Mention Victor Okafor and no one will twitch a muscle. But mention Ezego, King of Money and you will see the eyes of many Nigerians light up with excitement. He would have been 50 years old now, and perhaps one of Africa’s billionaires. He was fair-skinned, spoke softly and warm smiles danced on his chubby cheeks accentuated by a not-too-bushy moustache. He was relatively very young but as at that time, he was very well-known and duly respected in the Nigerian business society. Here is the story of a man of many sides, Chief Victor Nnamdi Okafor, the Eze Ego (King of Money) I of Ihiala aka Udu Bunch aka The Young Millionaire, the Igbo tycoon who died tragically at a time he was to be celebrating his birthday.
EARLY DAYS, EDUCATION AND GROWING UP
A first son and a native of Uzoakwa, Ihiala in Anambra State, the late Ezego was born on the 25th of December, 1964. Ezego’s story is often touted as one of the classic rags-to-riches stories in Nigeria. He had his primary school education at the Uzoakwa Primary School but he was forced to drop out in the secondary school, Abbot Boys’ Secondary School, Ihiala and eventually took to business. His childhood was a very traumatic one and at a point, his own father reportedly disowned him when he was nabbed for being a member of a robbery gang that showed Onitsha traders hell on earth (check the story of DERICO NWAMAMA, Nigeria’s King of the Underworld HERE).
THE ESCAPE, BUSINESS AND MAKING MONEY
While some of his fellow gangsters were caught and punished, Ezego fled to Umumeni Village where his angry father was said to have driven him out. From there, he went to Umuduru, his mother’s village. However, things were not rosy for him at Umuduru and in 1989, he decided to move to Lagos where he joined a mentor. What happened years after that remain shrouded in mystery but the next time the world would be hearing of Ezego, he was already a multimillionaire, one of the crème de la crème of Lagos.
In Lagos, he set up the Ezego Shopping Complex on Allen Avenue (there was also a branch in Abuja) and also the Ezego Plaza on the Murtala Muhammed International Airport Road. From these spots, he operated and controlled one of the biggest electronics store in Nigeria. His other companies were Vic-Winners International Limited, Ezego Nigeria Limited, Ezego Holdings Limited, Vitex Zinc Co. Limited and Ezego Properties Limited.
HIS WEALTH AND PROPERTY
Below are photos of the palatial mansion that Ezego built in his country home of Ihiala. The complex is now in a state of disrepair and dilapidation.
- Ezego built houses, villas and mansions all over the country, one of which was an made of glass. All his real estate as at 1999 outside Ihiala was put at about half a billion naira. The expansive mansion that served as his country home in Ihiala was worth another N500 million with the marble used for the walls imported from Italy.
A LOVER OF CARS
- As at the time Ezego was alive, he had one of the largest private car garages in all of Africa. He loved cars and was always purchasing the latest ones stocking his garages at Ihiala and Lagos. A car freak of the first class, his garage alone was valued at almost one billion naira. He once dropped N14 million to acquire just two posh cars: a Sedan Lincoln Continental Mark 8 and a Mercedes Benz R230 convertible from Moontrends, owned by Tayo Ayeni.
- Actually, as at the time of his death, he left behind countless state-of-the-art cars, 70 houses all over Nigeria and overseas and over N10 billion naira in his bank account.
LOVE, FAMILY, ROMANCE AND MARRIAGE
He was married to the fair-complexioned and beautiful Laurita Nkechi, a princess from Akata in Imo State and the marriage produced eight children. Following the death of her husband, Princess Nkechi relocated from Ajao Estate where she had stayed with her husband to Lekki. As at December 2013, it was reported by Nigeria Business Guide that she was taking her husband’s business empire to greater heights with her children in top universities around the globe.
By the way, Ezego’s first son was from a Japanese woman. He also fathered kids with other women apart from his wife, Nkechi.
