…As Igbos, Afenifere, ACF set agenda
By Onyedika Agbedo
Since the January 10, 2017 general election of Ohanaeze Ndigbo which produced Chief John Nnia Nwodo as president-general, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation has remained in the consciousness of the Nigerian public. News about the organisation and its new leadership has continued to grace the media almost on a daily basis, ranging from congratulatory to advisory messages. And suddenly, Ohanaeze has woken up from slumber mainly because of the choice of its President-General who is widely seen as someone who has deep knowledge about this nation and its people, and understands what it takes to lead the Igbo as Nigeria continues its search for nationhood.
President Muhammadu Buhari was among the first set of Nigerians to congratulate the organisation on the emergence of Nwodo. There were also congratulatory messages from Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, and Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), the pan-northern socio-political organisation. Both organisations lauded Ohanaeze over the choice of Nwodo as president-general and pledged to work with the new leadership towards building a united and prosperous Nigeria. Even within Igboland, Nwodo’s emergence has been greeted with widespread excitement and acceptance as evidenced in the quantum of goodwill messages Ohanaeze has received from illustrious Igbo sons and daughters in the past 12 days. Their general view is that the organisation got it right this time; and they have every reason to think so.
A two-time minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Nwodo’s leadership qualities manifested early in life. From the College of Immaculate Conception, Enugu, where he was Assistant Senior Prefect in 1970 to the University of Ibadan where he was the president of the Students’ Union between 1973 and 1974, his leadership profile has witnessed impressive growth over the years.
Born on December 11, 1952, to the family of the late John Ugwuamakofia Nwodo of Ukehe in Igbo-Etiti Local Council Area of Enugu State, Nwodo attended St. Patrick’s School, Iva Valley, Enugu (1957-1960), Holy Ghost Primary School, Enugu (1961-1962) and St. Mary’s School, Uwani, Enugu (1963) for his primary education. He enrolled into the College of Immaculate Conception, Enugu, in 1964 where he obtained his West African School Certificate in 1970.
For his university education, Nwodo attended University of Ibadan, Jos Campus (1971-1972); University of Ibadan, Ibadan (1972-1976); London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London (1984-1987); and Nigeria Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos (1988).
He holds a B.Sc. Hons Economics Second Class Honours (Lower Division) (1976); LLB. Hons Second Class Honours, Upper Division (1987); and BL Second Class Hons Lower Division) (1988).
Nwodo worked as a Research Assistant, Federal Cabinet Office Lagos (1975); General Manager, Chief J.U. Nwodo & Sons Ltd (1978); State Secretary, National Party of Nigeria, Anambra State Branch (1978-1980); Special Assistant to the President of Nigeria on Information (1980-1981); Special Assistant to the President of Nigeria on Special Duties (1981-1983); Minister for Civil Aviation (1983), Partner, Dr. J.N. Nwodo & Co. (1989-1992); Chairman, Urban Development Bank of Nigeria Plc (1993); Principal Partner Nnia Nwodo & Co. (1993till date); and Part time Lecturer in Constitutional Law, Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT) (1996-1999).
He was also Minister of Information and Culture (1998-1999); Chairman, Viva Securities, a member of the Nigeria Stock Exchange (1998-2006); and Chairman, Enugu State Centenary Committee (June 2009).
Endowed with good inter-personal relationship qualities, Nwodo has attended many international conferences and seminars such as the Economic Community of West African State Summit Meeting in Conakry, Guinea (1982); Pan-African News Agency, Ministerial Conference, Dakar Senegal (1981); Understanding the Fundamentals of the Oil Industry, Gorse Hill Working Survey, U.K (1999); Contracts in the Oil and Gas Industry Negotiation and Drafting, Scotland U.K. (1999); Energy and Infrastructure in the Americas (1997) and Profit Finance for Oil and Gas, London (1997).
He was a member of the Presidential Entourage on State Visits and Bilateral Talks to United States of America (1980), United Nations (1980), United Kingdom (1981), Yugoslavia (1981), Hungary (1981), India (1982), Pakistan (1982), Saudi Arabia (1982), United Kingdom (1998), France (1998), USA/United Nations (1998), Burkina Faso (1998), Mali (1998) and Togo (1998).
A lawyer and economist, Nwodo is a member of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Enugu; member, International Bar Association; Legal Adviser and Life Member, University of Ibadan Alumni Association, Enugu Branch; Member, LSE Club (Association of Alumni of London School of Economics and Political Science).
He has been variously honoured as life patron, University of Nigeria Alumni Association, Enugu Branch (1988); Arkinsas Traveller from Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas (1992); life member of the University of Ibadan Alumni Association (1993); honourary fellow of the University of Nigerian Students Union (1995); Certificate of Honour by Igbo Etiti Students Association (1996); Honourary Award of the Law Students Association (LA WSA), Enugu State University of Science and Technology (1997); Professional Service Award by Rotary International District 9140 (1997); Merit Award of Excellency by Association of Staff Development and Distant Education Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu (1998); Philanthropic Award by Federated Association of Nsukka Students (FANS) (1998); and Fellow, Common Wealth Journalists Association (1998). He has delivered many public lectures and has a lot of publications to his credit.
Although he had retired from public life in September 2013 after losing his wife, Justice Regina Obiageli Nwodo of Federal Court of Appeal, Lagos, to death, Sunday Sun gathered that his emergence as the president-general of Ohanaeze was not happenstance.
