Ohanaeze: Obiozor and the burden of leading a divided people
What seemed to have tested the way the South East would go in their agitation for the presidency and the actualisation of same in 2023 was the recently concluded election of the new president general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation.
The organisation meant to be the voice of the South-Eastern people of Nigeria, got polarised, leading to the emergence of two Presidents-General from two parallel elections.
While a former Commissioner in Imo State, Chidi Ibeh emerged factional president general in an election held penultimate Saturday, Professor George Obiozor, a former Nigerian Ambassador to the United States, Israel and Cyprus, was also elected president general in another exercise that took place on January 10, 2021.
The election of Obiozor, who hails from Imo State, is however, said to have satisfied the alphabetical rotation policy adopted by the seven Igbo speaking Southeast and South-south states that make up the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, as it is the turn of the state to produce the next President General of the organisation.
In the parallel election, where Engineer Ibeh emerged, organised by the Richard Ozobu-led election committee, Dim Uche Okwukwu was elected as deputy President General. Okwukwu from Rivers State is the incumbent Secretary-General in the Nnia Nwodo-led cabinet. Okechukwu Isiguzoro from Abia State was also elected Secretary General.
Before the Sunday election, there had been disagreements over choice of candidates, resulting in withdrawal of some contenders who alleged irregularities in the process, and also court cases.
Whereas a majority of the elders in the Ohanaeze fold favoured the candidacy of Obiozor, some others said he would not be a good representative of Ndigbo by virtue of outside influence that could be teleguiding his actions and decisions.
It was this issue that gave rise to legal tussle and the suspension of Uche Okwukwu as the secretary general of the organisation.
Some months before the election, a memo had gone viral on the social media, purportedly released by the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, (members of which are predominantly of Fulani origin), promoting the candidacy of Obiozor as the next Ohanaeze president.
The letter had endorsed and congratulated Obiozor ahead of the election, saying the diplomat, having been endorsed by Governor Hope Uzodinma, was acceptable to them and would protect their interest.
The letter said to have been forwarded to the incumbent Ohanaeze President, Nnia Nowodo spark outrage among many Igbo people who wondered what business Miyetti Allah could be having in who becomes what in Igbo land in a matter that should be exclusive for the Igbo nation.
Although the letter has since been denounced and dismissed as roguish, and one meant to cause mischief and bad blood, the sentiment has stuck in the minds of many people of eastern extraction.
Again, although Obiozor, by his personal achievements, academic attainment and exposure eminently qualified for the post, the Miyetti Allah angle cast a pall on his towering and intimidating credentials.
It was against this backdrop that those who said “No” to his candidacy had a point, but those who massively gave him the winning vote last Sunday believed that the touted Miyetti Allah endorsement was a feather weight issue, after all.
It was also touted that the Imo State Government mobilised hugely in Obiozor’s favour to the tune of billions of naira, although the allegation of financial inducement of delegates has remained unsubstantiated up till now.
Speaking with BusinessDay SUNDAY penultimate Saturday, Uche Okwukwu vehemently alleged that the Ohanaeze Ndigbo had been hijacked by elements that did not mean well for the Igbo nation.
He questioned the rationale for the huge support for a man whose candidacy had been mired in controversy. He fingered some politicians in Imo State as planning to teleguide Obiozor for their own political interest.
He had also accused Nwodo of buccaneering the efforts of Ndigbo to get an additional state because of the immediate past president’s insistence on Adada State whereas the general house had favoured an Aba State.
Okwukwu also said that the factional election that produced Chidi Ibeh was held in Enugu under strict observance of Covid-19 protocol.
“We promised to give Ndigbo credible election and that is what we have done. A new leadership of Ohanaeze has emerged and it was in compliance with the constitution of Ohanaeze. We met all the requirements,” he said.
Obiozor has however, unfolded a four-point agenda he intends to implement to preserve the Igbo interest in contemporary Nigeria.
He listed security topmost on his agenda, promising to work for the safety of the Igbo at home and in the Diaspora.
“Ndigbo must be safe at home and abroad. Ndigbo must never again be victims of circumstances they did not create nor can they control. Security of Ndigbo, young or old will be a priority in my tenure. And security does not come alone, it comes with justice. Therefore, we must always seek justice, equity and fairness no matter how difficult or how long it takes to achieve them,” he pledged.
He also listed economy, education, peace and reconciliation as his major concerns.
While thanking Ndigbo for given him the opportunity, Obiozor said: “I know this is no easy decision on the part of Ndigbo or even my humble self. But I promise you all and my God, that I shall take up to the best of my ability to tackle the challenges and the responsibilities that come with the hallowed office with honour, dignity, dedication, decency and decorum.
“My dream type of leadership is leader/manager model, using the most and best available efficient persons and instruments to achieve Igbo collectively defined objectives. I believe this can be done without malice but with diplomatic dexterity, decency, candour and decorum.”
Obiozor, who said that his drive for the office was not to satisfy personal ambition or self-aggrandisement, said he had outgrown penchants or such narrow interests.
The former Director-General of Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) urther said: “My most compelling necessity was service, a timely and crucial service at one of the most critical times in Nigeria’s history with dire consequences, particularly for Ndigbo as a national entity.
“Indeed, not only has governance become both difficult and complex in Nigeria, but down right an existential threat to Ndigbo in particular. The Igbo dilemma in Nigeria has come at last. And the time requires a very careful and delicate skilled manager in the relationships between Ndigbo and other Nigerian nationalities especially the national power elites. This requires a mature and experienced person with a capacity to build enough consensus to define and defend the interest of Ndigbo.”
For successful and continuous progress and prosperity of Ndigbo all over the world, Obiozor said he would “continue with religious zeal and commitment” the South-East Economic Stabilisation fund established by his immediate predecessor, John Nnia Nwodo.
On education, he promised to work with Igbo-speaking state governors to revamp the education system because “the neglect of education has nearly thrown Ndigbo into incremental irrelevance in Nigerian politics and other national events.”
Appealing for the support of Ndigbo to achieve these objectives, he said: “We must make peace among ourselves. We must engage in healing Igboland, spirit of reconciliation and harmony among Ndigbo. Peace must reign in Igboland.”
Praising the conduct of the election that threw up Obiozor, Ambrose Obioha, leader of an affiliate group, Igbo Peoples Alliance for Development (IPAD), said that the standard of the election and the quality of the new President-General were clearly indicative of the fact that Ndigbo are now ready to re-write the wrong narratives about the region and reclaim their place in the scheme of things.
“Ndigbo has again raised the bar with this flawless election process. We are confident that given the sterling character and professional depth of Prof. Obiozor, he will further our aspirations as a people and push the frontiers of Igbo advocacy beyond where his predecessors took it,” Obioha said.
Now that Obiozor has emerged; his actions and inactions in the saddle would justify the allegation or disprove it, that he had been installed as a stooge; and would pander to the whims of some Northern elements that allegedly want to have a foothold in Igbo land through Imo axis with the help of some political practitioners in the geo-political zone.
It is left to be seen what the future holds for the Igbo nation with the Obiozor’s emergence as the new president of Ohanaeze Ndigbo.