Nnamdi Mbawike, writes on the tasks and expectations before the new leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo headed by former information minister, Chief Nnia Nwodo.
The apex socio-cultural organization of the Igbo, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, recently had a change of leadership in a season of intriguing activism within its fold.
For the organization, its influence in defining a path for the Igbo spans beyond the five South-east states and some states in the South-south geo-political regions. It reaches across the world. As such, the burden of expectation on it for solutions to the economic, socio-cultural and political needs of the Igbo abound.
Part of the objectives of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, which was formed in 1976 following a meeting of some prominent Igbo to proclaim the need to unify the Igbo under a common umbrella body, is to foster unity among its members.
Among the founding fathers of the group are foremost constitutional lawyer, Professor Ben Nwabueze, who later emerged the secretary-general of the organization spanning a period of 20 years; Kingsley Mbadiwe; Dr. Michael Iheonukara Okpara; Dr. Pius Okigbo; and Chief Jerome Udorji (who served as the first secretary-general), among other notable Igbo personalities.
Imeobi, which means inner caucus and the General Assembly are the two main decision making bodies of the socio-cultural organization and the structure is replicated in the state and local government chapters.
Formed to serve as a clearing house in matters affecting the interest and general welfare of Ndigbo in Nigeria and the rest of the world, Ohanaeze appears to have done little to actualise its mandate following series of crises that have continued to engulf it since its formation. Analysts who have been monitoring activities of organization are of the view that its politicization as well as the quest to hang on to power by some of the leaders over the years are among the key factors that have continued to hold the Ohanaeze down hence its inability to provide answers to the political, socio-cultural and economic needs of the Igbo.
Although Ohanaeze played a crucial role in the 2011 elections that led to the emergence of Dr Goodluck Jonathan as president as well helped to close the wide gap between the south-south and the south-east geo-political zones, its role in the 2015 presidential election, when it allegedly denied President Muhammadu Buhari an opportunity to discuss with the Igbo during his electioneering campaign attracted criticism, a development that occasioned the alleged marginalization of the Igbo, some analysts aver.
Many prominent Igbo especially those that invested heavily outside Igboland, no doubt, heaved a sigh of relief when a former minister of information, Chief Nnia Nwodo was elected president-general of the association on January, 10, 2017.
Prior to his emergence, his predecessor, Chief Gary Igariwe, faced many challenges including litigations that almost grounded Ohanaeze to a halt. The intervention of Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha at the tail end of Igariwe’s tenure helped in no small measure in rescuing the body.
The emergence of Nwodo appears to have restored the hope of Ndigbo as many believe that he has the antidote to their years of neglect. Despite the suit pending in court challenging his emergence, many expect Nwodo and his team members to bring the Igbo out of the political, economic and socio-cultural crossroads they appear to be in, as well as provide a strong platform for the emancipation of the people.
Task before Nwodo
Many expect the Nwodo-led executive of Ohanaeze to consult widely and state the stand of Ohanaeze on burning national issues affecting the Igbo, including the stand of Ndigbo on the issue of Buhari’s re-election, Igbo presidency and others to avert the mistakes of his predecessors.
Nonetheless, Nwodo appears to have taken a pragmatic yet conscientious position (in light of the precarious situation) on the continued agitation for a sovereign State of Biafra being championed by Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) as he wasted no time in stating the stand of his administration on the issue.
In his inaugural address following his emergence, Nwodo swiftly extended his hand of fellowship to the two pro-Biafran groups, assuring he would never abandon them. Describing members of the two groups as his children, he noted that both organizations, no matter how divided they appear in public, were basically motivated by the same sense of outrage and bitterness, insisting that Igbo young men and women could no longer tolerate a second class status in their own country.
“They can no longer forgive the president for arguing before he came into office that Niger Delta militants were merely tolerated by President Yar’Adua while Boko Haram was harshly treated by President Jonathan when his law enforcement agents literally open fire and main and kill unarmed MASSOB and IPOB members. They see how returnee Boko Haram members are absolved and rehabilitated while leaders of MASSOB and IPOB are incarcerated or mercilessly murdered.
“As president-general of Ohanaeze, I intend to extent my warm hand of paternity to IPOB and MASSOB. They are my children, I shall never desert them, their struggle is my struggle even if we do not completely agree with their methods. In warfare, there are two types of approaches: coercion and diplomacy. I completely favour diplomacy. The hand of fellowship which Mr. President has extended to Ohanaeze gives me immense confidence that we can tame rising tempers.
