For Ambassador George Obiozor, the new President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, it is not going to be a tea party, writes Emmanuel Ugwu
After series of intrigues, scheming and even distractions from pseudo groups, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, successfully elected a new set of executives on Sunday, January 10, 2021.
The election, which took place in Owerri, Imo State, led to the emergence of Ambassador George Obiozor as the new President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. He polled 304 votes as against 15 collected by his only challenger, Chief Valentine Oparaocha.
The emergence of Obiozor as the new helmsman of Ohanaeze did not surprise observers of the Ohanaeze transition process. In the run up to the poll, it was quite glaring that Obiozor was the choice of the South East governors, who usually called the shots in such matters.
The Governor of Imo State, Senator Hope Uzodinma, saw Obiozor’s candidacy, as a personal project and did not encounter any difficulty convincing the other governors to support his choice. After all, it was indeed the turn of Imo State to produce the Ohanaeze President General following the zoning principle, which has been strictly observed over the years.
At the starting block in the race to succeed Chief John Nnia Nwodo, there were eight candidates – all from Imo. But the disagreements over the composition of the electoral committee headed by a former Ohanaeze president, Gary Igariwey and the perceived undue influence of the governors led some candidates to abandon the race at various stages.
The three major contenders, Professor Chidi Osuagwu, Dr. Joe Nworgu and Dr. Chris Asoluka, were said to have changed their minds and did not bother to return their nomination forms. Other possible strong candidates, Goddy Uwazuruike, Chukwunyere Nwebo and Uju Okoro ran the race till the day of election before dropping out.
It took this threesome a long time to measure their strengths against the favoured candidate of the powerful governors. Thus, the handwriting on the wall became very vivid to the candidates by the time they got very close to the ballot box. They had no other choice than to withdraw from the race and discontinue their challenge of Obiozor, leaving Chief Oparaocha as the only opponent standing.
Perhaps, Oparaocha should have as well stood down and allowed Obiozor to be returned unopposed as the pattern of voting later proved. Obiozor polled 100 per cent votes cast by delegates from four out of the seven states that make up Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
He cleared all the 47 votes from Abia, 53 from Ebonyi, 42 from Imo and 21 from Rivers while he dropped lone single vote from Anambra’s 42, Delta’s 18, Enugu’s 41. From Ohanaeze affiliate associations and Ohanaeze Diaspora delegates Obiozor received 43 votes leaving Oparaocha to pick just 12 votes.
Having emerged as the leader to pilot the affairs of Ohanaeze over the next four years, Obiozor is expected to hit the ground running. Though arduous, the tasks before him are clearly cut out.
As with the end of every contest, there must be winners and losers and Obiozor should not pretend that his emergence enjoyed the backing of the entire Igbo nation, which extends to Rivers and Delta States in the South-south geopolitical zone.
He should therefore take the olive branch to his opponents. He needs the cooperation of all and sundry to avoid distractions from aggrieved individuals and interest groups that might attempt to supplant Ohanaeze.
First and foremost, Obiozor should work hard and assert the authority of Ohanaeze as the credible authentic voice of Ndigbo and once it takes a stand, every individual and groups should fall in line.
Contrary to the thinking in some quarters, the authority and influence of Ohanaeze Ndigbo is not confined to the geographical area occupied by the five component states of the South East zone (Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo) but also to Delta and Rivers States that have indigenous Igbo population, as well as Igbos in the Diaspora. The Igbo in Delta and Rivers yearn for a sense of belonging and Obiozor must not give them any cause to feel marginalised just as Igbos feel in the broader Nigeria context.
It is a fact that the Ndigbo are republican in nature and find it hard to subscribe to single chain of leadership. This explains why sometimes a group or two could raise a voice and attempt to counter Ohanaeze Ndigbo, when it takes a stand on national issues on behalf of Igbos.
Even though some groups challenging Ohanaeze’s authority could be amorphous they always manage to create the erroneous impression in the public space that “Ndigbo are not united”. If the expression of divergent opinions on any issue is a true measure of unity then Ndigbo are no less united than other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.
Presently, the Igbo nation is seething with much anger due to perceived marginalisation and discrimination in national affairs especially, since the inception of the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
This cry of marginalisation and other injustices being perpetrated against Ndigbo have all snowballed into the separatist agitation being championed by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) led by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu.
No doubt, the agenda of IPOB enjoys immense popularity among the youth population of Ndigbo, who bear the blunt of the marginalisation policies. Obiozor’s predecessor was not popular with youths, because of his stance against the separatist agenda of IPOB.
It, however, behooves Obiozor to strike a balancing act of dousing the agitation for Biafra self-determination by making the federal authorities to jettison every vestige of policies and actions that fan the embers of marginalisation of Ndigbo in national affairs.
