By Jerry Chukwueke
The passing of Professor George Achulike Obiozor on December 26, 2022 is a unique political and cultural experience to Nigerians as a whole and particularly to his Igbo kinsmen. As a nation, Nigeria has lost one of its best in academics, diplomacy and socio-cultural engineering.
Prof Obiozor knew Nigeria in and out and few could match his mastery of the intrigues of elite conspiracies in the game of power. As a matter of fact, his (famous) Concentric Circle Theory is perhaps one of the most brilliant articulations of politics not just in our country, Nigeria, but indeed much of the developing world. In that postulation, he describes politics as a “Concentric Circle Of Conspiracies” wherein the party that is able to execute the last conspiracy carries the day.
It is his early demonstration of flair for intellectual rigor that set him aside quite early in life. Beginning with his school days, the young Obiozor showed exceptional brilliance that earned him a special recognition by the then Eastern region government which was desirous of grooming young, promising Igbo chaps for higher responsibilities both in academia and politics. Three other young men that were similarly spotted were the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, Dr.Walter Ofonagoro and Professor Ihechukwu Madubike.
After his secondary education at the Awo-Omamma Comprehensive Secondary School in the present day Oru East local government area in present day Imo state, Obiozor, in 1966, proceeded to the Institute of African Affairs, Geneva, Switzerland to study history and philosophy, graduating with a diploma.
On noticing his potential, his teachers in Switzerland advised him to pursue further studies in the United States of America. He subsequently landed in the US where he enrolled for a Bachelor of Arts (BA) programme in Political Science at the University of South Tacoma, Washington, U.S.A.
Thereafter, he went to the famous Columbia University, New York where he obtained a Masters of Arts (MA) degree in International Law and Organization and an M. Phil (Master of Philosophy) in 1974, and finally a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) in International Affairs in 1976.
After teaching in various Universities and colleges in the US, Dr. Obiozor returned to Nigeria in 1978 and joined the nation’s public service.
Perhaps credit must be given to the various military junta that held sway in the country at that time for quickly recognizing the talent in him. He served in several capacities under the military, including as Special Assistant to the then Foreign Affairs Minister, Gen. Ike Nwachukwu and later as Special Adviser to Nigeria’s first and only military president, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida; culminating in his appointment as the Director-General of one of the nation’s most strategic institutions, the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs.
He held that position at a very critical period in Nigeria’s international relations. It was a period that required Nigeria to put forward her best brains in diplomacy considering that the military junta and the country itself had lost a lot of face before the civilized world for reasons we need not go into here. During that period, Obiozor took part in every negotiation and effort to curry the understanding of key nations of the world and their allies.
It was, therefore, not surprising that the new democratically elected civilian government that emerged in 1999 brought him on board immediately upon inception. Professor Obiozor was drafted to two most strategic diplomatic missions: initially as Nigeria’s Ambassador to Isreal (1999 to 2003) and later that of the United States of America, 2004 to 2008.
Apart from ‘raw’ diplomacy which, as he once said, meant “constantly explaining things about your country to the world”, Professor Obiozor contributed immensely to learning on international relations through several seminal papers in academic journals; prominent among which were, Uneasy Friendships: Nigeria-United States Relations; The Politics of Precarious Balancing. An Analysis Contending Issues in Nigeria’s Domestic and Foreign Policy; and Nigeria And The World: Managing The Politics of Diplomatic Ambivalence In A Changing World.
Such is the level of loss which Africa, as a whole, has incurred through the death of one of its best gifts to the world of learning and diplomacy. Even so, Obiozor’s death is a far more troubling thing for his Igbo kinsmen. To be sure, his death at the age of 80 is certainly not untimely but it comes at a time when Ndigbo are passing through a big challenge – culturally and politically – in their collective existence as a people and in their relationship with the rest of Nigeria. Culturally, his death poses a huge challenge because this is the first time the head of Igbo’s apex socio-cultural body – Ohaneze Ndigbo – died in office. Apart from the challenge of lack of precedence on how to proceed with giving him a befitting burial, there may arise some constitutional issues.
