For the apex Igbo Socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, crisis has become second nature. There are many indicators to show that the more than 40 years old organisation has survived many crises. The crises are not limited to tenure of office of elected officials, but include control of the structures and organs of the group and the struggle for interests, among others.
In fact, crisis is part of the history of Ohanaeze Ndigbo as no administration had served out its tenure without a taste of the bitter pill. Thus, it would have been strange if the current administration of Chief Nnia Nwodo were to serve out its term without exhibiting that blemished culture. Indeed, the administration had run on a relatively peaceful note. However, since it entered its last lap, it has continued to manifest that line of ugly history.
It started with the build up to the 2019 general elections, where the quest to endorse a presidential candidate of Igbo extraction tore its leadership apart. Punches arising from that exercise swept it’s elected Secretary-General, Uche Okwukwu from office.
There was rumour about a plot to elongate the tenure of the current executive. But when that was nipped in the bud, another attempt was made at amending the organisation’s constitution to lower the age bracket of those expected to serve in its leadership cadre. The proposed amendment will prevent those above the age of 70 from heading the group and ensure that anybody from 50 years is qualified to head the organisation. Now, time is running out on the leadership, this proposal may be carried out by the incoming executive.
Ohanaeze has again returned to the path of perfidy. Now threatening to tear the unity of Ndigbo and indeed the organisation apart is the manipulation that has been introduced into its January 11, 2021 national election. Something uncanny has been brought in to produce the next president general, and this is not going down well with many in Igboland.
By the alphabetical rotational arrangement being adopted for offices in Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Imo State will produce the next president-general of the group in January next year after Enugu, whose turn is now being served out by Chief Nwodo.
Offices in the organisation, according to its constitution, are filled through election. This happens after an electoral committee is constituted by the highest decision making body, Ime-Obi, which also ratifies the time-table for the exercise. Those who would eventually vie in the election would be screened by the committee to be eligible. At least, three candidates are expected to contest in each of the offices. That had been the practice all along.
Currently, however, there is an alleged attempt to jettison this order and constitution and foist a “consensus” presidential candidate on Ohanaeze Ndigbo for position of president-general. Chairman of Ohanaeze’s Elders’ Committee, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, who hails from Imo state, took this alleged divisive path recently when he convened a “Stakeholders” forum at his Glass House in Owerri and constituted a screening committee that arrived at the choice of Prof. George Obiozor as the consensus candidate of Imo State for the position of president-general.
Before the decision, there were at least six other aspirants from the state for the position who had publicly announced their intentions but were waiting for the approval of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Ime-Obi to begin their election campaigns. They include a former Secretary-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Joe Nworgu; a former vice president of Ohaneze Imo and current co-chair of South-East South-South Professionals (SESSP), Dr, Chris Asoluka; former president of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike; former President, Imo State Chapter, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prof. Chidi Osuagwu, and former Vice Chancellor, Imo State University, Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie.
A few days after Ime-Obi endorsed Obiozor, those orchestrating anomaly had taken him to the Imo State governor, Chief Hope Uzodinma and presented him as the consensus candidate for Ohanaeze Ndigbo presidential position, a development that did not go down well with all those aspiring for the position. This is currently fueling discontent in Igboland.
Many have faulted the process as not only smacking of “desperation” but also negating the constitution of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. They have insisted that never in the history of Ohanaeze had its election and positions, especially those of president-general been determined by consensus. They have faulted the path adopted by the Imo “screening committee” as serving the purposes of the state government, insisting that no single individual could hand pick the occupant of the office.
Iwuanyanwu has come under fire for using his position to cause division in Igboland. It is being alleged that the Obiozor arrangement was the product of the game plan that had seen him and the president-general visit the Imo governor many times in the past few months.
At the Owerri meeting where the consensus was reached, only those invited to the meeting were allegedly allowed to enter into the venue. Those who were aspiring were allegedly asked to subsume their aspirations to that of Obiozor and support him. They were allegedly told that nothing would change the choice already made, which according to the conveners, was in the interest of Ndigbo.
A rash of disagreements
HOWEVER, aspirants have lined up to resist the move. The plethora of voices that have risen to condemn the move have dwarfed the modest achievements the leadership had recorded in the past few years. Apparently to douse the raging tension, an electoral committee, set up by the Nwodo leadership, which was allegedly flooded with nominees from the five state governors of the zone that should have been sworn in last Friday, was suspended. The election timetable is yet to be released almost a month to the process. The highest decision making body Ime-Obi is now being called upon to mediate and restore peace in the union. The meeting of the body is expected to hold in Enugu on December 6.