On Thursday, 14th March, 2002, there was a case (Suit Number CA/E/166M/2000) before the Court of Appeal, Enugu Judicial Division and it was between Ezego’s wife and Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa on one hand as the appellants and Mrs. Elizabeth Onedibe, Citizens International Bank Limited, Zenith International Bank Limited and Diamond Bank Limited on the other hand as the respondents. Ezego had his accounts with these three banks.
On the 25th of December, 1999, death came knocking on Ezego’s door. But, he was not even aware in the slightest. Ezego’s birthday was on the 25th of December and it was his usual tradition to storm Ihiala, his hometown every Christmas for the double celebration (actually, it was a triple celebration: his birthday, Christmas and the New Year). His kinsmen and women in Ihiala eagerly awaited his annual homecoming which meant a lot of goodies for everyone. And so it was that fateful December of 1999. Ezego and everyone in his family were in high spirits and plans were fully made for the trip back home.
Ezego was in the habit of storming the sleepy, rustic hometown of Ihiala, impressing his people with his legendary wealth and affluence. Thus, the 1999 edition was no different. The whole of Nigeria would know that Ezego was in town. Some of the most sought-after musicians in the world’s most popuous black nation were billed to entertain the guests at the most exciting galore of the year. Afrobeat maestro, Femi Kuti and his Positive Force Band were billed to dazzle the guests and rock the community to its very foundation.
To show how serious Ezego took the party, the moneybag personally visited the Afrikan Shrine to meet Femi Anikulapo-Kuti in order to ensure that all went on smoothly. The party was billed to start from the night of Christmas to the Boxing Day (26th) so Ezego decided to start his trip from Lagos on the 23rd of December. But little did he know that all his efforts were in vain. He was unconsciously planning for his own funeral. But what precisely happened?
On the 23rd of December, Ezego left Lagos as planned, heading towards the southeastern region of Nigeria. He took off in a most flashy style, in a convoy of six of his finest automobiles. These included a Lincoln Navigator (1999 model), limousine, blue Porsche, Lexus jeep, a Cherokee jeep and a latest Honda. The interesting thing about that fateful trip was that Ezego would normally fly to either Enugu or Port Harcourt where he would then be driven in a convoy to Ihiala. However, the fatal rates of air crashes were claimed to have made him change his mind. The outcome was disastrous for the mogul.
For some unknown reasons, Ezego decided to get behind his Lexus jeep in the convoy and drive himself all the way from Lagos to Ihiala. But somewhere along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the first trouble reared its nasty head. Gbege happund when the Cherokee’s jeep’s engine became faulty. But Ezego was in a hurry and could not even entertain the idea of missing his schedule and arriving on time. So he decided to keep ‘managing’ the jeep for as long as possible. But by the time the jeep got to Asaba in Delta State, na so the car kukuma go on strike like Nigerian doctors. The car broke down completely in the oil-rich state. Now, things were not getting funny anymore. Ezego was obviously in distress. His people were waiting for him back home so the carnival would start in earnest but here was his car that he shelled out of millions of naira for, giving him the worst headache of his life at a most unexpected moment.
But you know how dangerous Nigerian roads are na. If the potholes are not killing you and the police officers are not harrasing you, armed robbers will be lurking in the bush to rob and kill you. Ezego did not want to leave his cherished automobile in the middle of nowhere in Asaba for robbers to come spirit it away. Not the car he bought with so much money. So, he bellowed at one of his boys to purchase a chain so the jeep would be towed. The lad returned with the chain, which was then attached to the faulty jeep. However, that was the beginning of the wholekasala because Ezego was said to have insisted on towing the broken-down vehicle all by himself with him driving the Lexus pulling the Cherokee. So he was in front while another of his boys was behind the wheels of the Cherokee. Well, no one was in a position to argue with the boss, so they continued their trip until that fateful moment when they reached a spot between Ozabulu and Okija on the Onitsha/Owerri Road. At that point, they were just two kilometers away from Ihiala in Anambra State, Ezego’s hometown and their final destination, and that was when death decided to unveil his dreadful figure.
