Ohanaeze and quest for new lease of life

By Leo Sobechi |   06 January 2017   |   3:30 am  

Chief Nnia Nwodo

Body decides fresh leadership today

Ohanaeze Nd’Igbo, the umbrella socio-cultural organisation of Igbos witnessed its greatest cycle of ups and downs in the past four years. As the apex Igbo ethnic body holds another election into the National Executive Committee (NEC) today in Enugu, it would be an attempt to put life back into the near comatose organ. Arguably the body got down to the lowest ebb under the outgoing executive due to a combination of factors bordering on political interests and considerations. But the greatest undoing of Ohanaeze was its shifty positions on the 2015 general election, despite the President-General’s, nay the NEC’s precarious position. Recent developments point to the possibility that the apex organisation plans to get it right this time around, even though dangers still lurk in dark corners. The recriminations that trail elections of the principal officers of Ohanaeze did not start recently. In addition, the issue of funding has always been a factor.

Points of discord
Perhaps what amounted to the first point of discord in Ohanaeze began around 2010, shortly after the then former Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, mounted the saddle as substantive President. At that period, the 2011 election was gaining momentum and there was national debates and discussions as to whether, on account of the way he became president Jonathan should contest the presidency or allow the north to complete the second term as stipulated by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) zoning arrangement.

The bone of contention then in Ohanaeze was whether the then Ambassador Ralph Uwaechue’s cabinet should enjoy the tenure elongation prescribed by the Ohanaeze constitution, even as some influential members of Ime-obi claimed that the amendment was yet to be ratified.

Attempts were made to divide the socio-cultural body, but wise counsel prevailed and the Uwechue executive served out its elongated mandate. However before the NEC would bow out the issue of Ohanaeze Foundation reared its head, with questions raised as to who were on its board of trustees (BoT).

The development threw up much frenzy, as nerves were frayed when a lot of people wondered how a former Special Assistant to President Jonathan, Nze Akachukwu Nwankpo, became a signatory to the Ohanaeze Foundation documents at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) Abuja. On the heels of that discovery further outrage was raised when the issue of N20m gift to Ohanaeze became public knowledge.

As things turned out, the man who was at the centre of the storm (he actually rejected the N20m) was later to be involved in the next election. While the position of the next President-General was zoned to Ebonyi State, certain tendencies in the Presidency decided to handpick a candidate against the usual practice of having the governor of the affected state to do the nomination.

Although Chief Gary Igariwey Enwo served as the Deputy President General under the Uwaechue executive, he did not enjoy the confidence of the then Governor of Ebonyi State, Chief Martin Elechi. Probably because the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, had already endorsed Enwo for the position and taken credit for that in the Presidency, Elechi wanted to get somebody from the old Abakaliki bloc to serve the socio-cultural body.

Elechi felt that since his succession plan favoured Afikpo, from where Gary hails, making him the Ohanaeze leader could jeopardise his governorship consideration for the local government council. Yet, Anyim, allegedly blinded by his desire to requite Elechi for not supporting his ambition for the post of National Chairman of PDP, insisted that Enwo should be the Ohanaeze President General.

Feeling slighted, Elechi ran to the South East Governors’ Forum (SEGF) and extracted their solidarity against the so-called intrusion of the SGF. This affected the 2012 NEC election as conflicting announcements and electoral guidelines were released. As the division within Ohanaeze between the governors and the executives became defined, funding of the operations of the apex organ became a source of worry. While some Ohanaeze chieftains, including Richard Ozobu wanted to side the governors, but eminent Igbo personalities sued against fractionalizing the august body.

2015 election stalemate
Although the idea of disparate factions of Ohanaeze was aborted, the crack widened and marred the cohesion as well as effectiveness of the body. Matters came to a head at the build up to the 2015 elections. Two broad, but contending interest groups, the partisans and populists, arose to bring a new dimension to the Ohanaeze imbroglio.

