In the history of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, election of its president general has never generated so much tension, anxiety and rancour, as the forthcoming January 9, 2021 election. On that day, the four-year tenure of the incumbent, Chief John Nnia Nwodo led executive would come to an end.
In line with its constitution, the four-year tenure of the presidency of the organisation rotates in alphabetical order among the five Igbo-speaking states of Southeast and the Igbo speaking parts of Delta and River states.
Abia State had the first slot with Prof. Joe Irukwu, as president. Thereafter, it shifted to Anambra, with the late Dr. Dozie Ikedife. The late Ambassador Raph Uwechue from Delta State was also in the saddle and was succeeded by Chief Gary Igariwe of Ebonyi State. At present, Chief Nnia Nwodo from Enugu State occupies the office. But starting from January 9, 2021 when a new leader will be chosen to succeed him, the mantle of leadership of the socio-cultural organisation will reside in Imo State. By 2025, it rotates to Rivers State.
The tenure used to be two years, until the late Ambassador Ralph Uwechue through an Assembly resolution extended it to four years. That was why Igariwe spent four years and the current is spending four, the next president will also be there for another four years.
As the curtain is set to be drawn and election day approaches, there have been intense intrigues, heightened anxiety and power play, as the Imo state government has brought to bear its weight and influence to determine who becomes the next president general. The other aspirants are kicking, shouting blue murder and vowed never to be browbeaten into submission to the government antics and arm-twisting. In the same vein, other Igbo groups, especially the youths warned the Imo State government not do anything that will whittle down the influence of Ohanaeze, accusing the present executive of being hand in gloves with Imo State government to foist a candidate on the Igbo.
However, Chief Nwodo has reaffirmed the determination of his administration to conduct a very transparent election, even though he is yet to constitute electoral committee barely six weeks to the election. It is the electoral committee that will fix the nomination fees, but findings by Saturday Sun indicate that the expression of interest form for the president general is N500, 000.
The delegates to the election will emerge through the state branches of Ohanaeze; the state branches will choose their delegates and if there be interference by the government on the way they choose their delegates, they will be disqualified. Each of the five complete 100 per cent Igbo states – Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo will have 30 delegates each, while Delta and Rivers will have 10 delegates each. The various affiliate bodies /associations will have five delegates each including the women wing, Aka Ikenga, Ndigbo Lagos, Igbo Delegates Assembly, Ohanaeze branches in various states, etc, bringing the total to about 300 delegates in all. They are the ones who decide who becomes the president general. As at today, five aspirants are jostling for the office. They are: Prof George Obiozor, former Nigerian Ambassador to the United States of America, The State of Israel and Republic of Cyprus. He was also Director General, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) and former Secretariat Coordinator, 2014 National Conference, South East Delegates.
Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, a legal luminary, a commentator on national and international issues. He was the president of Aka Ikenga, the Igbo intelligentsia group and a delegate to the 2014 Constitutional Conference. There is also, Chief Chris Asoluka, a political scientist, consultant, administrator, former commissioner for Finance and Economic Development, Imo State, former member House of Representatives, former chairman, Federal Budget Review Committee, he was also president general, Aka Ikenga. He was vice president general (Imo), Ohanaeze.
Dr. Joseph Nwaorgu, former Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, and also former Imo State commissioner for Works, is also in the race. Also in the race is Prof Chidi Osuagwu, former chairman of Ohanaeze, Imo State chapter and emeritus professor, Federal University of Technology, Owerri.
The commonest factor among these aspirants is that they have all sacrificed and served the Igbo at different times and in various capacities and can confidently thumb their chests to take the apex Igbo body to an enviable pedestal.
This is the first time that government is overtly endorsing a candidate for the Ohanaeze presidency. In the past, state governments had surreptitiously done this, but sometimes it didn’t go their way. For example, in 2012, during the turn of Ebonyi, then governor of the state, Martins Elechi, had supported Aja Nwachukwu against Gary Igariwe, but Igariwe won overwhelmingly. The governor never supported Igwariwe throughout his tenure.
For openly endorsing Prof George Obiozor, the other aspirants have reminded Imo State government that it is the opinion of Oha (the people) that carries the day and not her opinion.
Attack on Obiozor and his defence
As usual with Nigeria’s politics, mudslinging and blackmails are not ruled out. On some Igbo social media platforms, some are alleging that Prof Obiozor carries a baggage, which would make him not to speak out against the government when Igbo’s interest is at the front burners. According to them, Obiozor while serving as the US ambassador was allegedly involved in the sale of the country’s property. They also added that being a diplomat of great repute, when and where issues demand for him to blow hot and take a drastic stand, he will be speaking with tongue in cheeks in the manners of diplomats.
However, Prof Obiozor clarified the issue, while speaking with Saturday Sun. First, he was full thanks to God, Ndi Imo, the Igbo chapter of Ohanaeze and the stakeholders in Imo for endorsing him for the president general of Ohanaeze.