Ezego reportedly ran into a damaged portion of the road while he was going down a steep slope and all of a sudden, he stepped on the brakes. The driver of the Cherokee behind him was caught unawares and as he was not even prepared for the sudden stop, he suddenly rammed the Cherokee into Ezego’s shiny Lexus, sending the millionaire tumbling down a deep ditch by the roadside. (Nigeria’s southeast roads are some of the worst in West Africa with many destroyed by a perennial gully erosion leaving massive gullies and ditches as death traps for travellers like Ezego). It must however be noted that there are some other slightly different accounts of precisely how the accident happened.
Other reports stated that it was actually the towing chain between the two jeeps that snapped, thus forcing the Cherokee at the rear to ram into Ezego’s Lexus making him lost control and plunging into that horrible ditch. Immediately this happened, his convoy was thrown into a pandemonium. Those in his convoy made frantic and desperate efforts to get him out of the ditch and get him the most effective medical attention promptly. By the time they finally succeeded in getting Ezego out of the ditch, he had sustained a deep gash and his face was massively puffed up, thus disfiguring his handsome face.
He was rushed to the nearby Lady of Lourdes Hospital (where Ezego incidentally made a donation of N15 million naira a few years before the accident). He was stil alive and stable when they brought him to the hospital and all the medical workers went into an overdrive to save the life of a man they know as a mentor and generous giver. However, things got worse and to make matters even more frightening, there was no doctor on duty. By the time a medical doctor eventually showed up, Ezego was already bleeding through his mouth, he was having internal bleeding and was already in shock. All attempts to stabilize him failed.
At that point, his family members suggested that he be quickly moved to a better-equipped hospital in Port Harcourt. At this point, his tale becomes hazy as it is not known whether he finally died while he was on his way to Port Harcourt or while he being prepared for a flight to Lagos from Port Harcourt. Ezego died on the 26th, Boxing Day. He was just 34.
This is 2014, fifteen good years after the demise of Ezego. However, his community is yet to forget him. Those who were old enough to remember him still miss him sorely while those who are teenagers now barely have an idea of who he was. After Ezego’s death, the same fate that befell many African entrepreneurs crept in, and his vast business empire collapsed. In December 2013, YES International! revealed that Ezego’s empire had collapsed and the majestic house he built at his hometown of Uzoakwa Ihiala was a ghostly shadow of its former self:
For instance, the flowers and street lights that hitherto beautified his popular Ezego Road have either been vandalized or over grown by weeds. Even some parts of the road have been washed away by erosion. The popular entrance to the inviting Ezego Crescent has also lost its beauty and glory, as the heavenly trees and flowers that used to welcome visitors are gradually dying off. His magnificent country home, 15 years after his death, is seriously crying for a new look. It is also fast falling apart and begging for attention. In fact, some parts of the glass house have started falling off and decaying. Even the uncompleted duplexes inside are still the way he left them.
His pretty and very fair-complexioned wife was said to have married the family lawyer and precisely what happened to his property and estate is still a controversy.
The controversies in Ezego’s life did not subside even after his death. His lawyer and the person that was responsible for the execution of his will, Barnabas Igwe was murdered in cold blood, with his wife, Abigail on the 2nd of September, 2002, barely three years after Ezego’s demise. Ezego’s will was thus, never read, and the exact beneficiaries are not known (at least as at January 2006). The Inspector-General of Police, Sunday Ehindero, was called upon to investigate all leads (including Ezego’s widow and a former police commissioner) relating to the murder of the Igwes but like many murder cases in Nigeria, it led to nothing useful. While the former governor of Ezego’s Anambra State, Chinwoke Mbadinuju, was accused of having a hand in the killings, others stated that the lawyer was killed with his wife in relation to the tussle over Ezego’s will and property.