When the Ime-Obi meets, some questions that it would be expected to provide answers to are, why the haste to anoint a presidential candidate for Ohanaeze and jettison the democratic process amply provided for in the constitution?
A chieftain of the group has noted that allowing a consensus indicates that there should not be elections any longer in the union. National President of OYC, Comrade, Igboayaka O. Igboayaka, in a statement, insisted that there was an underhand plot to destabilize Ndigbo ahead of the 2023 general elections following the clamour for a president of Southeast extraction.
He warned the incumbent leadership against taking the Igbo people for a ride, stressing that it was sad that the “anointed candidate” had never featured in Ohanaeze Ndigbo meetings or participated in its affairs.
“The kangaroo screening and meeting that was done or called by Iwuanyanwu in which they adopted Prof. George Obiozor lacks constitutional backing, as the Constitution of Ohanaeze Ndigbo only empowers the secretary, in conjunction with the president-general to summon a meeting at all levels for the purpose of an election
“It is unfortunate that the Elders Council was a mere committee of the caliphate and choreographed plan to stop Dr. Joe Nworgu, Prof. Chidi Osuagwu, Goddy Uwazuruike among other candidatures to pave way for Prof. George Obiozor.
“The constitution says three persons must contest from any state where the office is zoned. This has been the practice. So if we are now going by consensus, what will the delegates from Igbo-speaking states coming to the election do? The idea of consensus is not known to Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the earlier they drop it the better for our people.”
An aspirant, Asoluka, while decrying the controversy generated by the development, insisted that there were no candidates yet until an election committee and the guidelines have been approved by Ime-Obi.
Reminded that “Imo Stakeholders” have endorsed a candidate, he stated that any group of individuals was free to endorse anyone, stressing that, “it is only their preference, which neither binds the election committee nor determines who is eligible to contest the forthcoming elections.”
He cited article 11 (b) of the constitution of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, which stipulates that; “The president-general shall be elected by the National General Assembly from the state whose turn it is to fill the office, provided there are at least three candidates.”
Another aspirant and former President of Aka Ikenga, Uwazuruike, explained that he was still in the race, stressing that “those people who gathered in Owerri cannot speak for Imo chapter of Ohanaeze, and cannot also speak for Ohanaeze Ndigbo worldwide.”
Uwazuruike, who noted that Ohanaeze delegates were the ones empowered by the constitution to elect those that could lead the group, said he had served Ohanaeze and Igboland in various capacities and was passionate about upholding the constitution of the group.
“I’m proudly Igbo and has a record to go for service to Ndigbo, not only the Igbo, but service to Nigeria,” he stressed, adding that instances abound in Ohanaeze where those who had been thrown up by the state government eventually did not emerge to lead the group.
Indeed, Ohanaeze had in the past resisted all attempts to tie it to the apron strings of any state governor. When Gary Igariwey emerged a few years ago, his candidature did not enjoy the support of former Governor Martin Elechi of Ebonyi State, who preferred Aja Nwachukwu. Delegates in the election had overwhelmingly voted Igariwey and to pay Ohanaeze back in its own coin, Elechi withdrew his support for the group throughout his tenure.
A similar scenario played out during the late Ralph Uwaechue’s tenure. Former Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Resident Electoral Commissioner for Ekiti, Chief Nduka Eya had emerged from Enugu State for the position of secretary-general in deference to Chief Richard Ozobu, who was thrown up by the Sullivan Chime-led government of Enugu State.
Apparently to browbeat the members to submit to the choice of Ozobu, officials of the state government had locked up Ohanaeze secretariat in Enugu and barricaded the area with security operatives. Several months after the election was held, Ohanaeze activities never took place in Enugu as they were locked out of the secretariat. It took the persuasions of notable Igbo men and women for Chime’s government to end the fight and allow Eya to serve.
Such was also the case of Nworgu, whose election as Secretary-General never got the approval of the Rochas Okorocha administration; rather, another government-sponsored candidate was presented against him, who unfortunately was beaten at the election.
WHILE speaking in this regard, another aspirant, Osuagwu, stressed that the will of the people had always prevailed in the choice of those who serve at Ohanaeze leadership, noting that the objective upon which the organisation was set up could have been defeated when politicians nominate occupants to its offices.
According to him, “In this election, I expect the will of the people to prevail. I don’t think anybody is more qualified and better positioned for the office than me, but that is my opinion. Others will also have their opinions. At the election, ideas will be aggregated and the best candidate will emerge.”