He stressed that the allegation was an old story and has nothing to do with him. It is absolute nonsense, he said, stressing that, “whatever they are talking about happened after I have left; everything went well; I got commendations from the president; I got from colleagues, I got from my immediate successor about everything because they went well. Every other thing that didn’t go well, I don’t know.
“When the Senate investigated the whole thing, everybody has nothing but praises for me. I acted very well in accordance with directives from the president that if this transaction finished, put the money there and that was where the money was when I left and that was where the money was when my predecessor, General Rotimi (retd) arrived. So, whatever happened, I don’t know anything about it.
“Our people like to demystify people, but it is not possible to demystify a hero who played transparent and open role in his entire career. So, for somebody to demystify me, the person is wasting his precious time. To me, it is very clear why I want to be the president general of Ohanaeze; I want to bring sanity and encourage good citizenship, good behavior; good kind of nationalism, encouraging statesmanship to my country and my people. If anybody thinks that he can go into blackmail and demystification, the person is wasting his time because he is looking for something that is not there and will never be there. People have a reputation guiding their entire lives.”
On the argument of not taking a firm position when Igbo interests are at stake because of his being a career diplomat, Obiozor emphasized he has written so much and so long literally on every critical topic on Nigeria politics, including the most vexed issues of politics in Nigeria.
He pointed out: “Diplomacy doesn’t mean that you cannot tell what is important. I don’t want to sound immodest, but some people make interpretations based on their limited knowledge, and no intelligence about their capacity to think about anything.
“If I didn’t have the idea, the conviction, the inspiration and I know I can help my people, the Igbo, I wouldn’t have shown interest. For those, who are wasting their time trying to pull me down, I don’t know if they are wiser than all the prominent Igbo in Imo State that endorsed and presented me to the governor. Who else was left in Imo for the endorsement?”
On the accusation that the governor will tie him to his apron string, he asked, “between the governor and I, who is the elder? In our Igbo culture, who should direct the other? Is it not the elder? Those people who are saying those things should think again the history of the person they are talking about.
“What will be the necessity for me to be taken over by any young man? The truth of the matter is that they are just in search of enemies. Many of them are in search of enemies, but unfortunately for them it is what I want to prevent them from doing because it doesn’t pay; it doesn’t pay to be in search of enemies where you should make friends or bring up conflict where you should bring peace.
“People should know that there is time for everything. In Igbo land, there is time for a leadership of a statesman that is where I’m coming. That statesman, one job he must compellingly do is to remove our people from certain situations in a world that is becoming more complex and more dangerous. So, all these adventurers in search of enemies everywhere are not good for our people and will never make our people peaceful. Igbo have more things to do than distractions and diversions of our energy to negative things that have no meaning. For us in Igbo land, enough is enough, enough of diversion, we should be thinking of how to get our people well developed, participate effectively within and international politics all over the world and within Nigeria and then negotiate particularly our crucial interest.”
Other aspirants blow hot
Speaking with Saturday Sun on his position after Obiozor’s endorsement, Prof Osuagwu, said he cannot stepp down for anybody, adding that, “the stakeholders said that they have reviewed the profiles of the aspirants and found out that he was more qualified than others. That was the opinion of those who claimed to be stakeholders, but that is not the opinion of Oha (the people). In this election, I expect the will of Oha prevails. I don’t think anybody is more qualified and better positioned for the office than me, but that is my opinion, others will also have their opinions. At the elections, ideas will be aggregated and the best candidate will emerge.”
Also speaking in the same direction, Chief Uwazruike, said he was “still in the race 100 per cent, no shaking.” According to him, “those people who gathered in Owerri, those statesmen can’t speak for Imo chapter of Ohanaeze, and cannot also speak for Ohanaeze Ndigbo worldwide. Ohanaeze delegates are the ones who vote.
“I’m passionate about Ohanaze, I’m passionate about Ndigbo and about the leadership and I’m proudly Igbo. I have a record to go for service to Ndigbo, not only the Igbo, but service to Nigeria. Imo State government should be reminded that then Governor Martin Elechi of Ebonyi State didn’t support Igriwe, but supported Aja Nwachukwu, but Igriwe won. So, if your governor doesn’t support you, it is not a big loss.
“Yes, the shoes of Nwodo to be honest are too big for anybody to fill, but somebody must step into the shoes; it is so important that one can even widen the shoes. He increased the shoes he met, so whoever is taking over will equally fill the shoes but also increase it. Growth is a normal thing in life.
“Ohanaeze has resisted all attempts to tie it to the apron string of any governor or any person and we assure that when Imo State takes over, we will also ensure independent leadership; unencumbered leadership. We are going to have a president who will continue from where Nwodo stopped. Remember, right now, a lot of work has been done with Afenifere, Middle Belt and South-South, and it is a continuation. We are not going to go one step forward and two steps backward. So the next president of Ohanaeze must be conversant with Ndigbo, he must work with Ndigbo, he must work within workable age of Ndigbo, he must know various local governments that when somebody speaks, he knows where he is from and you don’t learn that in school, rather you learn it though interaction.”
