By ‘Emeka Ugbogu
THE Clock has been ticking steadily and gradually gathering momentum to strike and thus, herald the day of reckoning for the apex pan Igbo socio-cultural organisation, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide.
The group represents all Igbo communities within and outside Nigeria. Come January 11, 2021, history will be re-enacted in Owerri, the Imo state capital, where the Ohaneze Ndigbo is set to conduct elections that will usher in a new leadership to replace the outgoing John Nnia Nwodo-led administration.
The origin of Ohanaeze Ndigbo is traceable to the post-civil war era. After the Nigerian civil war, some prominent Igbos gathered to proclaim the need to unify Igbos under a common umbrella body. This initiative was welcomed, considering the displacement of Igbos during the war and its aftermath.
An organizational assembly was created, referred to as the Igbo National Assembly, INA. This organization was later banned by the federal military government at the time, probably due to the Government’s fear of a grand suspicious agenda being cultivated by the Igbos via the organization; hence, the creation of Ohanaeze Ndigbo in 1976.
Prof. Ben Nwabueze, a foremost constitutional lawyer, assembled prominent Igbo leaders to form the organization of which he emerged the secretary general of the organization spanning a period of 20 years.
The organization was effectively championed and supported by Kingsley Mbadiwe, Francis Akanu Ibiam, Michael Iheonukara Okpara, Pius Okigbo, and Jerome Udoji, who served as the first secretary general, among other notable Igbo personalities.
Currently, John Nnia Nwodo a Nigerian lawyer, economist, former minister of information and culture and former minister of Civil Aviation is the 9th president general of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo. The leadership of the organisation is made up of the National Executive Committee.
Although the group is not a political party, part of its objectives is to foster unity among its members in order to ensure effective representation within the political scenario of Nigeria.
However, the apex pan-Igbo association has continually been swimming in the murky waters of controversy, crisis and often confronted with the need to find relevance, legitimacy and take a firm stand on the controversy of what role to play in the array of matters confronting the Igbo nation and her peoples.
In the course of the organisation’s history, emerging leaderships were accused of driving anti progressive and hence, anti-Igbo agenda in their politicisation of the group and the quest to hang on to power. This erupted in what analysts regard as a harbinger of unresolved crisis in Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
The crisis confronting the Ohanaeze Ndigbo stems from both centripetal and centrifugal forces, which continue to affect its scorecard. Within the socio- political sphere, the question that confronts the Ohanaeze Ndigbo as an apex pan Igbo organisation is, how well has it been able to effectively represent the interests of the Ndigbo in the face of cries of lopsided marginalisation, inequity in national appointments, especially at the top echelons of the federal government’s political and security team, allocation of developmental projects, amongst others. To the average Ndigbo, his fortunes have continually dwindled in the face of a nation that has very little tolerance and care for his survival and progress.
Again, how well has the Ohanaeze Ndigbo been able to align its agenda and actions with those of radical organisations such as MASSOB and the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, in pursuing the interests of Ndigbo? The condition of Ndigbo today is one in which they are not at ease at home and barely tolerated abroad. It is no gain saying that to the average Ndigbo, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo is often seen as a lame duck and elitists when compared to organisations, which have continually orchestrated and radically confronted the government at federal and state levels and oftentimes with threats of secession from the federal entity. It is such actions that really warm the hearts of the teeming Ndigbo and in such considerations, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo has a huge responsibility to reconsider its time worn strategy of conservatism and cerebral approach in its representative function and responsibilities to the Igbos.
However, over the years the organisation, despite its challenges has put in place several projects that impact positively on the lives and fortunes of Ndigbo. One of such is the unveiling of an agricultural programme initiative, aimed at encouraging more Igbo youths to return to farming and other agricultural practices to create jobs and wealth for themselves and their families by the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Wing.
On the socio-political turf, the organisation has been vocal in the fight against human rights abuses and over reaching illegalities being perpetrated by government agencies.
In the aftermath of the #EndSARS protest in 2020, the organisation condemned freezing of the accounts of EndSARS key members, saying that the protest was a legitimate weapon of complaint in a democracy. On the resonating issue of killer herdsmen and their criminal, nefarious activities which has been a sore that has continued to fester in various parts of the country, the Ohanaeze through its Youths wing asked the killer-herdsmen to quit forests in Igboland.
Despite these strides to foster and drive a pan Igbo agenda in the body polity, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo has at various times come under attack and accused of having lost relevance in its establishment and functions.
Recently, an organisation INTERSOCIETY issued a statement calling for the replacement of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo with a more vibrant and responsive body.
