The new leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo should know by now that what lies ahead of the Igbo nation is not a tea party, especially with 2023 knocking on the door. Days after the election of the Prof. George Obiozor-led leadership of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, dust is yet to settle on the matter. What ordinarily should bind the people together is instead breeding discord and threatening the unity that has existed among Ndigbo.
A day before the emergence of Obiozor, a factional Ohanaeze Ndigbo had reportedly elected Chief Chidi Ibeh, also from Imo State as President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. The faction, which was guided by the “suspended” Secretary general, Chief Uche Okwukwu, had declared any other election by Ndigbo after their own as invalid.
In the meantime, another faction of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, General Assembly (ONGA), led by Basil Onyeacholam Onuora, had declared that there was no vacancy in the organisation in the first place, declaring the election that produced the former diplomat as “kangaroo election”.
Recall that the faction had registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and is currently in court challenging the legality of the main Ohanaeze Ndigbo, which according to it, was not a registered organisation.
At Owerri, where Obiozor emerged last Sunday, it was clear how much the governors and politicians from the zone, especially those from the rank of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party wanted him. Governors Hope Uzodinma of Imo State and David Umahi of Ebonyi State, who stood till the end of the election, had led delegates from their states in an option A4 arrangement to queue behind the eventual winner.
It was the first time in many years that governors were attending elections in Ohanaeze. Prior to the election, all the leading presidential aspirants, who purchased and returned their nomination forms, had withdrawn in protest.l
Former Secretary General, Dr. Joe Nwaorgu, Dr. Chris Asoluka, Prof. Chidi Osuagwu to Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, who had campaigned vigorously, announced they would no longer contest, citing several irregularities trailing the process. They had alleged that the constitution of the group was not followed and that the out-gone administration of Chief Nnia Nwodo was bent on handing the group over to the hands of the governors, who wanted to anoint their lackeys into office.
They had also alleged that necessary information that should accompany an election of such magnitude was not made available, which they stressed lent credence to the belief in some quarters that some external forces were out to hijack the organisation and use it for political purposes.
Gov. Dave Umahi of Ebonyi
While the election that held had Obiozor polling 304 votes against Dr. Valentine Okparaocha and Chief Uju Okoro’s 15 and 3 votes respectively, those close to the election venue said the duo could have been last minute maneuver to satisfy the constitutional requirement that approved three candidates for the election to become valid.
Prior to the election, some concerned members of Ime-Obi Ohanaeze Ndigbo met, followed certain strange observations noted during the election process. The leaders, drawn from the five Southeast states, Delta and Rivers States, had after a virtual meeting, asked the Nwodo-led executive to call off the election and hand over the running of Ohanaeze to the Southeast Region of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) for two months. They had reasoned that within the period, every lingering issue would be resolved, while adequate preparations would be made on the conduct of an election that was all-embracing. They had warned that conducting the election with the charged atmosphere would breed more disunity and chaos in the Ohanaeze.
The advice was not heeded apparently because there was no constitutional backing to the proposal for interim administration in Ohanaeze constitution.
THE outgone leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo did not unveil the electoral Committee members on time. It was at this juncture that doubts arose over the intentions of the leadership and their capacity to organise a credible Ohanaeze election.
When it eventually did in the first week in December 2020, discordant voices greeted the membership did composition. Most of the naysayers came from politicians at the meeting in the likes Dr. Chris Ngige and Senator Rochas Okorocha, who are members of the APC. Ngige was particularly incensed that Chief Ben Obi was appointed to head the committee. He insisted that Obi was still playing active politics and, in fact, a recent campaign coordinator of a presidential candidate; he urged a review of the list.
Sources indicated that Ngige’s position might have been induced by what happened during preparations for the 2019 presidential election where a meeting of Ohanaeze Ndigbo had adopted Atiku Abubakar/Peter Obi as consensus candidates for Ndigbo. It was such that while APC leaders in the zone were away in Onitsha, Anambra State, with President Muhammadu Buhari to commission Zik’s Mausoleum, an Ohanaeze Ndigbo meeting adopted the consensus candidates before they could arrive the venue.
The source stated that after the event, the leaders vowed to ensure that there was input from politicians of APC stock henceforth in affairs of the zone, stressing that contributing to the electoral committee was one sure way of having a hand in the emergence of Ohanaeze leadership.
A few days later, exactly December 20, Nwodo succumbed to pressure. He convened another Ime-Obi meeting where Governor Uzodinma elected to host the election. He had told a long story how several persons, led by Ngige, did not want Obi to chair the election committee. Obi, who was at the meeting, had turned down the offer to head the committee, saying he was doing so to foster Igbo unity as well as allow a smooth transition in Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
The development paved the way for the nomination of Chief Enwo Igariwey, a former President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, to lead the committee, whose membership was also enlarged to 50. Igariwey’s committee was faced with time constraints. It had only 20 days, including Christmas and New Year breaks, to conduct the election and therefore could not have taken into consideration constitutional stipulations on the election. The race against time brought its own baggage.
In the only release the committee made on December 29, the committee asked every Igbo person interested in the election to contest as long as he/she could present themselves for screening by the committee. It scheduled elections for local and state executives on 5th and 6th January, respectively, that never held. Rather, some persons were invited to sign acceptance forms.
