Ndigbo from across the globe converged on Enugu penultimate Tuesday to elect a 17-member leadership for the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, with former minister John Nnia Nwodo and Uche Okwukwu emerging president-general and secretary-general, respectively. Christopher Isiguzo, in Enugu, writes on what the new leadership means for the Igbo
On January 8, Ndigbo from across the globe inched closer to attaining the much desired unity and oneness as they converged on Enugu to choose those to pilot the affairs of their apex socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, for the next four years. The assembly elected Second Republic Minister of Civil Aviation, who later became Minister of Information in 1998, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, as president-general.
Prior to the all-important election, the organisation had been enmeshed in leadership squabbles over the years, culminating in the inability of the people of the South-east to effectively join forces to achieve set goals. In clear terms, while the then Chief Gary Igariwey’s led executive battled to retain its legitimacy, another group of Igbo personalities led by Chief Ralph Obioha insisted that executive had outlived its usefulness and should be changed.
The development lingered until the intervention of Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State late last year, which made the two groups to sheathe their swords, albeit momentarily. The inability of the people of the South-east to operate as a collective has been evident. Apart from Ohanaeze Ndigbo whose leaders were entangled in a crisis, the South-east Governors’ Forum which was once formidable especially during the chairmanships of Mr. Peter Obi, then governor of Anambra State and later Senator Theodore Orji of Abia State, has equally become moribund since the last two years.
The development may not be unconnected with the fact that the states’ helmsmen have allowed their party differences to becloud their sense of devotion to the region’s political and economic unity. At the moment, there is no common forum through which the governors in the zone could be reached, making the zone the only one out of the six zones in the country where their governors are unable to present a common front. While three out of the five governors – Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia), Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu) and Dave Umahi (Ebonyi – belong to the Peoples Democratic Party, their counterparts from Anambra, (Willie Obiano) and Imo (Rochas Okorocha) belong to the All Progressives Grand Alliance and the All Progressives Congress, respectively.
Return of Unity
The above made the election of last Tuesday very unique, as it signposted the beginning of unity in the zone. The major power blocs in the zone came together. They included the governors, members of the national and state assemblies, the Igbo Leaders of Thought (ILT) led by renowned constitutional lawyer, Prof Ben Nwabueze, whose deputy leader, Prof Chiweyite Ejike, took part in the election, pro-Biafra groups, including the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), affiliate bodies, including Aka-Ikenga, Izu Umunna, Igbos in Diaspora, Ndigbo Lagos, Ndigbo South West, Ndigbo Abuja, Igbo Delegates Assembly, traditional rulers, World Igbo Congress, among others. They endorsed for the Enugu election, making it the first time such a huge number of Igbo groups would be supporting an Ohanaeze general election.
The 64-year old Nwodo from Ukehe in Igboetiti Local Government Area of Enugu State defeated former Vice chancellor of Anambra State University of Science and Technology, Prof Chinweyite Ejike, to emerge the new president-general. Nwodo polled 242 votes as against Ejike’s 13 votes.
While two others contestants for the position, Prof Simon Ortuanya and Chief Joel Ezeugwu, had earlier stepped down from the race and endorsed Nwodo in their stead, Admiral Allison Madueke, who initially bought the form for the exercise, neither appeared for screening nor showed up at the election, fuelling insinuations that he might have withdrawn from the race.
A former Deputy Inspector General of Police, Hillary Opara, and Uche Okwukwu emerged deputy president-general and secretary-general, respectively, while a former deputy governor of Ebonyi State, Prof Chigozie Ogbu, was elected vice president-general.
Other officials were also elected at the gathering, which attracted the presence of top Igbo leaders, including a former Senate President Ken Nnamani, former governor of old Enugu State, Okwesilieze Nwodo, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, and Senator Chuka Utazi. They were Mr. Emeka Ogwu who was elected national treasurer, Dr Solomon Ogunji, who emerged deputy secretary-general, and Charles Odunukwe, who was elected vice president, Anambra. Others were Dr Sylvester Ebigwei, vice president, Delta; Elder Onuoha Udeka, vice president, Abia; Prince Igo Okpalanma, vice president, Rivers; Chief Eric Ebeh, assistant national treasurer; Mr Alphonsus Duru, financial secretary; and Elder Chris Eluomunoh, assistant financial secretary.
Mr Uche Ani was elected publicity secretary; Chuks Ibegbu, assistant publicity secretary; Chief Chuks Momah (SAN), national legal adviser, and a former PDP chairman in Ebonyi State, Chief Okeagu Ogada, national assistant legal adviser.
Though none of the governors or ministers from the South-east was present at the event, the deputy governors of Enugu and Ebonyi states, Mrs. Cecilia Ezeilo and Kelechi Igwe, respectively, were at the national secretariat of Ohaneze, venue of the election, at about 5:30pm when the results were being collated.
Igariwey told the gathering that his executive recorded some modest achievements, especially the on-going construction of an ultra-modern secretariat for the organization by Okorocha. He used the opportunity to call for political and economic restructuring of the country to facilitate economic recovery and development, noting that in the early days of the country, all the regions as well as the country had rapid development due to the national political and economic structure.
The former Ohanaeze leader stated, “Then, there was a great patriotism which moved production and development from the region to the centre, ensuring that each region specialised in what it can produce on comparative advantage. Most of the development in the North and that regions establishment was made possible through massive cultivation and export of groundnut. The South-west profited greatly from cocoa sales leading to economic and educational expansion of that zone. In the South-east and South-south, palm produce provided the tonic to keep Ndigbo’s economy and entrepreneurial-drive striving.”
