In Nigeria today, one of the major talking points in the polity is the sudden emergence of a splinter group in Ohanaeze, the umbrella body of Ndigbo worldwide. From the blues, the group which has one Igwe Nkeli Nzekwe, the traditional ruler of Igbariam in Anambra State as its Chairman, Board of Trustees, claimed to be the authentic one having been registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission(CAC).
Igwe Nzekwe who inaugurated the group in his palace said the idea was that Ohanaeze had become a legal personality that could sue and be sued and no longer ‘a self-serving platform.’
However, about 24 hours after issuing the certificate, the CAC in what could be termed a volte-face withdrew it, saying it was issued in error. The commission reportedly said the certificate was withdrawn because promoters of the group failed to meet certain requirements for registration as an association.
And as would be expected, the action of the Nzekwe-led group have been attracting condemnation from Igbo leaders, who did not only accuse the sponsors of fanning the embers of disunity, but also being used to further marginalise Ndigbo in the country.
Since the development, a lot of questions have been agitating the minds of many well meaning people of Igbo extraction and beyond. They include: Where are members of the group coming from and what is their motive? Who is sponsoring them? Is it the usual agenda by some powerful elite in Nigeria to cause division among Ndigbo so that it would look as if they cannot truly speak with one voice? Are members of the splinter group driven by greed and avarice? Or is it part of the underground moves to foreclose the chances of Ndigbo in the 2023 presidential race? The questions are just endless.
In 2019, ahead of the general elections, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, witnessed such a crack when it suspended its former Secretary General, Mr Uche Okwukwu for allegedly misrepresenting the organisation.
Ohanaeze NEC had alleged that Okwukwu at various venues engaged in false representation of the decision of both Ohanaeze NEC and Imeobi, noting also that Okwukwu arrogated to himself power, over other organs of the organissation by altering positions purportedly taken by the organs which the NEC said were patently and obviously false.
So, for many critical observers, such cracks in Ohanaeze have literally become a recurring decimal that always comes ahead of any general elections in which Ndigbo have a major stake. Those who hold this view believe some power brokers would always want the stereotype of Ndigbo not being able to speak with one voice sustained during every general election or contest for positions in Nigeria.
The argument is that since 2015, the Igbo political bloc has positively evolved to the disappointment of those who, hitherto relished in the division among people of the South East geopolitical zone. In the past when Igbo votes were spread among various political parties, the narrative was that they could not speak with one voice but when they came together and identified with a particular political cause and candidate, they were accused of putting their eggs in one basket.
For those conversant with the new political culture of Ndigbo, it started in 2015 and was perfected in 2019. It was not surprising that many forces including thugs were deployed to disenfranchise Ndigbo in various states because of the new reality of their strength during elections. In every state in Nigeria, the Igbo are usually second in terms of population to the indigenes, hence, could wield a lot of influence during elections.
Since the new splinter group emerged, there is a trending conspiracy theory that it may not be unconnected with moves to divide Ohanaeze whose leadership under Chief Nnia Nwodo has positioned Ndigbo as a potent political force in the country. There is no contending the fact that Nwodo, since his emergence as President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, has helped to galvanise the umbrella body and Ndigbo in general to be formidable in the politics of the country. Critical observers argue that Nwodo’s leadership is really fulfilling the dreams of Ohanaeze.
Formed in 1976, with headquarters in Enugu, Ohanaeze Ndigbo was a response to the perceived marginalisation, discrimination and neglect the Igbo were being subjected after the Civil war, an act of deliberate policy on the part of the Federal Government. The organisation was, therefore, to serve as a focal point of reference, direction and of collective leadership in matters affecting the interests, solidarity and general welfare of Ndigbo.
Speaking on the new splinter group, former governor of Anambra State, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife said it was the handiwork of enemies of Ndigbo to cause division among the people and make them lose focus over their main preoccupation which are restructuring and 2023 presidential election.
He said: “There are always some people who want their personal benefits. The country is in now such a position that people who want something get it. Some people want to align with opponents of Ndigbo and they went and registered the so-called Ohanaeze group. “Fortunately, I have read that the certificate has been withdrawn. Who registered Afenifere? Even the Northern Elders Forum, where is it registered? Those who wanted to do something against Ndigbo went and registered it. But you see, they cannot succeed!
“ We are united by the quest for restructuring, and Igbo presidency. That unites us so tightly and that is what some people do not know. So, with that kind of unity, the cost of getting some of our people to scatter things would be very high. I must tell you that some Igbo people are involved in giving of the money. It is dangerous and not good for Nigeria that some individuals sacrifice the interests of their people. In the olden days, we sent such people to a destination that they would not come back.”
Adding his voice also, former governor of Anambra State, Achike Udenwa condemned the splinter group, saying enemies were already at work to cause confusion and disaffection among Ndigbo.
He said: “These must be enemies of the Igbo. I don’t know where they are coming from. I do not know whether anybody is sponsoring them from outside Igboland or they are sponsoring themselves. But I think it is something condemnable. We have one indivisible Ohanaeze. We do not have any controversy within Ohanaeze. There has not been any problem between Ohanaeze and any other Igbo organization. We can only advise those of our brothers that if somebody is using them, they should please desist from it. At this point and crucial time, the Igbo cannot afford to be divided in the history of this country because once we are divided, the enemies would run over us. We cannot afford to have any internal wrangling. Whatever is the problem of Igboland today, has always been well addressed by Ohanaeze. The Ohanaeze has always handled our problems. You have seen what Ohanaeze has done over the years that if not for the organization, the Igbo would not have had any strong voice in this country today. We should appeal to any of our brothers that they should not allow themselves to be used. They should not have any vaulting ambition to topple Ohanaeze.”
For former presidential candidate of Citizens Popular Party (CPP), Chief Maxi Okwu, members of the splinter group are just hired hands and paid agents to destabilize the Igbo people.
His words: “I know that for you to get a CAC registration, there is a process and I have asked myself how come the group was registered. There is usually a process of advertisement to enable the public to either enter a caveat objection or something. I was wondering how come they were able to pass all those processes and the real Ohanaeze we know was not put on notice. I also asked myself the question if the Nwodo-led Ohanaeze did not bother about registration.
“I understand that the main Ohanaeze has said they did not bother with formal registration which I buy because the right of freedom of association is superior to the CAC registration. I can see the reason why some ethnic nationality groups like Afenifere, Ohanaeze and others may not bother about formal registration.
“But coming back to the politics, when I saw the names involved in that general assembly and their certificates, I knew they were paid agents; in fact, they were hired hands. They were set up by some persons to maybe chip away at the very Igbo pro-restructuring position especially after the suit against Buhari over marginaslisation on appointments and other things.”
In his remarks National Publicity Secretary of Ohaneze, Uche Achi-Okpaga described the development as laughable because Ohanaeze does not need CAC registration to exist. He explained that Ohanaeze is like a family where members(Igbo people) are are part of by right.
He said: “I think those people are suffering from intermittent madness. There are many names they can give their own organization if they want to challenge Ohanaeze. But you know that Ohanaeze is a brand name and some people want to use it as a bargaining chip to achieve cheap media popularity. When you mention Ohanaeze, people would like to know what is it about or what it wants to say even before you know that it is not the real Ohanaeze. They should know that popularity is not notoriety. Ohanaeze is an umbrella body of the entire Igbo worldwide and you say you are now the general assembly. What is your background? Where are you coming from? It is laughable.
“They talk about registration. If you do not register your family, does it mean your family does not exist again?”