How Maverick Politician, Chief Francis Arthur Nzeribe and his ‘ABN’ are celebrating “Democracy Day”.

Francis Arthur Nzeribe(born 2 November 1938) is a Nigerian politician who was Senator for the Orlu Senatorial constituency in Imo State from October 1983 to December 1983 and May 1999 to May 2007 on the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) slate.

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

Veteran politician and elder-statesman, Senator Arthur Nzeribe.

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 traveled 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 NPA 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 Nkrumah 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 Arthur Ankrah, head of the liberation council, but when Ankrah left office in April 1969, Nzeribe lost influence in Ghana.

The Once Powerful Chief Francis Arthur Nzeribe.

 

A professor of political science at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in Nigerian politics provided the following information (25 May 1994). The Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) was formed after the Ibrahim Babangida regime abolished all political parties and created the two national parties, the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1991. The primary objective of the ABN was to keep Ibrahim Babangida in power and maintain the military administration that has governed Nigeria for so long. The ABN demonstrated its determination to achieve its objective by putting up billboards in the Nigerian capital Abuja that carried the message “Four More Years,” which means the military government should stay in power for another four years. The intensity of the ABN’s pro-government campaigns led many observers to conclude that the federal military government was behind the activities of the association.

The professor stated that the leadership of the ABN was basically a “one-man show” headed by Chief Arthur Nzeribe. The professor also mentioned that the other well-known member of the ABN Abimola Davies, a director of the association, later left the organization. The professor noted that the ABN was not a popular group and was treated with contempt particularly by pro-democracy groups and most of the Nigerian press. As a result, many of those who associated with the ABN kept it virtually secret. According to the professor, it is difficult to determine the total leadership or membership of the ABN.

In its tenacity to endorse continuous military rule, the ABN went to court to prevent the holding of the June 1993 presidential election. The ABN’s reason for demanding the injunction was that the leaders of the NRC and SDP were corrupt politicians.

 

The professor stated that the Campaign for Democracy (CD), a coalition of pro-democracy groups, challenged the ABN on the grounds that it was unconstitutional to canvass for the continuation of the military government in Nigeria. The ABN lost the case. After the elections, the ABN again went to court to prevent the release of the election results. The professor stated that the current political impasse in Nigeria began at this point, when the government annulled the results.

According to the professor, the ABN has always shown its disdain for the return to civilian government and campaigned for the continuation of military rule. Therefore, it goes without saying that the ABN was happy that its immediate goal was achieved when the results were annulled. However, since the assumption of power by the Sani Abacha regime in November 1993, the ABN appears to have taken a low profile, although it is not being specifically targeted by the government. He explained that anyone openly speaking for or against the ban of the 12 June 1993 presidential elections in the current political climate of Nigeria risks drawing the government’s wrath. The professor stated that Chief Arthur Nzeribe, the ABN leader, was detained for attempting to hold an “unauthorized press conference” but was released a few days later.

Agence France Presse (AFP) in a 9 September 1993 report noted that the ABN was formed in June 1993. According to the 30 June 1993 issue of Defense and Foreign Affairs’ Strategic Policy, the ABN has 25 million members. Inter Press Services (IPS) in a report on 19 April 1993 noted that the ABN held its first official meeting in Lagos on 15 April 1993. The same source also mentioned Jerry Okoro as the national coordinator of the ABN. The above sources also corroborated most of the professor’s information on the ABN. For further details, please refer to the attachments.

The BBC reported on 27 July 1993 that Chief Arthur Nzeribe denied any attachment to the military regime. He also denied that leading government officials were members of the ABN. According to the source, Chief Nzeribe revealed at his interview that he intended to change the name of the ABN to Association for Better Democratic Nigeria (ABDN). The same source notes that Nzeribe gave notice that his association would continue to fight for its objectives. The Xinhua General Overseas News Service reported on 20 October 1993 that Chief Nzeribe met a few times with Chief Abiola of the SDP and Nzeribe stated that it was the beginning of an attempt to encourage national reconciliation.

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