By Ethelbert Okere

Public Forum




After several months of persuasion by well-meaning Igbo leaders, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu eventually accepted to serve as the president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, following the death of Prof. George Obizor less than halfway into his tenure. In what was clearly a radical posturing that belied his rather conservative leaning, Iwuanyanwu, right at the podium where he was inaugurated on April 30, 2023, called on the then President, Muhammadu Buhari, to release the incarcerated leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, from the custody of the state for peace to return in the South East. In his words, “Nnamdi Kanu is very crucial for any discussion (on security) and it is not possible to negotiate any peace while Nnamdi Kanu is in prison”.

Iwuanyanwu did not resort to the hackneyed allusion to Igbo marginalisation or to remind the incoming President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, of the need to appoint the Igbo into juicy positions in his administration. For making insecurity his priority, Iwuanyanwu promptly struck a chord with his people. Yes, juicy appointments are good but there is no gainsaying the fact that the major challenge confronting the Igbo of the South East is insecurity. To be sure, Igboland, if you like, the South East, is not the only part of Nigeria facing security challenges but that of the zone has a unique dimension in the sense that it is believed to be self-inflicted.

Yes, Kanu is yet to be released, but even a cursory inquiry would show clearly that the spate of insecurity in the area is fast waning, thanks to the efforts of the political leaders of the zone, particularly the governors. Chief Iwuanyanwu is not in control of any security apparatus, but he did the most fundamental and important thing, the absence of which was responsible for the uncoordinated and fruitless efforts by the relevant authorities at tackling the menace.

Hitherto, it was not uncommon to come across statements like, “Anambra Aburo Imo,” typifying the idiosyncrasies of some leaders in the zone who thought or believed that their states operated on a superior pedestal than others. Put in plainer language, it was not a hidden matter that some states and their political leaders in the South East felt that they had a better way of doing things in their respective areas and that other states could go to hell.

Chief Iwuanyanwu realised that that was the crux of the matter and went after it. Working in close collaboration with the governor of his home state, Imo, Senator Hope Uzodimma, he convened the first-ever all-Igbo leaders’ meeting, which was held at the Imo State Governor’s Lodge in Abuja. It was a star-studied gathering of the crème de la crème of the Igbo of the South East: politicians, religious leaders, captains of industry, professionals, academics, etc. The contents and outcome of that meeting are in the public domain, but it is important to reiterate the fact that since then, there has been a noticeable synergy among the political leaders in their approach to the major challenges confronting the zone, insecurity inclusive.

The saying, “Igbo Enweghi Eze,” is a refrain that epitomises the republican nature of the Igbo but, sometimes, the people themselves tend to abuse it; to the extent that at a point there arose doubts if it is, after all, the best way of life. Chief Iwuanyanwu is not the Eze of Ndi Igbo, but he has brought into the collective psyche of the people (the Igbo) the capability to appreciate the beauty of rallying round a leader who has shown sincerity of purpose. That is where Ndi Igbo are now with the Ahaejiagamba.

Since he mounted the saddle as the cultural leader of the Igbo nation, the rest of the country has been witnessing this beautiful blend of Igbo republicanism and a belief in the ability of their leaders to guide them aright. Who could believe, a mere three years ago, that Ndi Igbo could be successfully persuaded not to take part in a nationwide protest against economic hardship in which they were perhaps the most vulnerable. Thanks to Chief Iwuanyanwu’s appeal to his kinsmen not to partake, there was no record of a single protest in any of the five South East states.

The effortless compliance was not necessarily because the people in the zone were afraid of being hounded and made scapegoats, as was feared in some quarters, but because they genuinely believed in their leader who has demonstrated that he has what it takes to guide them in the right direction. Chief Iwuanyanwu counselled that, rather than protest, Ndigbo should support the federal government under the administration of President Tinubu because there are noticeable genuine efforts by the administration to get things right.

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One remarkable thing to note is that, in asking his Igbo kinsmen to support President Tinubu, Chief Iwuanyanwu does not deny the fact that a majority of the Igbo, especially of the South East, did not vote for him and he gives a very plausible reason, namely, that Ndi Igbo of the South East believed it was their turn to produce the President of Nigeria in 2023; but since that could not materialise, they have to lend their support to the current federal administration to succeed in its efforts to revamp the economy of Nigeria as well as tackle other serious challenges at least for their own interest. Only a few days ago, he reiterated that point when he told a group of Ndi Igbo resident in Abuja that “…if Nigeria fails, Igbo are going to suffer more than any tribe”, and gave reasons, which are not difficult to fathom.

Since he assumed the leadership of Ohanaeze, Chief Iwuanyanwu has traversed the country to look into the perennial hostilities between the Igbo and their hosts in some parts of it. In the course of that, he has taken several swipes, including deliberate misinterpretation of his statements and outright peddling of lies against him.

