Ohanaeze leadership, aberrations and Igbo unity
Group challenges alleged illegality in socio-cultural organisation
Since he emerged president general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, last month, Chief Nnia Nwodo has not hidden the intention of his executive to reposition Igboland and restore its pride of place.
Nwodo had assured after the inaugural meeting of his executive that it was the “beginning of new era of transparency and accountability, an era for the repatriation of Igbo capital for the building of a new economic infrastructure for our people, an era of a sustained and active fight for the restructuring of our federation, an era of a strong and all-involving Ohanaeze.”
Those conversant with trends in Igboland would readily affirm that since the end of the Nigeria/Biafra war in 1970, Ndigbo have found it difficult to return to their pride of place. The challenges are compounded by the disenchantment and disharmony among the leaders.
Ohanaeze Ndigbo, which ordinary should play the mediator-role to bring sanity among Igbo also became a victim of the ugly development. For several years, leadership crisis factionalized the group, to the extent that wearing the long red cap was all that was needed to become an Igbo leader and speak on behalf of Ndigbo.
For the past ten years, contention for offices in the group, different political leanings, among others rob the shine off the socio-cultural organization. Individuals have followed different camps and have reacted in line with the desires of their camp.
But Nwodo has sounded confident about an Ohanaeze leadership ready to entrench cohesion and unity in Igboland. He has vowed to change this negative toga.
On paper, the former Information minister was overwhelmingly accepted to lead Ndigbo among other contenders for the position when it was zoned to his state Enugu. That is because many see him as a proud Igbo son.
Notwithstanding, the question remains; how far can Nwodo go? Does the present leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo have the capacity to foster unity and cohesion among Ndigbo? On what basis would Ndigbo trust Nwodo?
Certain developments since he took over, shows that leading Ndigbo might be an arduous task that his oratorical skill alone might not solve. For instance, a section of Ndigbo led by Chief Ralph Obioha still believes that the leadership crisis in the group is yet to be resolved.
The faction known as Caretaker Committee of Ohanaeze Ndigbo maintained that a new leadership is yet to emerge in the apex Igbo organization, going by its suit in which it challenged the legality of the immediate past Chief Gary Enwo Igariwey’s executive to nominate committee that would conduct election for the group.
The faction insists that the out-gone executive of Igariwey lacked the power to conduct election into the body, since the approved constitution of the body that gave them two years expired without the conduct of fresh election, leading to the inauguration of the Caretaker Committee by the Ohanaeze elders to take charge.
A former vice president of the group, Chief Enechi Onyia (SAN), told The Guardian that it was the committee’s responsibility to conduct the election and not Igariwey, arguing that since the process of court was served on the executive (Igariwey’s executive) before “the so called election was conducted, it renders the action of his executive in that regard a nullity. What they have done has no force of the law and it is therefore unconstitutional and I know they can never come to the court to claim that they have held an election because doing so will amount to contempt of the court.”
Onyia said that Obioha remained the recognized leader of the interim executive of the organization, adding, “as far as we are concerned Ohanaeze’s election has not held. The only recognized leader of Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo, as we know it today is Chief Ralph Obioha because there is no way we can recognize anyone not elected in line with our constitution.
While the suit at the Enugu High Court awaits determination, Nwodo needs to work hard to erase the notion that the organization has been infiltrated by politicians who parade as leaders of the people. Those who hold this view said it would be dangerous for the socio-cultural organization to drift from aspirations of its
founding fathers, the tendencies that plunged the group into crisis and subsequent impunity by those acting independently of the constitution of Ohanaeze.
Investigations revealed that the various chief executives of the states where the positions were allocated contributed about eighty percent of the members of the national leadership, a development considered strange to the body.
Some aspirants who bought forms and went through the screening of the electoral committee for the various positions complained bitterly after they were compelled to step down on the day of the election for those allegedly hand-picked, including persons said not to have previously shown interests in the affairs of Ohanaeze.
It was gathered that the keen interests shown by politicians might not be unconnected with the 2019 general elections. Some of them according to sources, wanted to maintain presence in the group for that sole purpose.
Those who kicked against the development in the group insisted that Ohanaeze has always prided itself as a socio-cultural organization, where non-card carrying members of political parties as well as government functionaries held sway. The idea was to enable it remain apolitical and focused on overall interests of Ndigbo.
It would be recalled that prior to the emergence of Igariwey’s executive, some governors of the zone withdrew their support for Ohanaeze, following alleged refusal by the leadership to allow them install their lackeys in the executive.
Former governor of Ebonyi state, Martin Elechi had preferred former senator, Emma Agboti to Igariwey. His choice, which factionalized the electoral committee, was stoutly opposed. He openly denounced Igariwey as not Ebonyi’s choice and refused to support the group till the end of his tenure.
Similarly, governor of former Enugu, Sullivan Chime, opposed the choice of Chief Nduka Eya in preference for Chief Richard Ozobu as secretary general. When it became obvious that the leadership was not ready to yield to his request, he caused the closure of the secretariat of the group in Enugu. For several months after the election, the Ohanaeze secretariat remained sealed forcing them to hold meetings outside the secretariat. It took the intervention of some Igbo leaders and some governors led by Peter Obi to resolve the issue before the executive was allowed to function properly from the secretariat.
Also, the opposition to Ozobu’s choice then was that he came from the same Enugu West senatorial constituency with Chime, and that it would be unfair to have him as well as the governor occupying prime positions with nothing for other zones.
In the present scenario however, those who opposed the choice of Nwodo hinged it on the same argument that he hails from the same Enugu North senatorial constituency with the governor, but their voices were dwarfed.
A chieftain of the group, Chief Jerry Igwebuike, who alluded to this, stated that the constitution of the group was sacrosanct and forbade card-carrying members of political parties from holding elected positions, stressing that, “what we have seen so far lends credence to the fact that politicians have actually hijacked this Ohanaeze.”
But the immediate past secretary general, Dr. Joe Nworgu averred that there was nothing wrong in the governors nominating people for positions, arguing that as “members of the Imeobi, and as Igbo people, it is within their inalienable rights in Ohanaeze Ndigbo to contribute to what is going on in the group.”
He told The Guardian that, the absence of contributions from the governors and other political office holders in Ohanaeze had denied it several years of development, claiming that “Arewa and Afenifere are socio-cultural groups and any time they are meeting, they meet with their governors and elected office holders. The idea is to let them observe and contribute to the development of their regions. So our own should not be different.”
He said that since the Ohanaeze Ndigbo inherited its present secretariat from the Ukpabi Asika administration of the old Eastern region, nothing new had been added to it by any government except the hall which an ex president general, Prof. Joe Irukwu built with his personal resources.
Nonetheless, observers contend that South East political leaders hardly speak with one voice, insisting that their personal and political interests always come to play in whatever they set out to do.
This played out recently with the verbal war that erupted between Imo state governor, Rochas Okorocha and his Anambra State counterpart, Willie Obiano. The argument is that given the depth of altercation between them, it would be difficult to sit the governors together to discuss matters of mutual benefits to the people.
As it is, only time will tell how far the Nwodo presidency would go in the quest for Igbo rebirth.