On a Friday, the 13th of January, 2006, the Vanguard published a story in which Chief Simeon Ohajianya alias Okosisi (Okeosisi) confessed in a three-page apology letter to Mbadinuju to roping him (Mbadinuju was standing trial in court over the murder case alongside Prince Kenneth Emeakayi, his former Works Commissioner) into trouble over the killing of the Igwes stating that the police should redirect their search for the real killers in the direction of the lawyers and executors of Ezego’s will. After Ohajianya’s confession was made public, Ezego’s widow left Nigeria with her children. The apology letter was titled: “Mbadinuju Vs Ken Emeakayi, my shameful role, an unreserved apology to Dr. Mbadinuju” and it went thus:
“Dear Mbadinuju (Odera) out of the abundant of the heart the mouth speaks, pouring out guilt of the heart, thereby asking for forgiveness and amendments.
“I am not under any oath or spell to make these revelations to you, but because my conscience keeps pricking me since September 29th 2005 when this act of blackmail and nail- him-episode between Ken Emeakayi and your humble self started, because I am part of the plot and a mastermind.
As a true Christian and preacher of the Lord’s gospel, I wish you can forgive me. I am also compelled to make these revelations to you for the fact that I benefited from your government that led to my owning a Mercedes Benz car and a bungalow in my village. I will forever remain grateful. I am also compelled to let the cat out of the bag because I did not know that it will take up to this level.
“Emeakayi (allegedly) summoned us” and complained that you (Mbadinuju) abandoned him and that you have enough money on you then. He asked us to map out strategy through which to siphon part of the money from you. He equally informed us of his murder case coming up very soon and showed concern that the former Judge has cancelled his bail.
“In another meeting, Ken (allegedly) briefed us how he met you with his financial request in presence of one Madam that works in a bank in Awka. He told us that the money you agreed to remit to him was nothing to write home about whereas millions of Naira was cooling in your hands/pockets. It was here that the decision to extort reasonable sum of money from you was hatched and strategies mapped out.
“I wish to say that you have no hand in the purported kidnap of Ken Emeakayi. During the extortion saga, one ASP (allegedly) supplied the direct landline of Commissioner of Police and said that somebody was on a standby to intercept the call should you decide to dial the line, whereas the purported C.P, with the fake GSM phone number was (allegedly) provided by one Barrister to make the show look real.
- After Ezego’s death, there were claims in 2004 that he was killed by the Ogwugwu-Akpu deity. However, his family came out and vociferously denied this claim or insinuations that his corpse was deposited with a name tag at the Okija Shrine termed ‘evil forest’ by the media at that time. They even threatened to sue anyone who came up with the claim henceforth. The family lawyer, Mr. Ikenna Obidiegwu described the reports as ‘brazen defamatory’ and ‘orchestrated offences to the good image’ of the Okafor family of Ihiala describing the late Ezego as a devout Christian ‘who never subscribed to any form of idol worship or trial by ordeal’ rounding up saying: “His body is presently resting in peace at his graveyard in Ihiala.”
CONTROVERSIAL & INTERESTING THINGS ABOUT HIM
- He was based in Lagos and many knew him for his lifestyle of outrageous flamboyance.
- Ezego was said to have an incredibly huge appetite for women, cars and football. He was stocky, fair and short in stature. He was known for his generosity and while he was alive, he had the Ezego Scholarship Scheme from which many indigenes of Uzoakwa benefitted. He also single-handedly funded the dualization of the Ihiala Carriageway, complete with streetlights, boreholes and transformers. His people still mourn him, saying he would have radically transformed the little settlement assuming he was still alive today.
- Ezego has also been disparaged as a fraudster and a swindler. In Terror as a Political Weapon: Reflections On The Bomb Explosions In Abacha’s Nigeriaby Isaac Olawale Albert (pages 37-58), the following was written of Ezego:
Another indication that some Abacha boys were responsible for the bomb attacks could be inferred from one other incident. In July 1997, there was the celebrated case of the arms and ammunition stolen from the armoury of the Direc- torate of Military Intelligence [DMI] in Lagos. This singular occurrence was be- lieved to have sent shivers down the spine of General Abacha [Abubakar 1997: 20- 25]. It was feared that the weapons could be used for plotting a coup d’etat or assassinating some prominent political figures in the country. Shortly after, six soldiers from the DMI were arrested with some bombs, bags of chemicals for manufacturing bombs and explosives, a detonator, high voltage dry cell batteries and over 200 live bullets, by July 25, 1997 the number of soldiers arrested in respect of the arms theft had risen to 15, the arms were said to have been used to carry out an illegal “military” operation at Ihiala, Anambra State. Some of the weapons were later recovered from Ihiala, the hometown of Chief Victor Okafor, alias Ezego [King of Money], a business man in Lagos.
