Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Nigeria’s Foreign Policy, 1960-2020: Professor George Obiozor’s New Leeway

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By Bola A. Akinterinwa

Ohanaeze Ndigbo is the association of all Igbo socio-cultural groups at home and abroad. In terms of foreign policy concentricism, the association is the epicentre. In terms of vertical relationships, it is the apex organisation. As the organisation at the crescendo, emphasis is generally placed on uniting all Igbo socio-cultural groups to seek protection of their community interests in Nigeria where it is strongly believed that they have been marginalised in the political governance of Nigeria.

The Ohanaeze Ndigbo, established in 1976 as a non-political party, comprises the five Igbo States (Imo, Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi and Abia) and the indigenous communities in Rivers, Delta, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Kogi and Benue States. Apart from the main objective of unifying all Igbo people, emphasis is also placed on rapid economic growth and development of Igbo land.

Under the umbrella of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo are the World Igbo Summit Group (WISG), established in 2006, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Igbo Leadership Development Foundation, etc. And true enough, many Igbo people in the Diaspora fund several development projects back home. Their language, also called Igbo, is spoken in many countries where the population of Igbo indigenes is also important. These countries include Cameroun, Barbados, Belize, and Trinidad and Tobago.

What is particularly noteworthy about the Ohanaeze Ndigbo is that its members have been actively engaged in the political governance at different levels, but are not happy that there has not been an elected Igbo person as president. For instance, Dr. John Nwodo, the immediate past President General of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, told his successors, led by Professor George Obiozor, in his valedictory speech in Owerri, the Imo State capital, that the Obiozor administration must remain committed to the ‘radical re-visitation to the constitutional structure of Nigeria imposed on the country by the military.’

He put it differently thus: one of the first things his own administration addressed while in office was ‘the skewed political structure of Nigeria which left Ndigbo… with the lowest number of States and Local Governments in the Federation. Because of this, we got the lowest allocation of federally-collected revenues.’ And perhaps more significantly, ‘this situation has also jaundiced our states and local governments financially and prevented them from embarking on more developmental efforts than they are doing now.’ The nature of the challenges before Professor Obiozor cannot but therefore be tasking.

In this regard, how does Professor Obiozor go about his mandate as a diplomatic scholar? In which way can he impact on the polity and bring succour to the Igbo communities around the world? We will address the matter from a foreign policy perspective.

Ndigbo and Foreign Policy
The involvement of the Igbos in Nigeria’s foreign policy processes has been quite interesting since 1960 for various reasons. First, who really was Nigeria’s first Foreign Minister? This question is necessary because Dr. Jaja Anucha Wachukwu, a royal prince of Ngwaland, is considered by many political and academic observers as Nigeria’s first Foreign Minister.

For instance, Ambassador Victor Chibundu has written that Dr. Wachukwu was Nigeria’s first Foreign Minister. More recently, Dr. Wachukwu, who trained in the University of Dublin, Trinity College, the leading Irish university founded in 1592, was honoured by his alma mater and referred to again as Nigeria’s first Foreign Minister. These references are very misleading scholarly research purposes. True, Dr. Wachukwu was nominated to be the first Foreign Minister, but because of the disagreement arising from crisis of personality, Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa refused to accept him for consideration as Foreign Minister in 1960. It was not until April 1961 that the various appeals to the Prime Minister began to receive consideration and that Dr. Wachukwu would become the Foreign Minister as from July 1961. The question in this regard is who was the Foreign Minister before Dr. Wachukwu assumed duty as Foreign Minister?

Without whiff of doubt, Dr Wachukwu, born on January 1, 1918 and died on 7 November 1996, was very intelligent. He won many scholarships and prizes in schools and colleges. He had many firsts: the first Nigerian Speaker of the House of Representatives of Nigeria,1959-1960. He was the first Nigerian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations. But he was not the first Foreign Minister of Nigeria. Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who considered Dr. Wachukwu as arrogant, was not only the Prime Minister, but also Nigeria’s first Foreign Minister.

