Tension as Ohanaeze Ndigbo elects new president

There is fear and tension in the concerned seven Southeast and South-south states over the intrigues surrounding the election of the new leaders of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, scheduled to hold today, Sunday, January 10, 2021, reports Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu

Today, Sunday, January 10, 2021, is supposed to be a special day in the seven Southeast and South-south states that are part of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. This is because the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation is supposed to elect a new President-General and the other executive members to take over from the Nnia Nwodo-led executive, whose tenure expires today.

But instead of excitement in these states, there is tension resulting from disagreements and toxic divisions among political leaders and elders, which currently threaten not only the election of new executive members but also the existence of a united Ohanaeze Ndigbo.

Until a parallel Ohanaeze organisation suddenly emerged after securing a certificate of registration from the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) most observers had thought Chief Nnia Nwodo -led executive of Ohanaeze Ndigbo would serve out its tenure without much controversy.

But in addition to the intrigues that have trailed the emergence of the parallel organisation, so much have happened to confirm deepening divisions among Igbo political leaders, elders and chieftains of Ohanaeze Ndigbo.

The disagreement has been so deep that as at the time of filing this report on Friday, there was uncertainty over the reality of today’s election date.

Keen observers have also expressed fear that even if the election eventually holds, there is great possibility of parallel elections except something concrete is done this weekend to save the situation.

This fear is informed by the fact that few days to the election, a parallel Ohanaeze Ndigbo group came up with a different electoral committee notwithstanding that the electoral committee set up by the outgoing President General, Nnia Nwodo, had constituted an electoral committee to manage the election.

This is even as some coalition groups reportedly demand for formation of a caretaker committee to run the affairs of the organisation until peace returns.

Even the venue of the election has become a subject of controversy as politicians, alleged to have political interests, are up in arms against each other over whether it is appropriate to hold the election in Owerri, the capital of Imo State?

Chief Kinsley Nweze told The Nation at the weekend that the argument over the venue of the election draws directly from the understanding that Imo State Government has not hidden its political interest. “The governor’s roles in the emergence of the so-called consensus candidate left no one in doubt of his partisan interest. While the chosen candidate may have all that most Igbo leaders want in the next leader of Ohanaeze, none of us would want a partisan Ohanaeze President-General at a time like this. The leaders are getting it wrong. This explains why many people are opposed to everything they are doing today to force their chosen Ohanaeze President-General down the throat of all of us. No! This does not augur well for the future socio-cultural and political interest of Ndigbo,” he said.

Root causes of the crisis

Some students of the current crisis in Ohanaeze Ndigbo leadership insist it is not only traced to the politics of 2019 Presidential election, but can also be linked to the politics of 2023 elections. Dr Okechukwu Onuoha, from Abia State, who shares this view, said the former Secretary-General of Ohanaeze, Uche Okwuokwu, whose group is challenging the Chief Gary Igariwey’s electoral committee is angry because he was allegedly relieved of his position as part of the intrigues associated with the emergence of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Mr Peter Obi as the presidential candidate and vice presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ahead of the 2019 elections. According to him, supporters of Okwuokwu are alleging that the emergence of the consensus candidate may be another plot ahead of the 2023 presidential elections.

It would be recalled that late December 2020, the apex body of Ohanaeze, the Ime-Obi Ohanaeze Ndigbo, held a meeting where the members reportedly adopted a 40-man electoral committee, headed by Chief Gary Igariwey from Ebonyi State, to conduct the election. The body also named Owerri, Imo State, as venue of the election. Their actions were not helped by the emergence of one of the front line aspirants, Ambassador George Obiozor, as the consensus candidate elected by the Imo State leaders.

So few days after the formation of Igariwey led committee, the group led by Okwuokwu, held a parallel meeting and set up its own electoral committee, headed by Chief Richard Ozobu from Enugu State to conduct of same election.

Okwuokwu, who had ever insisted that he remained the Secretary-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, and that as the authentic Secretary-General, it was his duty to summon an Ime-Obi meeting, said the meeting of the apex Ohanaeze body, summoned by the outgoing President-General, is illegal, null and void.

A communique Okwuokwu’s group released after forming the parallel electoral committee alleged that “unauthorised people not mandated by the Ohananeze constitution have hijacked the electoral process for the purpose of imposing their preferred President General.

“Imposition of a candidate for President General is illegal, undemocratic and unacceptable. The electoral timetable, as pursed by the Nwodo–led Ohanaeze is deliberately delayed to rob candidates of any chance of campaigning before delegates.

“The same electoral process is deliberately implemented in breach of COVID—19 protocols. Diaspora delegates, for instance, cannot come home to vote on account of the lockdown.”

Okwuokwu’s loyalists therefore contended that the electoral committee nominated by his group was the only one entitled to conduct the election.

Ozobu explained: “My electoral committee is authentic because it was set up in accordance with the constitution of Ohanaeze, following a meeting called by the Secretary-General. The President-General and the Secretary-General are the only two officials that can summon the meeting of Ohanaeze Ime-Obi, General Assembly or the Council of Elders.

“The president can summon the meeting through the Secretary-General. It is stated black and white in the constitution. So, any meeting that is not summoned directly by the Secretary-General is inconsequential. So, on December 31, I received a circular to the meeting in Owerri.

