From Magnus Eze, Enugu
Aspirants to the leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo all agree that this is yet another critical moment in the life of the Igbo. For far too long, Ndigbo have been objects of stereotype and profiling which ended in being misunderstood and misrepresented before other Nigerians. That has been the Igbo albatross everywhere in national politics or business, academia or among artisans. Negative profiling has been an Igbo cross to carry since Nnamdi Azikiwe’s emergence in Nigeria politics in the 1940s.
So, the world is waiting for January 10, to see, particularly, who emerges the President General of Ohanaeze, to lead the next phase of Igbo struggle as the curtain falls on the Chief Nnia Nwodo leadership of the apex Igbo organisation.
Recently, the Ohanaeze Electoral Committee 2020 released guidelines for elections into the national, state and local government branches of the body.
A timetable by the Committee led by former President General of Ohanaeze, Chief Gary Enwo-Igariwey, slated the national election to hold in Owerri, the Imo State capital on January 10.
The 50-man electoral body approved at an emergency meeting of Imeobi Ohanaeze in Enugu on December 20, 2020, has Bishop Goddy Okafor as Deputy Chairman and Chief Ferdinand Agu as Secretary.
According to the timetable, local government elections should take place in all the Local Government Areas of the states concerned on Wednesday; while that of state offices is slated for Friday, January 8, in all the states of the South-East, Rivers and Delta.
“All the offices are to be contested for. It is to be assumed that all contestants must have completed and submitted approved nomination forms and have been cleared by the Screening Sub-Committee before the elections.”
It further said that “all eligible groups shall submit list of their delegates for screening 48 hours before the commencement of elections,” adding that other necessary information regarding delegates from all groups shall be released as soon as the Electoral Committee resolved on them.
But, mixed reactions have trailed the release of the timetable including the convocation of a parallel Imeobi meeting in Owerri by the embattled Secretary General of Ohanaeze, Chief Uche Okwukwu.
The Okwukwu group also announced Chief Richard Ozobu as Chairman of its own election committee.
Contenders and their agenda
Meanwhile, five aspirants from Imo State have publicly declared for the post of Ohanaeze President General. They include; Prof. George Obiozor; Prof Chidi Osuagwu, Dr. Joe Nwaorgu, Dr. Chris Asoluka and Chief Goddy Uwazuruike.
For the position of Secretary General zoned to Abia State, Amb. Okey Emuchay, Chief Onuma Kalu Ireke, Prince Okey Nwadinobi and outgoing Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Chief Chuks Ibegbu, among others, have indicated interest.
Obiozor had emerged the consensus candidate of Imo, the State, the position is zoned to. The consensus candidacy announced by elder statesman, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu had received wide criticisms.
However, when the aspirants for the post of PG, except Obiozor, faced Igbo people across the globe on a Zoom meeting organised by a Coalition of Igbo Organisations recently, they were united that the next President General of the apex Igbo body must have grassroots base.
Unfolding their agenda, Nwaorgu, Osuagwu and Uwazuruike, all gave nod to regional security, stressing that the Yoruba had set the pace with their Amotekun.
Nwarogu said that existential threat was staring Ndigbo in the face, so, if elected Ohanaeze President General, he would push for the South East to have a regional security outfit but for a start, the existing vigilance services in the communities have to be strengthened.
Similarly, Osuagwu and Asoluka also harped on the need to strengthen the local vigilance groups to ensure the homeland security of the Igbo.
The speakers said that Igbo land had continued to suffer because Igbo investments were majorly outside their area; hence, their call for the actualisation of stabilisation fund as proposed for the South East.
According to them, regional economic agenda would entail economics of scale, peer cooperation and boost in Ease of Doing Business through joint infrastructural development.
For former Nigerian Ambassador to the United States of America, Obiozor, he has all it takes to lead the Igbo at this period of Nigeria’s history.
He holds a pedigree many believe is not matched by other contestants for the Ohanaeze leadership. Yet, different interest groups are up in arms against the choice of Obiozor by the Imo people who see him as most suited for the assignment given his national and international exposure and network.
He, too, agreed that the moment was really trying for not only Ndigbo but indeed, other Nigerians and said that whatever or whichever options others offer, what is real is that all the nationalities in Nigeria will sooner or later go into negotiations or debates over Nigeria’s future: “And through Ohanaeze Ndigbo we must be ready to negotiate effectively by having a skilled and experienced people to bargain in the interest of Ndigbo.