And true enough again, is the problem really that of arrogance? Jaja Wachukwu was a pan-Africanist, a statesman, a humanitarian, a lawyer who defended and saved Nelson Mandela from death penalty during the Rivonia Trial. The experiential knowledge and international exposure of Jaja Wachukwu probably made him to behave in a manner that gave the impression of arrogance, an arrogance that actually gave Nigeria her foundation of international concern and prestige. He was the one who argued in 1963 to the admiration of everyone that Article 2 (7) of the United Nations Charter on non-intervention in affairs that fall under the domestic preserve of sovereign states could not apply to Nigeria simply because of the obnoxious policies of segregation and apartheid in Southern Africa.

As argued by Jaja Wachukwu, apartheid could not be an exclusive domestic question of South Africa. In fact, Jaja Wachukwu came up with the policy of ‘no compromise with apartheid’ and the right of Nigeria to intervene in Togo in 1963, following the assassination of Sylvanus Olympio, who was considered a good and reliable friend of Nigeria. Thus, there is no disputing the fact that Dr. Jaja Wachukwu, as an Igbo man, has considerably impacted on Nigeria’s foreign policy. In the eyes of American diplomats, he was specially seen as a man of honour to whom respect must always be given.

For instance, in a note written by Ambassador Owen W. Roberts, who was US political Officer to Nigeria in 1964-1965, Ambassador portrayed Roberts portrayed Dr. Wachukwu as a very strong personality: ‘Nigerians, whatever their tribe, are a very strong, very assertive group. Foreign Minister Jaja Wachukwu was a surprise for many American diplomats because he considered himself as having a status equivalent to the British, French, German, or Russian Ministers. Wachukwu demanded that attention and respect… Senior US echelons weren’t used to dealing with Africans as assertive and as strong minded as the Nigerians were…Ambassador Mathews was not the kind of person to go in and tell Prime Minster Balewa or Foreign Minister Jaja Wachukwu how to do things…’ Consequently, the arrogance of Dr. Wachukwu should always be seen more in the context of Ndigbo contributions to nation-building, than in the context of an Indigbo arrogance. The arrogance is a challenge for the proponents of white supremacy.

Consequently, the point of essence is really not about the nitty-gritty of the contributions made by the Igbo people as part and parcel of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, but the need to underscore the point that there have been many of them appointed as Foreign Ministers of Nigeria. With the observation made above that Jaja Wachukwu was not Nigeria’s first Foreign Minister, requires differentiating between and among three categories of Foreign Ministers: Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, and Acting or supervisory Minister of Foreign Affairs in order to be able to appreciate the place of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo in the foreign policy processes, and particularly the challenges before Professor George Obiozor as the new President General of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo.

The appellation, Minister of Foreign Affairs, generally refers to the substantive first diplomatic agent and representative of Nigeria outside of Nigeria. Any international issue or questions in which Nigeria is interested fall under his competence. Unlike a Minister of Foreign affairs, a Minister of State for Foreign Affairs has responsibility for specific questions and subjects to manage, such as international organisations (Commonwealth, African Union, etc). The difference between the two Ministers is at the level of the two prepositions: of and for. Even though Ministers of State have been given a full ministerial status and can participate in cabinet meetings in Nigeria, a Minister of State for Foreign Affairs cannot take priority before a Minister of Foreign Affairs in the comity of Foreign Ministers. Even when there are two Foreign Ministers, there must also be the first and the second.

