Obiozor and the Challenge of Diplomacy in the Igbo Wars 4
THE PUBLIC SPHERE with Chido Nwakanma
Diplomacy is the foremost challenge before the diplomat who assumed office on 9 January as helmsman of the Igbo ship called Ohanaeze. It is fortuitous that Prof George Obiozor is a diplomat by training, vocation, and experience. He would need all the skills of that profession to navigate the many fights and wars of the Igbo nation in the days ahead.
The Public Sphere has chronicled the Igbo Wars of culture and strategy since 2018. It is a struggle for the soul of a people and where, why, when, and how they should go.
First, congratulations are due to Prof George Obiozor, President General and Chief Okey Emuchay, Secretary General, who will run Ohanaeze Ndigbo through some of the most interesting years ahead of the Igbo. He stands tall on face value as one of the most suitable by pedigree to run the affairs of Ndigbo.
Obiozor was director-general of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs. He represented Nigeria as ambassador to Cyprus, Israel, and the United States. He is articulate, well-schooled and educated, and has put down his thoughts in publications as a resourceful academic. He won an election to the position of President General of Ohanaeze on 9 January 2021.
Prof Obiozor, Georgi Mgbo to his friends, must “conduct negotiations between representatives of states or groups to influence the decisions and conduct” of both Ndigbo and the other groups with which the Igbo must relate in Nigeria. The task calls for the alternate definition of diplomacy as “skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility”.
Here is the rub. Prof Obiozor’s path to the headship of Ohanaeze did not show this quality. It has aroused significant hostility by several groups within the Oha. The World Igbo Summit Group and two others have put down their objections in writing while others pursue litigation.
In contrast, Obiozor has the support of Ndi Eze na Ndi Ochichi being government officials across party lines and across the country. There is thus a temptation and perception that he and his team are dismissive of criticisms about the conduct of the elections. However, little leaks sink the mightiest ships.
As the report in the Vanguard the next day captured it, “After weeks of controversies, former Nigeria Ambassador to the United States, Professor George Obiozor yesterday emerged as the new President-General of Ohanaeze, succeeding John Nnia Nwodo.” The controversies included the election of another candidate by a splinter group. Obiozor polled 304 votes to defeat Chief Valentine Oparaocha who scored 15 votes and Chief Uju Savior Okoro who had three votes.
The eventual contenders with Obiozor were unknown in the race up until that Sunday. The real contestants protested the procedure while Goddy Uwazurike stood down at the last minute. At the end, it sounded like the “consensus” candidature cooked for Obiozor in November 2020 by Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu and Governor Hope Uzodinma.
To Obiozor’s credit, governors of the South East have pledged their support and commitment. His predecessor Nnia Nwodo must take both the credit and the blame for raising the profile of Ohanaeze Ndigbo so much that the election remains topical among various Igbo groups home and abroad. The consensus seems to be that a good man emerged through a flawed process.
Many have called for giving Obiozor time to show that he is truly a diplomat capable of fixing the fissures in Igbo land as foundation for tackling relationships with other groups. The PG (who designed such incongruous titles?) has outlined his agenda for his tenure. It is exciting but has also drawn significant hostility.
Before delving into it, it helps to appreciate Obiozor’s philosophy. His favourite statement cited in his recently updated Wikipedia page states: “Politics is a concentric series of conspiracies in which the last party to conspire emerges victorious.”
You can infer that Obiozor is for realpolitik, defined as “a system of politics or principles based on practical rather than moral or ideological considerations”.
The “last party to conspire” emerged victorious and Obiozor is president of Ohanaeze. I call on the other groups and all those raising issues about the elections to sheathe their swords. We should focus on chasing and killing the snake on our rafter. Obiozor and his team should reach out to the aggrieved as the call of leadership and inclusiveness.
The Ohanaeze president has outlined a four-point agenda that should engage Ndigbo. His manifesto identifies security, economy, education, and Biafra as issues of primacy for Ndigbo today and tomorrow. He is right on the money.
His candour on Biafra is refreshing. “The Igbo nation is not at war with the rest of the country and there is nothing that demands our separate existence from Nigeria.” There are many young persons who would contest this assertion, in which case it is finally time for the referendum on issues in contention in the land.
Prof Obiozor envisions Igbo unity with a bond that surpasses what existed with the Igbo State Union. Awesome. “Many things unite us, but we have given few things that divide us priority. That is our main problem and that can also change.”
Obiozor: “The Igbo dilemma in Nigeria has finally come home at last and we must take critical, even delicate decisions and those problems need pragmatic solutions and quickly too. And the time requires careful and delicate skilled manager in the relationships between Ndigbo among themselves and other Nigerian nationalities especially the national power elites. This requires a mature and experienced person with a capacity to build enough consensus among diversities of opinions and to define and fiercely but reasonably defend the interest of Ndigbo.”
Thou sayest. The first task of the Ohanaeze team should therefore be to build internal consensus, win over every group, fringe or mainstream, and get everyone to sing from the same page of the Igbo hymn book. Igbos need to cement relationships internally as well as with their neighbours of the South-South before any concerns with the rest of Nigeria.