While the partisans, led by the President-General wanted to reciprocate the good gestures of some bents in the Presidency, the populists led by the Secretary General, Dr. Joe Nwaorgu, wanted the majority wishes of Igbo to determine the political direction of the body.

It was obvious that the political distention between the PDP and newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC) was at the root of the disequilibrium in Ohanaeze. This fact came to light on January 5, 2015 when the issue of endorsement or otherwise of President Jonathan was to be tabled at the Ime-Obi (caucus) meeting at Ohanaeze Secretariat in GRA, Enugu.

Prior to that meeting there was disagreement within the NEC over a letter written by General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), requesting for an audience with Ohanaeze to discuss issues pertaining to Igbo interests and development of the South East geopolitical zone. And as the Ohanaeze NEC vacillated in accepting to meet with the APC flag bearer in the secretariat, some members of the Ime-Obi, including Chief Mbazulike Amaechi, were willing to receive Buhari even at a private place. The Ohanaeze leadership was accused of not disclosing the receipt of Buhari’s letter and undue partisanship.

Consequently that fateful day, the endorsement of one of the presidential candidates could not hold following counter positions from those who felt that body was immersing itself into partisanship. Specifically, former Anambra Governor, Dr. Chris Ngige, who was in attendance after a long spell of absence, argued that endorsing Jonathan for a second term was against the spirit and letter of the founding documents of Ohanaeze.

Chief Chekwas Okorie, who incidentally was the flag bearer of the United Peoples Party (UPP), queried the propriety of such an Igbo organization endorsing another candidate when an Igbo candidate was on the presidential ballot.

Okorie demanded from those who were obviously tending towards endorsing Jonathan to rationalize the quantum of support given PDP in 2011 and the infrastructure facilities on the ground in South East to complement that support. It could be argued that part of the reason for PDP’s loss of about two million votes in the presidential election two months later, could be traced to Okorie’s forceful opposition to endorsement of any candidate without agreements.

From whatever perspective the Ohanaeze’s existence could be reviewed, it was evident that the apex socio-cultural organization lost face and vitality with PDP’s loss of the 2015 presidential poll.

A new beginning
If all goes well today, Ohanaeze would have the chance to make a new beginning as it elects another NEC not encumbered by in-fighting or outside influence. Signs of the possibility of a fresh breath of life emerged recently when Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, endorsed the nomination of Chief Nnia Nwodo for the post of President General of Ohanaeze.

It is expected that the incoming Ohanaeze NEC will reflect the political balance in its composition, because the post of Deputy President General has been zoned to Imo State, which has an APC governor in the person of Owelle Rochas Okorocha. Rivers and Abia States would be expected to field candidates for Secretary General and Deputy Secretary General, respectively.

Explaining the considerations that informed the endorsement of Nwodo, despite the fact that the Nsukka cultural zone already has the governor, Ugwuanyi, said it was a collective rather than a personal choice. “Stakeholders unanimously nominated Chief Nwodo for the post after due consultation,” he declared.

The governor said the decision was informed by the realisation that Enugu West Senatorial District had occupied the position under Justice Eze Ozobu and that Enugu East chairs the state chapter of the body. Being by consensus, Nwodo’s nomination sets the pacific tone for Ohanaeze to rediscover itself, “unlike in the past, the people of the state are happy with the selection process,” he noted.

What is more, being a lawyer and politically astute, Nwodo’s emergence would remove the absence of colour and content, which the outgoing President General invested on Ohanaeze. The fact that Nwodo has already outlined his areas of focus to be on midwiving the economic invigoration of Nd’Igbo, shows an insight about what roles the socio-cultural body should play for the ethnic group.

Should Nwodo bring his wealth of experience to bear on the apex Igbo socio-cultural organ, no doubt Ohanaeze would regain its eminent position in Igbo land to help address the leadership atrophy that has become the lots of the region.

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