Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the greatest Nigerian ever, remains to this day the only person to be made the patron of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex socio-cultural organisation of all Igbo people, numbering some 40 million. Zik of Africa is richly deserving of this honour. Yet, on the day he was being honoured by the nation with the inauguration of the long-awaited Zik Mausoleum in his hometown of Onitsha, in Anambra State, the Ohanaeze leadership chose to desecrate his memory and, of course, the entire Igboland as well as the Nigerian nation, if not the whole Black world because the Great Zik lived and died for all Blacks and Africans.
Once it was announced that President Muhammadu Buhari would commission the mausoleum on Friday, January 24, the Ohanaeze leadership chose to fix a meeting of Ime Obi, that is, the inner caucus, at 10am on the day the President was visiting. Statutory Ime Obi members include ministers from the South East who, of course, were bound to be with the visiting President. In other words, the Ohanaeze leaders did not want ministers and other prominent Ime Obi members to attend.
Well-meaning Igbo leaders, like Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, who is chairman of the South East Governors’ Forum, advised that the meeting be shifted to another day so that it could be more inclusive. Ohanaeze leaders refused, but accepted to shift it to 4pm the same day. Other Igbo leaders, like Dr. Chris Ngige, protested because the President would still be around with his ministers and other aides from the South East till 6pm when he was scheduled to return to Abuja from Akanu Ibiam Airport in Enugu. At this point, the Ohanaeze President-General, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, announced that the meeting would now hold at 7pm, and it was widely publicised in the media.
But before 6pm, the Ohanaeze leaders had concluded the meeting at Nike Lake Hotel. For instance, delegations from Ebonyi and Anambra states, comprising top government functionaries who arrived early enough were shocked that the meeting had already taken place. There was no Ohanaeze leader in sight at the hotel by 7pm. None could be reached on the phone, according to journalists who tried to do so.
The meeting had only one agenda: adoption of a presidential candidate in the 2019 vote. The Ime Obi Ohanaeze, as expected, chose Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), dressing him in borrowed robes, as William Shakespeare would say.
Nwodo and his associates may have been afflicted by a tragicomedy kind of amnesia. The only time an Igbo came very close to being Nigeria’s President since the Civil War ended in 1970 was in 1999 when former Vice President Alex Ekwueme almost won the PDP presidential ticket. Ekwueme practically founded and led the party with dignity, thus turning it into a national movement. As Dr. Ekwueme was about to pick the ticket unopposed, the PDP wing known as the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), led by Atiku Abubakar, went into an emergency alliance with army generals, such as T.Y. Danjuma, joined the PDP with a view to hijacking it. Their sole mission was to stop an Igbo from becoming Nigeria’s President. They succeeded. Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, who had just been released from jail and knew next to nothing about events in the country and made no contribution to the party, was handed the PDP presidential ticket.
Ekwueme was living quietly in his hometown of Oko in Anambra State when northern politicians, led by Atiku Abubakar, prevailed on him to run against the sitting President in 2003, pledging to support him all the way. Ekwueme reluctantly accepted. But guess what? At the (Special) Presidential Election Convention in Abuja, Ekwueme, the former Vice President, pledged to do only one term, which would enable Atiku to take over as President in 2007. Yet, Atiku chose to humiliate Ekwueme, as he and his powerful group supported Obasanjo. They succeeded in humiliating Ekwueme, a fantastic gentleman, polyvalent intellectual and statesman in the finest of this word. Ekwueme scored a fewer votes than he did four years earlier at the PDP Presidential Election Convention.
It is a grave paradox that Atiku, who has been behind the machination to not only deny an Igboman a shot at the presidency but disgraced a national icon in the person of Dr. Ekwueme, is now being celebrated by a couple of Ohanaeze officials as an Igbo messiah. Great Igbo leaders, like Dr. Azikiwe, Dr. Ekwueme, Dr. Michael Okpara, Dr. Akanu Ibiam, Dim Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Chief C.C. Onoh, Dr. Sam Mbakwe and others must be turning in their graves that Ohanaeze leaders have done it again. Just four years ago, they declared, without any sense of embarrassment, that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw from Bayelsa State, was Igbo. In fact, they went as far as concocting the fantastic story that Jonathan was living in Oguta, Imo State, during the Nigerian Civil War.
Ohanaeze leaders then made sure that Jonathan did not rehabilitate one single federal road in the South East for the six years he was President. They made sure he did not touch the Second Niger Bridge, which he pledged at a town hall meeting attended by then Governor Peter Obi and the Obi of Onitsha in Onitsha in September 2012 to complete in 2013 or else go into exile. They made sure that Jonathan, whom they gave the middle Igbo names of “Ebele Azikiwe,” did not touch the Zik Mausoleum started by the Gen. Sani Abacha regime 23 years ago. What happened to the huge amounts approved for the projects?
Many observers believe that endorsements of presidential candidates by Ohanaeze are fast turning into death kisses. Prof. Ben Nwabueze is reported by Chief Chekwas Okorie, leader of the United Progressive Party, who is also the Igbo Ezue founder, as unilaterally and controversially endorsing Chief Olu Falae in the 1999 presidential election on Ohanaeze’s behalf. Chief Falae was defeated, and Obasanjo who won thought that Dr. Ekwueme was behind the endorsement. The result was the ceaseless war, which he (Obasanjo) waged against Ekwueme throughout his presidency. Ohanaeze backed Dr. Jonathan in 2015 and in the process went on to demonise Gen. Buhari and the North. We are all living with the consequences of the endorsement.
Though Ohanaeze’s endorsements are a mere public relations stunt as they carry little electoral value, thoughtful Igbo people have been warning the organisation against such acts because of the high risks for NdIgbo. Top Igbo leaders belong to various political groups, and so it is a grave error to endorse one candidate or party. Ohanaeze should be an umbrella organisation for all Igbo, and not a partisan association. Why should Ohanaeze adopt Atiku, and not Professor Kingsley Moghalu of the Young Progressive Party (YPP), a highly knowledgeable, patriotic, bold, well-travelled and eloquent former Central Bank of Nigeria deputy governor, who is also a proud Igbo?
The Ohanaeze Ime Obi meeting of last Friday was obviously informed by a sinister agenda. Those who conceived and executed it have desecrated the Great Zik of Africa, Igboland and the whole nation. They must account for their action.
• Okechi is former chairman of the Committee on Information and Public Petitions in the Anambra State House of Assembly. Email: [email protected] 0803558 5188