“Specifically, we seek unity but not unity of slaves and masters, and we seek peace but not peace of the grave yard. We seek justice because we know that throughout history those denied justice have had no interests in peace. As it stands now, it seems Nigeria and Nigerians would engage themselves in something like penalty shootout, every group must be careful in selecting their kickers/strikers. What is at stake requires the combination of the talents of the lion and the fox or the eagle and the dove. Who, or the team that represents us matters for that will determine much of the destiny of Ndigbo in Nigeria or what follows. Our position should therefore begin with efforts to effectively re-integrate Ndigbo into Nigerian political process effectively, significantly, and relevantly. This will require a serious diplomacy and not confrontations or conflicts. Power elites reward their friends and frustrate or punish their enemies.”
Another leading contender, Osuagwu, said if elected, he will remodel Ohanaeze along the defunct Ibo State Union which was based on town unions.
He also said that his primary objectives would be to seek ways to unite all in the greater Igbo family.
Osuagwu who was a former Imo State President of Ohanaeze at a press conference in Owerri, noted that Ohanaeze started as an elitist organisation.
He said: “The former Ibo State Union was based on town unions. Let’s be reminded that the town unions of the past were the engine room that drove the very remarkable achievements of Ndigbo in all areas of human developments so many decades ago”.
He also promised that his leadership will seek to revive the Igbo race politically, culturally, and spiritually.
Ahead of the Sunday election, Daily Sun reliably gathered that the Abia State Government has endorsed Emuchay as its candidate for the Ohanaeze scribe just like its Imo counterpart endorsed Obiozor for the plum job.
Walking tight rope
Indications emerged on 3rd January, 2021, that some self-acclaimed Igbo leaders were reportedly working round the clock to ensure that the election of a new leadership for Ohanaeze Ndigbo slated for January 10, in Owerri, Imo state, did not hold.
An amorphous group, christened “Global Joint Igbo Leaders,” in a statement said to have emerged from a Zoom meeting of some interest groups, was already seeking to upstage the scheduled January 10 election.
The group, Daily Sun gathered, is also seeking to create grounds to raise legitimacy questions when a new executive of Ohanaeze Ndigbo is empaneled.
The group purportedly led by the Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF) President, Prof. Uzodimma Nwala, listed other members of the group to include World Igbo Congress (WIC), Igbo World Assembly (IWA), Nzuko Umunna, Ndigbo Canada, Ekwe Nche USA, Igbo Board of Deputies UK, Council of Igbo Communities, Aka Ikenga, Council of Igbo Leaders UK, European Igbo Communities, Nkata Ndi Iyom Igbo, One Voice UK, Council of Igbo States in America and Women Support and Mediation Group UK.
Though the group issued a communiqué arising from its alleged Zoom meeting, a representative of one of the Canada-based groups, Ben Allison, said the communiqué was not generally approved.
He wondered the rush to publish a communiqué that was not properly approved by all those at the Zoom meeting.
Picking hole in the whole process, he said: “I see that this communiqué has been published in Nzuko Umunna Forum and perhaps, other forums before allowing members of the committee to have an input on the draft. This is wrong. If the names of members and their organizations must be on the publication, they must be allowed to see and read the draft before such publications”.
Allison, who was listed on the Communiqué as leader of Ndi Igbo Canada, also said: “I personally take exception to the unnecessarily incendiary language contained in the draft, “duplicity of outgoing Ohaneze Ndigbo and their allies…
“A more diplomatic language should be employed. We must not come across as judgmental partisans but be seen as a neutral body with the singular purpose of steadying the rocking boat of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. I also feel that this communiqué should contain some reasonable and proper preamble leading to its resolutions”.
Meanwhile, Daily Sun, gathered that the Zoom meeting was convened at the instance of a suspended Secretary General of the apex-Igbo group, a development that has irked several Igbo leaders.
According to our findings, Prof. Nwala is said to be piqued that he was not consulted in the constitution of the Ohanaeze Election Committee, though a member of the Foundation, Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, was appointed to the committee, while Okwukwu was alleged to be seeking to scuttle the election as retaliation for his suspension.
He is also alleged to be seeking ways to install people who are amenable to the whims of his principal, who is a member of the federal cabinet.
Okwukwu was suspended as Secretary General of the group in 2019 for what the Publicity Secretary, Prince Uche Achi-Okpaga, said was “false representation of Ohanaeze official position.”