Reacting to this call, Emeka Attamah, media aide to the incumbent president general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said: “all Igbo associations on planet earth are under Ohanaeze Ndigbo and there cannot be another Ohanaeze Ndigbo despite the activities of laughable, fake, splinter groups and job seekers looking for opportunities to line their pockets.
“Similar associations such as the Afenifere, Arewa, Middle Belt Forum and PANDEF have experienced and are still experiencing the activities of such detractors, whose unwholesome calls and actions should not be encouraged,” he said.
Supporting Attamah’s submission, Prof. Ayo Olukotun, identified similar calls and even outright divisions within the Afenifere, the pan Yoruba socio- cultural organisation. He said that such developments often, “cause divisions and weaken the association’s structures”.
But presently, the position is that the tenure of the present Nwodo’s leadership is at its last lap and plans are actively in place to conduct elections and enthrone a new leadership of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo. The question is who among the contenders will the cap of president general fit?
By the rotational principle of the Ohanaeze, the next president general will come from Imo state, the reason a host of Imo leaders are now in the race. Those eyeing the Ohanaeze prime seat include six aspirants from the state for the position, who have publicly announced their intentions, but are waiting for the approval of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Ime-Obi to begin their election campaigns. They include:
. Professor George Obiozor, former Nigeria Ambassador to United States
· Joe Nworgu, secretary-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo,
· Chris Asoluka, a former vice president of Ohanaeze Imo and current co-chair of South-East South-South Professionals, SESSP.
· Goddy Uwazuruike, a lawyer and former president of Aka Ikenga
· Prof. Chidi Osuagwu, former president, Imo State Chapter, Ohanaeze Ndigbo
· Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie, former vice chancellor, Imo State University
It is no gain saying that Ohanaeze requires a new leadership that will further drive the aspirations and gains enthroned by the Nwodo administration.
The questions confronting the new leadership will include how to operate a democratic, and more inclusive government, how to drive for a wider reach, especially in the rural areas and ensure greater participation of the Local governments and communities in the South East.
In the same vein, the next Ohanaeze Ndigbo leadership is expected to improve the financial backbone of the apex body. Funding is key and the kind of relationship between the new leadership and the governors of the respective south eastern states are strong determinant factors for a successful tenor of which can only be guaranteed by their participation, support and funding of its activities, operations and projects.
Funding for the apex body received a boost at a recent meeting as Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State noted that Nnia Nwodo, outgoing president-general, had raised the bar in the leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and pledged to provide the take-off money for Igbo stabilisation fund.
However, on December 6, 2020, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo ratified and adopted a 40-member national electoral committee nominated by the Nwodo leadership for the election. The decision followed after what a keen observer described as an “over four hours rowdy session”.
The Igbo leaders under the auspices of Ime-Obi (highest decision making organ), also directed that the 2021 national election should be conducted in strict observance with the group’s constitution, stressing that it would continue to ensure that Ohanaeze flourished as the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation.
In that meeting, the slot for the new leadership that would be steered by the president general has been zoned to Imo State. Nwodo from Enugu State had told those who attended the meeting that he had no intention of working against the interest of Igboland, stressing that his administration would not foist a successor that did not emerge from the election in line with the constitution.
He insisted that it was not in his place to anoint his successor, insisting that Ndigbo have always had their own way of doing things, which would not be in short supply during his time.
Nwodo, who chaired the meeting narrated how he became president general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo four years ago, stressing that it was not a sole decision but the collective agreement of the Enugu people.
He said even when it was obvious that he was widely accepted by the Enugu people and beyond, other candidates, who were interested in the position, still contested on the election day.
He proposed that Ben Obi from Anambra State should head the Electoral Committee, while Ferdinand Agu from Enugu State becomes the secretary.
But no sooner had the names been released than discordant voices set in as most members insisted that the list was defective and not all embracing.
Chris Ngige, minister of labour and Employment, dismissed the list as improperly procured, stressing that he was not consulted before the names from Anambra state were chosen.
Ngige stated that the list was full of practicing politicians, insisting that a proper Ime-Obi should be constituted to enable Anambra members of the committee to be submitted.
Still to feature in the list of troubles is the issue of a “consensus candidate” for the position of the new president general of Ohaneze Ndigbo. There was a report of the decision to adopt Prof. George Obiozor in this regard.
Arguing against this development, former Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, stated that Imo had no consensus candidate for the president-general position allocated to the state. He expressed disappointment that Prof. George Obiozor could condescend to the level of becoming a consensus candidate with all his exposure and insisted that such action was not known in the Ohanaeze Ndigbo constitution.