Elder statesman and chieftain of Ohanaeze, Chief Guy Ikokwu, told Sunday Sun that his choice was strategic, stressing that, “we needed a leader that already understands Nigeria.”
He said: “What happened was that the last administration of Ohanaeze took time to stabilise the organisation. They did all the necessary works that needed be done to ensure the stability of the forum. But at the same time they wanted to make sure that they hand over to a team, which will consolidate on what they had done and not a team that will take the organisation backward as was the case in the past. So, they appealed to many of us to assist them and that was what we did. We had to make sure that there was more discipline among our people; that Igbos do not place money above the ideals of the Igbo nation; that they do not gamble with the future of our children.”
Ikokwu added: “We needed a leadership that already understands Nigeria. We needed a leadership that all sections of the country will be comfortable to deal with and talk to. We needed a leadership that our youths in Igboland will not think that we are gambling with their future. So, we had to look for somebody who has got that charisma and who is knowledgeable enough to fit into the position of president-general. It took us almost one year to look at the potential candidates and so on. In the end, we felt that Nwodo was one of the best persons for that role.
“He is not only an economist, he is also a lawyer; he was also a student activist; he was also one of the youngest ministers Nigeria has ever had as minister of Civil Aviation in the Second Republic. Nwodo has worked with the northern hegemony and interacts very well with virtually all sections of the country. So, he knows Nigeria and how to do his ground works in a manner that will be appealing to all sections of the country. We saw that in him and had to go for him.”
Interestingly, the ACF, Afenifere and other like-mind organisations in the country that had reached out to Ohanaeze since the new leadership share similar view about Nwodo.
The ACF had in its congratulatory message to Ohanaeze, which was signed by its National Publicity Secretary of the ACF, Mr. Muhammad Ibrahim, noted that the election of Nwodo was not only timely but appropriate, “considering his wide disposition, knowledge and experience in the Nigerian project.”
Ibrahim had urged Nwodo to bring his wealth of experience in the public and private sectors to bear in moving the nation forward.
“The ACF is confident that as a former minister of the Federal Republic and an astute politician, Nwodo will surely build bridges of understanding, respect and good relations with us for the common good of all. ACF has over the years interacted and shared common ideas with Ohanaeze Ndigbo on unity, peaceful coexistence and development of our people irrespective of where they reside to pursue their legitimate businesses. Ohanaeze Ndigbo under the leadership of Nwodo should not only sustain this cordial relationship but consolidate it to a greater height.”
Afenifere had on its own part urged the new leadership to quickly settle down for business and set its agenda for the crucial contribution Igbos to the search for nationhood.
In its congratulatory message to the new leadership signed by its national publicity secretary, Mr Yinka Odumakin, Afenifere said: “We cannot pretend that all is well with our country at this moment that the entire architecture of governance and statehood are under intense strains of anachronistic politics of conquest and domination that has been the bane of our country. We ask the new leadership to quickly settle down for business and set its agenda for Ndigbo’s crucial contribution to our search for nationhood.”
An insider in the affairs of Ohanaeze, who spoke on the agenda Nwodo and his team would be pursuing in the next four years, told Sunday Sun that the expectations of the ACF and Afenifere were not far from the dreams of the new leadership, stressing that Ohanaeze under Nwodo would be out for a just and equitable Nigeria.
The source, who craved anonymity, said: “The important thing is that we want a nation that is just and equitable such that Nigeria will grow faster than it is growing at the moment. We want a country that can grow at eight or nine per cent per annum like China did. When a country grows fast, it provides employment for the citizenry but what we have now is under-employment. When Nigeria grows like that, it is good for the Igbos, Hausa/Fulani, Yorubas, Ijaws, Middle Beltans and for all Nigerians. What is good for us as Igbos is also good for others. So, there should be equity in the country. When that happens, Nigeria will be one of the strongest countries in the world.”
He added: “Today, they are calling Nigeria big for nothing; but we should no longer be big for nothing, we should be big for something. So, there is a lot that will go into achieving this and we trust that the current leadership of Ohanaeze will be able to articulate a line of action and synergy with other interest groups more than most of us. And he will be doing that as an insider because a lot of people will give him the trust and relevant information he will require. You could see that immediately the result of the election was announced, President Buhari was among the first set of people that congratulated him. There were also congratulatory messages from the ACF and Afenifere. So, there is something coming that will be good for Nigeria; that is the issue. There will be discussions across board; there has to be compromise; there has to be give and take. For instance, if you know that what a section of the country wants tallies with the progress of Nigeria and there is justice and equity, why don’t you compromise? All these arrest him, detain him and imprison him will be addressed because they don’t make any nation to prosper.”
Sunday Sun learnt that Nwodo would be announcing his road map for Ohanaeze and Igboland soon after the first national executive meeting of the organisation. But his acceptance speech after the election provides an insight into the issues he would likely grapple with throughout his tenure.
“I will enshrine transparency and accountability in the affairs of Ohanaeze. I will work with my team to re-invigorate the entire Southeast for productivity and re-establish Enugu as the capital of the Southeast. Ohanaeze will dialogue and find lasting solution to the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) and other agitations and reconcile our children to ourselves. As well, we will help to build a united and striving Nigeria in all ramifications,” he declared.
Those are the issues that bother well-meaning Igbo sons and daughters. How well he will address them remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that the expectations on him transcend the Igbo nation and he cannot afford to fail.