By Cosmas Omegoh
He is home to serve his people. After his sojourn in the field of academia and in lands far-flung, consummate scholar, diplomat, Prof George Obiozor was last Sunday, given the nod to lead the Igbo nation.
At Dan Anyiam Stadium in Owerri, Imo State, Prof Obiozor was elected president general of the apex Igbo social-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
The position of president general of Ohanaeze is rotated among Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi, Abia and Imo states in the South East, as well as Rivers and Delta states in the South-south geopolitical zone in an agreed order.
Prof Obiozor will effectively become the next president general from January 21, 2021, after his predecessor, Chief Nnia Nwodo from Enugu State, had recently completed his tenure.
All eyes are on Obiozor to bring his wealth of experience in the fields of academia, management and international diplomacy to bear as he takes the front seat to push Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Igbo nation beyond the enviable height Chief Nwodo had elevated the office in the last four years.
At 78, everyone expects him to bring to the table lots of tact, wisdom, native intelligence and more ingredients required of men of his class and stature. He is expected to stoutly stand as a solid bridge between the old and the new generations, drawing from the wisdom of the old to moderate the exuberances of the young. That is usually the place of elderly statesmen when they return home to rejoin their kinsmen to contribute their quota with the last ounce of energy still left in their sinew before joyfully returning to join their awaiting ancestors in a blaze of glory.
Shortly before last Sunday’s election, six contestants were lined up for the position. They included Prof Obiozor, Dr Joe Nwaorgu, Dr Chris Asoluka, Prof Chidi Osuagwu, Chief Goddy Uwazurike and Prof Nnaemeka Obiaraeri.
Obiozor defeated the only two candidates still standing in a contest that was partly blighted by accusations and allegations of irregularities which forced the withdrawal of some aggrieved candidates.
Earlier, it emerged that Prof Obiozor was picked as a consensus candidate at theIme-obi meeting organised by the outgoing exco. Those infuriated by this alleged arrangement were said to have flayed it as “unconstitutional.”
Before the controversy erupted, an aggrieved faction of Ohaneaze Ndigbo led by a certain Uche Okwukwu was in the background running things. Just a day before the election, it went ahead to elect its own parallel executive, having loudly been complaining against the electoral committee set up the outgoing Chief Nwodo-led executive to birth the new exco to be led by Obiozor.
The signal that went out for all to see is that all is not totally well with the Ohanaeze Ndigbo. And what is more? The new Obiozor-led exco just before it hits the ground running has inherited rifts and cracks which it has to work really hard to plaster. It has to deploy high-level diplomacy to weld all the warring individuals or group(s) in order to build the real respectable Ohanaeze Ndigbo everyone craves to see. And this has to be seen to have been done and urgently too.
It is against this backdrop that Obiozor has to move quickly. And the place to build the much-expected inclusiveness is the Ime-obi, where elders drink the elder drink, employing the blood-red palm oil elders use to eat words as venerable Chinua Achebe would put it.
Interestingly, Obiozor was quoted to have laid out a four-point agenda he intends to achieve before he stands down. They include “security, economy, education, peace, and reconciliation.”
This was made known in his speech after his emergence, promising that he would not disappoint.
Speaking about his election, he said: “I know this is no easy decision on the part of Ndigbo or even my humble self. But I promise you all and my God, that I shall take up to the best of my ability to tackle the challenges and the responsibilities that come with the hallowed office with honour, dignity, dedication, decency, and decorum.
”My dream type of leadership is leader/manager model, using the most and best available efficient persons and instruments to achieve Igbo collectively defined objectives. I believe this can be done without malice, but with diplomatic dexterity, decency, candour, and decorum.”
Then he added: ”My most compelling necessity was service, a timely and crucial service at one of the most critical times in Nigeria’s history with dire consequences, particularly for Ndigbo as a national entity.
“Indeed, not only has governance become both difficult and complex in Nigeria, but downright an existential threat to Ndigbo in particular. The Igbo dilemma in Nigeria has come at last. And the time requires a very careful and delicate skilled manager in the relationships between Ndigbo and other Nigerian nationalities especially the national power elite. This requires a mature and experienced person with a capacity to build enough consensus to define and defend the interest of Ndigbo.
“Ndigbo must be safe at home and abroad. Ndigbo must never again be victims of circumstances they did not create nor can they control. Security of Ndigbo, young or old will be a priority in my tenure. And security does not come alone, it comes with justice. Therefore, we must always seek justice, equity, and fairness no matter how difficult or how long it takes to achieve them.”
He assured that he would “continue with religious zeal and commitment” to pursue the South-East Economic Stabilisation Fund already emplaced by the outgoing administration, and assured that he would work to revamp education in the member states, working in concert with the governors.
Then he added in his appeal to Ndigbo: “We must make peace among ourselves. We must engage in healing Igboland, spirit of reconciliation and harmony among Ndigbo. Peace must reign in Igboland.”
Perhaps Obiozor will be encouraged to accomplish the task he set for himself by the avalanche of goodwill messages, he had received from individuals and groups across the divide including the Presidency.
Perhaps the felicitations are not for Obiozor alone, but for the office he is stepping into too. Such is the pedigree of Ohanaeze Ndigbo in national and global schemes. The signal to Obizor is that he stands to steer some extent, the hope and aspiration, collective future and dignity of tens of millions of his kinsmen and many other Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora – a strong message that he cannot afford to fail.
Born on August 15, 1942 in Awo-Omamma, Imo State, Prof Obiozor attended Awo-Omamma Comprehensive Secondary School between 1959 1963 and Institute of African Studies, Geneva, Switzerland in 1967 for his diploma programme
He also attended the University of South Tacoma, Washington, USA, where he earned a B.A.(Hons) Political Science in 1968, Columbia University, New York for M.A. International Law and Organisation, M. Phi International Affairs in 1974 and PhD International Affairs in 1976.
After working in various enviable capacities, he made a name for himself as a scholar with a specialty in International Relations and diplomacy.
He was the Director-General, Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, Lagos between 1991 -1999.
He was posted as Nigerian High Commissioner to the Republic of Cyprus in 1999 and Nigerian Ambassador to Israel (1999 – 2003). He was the Nigerian ambassador to the United States, from 2004 to 2008.