“He (Okwukwu) has also arrogated to himself the power to the organs of Ohanaeze by altering positions purportedly taken by these organs which are patently and obviously false,” Ohanaeze said.
It was further disclosed that Okwukwu convened a meeting on December 31, 2020 in Owerri, in the name of Ohanaeze and tagged it “Imeobi”, to which he invited Prof. Nwala and a few others who honoured him with their presence.
But according to information from the Secretariat of Ohanaeze Ndigbo in Enugu, the “Okwukwu Imeobi” is illegal as the conveners have no powers to summon such a meeting and all genuine Imeobi meetings of Ohanaeze, properly constituted, hold in Enugu.
“The Okwukwu Imeobi is illegal, without basis and therefore null and void. Having been suspended, Uche Okwukwu lacks the powers to summon or convene any meeting in the name of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. All those who attended the Okwukwu Imeobi simply went there to entertain themselves but we see it as part of a wider plot to truncate the elections holding on January 10 by some groups that do not have genuine interest of Ndigbo at heart”, a source at Ohanaeze Secretariat said.
Not a few have seen the statement from the so-called Global Joint Igbo Leaders as an affront; a clear effort to scuttle the Ohanaeze electoral process.
President Ohaneze Ndigbo New York State, USA, Innocent Obiegbu, the Ezeudo Ndigbo, saw it as an insubordination and abject disregard to rule of law and constitution of Ohaneze Ndigbo by few disgruntled individuals which needed to stop.
“I am encouraged that the Imeobi and PG, Chief John Nnia Nwodo is (sic) moving forward with the January 10, 2021 elections,” he said, describing as laughable and frivolous, the call for the postponement of the election by some persons because of COVID-19 related matters.
The Ohanaeze chieftain said: “Here in the USA where the COVID-19 surge is frightening, in Atlanta Georgia, citizens are exercising their civic duties.
“In contrast, Nigeria is considered a safe haven, especially Alaigbo where during the Christmas, traditional weddings, church thanksgiving and all various activities went on and in January of 2021 continue to go on without any government concerns of safety issues.
“All the detractors and disgruntled groups and individuals who at this point can be considered saboteurs of Ndigbo affairs must be held accountable for their indiscretions
“The project of these individuals will fail and shame on those who engage in this fraudulent behaviour towards our communities…”
But Austine Okeke, one of the promoters of the Global Joint Igbo Leaders insisted that the game was up for those attempting to foist predetermined leadership on Ohanaeze.
According to the leader of Igbo Board of Deputies (Worldwide), it was no more business as usual: “This uprising which the Governors and the Chief Nnia Nwodo and co have instigated has brought out the best in me.
“They have met their Waterloo this time around. They must know: it’s business unusual and must get used to it. The entire Igbo nation has risen against them. Let us see who owns who…Game on.”
In the same vein, a group; Igbo Coalition for the Defence of Democracy (ICFDD), wondered how the governors who starved Ohanaeze of funds were now keen in making the organisation one of their parastatals.
Chris Benson Ibe who issued a release on their behalf noted that the traditional village and community governance systems of Ndigbo were anchored on inclusivity and collective participation in decision taking on all matters.
So, it is therefore, worrisome and unacceptable to observe the scheming making the rounds in Ohanaeze circles of a Unity list of nominations by the South East Governors.
Ibe alleged that the hurried inclusion of elections into the local government and state branches of Ohanaeze was part of the grand plan by the governors to hijack the process as according to him, it will become easy to direct the newly elected officers/delegates to vote only for their preferred candidates.
“This is a case of turning democracy upside down and ridicules an ethnic nationality known for decency and fairness.
“We now have governors, who have neither taken interest in the growth and proper functioning nor funding of Ohanaeze, now think it is their parastatal and their current pre-occupation is to foist all exco members at all levels on Ndigbo. And there is now some urgency requiring elections at the three key levels of LGAs, states and National, to be concluded in a space of five days”, he stated.
For Osuagwu, the story of crisis in Ohanaeze because of political hijacking is old chronic, saying “It is some devil to be exorcised for Ohanaeze to serve Ndiigbo well.”
Not giving up, Okwukwu within the week approached the Abia State High Court, Umuahia, praying it to declare the Imeobi meeting convened on December 20, 2020, at the Nike Lake Hotel, Enugu by the President General, as illegal, null and void.
