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By Emmanuel Nzomiwu, Correspondent, Enugu
Ohanaeze Ndigbo is the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation which represents all Igbo communities within and outside Nigeria.
The organisation was formed after the Nigerian civil war to replace the defunct Igbo union that was proscribed by the Major General, J.T.U Aguiyi Ironsi’s government in 1966.
Ohanaeze’s main objective is to promote the interest of the Igbo in the Nigerian state.
But the question today is whether it has lived up to this mandate.
It has often been argued by critics that Ohanaeze has not spoken out enough on the deplorable state of infrastructure in the Igbo speaking states, especially the states where most of the federal highways have become deathtraps, claiming the lives of travelers in hundreds on a yearly basis. Those who are of this school of thought, also believe that the group has not done enough to reduce the marginalisation of Ndigbo in the affairs of the country.
This explains why today, many people no longer see the body as the champion of Igbo cause, but an umbrella for self-seeking Igbo elite to pursue personal or selfish interests and agenda.
This negative public perception, has been worsened, of recent, by the frequent leadership crisis in the organisation.
In 2007, Ohanaeze had two parallel executives, one led by Prof. Joe Irukwu and the other, by Dr Dozie Ikedife.
Ikedife later had an upper hand in the prolonged leadership tussle that almost disintegrated the organisation.
In December 2008, Ambassador Ralph Uwechue succeeded Ikedife as President-General.
During the last lap of Uwechue’s tenure, precisely last year, crisis again erupted with two chieftains of the organisation, Oyibo Chukwu and Chief Emeka Onyeso dragging the president-general before an Enugu High Court over alleged financial impropriety in the run to the election for his successor and asked the court to stop the President General to halt the process and allow a caretaker committee be put in place to conduct it.
While the matter was still pending in court, the Imeobi (inner circle) of the body made up of respected elders, received the report of the National Executive Committee (NEC), adopted and approved the guidelines for the election.
According to a statement signed by the National Publicity Secretary, Ralph Ndigwe and Vice President-General, Selina Adibua, the Imeobi approved that the national election should take place on or before 15th of January, 2013 at the Ohanaeze National Secretariat Enugu, while handover was slated for 31st of January 2013.
After staying about five years in the saddle, Uwechue leadership eventually bowed out last Saturday, January 12 and was dissolved to pave way for an election to elect a new leadership.
The election held the same day at the prescribed venue at the end of which it produced a prince of Afikpo town, Chief Gary Nachi Enwo Igariwey as President-General and Dr. Joe Nwaorgu as Secretary-General. Other officers of the party were also elected in the election.
There was however a mild drama few hours before the election, as Chief Richard Ozobu, the Secretary of the Ohanaeze electoral committee headed by Chris Asoluka as chairman, was replaced with one Mrs Grace Ngene.
Notable Igbo leaders who witnessed the election included Senator Uche Chukwumerije, former Anambra State Governor, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Irukwu and Ralph Uwazuruike, the leader of Movement for Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).
Speaking with journalists at the Ohanaeze secretariat, Ezeife said the election epitomised a revolution for unification going on in Igboland.
“Today epitomises it. The more noise some people make, the greater the integration. It started with voting Jonathan with one voice, burying Ojukwu with one voice, having Ekwueme’s birthday with one voice. Today, for Ohanaeze election, we came from Russia, we came from Amsterdam, we came from even Maidugri. We came from every part of Nigeria and we have voted. It is fantastic, peaceful, you are eyewitnesses,” the Okwadike Igboukwu said.
Besides, Ezeife, who declared that Ndigbo would play a game of cooperation with President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 and not a game of conflict, said the journey had already stated on the clamour for a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction in 2015.
However, immediately the results of the election were announced and the winners sworn-in, the drums of war started sounding.
Barely 24 hours after the new executive was elected, a faction led by Ozobu, disowned the new leadership.
In a statement in Enugu on Sunday, Ozobu emphasisd that the only meaningful exercise at the gathering last Saturday was the dissolution of the outgoing Ambassador Ralph Uwechue executive.
Ozobu, who was purported removed few hours before the election, maintained that a vacuum had been created and the only standing authority recognisable at the national secretariat, was the electoral body which he said he was now fully responsible of.
The statement said: “My attention has been drawn to activities that took place at the National Secretariat of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Enugu yesterday, Saturday, the 12th of January, 2013 purported to be ‘Elections ‘.
“As Secretary to the National Electoral Committee of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, established by Imeobi Ohanaeze, the only organ with inherent powers to do so, as an independent body mandated to organise and conduct elections at various levels of Ohanaeze from Local Government to the National Executive level, I hereby inform ***Ndigbo*** here and worldwide that no such elections envisaged by the Ohanaeze Constitution took place.
“It came to my notice that some Igbo, including a very few Igbo leaders, were hurried invited to what was dubbed as an election by text messages on the 11th of January, barely 20 hours to the so called elections.
“I, as the Secretary of the Committee, am the only person by virtue of my office, who has the responsibility to issue notices, after all conditions for any elections had been met. For that of Election into national offices, notice is mandatory through two national daily news papers, and such notice would only come after all due process needed to conduct a free and fair election had been accomplished.
“I did not issue any notice for such election. To the contrary, I issued a well publicised press release that the election for that 12th had been put off to the original date it was scheduled, that is the 19th 0f January, that date also being the date requested and approve by Imeobi, for the National election.”
He gave the reasons for the postponement to include late return of completed appraisal forms by the contestants, incomplete delegate lists as results of state elections were still coming in, non-resolution of many petitions against the conduct of state elections from where national delegate lists were obtained and non-screening of contestants standing for elections, particularly those against whom there were serious accusations, especially members of the current NEC, who were contestants.
Others were poor logistic support, no publicity whatsoever as envisaged by the Ohanaeze Constitution, no provision yet for voter ID cards and voter verifications to avoid use of non-delegates for the election, non-provision at that point for candidate profiles, to enable the delegates make assessment and good judgement on casting their ballots and the need to ensure a fair election by establishing a level-playing ground for all contestants since they had up to the 19th of January approved by Imeobi.
However, Igariwey was said not to be the candidate of Ebonyi State Governor, Martin Elechi, who wanted Ambassador Igwe Ajah Nwachukwu to be given the highest position in the pan Igbo group.
A former commissioner in Imo State, Nworgu was elected as Secretary-General, O.A.U. Onyema from Enugu was elected Deputy President-General, Adibua was elected National Financial Secretary and I.N. Wuonwu, Deputy Secretary General.