It could not publish the delegates’ lists or other guidelines for the national election, among others. Information that ordinarily should be made available to the contestants was allegedly hoarded against those not favoured in the anointed list. These were what provoked anger and swelled allegations of manipulation in favour of anointed candidates. The situation forced some candidates to withdraw from the election, especially those vying for the office of president general, to the extent that confusion whether the election would hold or not was created before Election Day.
One of the candidates for National Publicity Secretary position, Bismark Oji, who withdrew in protest said: “The Owerri show of shame does not meet minimum requirements for a credible election, as it is fashioned towards the installation of a predetermined candidate dubbed ‘consensus candidate’ as the Ohanaeze President General.
“Pursuant to that, all those not in the lineup of the said ‘consensus candidate’ including myself were disenfranchised from the electoral process ab initio by exclusion from the local government and state congresses that ought to produce the delegates for the national election. As such, there was no need for further participation in the fundamentally flawed election.”
A former secretary general of the organisation, Chief Nduka Eya, deplored the attempt to hijack the group. He insisted that never had the election of Ohanaeze Ndigbo gone the way it did in Owerri. He wondered the level of interest in a socio-cultural organisation that could derail the existing peace in Igboland and called on Ndigbo to resist attempts that could politicise the body.
Task before Obiozor
OBIOZOR fully understands the credibility questions surrounding his emergence. What is also not debatable at the moment is the anger brought on Igboland at last Sunday’s election. The current discord is also being fuelled by unverified reports that claim external influences insisted on having the current leadership on board if Igbo must play in the national politics.
In August last year, a statement purported to have emanated from Miyetti Allah to the immediate past President General, Nwodo, had endorsed the candidature of Obiozor, as his successor. It had gone further to task Nwodo to ensure that Obiozor received the necessary support to ensure his emergence. The development, which then jolted the Igbo nation, was later dispelled by Nwodo. It is one of the planks currently being used against the new leadership.
On Tuesday, past youth leaders of Ohanaeze demanded the cancellation of the election, threatening to drag the organisation to court if their demand was not met in two days. Leader of the group, Ndubuisi Igwekala, said the election was held out of constitutionally stipulated time, adding that the interests of Governors Uzodinma and Umahi in Ohanaeze were suspicious.
“This election will not stand,”Igwekala insisted. “We say this with every amount of responsibility. Igboland is not for sale. Our people cannot be enslaved any longer. The earlier those who imposed the new leadership accepts this the better for Ndigbo.”
These and many other ill-feelings currently permeate Igboland and Obiozor must listen to these voices if he must make the needed headway.
A source told The Guardian: “Apart from these, there is the national secretariat that was handed over to Nwodo’s administration four years ago. Until that administration left office last Sunday, not a single block was added to the structure. That modern secretariat was started by Okorocha when he was governor. Since Obiozor is the most wanted by the governors, let him leverage on the relationship to give Ndigbo a befitting national secretariat.
“For four years, Igbo day, which is an annual event of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, did not take place anywhere in Igboland. It was probably not in the calendar of the past administration, I would also be glad that he should rekindle that event in the interest of Alaigbo. It is occasion like this that Ndigbo come together. It helps to check differences and to resolve issues while at the same time promote Igbo culture.
“He must also pursue true reconciliation among Ndigbo. This is vital to the development we have always wanted. Nwodo started well and brought every Igbo man and woman on board, but I think that some issues g in the lifetime of the administration made him overlook the aspect of Igbo unity which today has snowballed into a crisis.”
Ohanaeze and 2023
THERE have been agitations that in 2023, it should be the turn of the Southeast to produce Nigeria’s president. Worries are that unless the issues are tackled, and in good time, they might affect the chances of the Southeast in the quest for the presidency. Sources indicate that the pockets of dissent would derail the mandate of the new leadership, as these could be capitalized on to deal big blows on the 2023 presidential aspirations of Igbo people.
National Coordinator of Southeast for President 2023 Movement (SEFORP), Rev. Okechukwu Obioha, who expressed worries at the turn of events, had, however, asked all those aggrieved with the election to sheath their swords and embrace reconciliation in the overall interest of the zone. He also made passionate appealled to Obiozor “to remain resolute to accept and pursue the call for President of Southeast in 2023.”
Obioha stated that the gains made so far on the project could be endangered if there was no unity of purpose, especially those provided by Ohanaeze leadership, stressing that politicians in the zone should bury their differences and work “until the dreams of presidency are fully realised to the greater good of the country.
“We must accept reconciliations in the interest of Alaigbo. We cannot continue to hold onto these anomalies if we must move forward. Obiozor should be ready to accept his mistakes and know that it is the people first before any other.”
Nwodo, while washing his hands off anything that could breed discord to Igboland, insisted that his administration had done much to elevate Igbo and place it as one ethnic group that should command respect in the country. He made this declaration while on a radio interview. He, however, tasked the new leadership over “radical revisitation to the constitutional structure of Nigeria imposed on the country by the military,” just as he appealled to those he said held “dissenting views to sheath their swords and embrace the path of unity and peace.”
On his part, Obiozor has promised to ensure peace and carry everyone along in what he said was “the effort to build an Igbo nation that will be fair to all and sundry.” He said he would pursue and promote peaceful coexistence among Igbo and other tribes in the country, while at the same time ensuring security and development that could impact the people.
These are indeed testy time for Ndigbo and the new Ohanaeze will need to dip deep to find the resources to chart newer path for Alaigbo.