In the many years of uninterrupted civil rule in Nigeria, we have witnessed some political scandals, intrigues and doses of drama, but one that many could not have imagined at the time was the removal of a Senate president over his name.
Senator Evan(s) Enwerem was removed as the first president of the Senate in Nigeria’s fourth republic largely over whether his real name was Evan or Evans.
His case became the first major scandal of the fourth republic headed by President Olusegun Obasanjo in June 1999. At the time, the country had just come out of military rule with former military leader Obasanjo now serving as president of the country.
Enwerem became the Number Three man in Nigeria in 1999 as the president of the fourth Senate. Little did he know that he would be spending one of the shortest tenures as Senate president; he was kicked out after only five months over what he described as “typographical errors”.
But some analysts did not see his removal as surprising considering he emerged as Senate president under some controversial circumstances.
Born in Ikeduru, Imo state on October 29, 1935, Enwerem before becoming a senator and Senate president was well known in politics and a top political figure in the then All Peoples Party (APP).
From 1980 to 1983, he served as the chairman of the Nigerian Airports Authority (NAA) before getting elected as the governor of Imo State in the 1990s when the then head of state, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, lifted the ban on political activity in Nigeria.
At the commencement of the fourth republic by Obasanjo in June 1999, Enwerem was elected to the Nigerian Senate as a senator representing Imo East in 1999.
But he wanted more than that, so he began moves to grab the lead seat in the Senate (Senate president). Running against a stronger opponent, Chuba Okadigbo, for the Senate president seat began his woes and that of the Senate.
Okadigbo, from Anambra State, who had served as Political Adviser to President Shehu Shagari in the second republic, was the popular choice for the senate president position.
Ahead of the inauguration of the Senate in 1999, Okadigbo, in a quiet campaign, visited almost every senator-elect to appeal for support for his aim to be Senate president.
Having an “overwhelming majority” of the Senators of the dominant Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Okadigbo was confident of winning, but days before the contest, reports said Obasanjo began a campaign against him, using two opposition parties and a few senators from the governing PDP.
On election day in June 1999, Enwerem defeated Okadigbo by 66 votes to 43 votes. He became Senate president against the desire of the majority of his party members in the PDP.
“That election was to signpost the instability that was to characterize the Senate and nay, National Assembly for the eight years Obasanjo served as President,” according to the Vanguard.
Enwerem during his time as Senate president did not hide his allegiance to Obasanjo and soon question marks were raised on his qualification to continue to hold the post.
It started with a publication from a Lagos-based magazine, TELL. In its August 1999 edition, it alleged that Enwerem had altered his personal records and name. Later accused of corruption, a Senate committee was set up to investigate Enwerem. During this period, there was a long debate over whether his name was Evan or Evans with allies of Okadigbo maintaining that he had intentionally falsified his name and age “for a dubious gain”.
Enwerem claimed that it was a spelling error, nevertheless, on November 18, 1999, he was removed from office. His removal occurred on the day he followed Obasanjo and his entourage to the airport to see the president off on a foreign trip. In Enwerem’s absence, reports said Okadigbo’s allies mobilized signatures to remove him from office as Senate president.
He was, however, allowed to remain in the Senate as an ordinary member representing Imo East till the end of his tenure in 2003.
Okadigbo, who replaced Enwerem as Senate president, was loved at first but it didn’t take long for him to also be accused of corruption. In 2000, he was impeached but remained in the Senate as the senator representing Anambra North.