39What really happened? How did it start? A film on the exploits of Ezego, one of the kingpins of 419 [swindlers] in Nigeria, was watched by the Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Coomasie sometime in June 1997. Most worrisome to the IG was the nature of the sophisticated weapons at the disposal of the sus- pected criminal and members of his gang. A contingent of 1,200 crack men, drawn from mobile police units in Benue, Plateau, Niger, Kadunaand Sokoto States was given the assignment of arresting Ezego. Six hundred of them were to “burst” his home at Ihiala and the rest were to go to Lagos where Ezego had most of his businesses. They were basically out to look for information on the sources of Ezego’s sudden wealth and to see if anything incriminating could be traced to him.
40In the early morning of June 25, 1997 the security men stormed their targets. Several people were arrested with Ezego, they were soon released but Ezego was detained. He was later given a clean bill by the police and therefore released.
41Immediately after his release, Ezego went after those he believed to have masterminded his harassment by the police, he was said to have planted some weapons at the backyard of one of them – Chuma Nzeribe, the plan was to implicate the man in illegal arms dealing, the military men sent to dump the weapons there were the same people that came to arrest Chuma, the mission could, however, not be carried to a logical conclusion because it was an “unauthorised operation”, the people at the DMI soon heard about it and the weapons were discovered to have been stolen from DMI. Ezego was detained by the Nigerian military. Within a short period, he was released. This was surprising. The Ezego case, if it had been faithfully followed, would have revealed where the various bombings in Abacha’s Nigeria were coming from, it would have revealed where the illegal bombs were obtained. Why should a civilian be found with bombs and still be released without any trial? All these happened during the Abacha regime when innocent Nigérians like Chief Olu Falae, Chief Durojaiye and others were hounded into indefinite detention by the military on the suspicion of being responsible for the bombing of Nigerian cities, even when nothing was found on them.
42Mr. Chuma Nzeribe of Umudike village, Ihiala, Anambra State, on whose compound the arms and ammunition were planted in 1997 petitioned the Human Rights Violations Investigations Commission [HRVIC] sitting at Abuja in 2001, he alleged that some officers of DMI tried to asssasinate him in August 1997. The officers, according to Chuma, planted bombs, explosives and live rounds of 7.62 mm ammunition in his house during the period, in the process of responding to these charges, more light was shed on what actually happened. Brigader Sabo, then Director of DMI, was summoned by the commission on the matter in June and July 2001. His successor. Colonel Stephen Idehenre was summoned in September, in the process of responding to the charges, both officers made statements that could be used to establish that the military were responsible for most of the bombings in Abacha’s Nigeria.
43Brigadier Sabo claimed to be a student at the National War College when the atrocities were committed. He tried to blame the incident on Colonel Idehenre who acted in office for him. Sabo saw this as an opportunity to hit at some of his former bosses in office-most especially General Abdulsalami Abubakar [who succeeded Abacha as Head of State] and General Ishaya Bamaiyi, the former Chief of Army Staff. The two facilitated the retirement of Sabo immediately after Abacha died.
- Despite all the controversies surrounding him and his lifestyle, Ezego was a very good friend of the high and mighty, with easy access to the very highest level of the Nigerian government, i.e the Aso Rock Presidential Villa. Critics say that it was his very warm relationship with the police and high-ranking officers of the Nigerian military that shielded him from the long arms of the law. Ezego was accused of fraud and even gunrunning. However, in 1997, his activities aroused the interest of the General Sani Abacha’s regime when Ezego alongside some of his civilian and military allies. They were all locked up on charges of gunrunning. He was in detention for almost 12 months until some of his allies pulled the strings to secure his release.