Also Speaking with Saturday Sun, Chief Asoluka, decried the heat and controversies generated from endorsement of some persons as candidates for soon-to-be vacant offices in the leadership of Ohanaeze. Asoluka emphasized that there are no candidates yet until an election committee and the guidelines have been approved by Ime-Obi. This, he asserted marks the commencement of the process for holding elections to the leadership positions in the organization.
He said, “any group of individuals is free to endorse anyone”, stressing that it is only “their preference, which neither binds the election committee nor determines who is eligible to contest the forthcoming elections.”
He insisted that it is premature for anyone to speak on who and who are candidates for an election whose guidelines are yet to be unveiled, noting that until the close of return of forms whenever it opens and closes, no one can be said to be running as a candidate. It is only after the screening of aspirants by election committee that candidates can emerge. He cautioned, “we must ensure that the transition to the next administration should be handled carefully, transparently and constitutionally.” He disclosed that the incoming administration of Ohanaeze must take the organisation further from the height that Chief Nwodo-led administration has attained.
The National President of Indigenous Igbo Youths Congress (IIYC), Chief Mayor Echefu, has raised the alarm of plans by the Nwodo led executives, Imo State governor and the stakeholders for supporting a candidate of Ohanaeze that will do the bidding of the group that is tormenting the Igbo.
According to him, “the said Imo stakeholders are expired politicians; they can’t win elections in their polling units and yet they are endorsing candidates,” harping that, “ how can spent politicians claim to be speaking for Imo people, it doesn’t add up. If the Imo State government wants to destroy Ohanaeze, we will resist that. Any attempt to hand over Ohanaeze to the caliphate will not be allowed. The incoming president must recognize IPOB and work with it to enjoy peace.”
Nwodo fights back
Reacting the allegations making the rounds in the social media that Chief Nwodo was working with the Imo State stakeholders to foist a candidate on the organisation, the President General in a statement emphasized that, “the attention of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide has been drawn to a spurious, mendacious and malicious news item making the rounds that a candidate has been chosen to occupy the post of the President General of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, which by rotation, is now the turn of Imo state.
“The said vexatious piece would have been ignored for the chaff it is but for the fact that it impinges on the solid and time-tested tradition of Ohanaeze Ndigbo in choosing its leadership and the integrity of its present President General, Chief John Nnia Nwodo.
“The truth of the matter is that posts in Ohanaeze Ndigbo are rotational and positions zoned to states. It is the responsibility of states to choose their candidates, which they may prune down for their convenience.
“Ohanaeze Ndigbo has the responsibility of organising election for all those who indicate interest and buy forms for the election.
It is therefore, preposterous and the height of mischief for anybody to write or in any way infer that Chief Nwodo went for an Imo State stakeholders meeting at Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyawu’s office.
“Chief Nwodo couldn’t have been at a meeting of Imo State Leaders Thought for the purpose of choosing a candidate for President General when he wasn’t invited and Ohanaeze didn’t organise it.
“Moreover, the decision at the meeting will not stop Ohanaeze from conducting the forth-coming election.
As a matter of fact, Chief Nwodo has not visited Chief Iwuanyanwu since the latter’s birthday celebration last year. They only met recently at a meeting with the governors of the South East over other matters.
“It is wrong for people to listen to an illegitimate, sponsored and disgruntled group of people masquerading as the Youth Wing of Ohanaeze.
“It is also a great affront to the dignity and image of Ndigbo for purveyors of this fake news intended to mislead the public to be taken seriously.
People should verify such information from the office of the President General before accepting or releasing them, unless some mischief is intended. “As to the conduct of the election, Ohanaeze Ndigbo will make an announcement after the meeting of the Imeobi next week.
No amount of innuendos and blackmail will deter Ohanaeze from bequeathing a virile leadership to Ndigbo.
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.”
Birth of Ohanaeze
After the Nigerian civil war, some prominent Igbo gathered to proclaim the need to unify Igbo under a common umbrella body. This initiative was much welcomed considering maximum displacement of the Igbo during the war and its aftermath.
An organization named the Igbo National Assembly (INA) was created. This organisation 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 Igbo via the organisation; hence, the creation of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, in 1976.
Prof. Ben Nwabueze, a foremost constitutional lawyer, assembled prominent Igbo leaders to form the organization and later emerged the Secretary-General, spanning a period of 20 years. The organisation was effectively championed and supported by Dr. Kingsley Mbadiwe, Dr. Francis Akanu Ibiam, Dr. Michael Iheonukara Okpara, Dr. Pius Okigbo, and Chief Jerome Udorji, among other notable Igbo personalities.