Another aspirant, Nworgu, who is also an Ohanaeze insider and a statutory member of Ime-Obi, does not offer contrary view from the position of other aspirants. He, however, added that Ohanaeze’s affairs are better handled by those who have been at the cradle of its leadership, especially in the service of the union.
Nworgu has paid his dues in Ohanaeze, having served as its deputy and later secretary-general (2013-2017). He served in other capacities as Secretary of Planning and Strategy Committee as well as six-time chairman of national organising committee for World Igbo Day.
But Obiozor, whose nomination is generating the controversy, told The Guardian that he did not see anything strange in the action of Imo State stakeholders, stressing that it was within their power to determine who would represent them at all times.
“There are no issues surrounding my nomination,” he said. “If you think there are, ask the Ohanaeze in Imo state, who, of course, convened the meeting, set the template and nominated whom they think is best suited for the job. I did not influence their choice. I came like other contestants. I know that we will someday agree on what they did.”
MEANWHILE, in an apparent bid to douse the tension generated by the purported endorsement among others, the Nwodo leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo has washed its hands off the plot to foist a consensus candidate on Ndigbo.
A statement from Nwodo, which has, however, explained that it was the responsibility of the state where the office was rotated to nominate those who would occupy such office, denied any involvement in the said Owerri meeting.
“It is preposterous and the height of mischief for anybody to write or in any way infer that Chief Nwodo went for an Imo State stakeholders’ meeting in Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyawu’s office. Chief Nwodo couldn’t have been at a meeting of Imo State leaders thought for the purpose of choosing a candidate for president-general when he wasn’t invited and Ohanaeze didn’t organise it.
“Moreover, the decision at the meeting will not stop Ohanaeze from conducting the forth-coming election. As a matter of fact, Chief Nwodo has not visited Chief Iwuanyanwu since the latter’s birthday celebration last year. They only met recently at a meeting with the governors of the Southeast over other matters. It is wrong for people to listen to an illegitimate, sponsored and disgruntled group of people masquerading as the Youth Wing of Ohanaeze.
“It is also a great affront to the dignity and image of Ndigbo for purveyors of fake news intended to mislead the public to be taken seriously. People should verify such information from the office of the president-general before accepting or releasing them, unless some mischief is intended.”
On the conduct of the election, the statement added: “As to the conduct of the election, an announcement will be made by Ohanaeze Ndigbo after the meeting of the Ime-Obi next week.
“Any current information or story about the forthcoming election remains the figment of the imagination of its purveyor. Any such story is therefore false, void and puerile. No amount of innuendos and blackmail will deter Ohanaeze from bequeathing a virile leadership to Ndigbo. Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, under the leadership of Chief Nwodo, is committed to the inviolate tradition of conducting a free, fair and transparent election to usher in its successors in January 2021.”
Another curious dimension
WHILE the contention over nomination, endorsement and election persists, a curious dimension has been introduced into the battle for the soul of the umbrella organisation. This is as a recently registered group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo General Assembly Worldwide, is suing for the Igbo umbrella organisation be declared illegal and has initiated moves to disband it.
Sources told The Guardian that already, the group has written to various security agencies, the Attorney General of the Federation (SGF), Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Inspector General of Police (IGP) and Chairman of South-East Governors’ Forum, Dave Umahi, the Governor of Ebonyi State, demanding the winding up of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, led by outgoing President-General Chief John Nnia Nwodo.
The letter according to sources was written on behalf of the new group by its solicitors, the Abuja-based Amobi Nzelu & Co and was dated 26th November 2020.
Recall that the parallel group had its certificate restored recently after it was withdrawn by Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), after promoters of the group filed a fifty billion naira suit against the Commission.
Those who have reacted to the development in Ohanaeze Ndigbo, agreed that it has the trappings of the 2023 politics in the country. They insisted that efforts are seriously being geared towards creating divisions in Igboland and in the long run, alter the collective aspiration of presidency of southeast extraction as well as political control of the heart of Igboland.
An Igbo Chieftain, Mazi Oji Ohabuike told the Guardian that, “the manner of infiltration of our groups should be something of worry to all of us. I hear what is going on at the advocacy group, the Southeast for President 2023 (SEFORP2023) Movement that has worked to build consciousness among Igbo for 2023 and how some persons have taken up action in court to stop their advocacy. Now this is a plot to disintegrate Ohanaeze by those who think that it is a struggle by two political parties. We are watching and time will tell how it will end”.