In suit No; HU/9/2021, between Chief Uche Okwukwu -plaintiff and Chief John Nnia Nwodo- defendant, Okwukwu further asked the Court to set aside any decision taken by Nwodo and members of Ohanaeze Ndigbo at the Imeobi meeting of December 20, 2020 as being a nugatory, null and void and of no effect having not been summoned by him in accordance with the provisions of Article11 of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Constitution.
Other reliefs sought by the plaintiff include; an order setting aside the purported electoral committee set up by the defendant without due process and an order validating the Imeobi meeting held on December 31, 2020, in Owerri and properly summoned by the plaintiff in accordance with the Constitution and all decisions reached therein as valid, authentic and subsisting .
It also asked the Court to declare the electoral committee headed by Prince Richard Ozobu as the authentic one as well as the award of the sum of N50,000,000, as general damages.
In what may have set the stage for legal fireworks; former governor of Imo State, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, has threatened to institute a contempt of court proceeding against Okwukwu, and Chief Richard Ozubu if they went ahead with parallel elections for the apex pan-Igbo body.
Ohakim had obtained a court order restraining Okwukwu, Ozubu and their agents from interfering with the elections of Ohanaeze Ndigbo executives by conducting parallel elections.
In his reaction to a statement credited to Okwukwu and Ozubu to go ahead with their plan of conducting parallel elections, Ohakim said based on the court order, any action by the duo in that regards amounted to contempt of court.
According to Ohakim, if Okwukwu and Ozobu’s claim to have set up a timetable and schedule for parallel Ohanaeze elections turned out to be true, “such would-without more-amount to actionable contempt of court against them, their cohorts and all their confederates for the following reasons:
“On 5th January 2021, I brought a suit for injunction and other reliefs before the Imo State High court, specifically praying the court to restrain Okwukwu and Ozobu from interfering with the said Ohanaeze elections or otherwise taking any steps towards conducting parallel elections.
“On the same date, the High Court issued an order restraining Okwukwu and Ozobu and their cohorts from ‘interfering in any manner whatsoever with the election of officers of Ohanaeze and/or in any manner conducting a parallel election of the officers of Ohanaeze.’
“The suit and the related injunction were, as was ordered by the court, served by an advertorial published in The Sun of 6th January, 2021 (Wednesday). The publication was intended to accomplish prompt notice to all parties due to the high urgency of the matter and to pave way for the Gary Igariwey-led properly constituted Electoral Committee to conduct the Ohanaeze elections without any let or hindrance.”
Daily Sun investigation showed that similar situation had occurred when two divisions led by Justice Eze Ozobu, then President-General and Prof Ben Nwabueze, his Secretary-General, emerged just before the 2003 elections.
It is the timely intervention of Dr. Sam Egwu, then Governor of Ebonyi State that prevented parallel elections and two Ohanaeze factions from coming on stream.
Egwu as the Chief Security Officer of Ebonyi State had ordered every Ohanaeze person out of his state where a faction came to organise election and directed the security personnel to arrest anyone or persons that came into Ebonyi to organize elections in the name of Ohanaeze.
He also travelled to Owerri, Imo State, where the President-General had gone for the purpose of conducting the national elections.
Meanwhile, some people believe that the Ohanaeze election organisers should have made provision for online or mail voting in line with the COVID-19 protocols instead of gathering large number of people in Owerri.
Former Chairman, Strategy and Planning Committee of Ohanaeze, Chris Okoye, an engineer, spoke strongly against organising local government and state chapter elections at this period.
He argued that the timing was not auspicious but instead suggested that the national election should hold while the incoming executives organised elections into the local government and state branches in due course.
So far, some persons in expressing concerns over the ongoing process have wondered why there was secrecy attached to the public presentation of the Imeobi and Council of Elders lists as outlined in the Ohanaeze constitution.
They also wanted to know when the list of the Ohanaeze delegates will be made public and the opportunity to interact with the contestants before the D-Day.
People also want to know the list of the General Assembly members, the constitutional body charged with the responsibility of voting for the executive officers.
In fact, an Igbo chieftain said that “Elections in all the States in the federation in five days without the basic information and requirements is a recipe for confusion and destruction of Ohanaeze.”
Regardless, a school of thought alleged that taking the election to Owerri at this period was designed to influence the outcome. Even at that, how the contending issues are resolved would determine the future of Ohanaeze Ndigbo.