He said the organisation under him and through various representatives, even took the need for restructuring to the 2014 National Conference in Abuja. “The President-General, Secretary-General and some members of Ohaneze played prominent roles in the 2014 National Conference in Abuja, where we demanded for restructuring of Nigeria to reflect true federalism. “We also demanded for fiscal federalism; devolution of powers, responsibilities and resources from the Federal Government to the federating unit and citizenship rights, among others.”
On his part, the chairman of the election committee, Prof Anya O. Anya, said the election coming exactly 50 years after the Nigeria/Biafra war in 1967 showed that the Igbo were in the threshold of a new era and called for sober reflection. Anya recalled that the defunct Eastern Region built the fastest growing economy in 1964, expressing dismay that the zone has continued to totter afterwards. He urged the new leadership to restore the lost glory of the Igbo.
The new president-general pledged his readiness to serve Ndigbo with commitment and dedication. Nwodo pledged to dialogue with IPOB to make the self-determination group speak in one voice with Ohanaeze Ndigbo. He promised to enthrone integrity and make efforts to repatriate Igbo business capital scattered in diaspora back to Igbo land.
Speaking after the election, former Minister of Health and secretary of the election committee, Prof A.B.C. Nwosu, dismiss insinuations that the five governors of the South-east states as well as governors of Rivers and Delta states had effectively hijacked the organisation by imposing their cronies as new leaders of the Igbo group.
Nwosu said rather than accuse the governors of hijacking the organisations, Ndigbo across the globe should be excited that after several years, the governors finally accepted to show healthy interest in the affairs of Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
Nwosu, who also served as the returning officer at the election, said the calibre of people elected into the organisation’s executive council was a clear indication that the future of the Igbo in the Nigerian project had become much brighter, adding that the new leaders would also midwife the much needed unity among Igbos in the country.
According to Nwosu, “Ohaneze Ndi Igbo has not been hijacked by the governors. What happened yesterday during the election was what we have been looking for and have not had for a long time that the governors only showed healthy interest in Ohaneze so that it will not be in conflict with the people without compromising the independence of Ohaneze.
“The way the president-general has emerged, no rationale being will say that Nwodo was the candidate of the governor. The same process of zoning and consensus of Enugu people that produced the governor, with the best of my knowledge, also produced the president-general of Ohaneze. The National Election Committee applied Ohaneze’s constitution and five people bought the form at half a million naira. One of them dropped because he did not show up for the screening and elections even though he bought the form.
“It would be wrong for people who lost in the election to claim that it was hijacked and I will challenge them anywhere. What does it portend for the Igbo nation? Ohaneze should be seen as the Board of Trustees in the conscience of the of the Igbo nation while the governors are the implementers of the wishes and directions that the Igbo nation wishes to go. Ohaneze cannot implement anything. So they lose nothing by having a buy-in with the governors. What is expected now is for Ohaneze to have a clear vision. The governors of the Igbo nation, irrespective of their political affiliations, know where politics ends and the interest of Ndi Igbo begins.
I am alarmed that the 17 elected members sworn in yesterday comprised of governor’s candidates. The certificate of return for example included DIG Hilary Opara, and if anybody wanted him not to emerge, he would not have emerged. And if he finally emerged no matter what, it shows that he had a free hand during the process.”
The former minister expressed optimism that for the first time in a long while, Ndigbo had got it right by organising a rancour-free election for Ohanaeze, adding, “Our new leader is eminently qualified in character and in learning as well as in pedigree to lead Ndigbo. He has promised to run a consultative administration and we wish him well and hope that all those he will consult from time to time will give him the best of advice.”
He also dismissed as false some impressions that some people were “technically excluded” from taking part in the election, explaining that all those who complied with the provisions of Ohanaeze constitution enjoyed freedom to contest for positions.
However, while congratulatory messages have continued to pour in for the new leaders of Ohanaeze, a group, Ohanaeze Caretaker Committee, has reportedly headed for the court to seek the nullification of the Ohanaeze election on the allegation that the Igariwey-led executive lacked the legitimacy to conduct the election. In a suit they filed at the Enugu High Court on December 21 against the Igariwey executive, the group led by Chief Ralph Obioha had asked the court to stop them from conducting any election into the body. The court on December 22 granted the applicants leave of service by substituted means.
They had further contended that members of the Igariwey executive were card carrying members of political parties, contrary to the constitution of Ohanaeze, stressing that they should not be allowed to conduct the election.
Several leaders and groups have congratulated Nwodo on his election. President Muhammadu Buhari, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, and Governors Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Okorocha, Umahi and Obiano as well as MASSOB, IPOB and the South East Democratic Coalition (SEDC) have declared their readiness to work with the new leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
In a statement by the presidential spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, Buhari urged Ndigbo to support Nwodo to fulfil the mandate of the organisation “in these challenging times”.
The statement read: “President Buhari believes that Chief Nwodo is eminently qualified for the job given his long years of distinguished service to the nation, which includes, Minister of Civil Aviation in the Second Republic under President Shehu Shagari and Minister of Information and Culture during the administration of General Abdulsalami Abubakar.
“As Chief Nwodo prepares to settle down with his team to implement his vision for Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the President appeals to Ndi Igbo as well as the wider community of Nigerians to support the new leadership to fulfill their mandate in these challenging times.
“President Buhari looks forward to working with the new leadership, and assures Ohanaeze Ndigbo that his administration will continue to be a partner-in-progress in implementing suggestions, measures and programmes to advance the unity, development and prosperity of Nigeria. The President wishes the Chief Nwodo-led Ohanaeze Ndigbo, a peaceful and prosperous tenure.”
It is hoped that the new leadership would provide the much needed unity and direction for Ndigbo in the country’s politics.