Explained differently, has Nigeria a Minister of Petroleum Resources under President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) apart from himself? As at today, and since 2015, there is none. Nigeria has had a Minister of State operating under PMB as supervisory Minister of Petroleum Resources. This is the situational reality in Nigeria. With these clarifications, it should be noted that whenever there was no appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs, there was also someone acting that position. The specific case of Dr Martins Uhomoibhi, then Permanent Secretary, but became supervisor of the Foreign Ministry in the absence of a Minister for, or Minister of, Foreign Affairs, is a case in point.
Consequently, in terms of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, there have been twenty-eight appointed Ministers of Foreign Affairs since 1960. The notion of Minister of Foreign Affairs is used here to cover both ‘Commissioner’, as used under the Yakubu Gowon for Okoi Arikpo or ‘external affairs’ as used in the time of Professor Bolaji Akinwande Akinyemi.

Dr. Jaja Wachukwu was Nigeria’s second Foreign Minister but the first Igbo man to be so appointed. The second Igbo man to be so appointed was Chief Emeka Anyaoku who was briefly the Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1983. Major General Ike Nwachukwu was the third Igbo man to be so appointed. He was Foreign Minister two times: 1987-1989 and 1990-1993. He was followed by Ambassador Ignatius Olisemeka in 1998-1999. The Ohanaeze Ndigbo has only produced two women Foreign Ministers: Dr (Mrs) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in 2006 and Mrs Joy Ogwu, Professor of International Relations, in 2006-2007. The other two Ndigbo men appointed as Nigeria’s Foreign Ministers were the late Chief Ojo Maduekwe, 2007-2010 and Mr Geoffrey Onyeama from 2015 to date.

This means that the Ohanaeze Ndigbo has produced Foreign Ministers nine times out of the twenty-eight times of opportunity that have existed. This represents 32.14%. If we remove the two cases of when Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa acted as Foreign Minister and when Dr. Martin Uhomoibhi supervised the Foreign Ministry, the percentage will be 34.61. The North has similarly produced Foreign Ministers nine times: Tafawa Balewa, 1960-1961; Nuhu Bamali, 1965-1966; Joseph Naven Garba, 1975-1978; Ibrahim Gambari, 1984-1985; Rilwanu Lukman,1989-1990; Baba Gana Kingibe, 1993-1995; Sule Lamido, 1993-2003; and Aminu Wali, 2013-2015. This observation does not factor in the fact that General Yakubu Gowon was his own Foreign Minister in 1966-1967 before the appointment of Okoi Arikpo as Commissioner for External Affairs.
The Yoruba have only had four opportunities: Henry Adefowope,1978-1979; Bolaji Akinyemi, 1985-1987; Oluyemi Adeniji, 2003-2006; and Olugbenga Ashiru, 2011-2013, thus representing 14.28%. The rest, 17.44%, is shared by all other communities.
Coming back specifically to Ohanaeze Ndigbo, their contributions in the foreign policy processes cannot be limited to ministerial levels. They have also been involved in other capacities and this brings us to the case of Professor Obiozor, who was not a Foreign Minister, but a diplomatic scholar, politician and diplomat and now an Ohanaeze activist.

Obiozor: Which Leeway Now?
George Obiozor as an academic scholar, trained at the Institute of African Studies, Albert Schweitzer College, and graduated in 1969 from the University of Puget Sound, a private university affiliated with the United Methodist Church in Tacoma, Washington. He obtained his doctorate degree in International Relations from the University of Columbia and joined the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) as a Senior Research Fellow in 1984. He rose to become the Director General of the institution.

He is the author of Uneasy Friendship: Nigeria-United States Relations published in 1992; The Politics of Precarious Balancing: an Analysis of Contending Issues in Nigerian Domestic and Foreign Policy, published in 1994; and Nigeria and the World: Managing the Politics of Diplomatic Ambivalence in a Changing World. He has published several articles in learned journals and many chapters in books. He has also contributed many papers in different colloquia, seminars, conferences and workshops. In fact, he takes active parts in different television conversation programmes.