- Like many other rich Nigerians, Ezego spoilt musicians and entertainers who praised him to the highest heavens. The most prominent of these were Oliver de Coque and Emeka Morocco Maduka. Some of the songs they composed for Ezego are presented below for your listening pleasure (I enjoyed the songs thoroughly):
- There was also another track for him titled Ezego Victor Okafor by Igwegwu Afam Ogbuotobo. You can sample it HERE
- Ezego’s exploits and links with the military were relayed by the former Director of Military Intelligence (DMI), Brigadier-General Ibrahim Alhaji Sabo. In September 2001, Sabo provided a video tape showing senior military officers spraying naira notes at a party in Ezego’s house. Sabo himself was accused by Colonel Steve Idehenre of the Nigerian Army and former Acting Director of DMI of collecting a car gift (later said to be a stolen jeep, according to the lawyers of General Ishaya Bamaiyi) registered as CF822LND. Idehenre said:
“Ezego organised money for General Sabo and gave him a state-of-the-art Toyota Land Cruiser with American specification. The car which was stolen from the United States in 1997 was worth 100 million but was later discovered by Interpol and is now kept at the United States Embassy. General Sabo was questioned but could not clear his name.” Explaining how the car gift was made to Sabo, Idehenre told the panel that Ezego said he was donating it to the General because of what he called “outstanding” performance of the General at the War College even as he alleged that the custom papers for the car were forged.
Sabo denied this allegation saying it was not Ezego who gave him the car but one Sunny Suleiman. He also insisted that the jeep in question was valued at $100,000 and not $100 million. But the case had a more interesting twist when Sabo accused General Bamaiyi, the former Nigerian Chief of Army Staff of receiving a gift of a limousine from Ezego and that the soldiers who delivered the vehicle in Abuja all perished in an accident. In response to this, Bamaiyi thundered:
“My Lord, I have a written response which I will give at the appropriate time but for now I just have to say that throughout my 35 years in the military, I never stole public funds and have never received any bribe. I did not receive any limousine. Like you will note, all the allegations against me are usually not contained in any petition but any time Sabo come up, he will allege one thing against me, that is his style. For the records, I never took drivers from the pool, as Chief of Army Staff, I had permanent drivers attached to me so what he said is like in other circumstances false.”
- In 1997, there was a titanic struggle between Ezego and Hon. Chuma Nzeribe. The jeep in question above was said to be a gift from Ezego to Sabo so he could deal with Nzeribe.
- At about 2:30 pm on the 20th of April, 1998, over 40 armed security agents, composed of policemen and State Security Service (SSS) operatives stormed the administrative offices of the Independent Communications Network Limited (ICNL), publishers of TheNEWS, Tempo and PM News. The raiders were led by Alhaji Hassan Zakari Biu, an assistant commissioner of police and they sealed up the place for about three hours before arresting and whisking away the accountant, and thereafter proceeded to the editorial offices of the magazines and carefully search the place for about five hours, and they later took those they arrested to the Federal Investigations and Intelligence Bureau (FIIB), Alagbon Close, Ikoyi, Lagos. But what sparked the raid? It was the publication of an article in TheNEWS.
- In 2001, also at the Oputa Panel, Colonel Olanipekun Majoyegbe (rtd) also denied collecting a car gift from Ezego, as alleged by Nzeribe who was accused of planting bombs at Ihiala, Anambra State. Around the period that the bombs were supposedly planted or kept at Ihiala, Nigeria was writhing in pain from a series of sporadic bomb blasts across the country, from Lagos to Ilorin. Some high-ranking soldiers claimed that the ammunitions and explosives used were those brought back from ECOMOG operations in Sierra Leone which some unscrupulous officers and soldiers did not declare and return to the Nigerian Army:
“Ammunitions given to Majoyegbe for an operation in Sierra Leone but not returned to Nigerian army was used to get the explosions. Everything that was used in the operations was … from the residence of Majoyegbe”, Idehenre said.
For Ezego, who claimed to have made his first million at the age of 23, the tale of his life remains one full of luxury, flamboyance, controversy, philanthropy and mystery.