jump start it.
Life however changed the moment he entered the Government House and before the end of his four year term, a sprawling duplex suddenly shot up behind his old bungalow. The man who had hitherto gone to the nearest major bus stop to read papers almost for free now has news vendors coming to drop newspapers at his door every morning.
A former Minister who was indicted in the Siemens bribery scandal was often described as one of the biggest businessmen in his hometown. He however ran into a hitch at a time and his business took a dip. By the time he became a Minister, his business regained its lost vigour and everybody knew he was back on the block. Even the top rated monarch of his town fell out with him because of his way of life. When asked what his grievances were, the monarch said the Minister was trying to claim equality with him by using sirens within the town.
While speaking to one of his friends, the Minister said “mo ro wipe mo l’owo tele ni, ase owo akara ni mo ni!” (I thought I was rich before, I never knew what I had was what some people used to buy bean cakes).
Citizens of Edo State will not forget their former Governor, Lucky Igbinedion in a hurry. With the wealth he amassed in eight years of being Governor, he bought houses in Nigeria and abroad. It was once reported that neighbours in the high brow location where the former Governor’s London home is located often wondered how anyone would buy that kind of house and come there only once in a while. It was also said that they often wondered if he was the son of the Late Zairean leader, Mobutu Seseseko, judging by the affluence on display whenever he was in the neighbourhood.
Those who know Senator Iyiola Omisore will attest to the fact that what the former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation lacks in height, he has in terms of financial muscle. His record “achievement” of winning a senatorial election from within the four walls of a prison cell remains unmatched in Nigeria.
While he was in detention, there was hardly any party in Osun State where his praises were not sung, even without him. With the power of the Naira at work, musicians were compelled to sing “awa naa l’Ómisore, bi Ibadan se l’Adedibu, awa naa l’Omisore” (we too have Omisore, just as Ibadan has Adedibu). When “Chrishore” as he is fondly referred to decides to party, nothing else matters. He is one of those who have special numbers with King Sunny Ade. Omisore’s arrival in most parties is usually heralded by the presence of his cousin, Alani who is known to most of his associates and about seven or eight other men. And once the King of World Beats sights Senator Omisore, he changes whatever he had been singing to Omisore’s special, “Good morning owo, good afternoon owo, good evening owo…” (Good morning money, good afternoon money, good evening money…).
In Sir Emeka Offor’s days as the godfather in Anambra State, no one disputed the fact that Offor had good money in his hands. Though he did not run for office, it was an open secret that he was the main force behind Chimwoke Mbadinuju. Offor’s Orifite mansion is one of the biggest testimonies of his wealth. The house is always well guarded as mobile policemen maintain strategic locations.
Chris Uba who took over the godfather’s position from Chief Emeka Offor was less than 40 years old when he installed a Governor in Anambra State. Chris Uba, who is better known around the state as “Eselu” lives like a king. And when he steps out, he does so in grand style. Though his stature and dress sense are like those of every other person (Uba is a lover of normal shirts and trousers), the heavy security presence around him shows that he is indeed a “big man”. He never moves out of his house with less than fifteen mobile policemen.
He walks with an unmistakable swagger and most times, his two hands are in his pockets when he walks. And when he attends parties where he would need to spray the celebrant with money, a man carries a box loaded with money. And when the box is opened in his front, Chris Uba would dip his hand into the box and grab a fistful of naira notes and began to the celebrant. Musicians too always smile whenever Uba shows up in a party. At times he throws money to gawking people in the crowd.