“No one is listening to the other. Somehow we believe that our present situation can only be explained by marginalisation and hatred,” he declared.
On the alleged marginanisation of Ndigbo, Nwodo expressed dismay that under the current federal government Igbo representation is abysmal and falls extremely short of the constitutional provisions for reflection of federal character in the appointment into important government positions.
According to him, what is very perturbing is Buhari’s declaration that his appointments must favour states that voted overwhelmingly for him and those he trusts even against the provision of the constitution relating to the federal character. “One is at sea why Ndigbo who campaigned and voted for him appear not to be trusted,” he wondered.
He also bemoaned the alleged patently discriminatory treatment of Ndigbo in appointment into political positions and expressed dismay that the economic strangulation of Ndigbo has overtime been perpetuated by the confining of mainland Ndigbo to five states.
Expectedly, shortly after his inaugural press briefing, the Ohanaeze leader who has already received congratulatory messages from the president and other prominent Nigerians, received a heavy knock from a political pressure group, a development that confirmed he has an onerous task ahead.
The Buhari Support Organisation (BSO), Enugu State chapter, immediately advised the body not to scuttle the emergence of a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction in 2023 by not supporting Buhari’s second term in office. It warned that from experience in the Nigerian political trajectory, no one ethnic nationality could become president of the country without the support of the other ethnic groups, adding for Ndigbo to become president in 2023, they needed the support of others.
The publicity secretary of BSO, Chibueze Eze, who reacted to the briefing by Nwodo, wondered why he (Nwodo) should be inciting Ndigbo against Buhari, despite the fact that the president sent him a congratulatory message, expressing his readiness to work with the new Ohanaeze leadership.
Eze said while they shared in his stand on the age-long marginalization of Ndigbo, Nwodo should learn from the great Zik of Africa’s thesis that ‘no condition is permanent’ and stop grandstanding.
“It is with rapt attention that Buhari Support Organisation (BSO) Enugu State Chapter, listened to the press conference of the new Ohanaeze Ndigbo president-general, our dear elder brother, orator and showman, Chief John Nnia Nwodo last Thursday, 19 January, 2017. We wanted to gloss it over, until we saw the lavish advert publication of his personal statement being decorated as that of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, when in actual fact Ohaneze Ndigbo is a non-partisan socio-cultural organisation.
“BSO is aware that for Ndigbo to take such far reaching decisions as proclaimed, Imeobi the inner caucus of Ohanaeze Ndigbo has to be summoned, this was not the case.
“BSO is in league with majority of Ndigbo and Nigerians in general who in spite of the existing fault lines, have high hopes of Nigeria’s resurgimento to prosperity and greatness, where justice, equality and fairness will triumph.
“We also foresee the emergence of president of Igbo extraction in Nigeria after President Muhammadu Buhari’s eight-year tenure and hence caution for tact and less inflammatory statements, especially from non-partisan Ohanaeze Ndigbo,” Eze said.
The BSO spokesman averred that Nwodo, being an intellectual, would not repeat the costly mistake of his predecessors who defiantly and deliberately refused to support or even grant a meeting which President Muhammadu Buhari requested for on November 7, 2014 with Ohanaeze to determine and discuss how to meet the expectations of Ndigbo in a new Nigeria.
“We cannot forget that Chief Nwodo is an elder statesman who enjoyed the ministerial perquisites of Hausa leadership under the second republic president, Alhaji Shehu Shagari and the emergency rule of General Abdusalam Abubakar, where a state or local government can be created on the dining table.
“Where was Chief Nwodo when we had our brother, His Excellency Anyim Pius Anyim, as Secretary to Government of the Federation, our dear sister, Dr (Mrs) Ngozi Ökonjo-Iweala as minister of finance and coordinator of our economy, our two dear professors – Barth Nnaji and Chinedu Nebo as ministers of power and yet our roads decayed and Enugu coal remains abandoned?
“Enugu coal, which Buhari has concluded plans to revamp and utilise to generate electricity, suffered the same fate with our roads in the hands of regimes, which we so loved and which so loved Ndigbo such that for a stretch of five years, two of our illustrious sons, professors for that matter, were ministers of power, yet Enugu coal remains idle.”
As stakeholders consider the issues on the table before the Nwodo leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, people are waiting to see how far Nwodo will be able to translate his oratory skill into action. Time, as they say, will tell.