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•As South East governors, Igbo leaders re-unite to reposition pan-Igbo socio-cultural organisation
From Petrus Obi, Enugu
Today, new leaders of the pan-Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, will emerge from an auspicious election, which has top Igbo personalities gunning for the office of president-general. Among them are former Minister of Information, Chief Nnia Nwodo; former Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Alison Madueke, Prof. Ejike Chiweyite, former Vice Chancellor of Anambra State University of Technology, and Chief Joel Enugwu.
All is set for the election, which was postponed from last week, with the election committee having got everything ready for today. Prof. Anya O. Anya, chairman of the Ohanaeze Electoral Committee, had recently declared that today’s election would be historic and important, considering the condition of the Igbo and their position in Nigeria at present.
The election of a new crop of leaders is seen as a major step towards repositioning the Igbo in the scheme of things, especially the current political arrangement, where the people feel they have been marginalised or sidelined.
The commitment of the out-going executive, led by Chief Gary Igariwey, to this cause first manifested in the composition of the election committee, led by Anya. Other members of the committee are Prof. A.B.C. Nwosu, Secretary; Prof. Ihechukwu Madubuike, Dr. Chris Asoluka, Amb. Eddy Onuoha, Col. Joe Achuzie, Prof. Elochukwu Amucheazi, Prof. Sam Ukpabi, Prof. Philip Atanmuoh, Chief Samfo Nwankwo, Chief Awogu, Chief Arah Azikiwe, Chief Emeka Akuma, Maj. Gen. Ugwoke (retd) and Chief Clement Nweke, among other prominent Igbo sons and daughters.
Addressing newsmen shortly after the inauguration of the committee, Anya said that things had to change, “and it’s only leadership that makes the difference. So we are in the process of finding the right leadership for Ndigbo for these times, and it’s a major job.”
Allaying fears of a crisis marring the election, the 80-year-old professor said at this time of his life there was nothing that could cause crisis if he was involved in it. According to Anya, the grace of God has been with him for 80 years and would surely go with him this time, since this may be the most important assignment he would carry out for Ndigbo.
The out-going leadership was also able to convince the governors to get involved again in issues concerning Ohanaeze, preparing the ground for the emergence of a new organisation that would “fight the battle ahead.”
Igariwey said he was looking forward to a ‘New Ohanaeze,’ where the governors would be interested, working hand-in-hand with its executive, rather than working at cross purposes.
The signs of the governors’ involvement became manifest in the local government and state Ohanaeze elections in all Igbo-speaking states, which preceded today’s election of its national executive committee, in which the governors reportedly participated.
The emergence of the Igariwey-led National Executive Committee of Ohanaeze Ndigbo four years ago was trailed by litigations over issues of tenure.
It was a stormy period that threatened the peace of the association. Eventually, the executive was able to restore peace, as it forged on to completing its four-year tenure.
Owing to a focused leadership not deterred or distracted by the events of those years, Ohanaeze was able to attract the Rochas Foundation and, for the first time, a befitting edifice is set to replace the dilapidated structures that hitherto served as the Ohanaeze secretariat in GRA, Enugu.
“We thank Governor Rochas Okorocha enormously for that great feat, for his support and efforts in bringing peace and stability to Ohanaeze. It is worthy of emulation and another example for Igbo sons to step forward and give Igbo the proper identity; because your masquerade is what you make it to look like.
“We are happy that other governors are now indicating interest to come in and support in many ways. So we expect an Ohanaeze that will be very strong and vibrant, one that will receive the support of our stakeholders and governors,” Igariwey said.
Looking back on his time at the helm, Igariwey recalled that his executive worked without funds but expressed happiness that he was able to serve for four years.
He said: “A rare opportunity to serve the Igbo people, I see it as the highest honour; I never dreamt about it, but I feel so happy that it happened and I am happy that we are trying to conduct a free and fair election for a new leadership that will be respected by the Igbo people. I don’t have any regrets serving my people and I did it to the best of my ability.
“My greatest achievement is that I continued to preach unity to Igbo people and I continued to show leadership; I kept holding on. I didn’t drop the baton even against all odds because the pressure was intense right from when I was elected, but I kept my gaze on the ball and kept my focus straight and we are here thinking about transiting after four years.”
On the hitherto controversial issue of tenure, the out-going president-general said, except for people who deliberately want to create problems, the issue has been resolved. He noted that the issue was properly done and remains a tenure of four years.
“If we do this transition, it will be the third time we will be running four years (tenure). So any person who is talking of two years is being unfair to the Igbo people and is deliberately looking for issues where they don’t exist.
“I am glad a new leadership is coming. If they want to run, let them come and run. It is open to every person; if they win they will do four years. So the four-year tenure wasn’t for Igariwey. Uwachue did four years. I did four years as Deputy President, all the state chapters are doing four years; the Diaspora is doing four years,” he said.
Today, Madueke, Nwodo, Enugwu and Chiweyite would wrestle for the position of president-general when Igbo leaders converge on the Enugu Secretariat of Ohanaeze Ndigbo to elect new executives for the apex body. The Ohanaeze leadership has expressed satisfaction with the calibre of people who are running for the office of the president-general in particular and other offices in the organisation.
“We have raised the standards and all the people showing interest for the various positions are well respected Igbo people and we are happy,” Igariwey said.
The position of president-general has been zoned to Enugu State and the four contestants, all Enugu indigenes, have picked their nomination forms ahead of today’s election.
For the first time in recent years, the Igbo governors are expected to be part of the exercise, as are other prominent Igbo leaders who have all seen the need to form a common front and elect a credible leadership to fight the cause of the South-East, especially now that the Igbo feel sidelined in the political equation.
Speaking on the election, Igariwey noted that people have right to harmonise among themselves. He, however, noted that the requirement was that there would be at least three people running for the position of president-general of Ohanaeze.
He charged the committee to conduct an open election so that Igbo people would accept the leaders, and see the election as fairly contested and fairly won. He also expressed hope that those who lose would accept it in good faith and be magnanimous losers.
On perceived antagonism from minority quarters that the election should not hold, the outgoing leader said: “I am not aware that there are any serious efforts to stop the election; the election is going on; it’s going to be on the 10th of January 2017, and there is nothing to stop them from concluding the election. So we are going on with the election.
“There will always be court cases, but we would always work within the law; nothing in the law said we shouldn’t conduct elections. So, if nothing is stopping us under the law, we are going ahead with the elections and so far nothing is stopping us.”