After one of his outings in Lagos, he was reported by a section of the media as saying that the Igbo should forget their quest for the presidency of Nigeria. Quite naturally, the report sparked off a huge controversy. In a newspaper article entitled “Not the Ahaejiagamba We Know”, I pointed out that it would be impossible for Chief Iwuanyanwu to, either knowingly or inadvertently, ask Ndigbo to forget their quest for the presidency of Nigeria. I noted that Chief Iwuanyanwu put in everything he could afford to run for the office of the President of Nigeria at a time it appeared to be an official policy not to allow an Igbo to even aspire to that office in the first place. I recalled that, in the course of his aspiration, he suffered several tribulations and even attempts at his life. I then reminded our people that Chief Iwuanyanwu is experienced enough to realise that the obstacles faced by people like him earlier are being gradually dismantled. I gave an example with the Peter Obi phenomenon, which took Nigerians by surprise; meaning that despite that Obi might not have altogether conducted himself properly in some aspects, his outing at the 2023 presidential election showed quite clearly that more than ever before, the chances of an Igbo emerging president of Nigeria have become very bright. I then made reference to a statement attributed to him a mere three years ago when he said: “Igbo presidency is going to be a psychological boost for the younger generation, a feeling that they too can assume the highest position in the land. It will be against their current feelings that you cannot aspire for the position of presidency once you are an Igbo person … I have seen it all but one thing I will like in my life time is to see an Igbo emerge as Nigeria’s president”.

I then ask: what has happened within three years to make a fellow who has so much passion about “Igbo presidency” to change his mind so mechanically and almost to the other extreme? As it eventually turned out, Chief Iwuanyanwu was deliberately misquoted by a section of the media working for a clique that is up against his new role as the overall leader of the Igbo.

If Chief Iwuanyanwu and his numerous admirers thought that the mischief makers were going to relent, they failed it. Last week, an allegation that has far more grievous implications than earlier ones surfaced against the Ahaejiagamba. This time around, he was accused of saying that he is going to lead the Igbo to tender an apology to the North for the killing of some of its prominent indigenes during the January 15, 1966 military coup that was believed – in several quarters – to have been led by Igbo army officers.

I have come across the statement credited to one Professor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, said to be the mastermind of that false allegation. The prof was apparently alluding to the one-day retreat of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo in Enugu on March 27, 2024 as where the decision for the proposed apology was taken. I was at that retreat, from the very beginning to the end, and at no point was such a thing mentioned.

Even more amusing is the reference to Rear Admiral Allison Madueke (retd) as the fellow who, as chairman of the retreat, presided over the decision. Those who know Madueke must have laughed to no end upon coming across that claim. Madueke of all persons? Could Allison Madueke, who returned home to fight on the Biafran side in the civil war that ensued following that coup ,and who was booted out of office as chief of naval staff for standing for the truth, preside over a meeting where a decision to make Ndigbo apologise over the January 15, 1966 military coup? Your guess, dear reader, is as good as mine.

Chief Iwuanyanwu has, of course, debunked and denounced that claim and allegation in his characteristic eloquence and erudition, but let me quote a passage in my book, “Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu: Another Angle To A Big Story” (2022) on his position on the January 15, 1966 military coup: “… the coup had nothing to do with the Igbo. Igbo leaders didn’t know anything about it. If any group had a loss, it was the Igbo. That first government in 1966 was the best we ever had since the creation of Nigeria. The Igbo were very comfortable with that government. We had a Prime Minister who was a very good man, extremely good man … so we were very comfortable. But there was trouble in other parts of the country… it’s just that the man who led it, Nzeogwu, was an Igbo man from Niger Delta, but there were some Yoruba too. There were other tribes. It’s not just the Igbo… people must put the history right.”

Chief Iwuanyanwu made the above statement some years before the publication of the book under reference and when he did not have an inkling of becoming the president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo; and absolutely nothing has happened since then to warrant a change of mind from a fellow who has shown such a surprising vigor and candor in arguing the Igbo cause in the most unmistaken and un-apologetic language. As I have already noted, I was at the Enugu retreat and I remember vividly that the only thing that was said about the Igbo and their relationship with their fellow compatriots across Nigeria was the need to look into the causes of the perennial hostilities to Ndigbo living outside Igbo land.

But perhaps the most ridiculous encounter in the last couple of weeks was the jibe thrown at Chief Iwuanyanwu by a group in Rivers State for describing the Ikwere as Igbo. My attitude to that, however, is that there is no need for him and Igbo, whom he leads, to lose sleep over that. Apart from that the claim by the so’called Iwhnurohna Progressive Organisation is both a cultural and an academic aberration, it should not be entirely surprising.

At the thick of the Nigerian civil war, some elements in Rivers State decided to repudiate all cultural and linguistic affiliations between the Ikwere and their other Igbo brothers in what is today known as the South East. Hence, the letter “R” was affixed to the names of every town or village that bore Igbo name.

Hence, Umuokoro became Rumokoro; Umukurushi became Rumukurushi , Umumasi became Rumumasi ; Umuibekwe became Rumubikwe etc etc.Today, going by any yardstick, whatsoever, and even with the “Abandoned Property,” the big question is, are the Ikwere better off than any other part of Igbo land? Although some present day political actors of Ikwere extraction had also earlier denied being Igbo, I do not doubt that one day, some of the more intellectually fecund minds in their midst will repudiate “hate claim”. But for now, the Igbo – Igbo Bu Igbo – have enough men, women (old and young), children and what have you that would stand up to be counted. Igbo Ezue!

Dr. Okere, a public affairs analyst, writes from Owerri