“It was summoned by the Secretary-General and there a committee was raised for this election and I was made the chairman. Other issues were also handled at that meeting. We are talking about a major election and there are provisions in the constitution on how these things should be done.”

Contending that he is still the Ohanaeze’s Secretary-General, Okwuokwu said recently: “Ask those saying I have been suspended to read out Article 21 of the constitution. Ask them who suspended me and where and when I was suspended. The article says only the General Assembly can remove the Secretary-General not Ime-Obi. If you remove him, you must replace him with somebody from his state.

“If they said I have been removed, did they replace me with someone from Rivers State? Was I removed by the General Assembly? You purportedly claim I was removed by Ime-Obi; can Ime-Obi remove an officer? They have lost the case. We are going ahead with our election.

“So, everything they did was illegal. Why are they panicking? Let them conduct their own election if they think they are right. I don’t want to comment on Igariwey because he was a former President-General. By my training, I don’t make comments on leaders. But the only thing I know is that he knows he is presiding over an illegal institution that cannot stand the test of time.”

Besides the face-off between the outgoing executive and Okwuokwu, which many fear may result to emergence of parallel executives, the position of some powerful coalitions of Igbo groups that a caretaker committee be set up is another reason for the anxiety over what would happen today.

It would be recalled that some Igbo groups, under the aegis of Global Igbo Leaders, while reacting to the confusion arising from the disagreements held an emergency Zoom meeting on Sunday, January 3, 2021. Some of the participants in that meeting said it was a well-attended meeting.

After the meeting, the coalition came up with some powerful resolutions. It specifically recommended postponement of today’s Ohanaeze election and constitution of a caretaker committee to run the affairs of Ohanaeze Ndigbo.

“We recommend that a properly constituted Ohanaeze Ndigbo Caretaker Committee be established to run the affairs of Ohanaeze Ndigbo from January 10, 2021. The Ohanaeze Ndigbo Caretaker Committee must be charged with full executive powers and must not include any of the outgoing national, state, local executives as member.

“The caretaker committee to serve for a maximum of three months and renewable for a further three months should it become necessary due to COVID-19 lockdown measures, and within which time it must in turn constitute an electoral committee to be ratified by Ime-Obi Ohanaeze Ndigbo in order to conduct a safe, free, fair, and credible elections of the national, state and local government executives of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. Furthermore, and in view of the COVID-19 potential implications, an electronic voting system is to be considered for implementation during the first three months period of the tenure of the caretaker committee.

“We urge the caretaker committee and the electoral committee, when constituted, to take into account the resolutions and recommendations of the Global Igbo Leaders, and those of other pan-Igbo organisations, the youths organisations and concerned Igbo individuals as well.”

These resolutions were signed by Prof Timothy Uzodinma Nwala for Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF) Nigeria; Prof Anthony Ejiofor and Dr Festus Okere for World Igbo Congress (WIC); Dr Nwachukwu Anakwenze, Chief Christian Onuorah and Chief Oliver Nwankwor for Igbo World Assembly (IWA) Worldwide and Prof Chika Moore, and Ngozi Odumuko for Nzuko Umunna (U.S. and Nigeria); Ben Allison for Ndi Igbo Canada; Luke Nwannunu for Ekwe Nche (U.S.), Austin Okeke Mazi Obi Okoli for Igbo Board of Deputies; Alex Coker Ezeamakam for Council of Igbo Communities (U.K.), Ogbuefi Delly Ajufo for Aka Ikenga Nigeria; Mazi Obi Okoli for Council of Igbo Leaders (U.K.); Chief Oliver Nwankwor and Alex Coker Ezeamakam for European Igbo Communities (EIC) Europe and Iyom Josephine Anenih and Mrs, Regina Amadi for Nkata ndi Iyom Igbo (Nigeria and U.K.), among others.

These views notwithstanding, it seems the Igariwey-led electoral committee, set up by the outgoing President General, is going ahead with its plans to elect a new President-General today. As a result, it has released an election timetable for the commencement of the process from the local government from Wednesday, January 6, 2021, followed by that of the state offices for Friday, January 8 in all states of the Southeast, Rivers and Delta and national election for Sunday, January 10, 2021 in Owerri.

Some of the prominent Igbo sons that showed interest in the top position include Dr. Joe Nwaorgu, Dr. Chris Asoluka, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, Prof. Chidi Osuagwu and Prof. George Obiozor all of them from Imo State which is supposed to produce the next President-General of Ohanaeze.

But following the reports that Obiozor was chosen by Imo State Government and some other Imo leaders as a consensus candidate, it remains to be seen if these other aspirants will actually slug it out with Obiozor.

Also, Prof Obiozor, an Ex-Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIA), recently pledged to provide leadership of Ndigbo that would transcend partisan politics.

He said the priorities of Ndigbo today include: “maximum security, economic stabilisation fund, sustained qualitative education, effective re-integration into the nation’s political process with effective diplomacy as opposed to confrontations or conflicts.”

Perhaps to allay the fear that the outgoing executive is insisting on the Ambassador George Obiozor, the aspirant, who was reported to be the consensus candidate, the committee said every Igbo adult was free to contest, adding that to be eligible to contest, such contestant must have completed and submitted approved nomination forms and have been cleared by the screening subcommittee before the elections.

So, the die is cast but considering the disagreements, keen observers say the outcome of today’s election will go a long way in determining the future of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and perhaps the unity of Ndigbo ahead of the 2023 General Elections.

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