As a politician and non-career diplomatic agent, he was formerly Nigeria’s plenipotentiary to Israel, with concurrent mandate for Cyprus from 1999-2003 and to the United States from 2004-2008. He was formerly a Special Adviser to President Shehu Shagari on International Relations and also a close collaborator with Major General Ike Nwachukwu when he was Foreign Minister.

The import of the foregoing is that Professor George Obiozor is well cut for and well exposed to the challenges of his new position as the President General of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, a socio-cultural group, but which has politico-diplomatic interests in addition. He relates well with ease with his many cultural jokes, and by so doing, has been able to get whatever he wants by first securing friendship. He makes very strong diplomatic points jokingly. He also softens protocolar requirements with interesting cultural tradition. In fact, Obiozor believes, as argued in 1863 by Otto von Bismarck, that politics is the doctrine of the possible and the art of the attainable.

Without any shadow of doubt, therefore, it can be expected that all the aims and objectives of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo shall be attained under Professor Obiozor as the President General. However, the challenges of being the President General of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo can be very daunting. First, the organisation has a six-point objective: promotion of Igbo language; ensuring settlement of intra-Igbo disputes peacefully and promoting peaceful-coexistence; promote Igbo self-help, self-reliance and mutual assistance where ever they may find themselves; providing direction and collective leadership in matters of shared interests and general welfare of the Ndigbo, promotion of honour, dignity and self-respect among Ndigbo; as well as liaising with all tiers of government in Nigeria in order to fast-track socio-economic in Igbo land.

The aspect of linking up with all tiers of government in Nigeria is an area that Professor Obiozor has all the necessary wherewithal to perform well and deliver as expected. He is generally well connected. Besides, the Igbos in Diaspora are strong and are generally home sick in terms of quests for better facilities at home. This is a critical area that Professor Obiozor can also count on apart from the tiers of governments.

Connecting with all tiers of government is one thing, the environment of connection is another. The environmental conditionings in Igbo land cannot be said to be conducive for any connections at the level of the Federal Government. For instance, the Igbo people are sharply divided on whether or not to pursue again a Sovereign State of Biafra, and whether or not to go for restructuring of Nigeria.
Another issue is the alleged marginalisation of the Igbo in political governance. While some have argued that the position of the president of Nigeria is not simply given on a platter of gold, some others have it that political governance should not be predicated on falsehood and double standard. If an agreement is reached, even if it is about a gentleman agreement, the spirit of commitment to it must always be given priority The problem, however, is the falsehood or insincerity of purpose that has come to characterise political governance in Nigeria, which now compels self-initiated survival strategies.

And true enough, with the logic of ”falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus,’ that is, ‘false in one, false in everything,’ there is no way a falsehood-driven government can be relied upon to be honest. For example, victims of kidnapping say they ransom to kidnappers before their release, but the security agents publicly argued to the contrary. Political parties also preach the sermon of political zoning when it is convenient, and when it is not, it is a different kettle of fish and sermon entirely. This is one major reason why the IPOB has been struggling for Biafran emancipation. But how does the new President General of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo handle the secession agenda of the IPOB and the MASSOB? How does he want to go about the issue of restructuring?

Promotion of Igbo language and culture cannot be a difficult challenge beyond seeking funding for provision of language training facilities. However, when we espy the foreign policy attitudinal dimensions, the issue of how Igbo leaders often behave can also be an impediment to the attainment of the aims and objectives of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo. The bastardisation and destruction of intellectual discipline at the NIIA by the Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council, by particularly forcefully protecting Igbo interest to the detriment of national interest, and to the extent of having to write direct letters to assessors of candidates for professorial appointments, breaching the rule of confidentiality, can only speak volumes. Also covering up acts of serious misconduct on ethnicgrounds cannot but remain a critical challenges before Professor Obiozor. Although the aims and objectives of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo are quite patriotic and commendable, their implementation must never be given any iota of Ike Nwachukwu character, especially if other Nigerians are to give their own patriotic support. We congratulate Professor George Obiozor for a well-deserved elevation.