He called on Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu and others to withdraw their plan for a consensus candidate in the interest of Alaigbo, stressing that Ndigbo should be allowed to conduct their affairs in an atmosphere devoid of rancor.
In another effort to resolve the crisis emanating from the appointment of the Ben Obi-led Electoral Committee, the Imeobi held a meeting for the second time within one month on the forthcoming elections of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization. Said to be the most peaceful since the inception of the organization, objections were raised to the constitution of the 40-member election committee.
Ngige opposed the chairmanship of the election committee, which is occupied by Ben Obi from Anambra state.
That was, however, resolved as Obi voluntary stepped down for peace to reign, paving the way for a former president general of the organization, Gary Enwo Igariwey from Ebonyi state, who was unanimously adopted.
A clergy, Bishop Gordy Okafor was nominated as deputy chairman and was also unanimously adopted.
On the feasibility and controversies surrounding the forthcoming elections, Attamah said: “There are no provisions in the Constitution of Ohanaeze Ndigbo for an interim president general or leadership of the apex body. So far, there are about five candidates vying for the position of president general and the list is still growing.”
“Come the last hours of January 10, 2021, the tenure of John Nwodo as President General will be over and a new leadership will emerge. The new leadership is expected to strengthen the solid bond, which the John Nwodo administration has successfully enthroned. They should speak and work with one voice to solidify the relationship Nwodo’s administration has built across the Niger, especially with other ethnic and regional socio-cultural and political associations such as the Afenifere, Arewa and PANDEF and the Middle Belt Forum,” he said.
He noted that presently, there are no legal impediments to the elections. A federal high court on Monday rejected an ex parte application by a splinter group, the Incorporated Trustees of Ohanaeze Ndigbo General Assembly seeking to stop the forthcoming Ohanaeze Ndigbo election.
However, on adoption of a “consensus candidate,” he said, “it is an accepted norm,” and cited the case of the current president general who was initially, a product of a consensus, but challenged by an ex-vice chancellor of the former Anambra State University of Technology, Prof. Chiweyete Ejike. The duo were voted for and John Nwodo won with a total of 242 votes whilst his opponent had 13 votes.
Attamah affirmed that Imeobi, the apex body’s nucleus body recently held a meeting which he described as, “as very successful in resolving all pressings issues relating the organisation of the early January elections. Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, under the leadership of Chief Nwodo, is committed to the inviolate tradition of conducting a free, fair and transparent election to usher in its successors in January 2021”.
He, however, noted that the challenge posed by the COVID-19 restrictions on number of persons to be allowed into the election hall and that the national electoral committee members are still trying to find ways to ensure an all-inclusive and participatory election.
Who will the Cap fit?
Commenting on the forthcoming election into the new leadership of the apex pan Igbo organisation, Prof. Ayo Olukotun said: “John Nwodo has large shoes and any new leadership stepping into those shoes must make the shoes fit properly. The new leadership must be capable of moving forward, the agenda, which Nwodo has set during his tenure.”
“Whoever that wears the new cap of President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo must be capable of driving the agenda as the cultural and political face of the Igbos. The new leadership must work harder to fight for the Igbo interest in the Nigerian project and for equity within the larger federal and political framework,” he said.
On the part of the contestants, the “consensus candidate” Prof. George Obiozor, stands out tall and with impressive credentials and intimidating profile.
He is a former Nigerian Ambassador to the United States of America, the State of Israel and Republic of Cyprus. He was director general, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, secretariat coordinator, 2014 National Conference, South East Delegates, member, Presidential Advisory Committee-2014 National Conference, by President Goodluck Jonathan, adviser to President Ibrahim Babangida on International Affairs; amongst others.
Presenting his candidacy, Prof. Obiozor said: “The time requires a very careful and delicate skilled manager in the relationships between Ndigbo and other Nigerian nationalities, especially the national power elites. This requires a mature and experienced person with a capacity to build enough consensuses to define and defend the interest of Ndigbo.”
“By my age and career history, I have long outgrown all that. Instead, my most compelling necessity was service, a timely and crucial service at one of the most critical times in Nigerian history with dire consequences, particularly for Ndigbo as a national entity. Indeed not only has governance become both difficult and complex in Nigeria, but down right an existential threat to Ndigbo in particular.
“The Igbo dilemma in Nigeria” and affirmed that his interest to throw his heart and cap into the ring to contest for the next President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo Worldwide is “borne out of his concern for the Igbo dilemma in Nigeria and not based on self-aggrandizement, personal ambition or self-promotion,” he said.