The Igbo demands are varied and pertinent. They include a chance to produce the president of Nigeria come 2023, restructuring/true federalism, equalisation of states as it affects the South East zone, which has five states as against six in South-south Southwest, North Central, North East and seven in North West.
This imbalance in the number of states ranks high in the items of perceived marginalisation of the zone. It’s left for the new leadership of Ohanaeze to work with the political leaders and interest groups especially, the state governors to find a way of prioritising the Igbo demands and actualising them.
While working closely with the South East Governors Forum, Obiozor must steer Ohanaeze in such a way that would not be seen as being led by the nose by the governors. States’ chief executives are in most cases guided by personal and party interests, when taking collective decisions that affect the Ndigbo.
Ohanaeze has over the years acquired the image of being regarded as elitist. So, the new Ohanaeze leadership is expected to take the organisation closer to the people and make the governors put the Ndigbo interest first and pursue it effectively irrespective of their political affiliations. It is a tall order but Obiozor can achieve it by deploying his diplomatic skills of negotiation and persuasion.
The professor of international relations would never lack in such skills, acquired and honed over the years of serving the nation as Director General, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos, Nigeria’s Ambassador to the United States, High Commissioner to Cyprus and Ambassador to Israel.
Ndigbo yearn for security not only in their home states but also in other parts of Nigeria where they reside and make their living. The idea of setting up a regional security network akin to the Amotekun in the Southwest was championed by the immediate past Ohanaeze leadership but the South East governors became the wet blanket just at the point of giving birth to the security outfit.
But with IPOB coming forward to setup the South East Security Network thereby taking the shine off the governors, they have now seen the need to stop being politically correct and work for the interest of the people, whose affairs they preside over.
The governors have finally decided to set up a regional security network, which they had hitherto jettisoned in favour of community policing favoured by the federal authorities. Obiozor, as the new Ohanaeze leader should continue from where his predecessor stopped and prod the governors to stop foot-dragging about setting up the much-expected regional security outfit.
Over the years the idea of building a regional economic zone in the South East zone has been floating in the air. The thinking is that the five states can dissolve into an economic zone and replicate the economic wonders of the defunct Eastern region, which at Nigeria’s independence in 1960 was adjudged as the fastest growing economy in developing countries.
Under Nwodo, Ohanaeze pushed hard for an integrated South East economy. This finally resulted in the establishment of Alaigbo Stabilisation Fund based on agreement between Ohanaeze and South East governors. The fund is intended to serve as the catalyst for the development of Igbo land into a highly developed regiomal economy as obtainable in Catalonia in Spain and Bayern in Germany.
To steer this idea to fruition, a renowned economist and development expert, Professor Osita Ogbu was appointed in July 2020 to head a 50-member committee of professionals and experts in finance, banking economic development, among others.
Obiozor and his team are expected to continue the collaboration with the governors to sustain the momentum of creating a strong regional economic hub in Igbo land. Obiozor is expected to leverage on his international network to attract funds from donor agencies and international investors and also galvanise Ndigbo in Diaspora “to think home” and bring investment funds to their homeland.
At the federal level, the South East Development Commission, which has been passed into law since 2018, by the National Assembly, is yet to be assented to by President Buhari. Ohanaeze had expressed reservations about the mode of funding of the commission as only the state governments of the South East were assigned to provide the funding from their lean resources while the federal government is not involved unlike in other commissions.
Obiozor’s new leadership is therefore saddled with the task of persuading the National Assembly to amend the Bill and include the federal government in funding the Commission. In addition, the Ohanaeze leader should liaise with the governors of South East to engage in advocacy and moral suasion to make Buhari to sign the South East Development Commission Bill into law.
Above all Prof Obiozor must be ready to speak out for Ndigbo, whenever the need arises. He is not expected to recoil into his shell when any form of injustice is being meted to Ndigbo or when their interest is being trampled upon in national affairs.
Those who had kicked against Obiozor’s candidacy perceived him as an establishmentarian, who would prefer to be politically correct rather than speak out, when occasions demand, not minding whose ox is gored. Those opposed to the accomplished diplomat leading Ohanaeze also point to his age.
At 78, the fear is that Obiozor would not generate the vibrancy needed to solve problems promptly, when they arise. But the septuagenarian might turn out to be a surprise package for Ohanaeze, what with his maturity, wealth of experience, temperament and intellect, which are ingredients of good leadership.
Good enough, the new Ohanaeze President General has signaled his intention to carry the youths along. He has doused their fears by signing an agreement with the youth wing, the Ohanaeze Youth Council (OYC) led by Igboayaka O. Igboayaka to accommodate those issues dear to the hearts of Igbo youths.