For example, is the Ohaneze constitution clear on who succeeds a President-General who dies in office especially as regards the state of the departed P.G. came from? Will his successor come from the same state he hailed from? In the instant case, Professor Obiozor hailed from Imo state. Will his successor also come from Imo; at least to serve out his term? or will it be taken to mean that Imo has had its turn?
Even though I am not quite conversant with the guidelines on this issue, I have, nonetheless, decided to raise these questions in order to put all of us on the alert, least we again fall into the antics of some unscrupulous elements who, for their own selfish ambition, may want to swim against the tide. We saw it happen in the last election that brought Obiozor in January 2021; when some elements wanted to throw overboard the rules and regulations guiding general elections in Ohaneze.
Needless to say, we owe our departed President-General no greater honour than to uphold those ideals for which he lived; which included, most importantly, to see Ndigbo become exemplary in their conduct.
The other issue has to do with the politics of who emerges Nigeria’s next president. Agreed, a tribute of this nature might not be the most appropriate platform to throw up such a matter but I have chosen to raise it because the fellow we are talking about was unmistakable on his preferences on the matter both as a person and as the cultural leader of Ndigbo.
Ohaneze Ndigbo, under Professor Obiozor, made it abundantly clear that 2023 is the turn of Ndigbo to produce the president of Nigeria. He was once quoted as saying: “Finally it is our turn… Igbo president is our agenda”.
For this agenda, however, Obiozor brought in a great reform. Contrary to the previous posturing among some of our brethren that a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction must come necessarily from the five states of the Southeast, the Ohaneze leadership, under Professor Obiozor widened the scope to include Ndigbo from the other Igbo-speaking states, notably Rivers and Delta states.
Thus, although death might have succeeded in depriving Obiozor the opportunity of being a witness and making his own personal inputs to potentially fulfill his dreams of an Igbo president, we also owe his memory a duty to ensure that Igboland does not go into the news for the wrong reasons after the election whatever might be the outcome. That is what Obiozor would have wished. He would have continued to call for equity, fairness and justice for his people and at the same time reiterate their readiness to be part of a great and united Nigeria.
Throughout his tenure, Prof. battled with the problem of suspicion on Ndigbo by some other sub nationals, a situation which had arisen from the separatist movement spearheaded by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). But he performed creditably well. He did not succumb to the blackmail of abandoning his belief that the root cause of separatist agitations in the country, most especially among his people, is injustice, inequity and lack of fairness. He was once quoted as saying: “The IPOB boys are our children and we cannot deny them.” At the same time, he never minced words in admonishing the boys to listen to wise counsels from their elders majority of whom, like him, did not subscribe to their tactics.
Professor Obiozor paid the prize of leadership when on March 21, 2022, his country home in Awo-Omamma was torched by the fabled unknown gun men. That was quite distasteful and for a man of that age who had put in so much in the service of his people, it was one blow too many. As a matter of fact, many believe that Prof. George Obiozor died the day that fire incident occurred, for the simple reason that through it, he lost his entire library that contained highly treasured intellectual and scholarly materials that took him many, many years to put together. It was said that his only reaction to the incident was to wish that the hoodlums had given him notice to go and evacuate his library.
Credit must be given to Governor Hope Uzodimma who was handy in cushioning him from the devastations of that dastardly act, at least materially. The governor rose to the occasion and provided Prof. Obiozor with the much needed support. Of course, it is a well known fact that, apart from belonging to the same Oru nation, the two were great friends despite the age difference. Incidentally, the lot fell on Governor Uzodimma to be the first to officially break the sad news of the departure of this great uncle of his to the world. Onwa Onyoko, Ndo Nwa Nnem.
Prof, the quintessential leader, erudite scholar, brilliant diplomat and Ugwumba Ndigbo, the Chukwuekes of Awaka, Owerri, Imo state and the Okadigbos of Ogbunike, Anambra state, with whom you also had a great brotherly relationship, join millions all over the world to mourn you. The two families share in the pains of the entire Obiozor clan but I know that they will find solace in the fact that it was from amongst them that Nigeria got one of her greatest gifts to the world.
• Chukwueke writes from Owerri