According to him, Ndigbo have been objects of stereotype and profiling, which ended in being misunderstood and misrepresented before other Nigerians. That has been the Igbo albatross everywhere in national politics or business, academia or artisans. Negative profiling has been an Igbo cross to carry since Nnamdi Azikwe’s emergence in Nigerian politics in the 1940s.
With his political experience, the professor said that he would assemble Igbo talents and experts to cater and defend the destiny of Ndigbo with appreciable success and diplomatic dexterity, decency and decorum.
He promised to change the political narrative whereby “Ndigbo will join other ethnic groups to play the politics of self-help, rather than the politics of general national interests, which had been the hallmark of Igbo politics since the days of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. With our new narratives of courage without rancor, wisdom without arrogance and intelligence with humility, we will meet our detractors and adversaries or rivals with offers they cannot resist, and situations that compellingly encourage taking right actions for the right reasons.”
“Our position should therefore begin with efforts to effectively re-integrate Ndigbo into Nigerian political process effectively, significantly, and relevantly. This will require a serious diplomacy and not confrontations or conflicts,” he stated.
He said that with his skill and experience, Ohaneze Ndigbo would “negotiate effectively by having to bargain in the interest of Ndigbo.”
But can the cap fit Goddy Uwazurike? He is also an Imo State indigene and member, National Conference in 2014. He has what it takes to lead Ohanaeze Ndigbo. He is a practicing lawyer and in terms of experience in Igbo affairs, has been president general of Aka Ikenga.
Reacting vehemently to the issue of a “consensus candidate,” Uwazurike described the matter as “a nonsensical proposition that should go straight into the waste paper basket”.
“The Constitution of the Ohaneze Ndigbo stipulates at least three persons that can vie for election into the post of President General. For one man to be hand picked out of 12 or 13 men in a room without any procedure as defined by the Ohanaeze Ndigbo constitution and announced as a “consensus candidate, is a comedy of errors,” he said.
On what he would bring on board if elected as President General, Uwazurike, in an exclusive interview with Realnews, marshaled out an eight point agenda.
Firstly, he acknowledges and appreciates the giant strides and achievements of the incumbent John Nnia Nwodo-led administration and said he “endorses the movements and steps of the current president general”.
Uwazurike promised to increase and enhance the role of women in the Ohanaeze Ndigbo. He described women as “game changers and (who) are mostly stricter than men”.
He identified funding as a big problem affecting the operations of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and execution of projects in the organisation. He said he would improve the finances by pursuing an improved membership drive and ensure registration with adequate fees to ensure regular flow of funds into the Ohanaeze Ndigbo purse.
Another issue demanding urgent attention is the mostly abandoned properties, offices and even headquarters of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo. He said the organisation had hitherto depended on funding from state governors in the South East. This, he said, was “constrained and restricted”. He said he would reach out to prominent and accomplished Igbo sons and daughters to donate towards the completion of the various structures that would serve as offices of the apex pan Igbo organisation. The structures would be dedicated to the respective donors.
Uwazurike said that he would passionately pursue a programme termed “Aku ruo uno” or simply put, “bring wealth back home”. This, he noted, is to “ensure Igbo business people are encouraged to embark on rechanneling their business investments and operations to the South East rather than having a great bulk of these spread in foreign lands.”
Youth empowerment programmes driven from the “credible Ohanaeze platform” and the setting up of educational foundations, which, according to Uwazurike, would form part of his mandate. He said his administration would encourage the established, accomplished, successful and philanthropic Igbo sons and daughters to be actively involved in various educational schemes that would enhance the lives and fortunes of the Igbo youths.
Citing the preponderance of old, decaying and unmaintained houses and properties in many parts of Igbo land, Uwazurike said “the original owners of such structures never envisaged that a time would come whereby those they expect to live in and maintain the properties would have other interests than to live therein.” He said his administration would evolve programmes to encourage Ndigbo sons and daughters to “invest their persons and names to establish legacies and memoirs that would outlive them by donating to and building enduring infrastructure that would impact on the lives of peoples, communities and institutions in Igboland.”
With the stage set and the political gladiators on the campaign trail to sell their manifestos, the question of who will the cap fit continues to vibrate and re-echo in the hallowed chambers of the election venue of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo in Imo state as well as in the hearts and minds of most Igbo sons and daughters in Nigeria and beyond.
How the entire exercise of voting for and enthroning a new president general and leadership of the apex pan Ndigbo socio-cultural organisation pans out is an unpredictable scenario akin to a “wait and see” stance.