By OBINNA EZUGWU
On Sunday, April 30, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, elder statesman and celebrated entrepreneur, assumed office as the new president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, after the Imeobi Ohanaeze ratified his nomination.
The government of Imo State had nominated him to replace the former president-general, Prof. George Obiozor, who died in December 2022 after a brief illness. At the Imeobi meeting held at the old Government House Lodge, Enugu, Iwuanyanwu was presented and ratified as the new leader of Ohanaeze, the umbrella body of all the Igbo in Nigeria and the diaspora.
His emergence has not particularly gone down well with a number of stakeholders in the organisation, especially those who contested for the position with the late Obiozor, many of whom have openly kicked against his choice. Their idea is that Obiozor’s replacement should have come from among them.
Groups loyal to Joe Nworgu, former secretary-general of the organisation had issued statements rejecting the new president. Chief Goddy Uwazurike, president emeritus of Aka Ikenga, an Igbo think tank, who had also contested for the position, informed Business Hallmark that he preferred to keep sealed lips.
But it’s not the first time the emergence of a new president-general will cause disaffection in the apex Igbo sociocultural organisation. The organisation has, however, always effectively deployed internal conflict resolution mechanisms to resolve the issues, and for Alex Ogbonnia, it’s spokesperson, this would be no different.
“It would have been very un-Nigerian if everyone agreed with the choice of Chief Iwuanyanwu,” he told Business Hallmark. “But what is important is that 99.9 percent of Igbo people are in support of his choice.”
Beyond the internal wrangling in the organisation, Iwuanyanwu has his job cut out. He has emerged leader of Ndigbo in very uncertain times in the country’s polity; a time when the Igbo are again, holding the wrong end of the political stick, with the outcome of the contentious 2023 presidential election.
The organisation, just like its counterparts in the other geopolitical zones, namely Afenifere in the Southwest, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) in the South South and the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), had backed Peter Obi, presidential candidate of the Labour Party, in the interest of fairness and equity. Obi, a former governor of Anambra State, was the front line Igbo and Southeast candidate in the election, and many had backed him, not only on the basis of competence, but their believe that it’s the turn of the southeast to produce the country’s president.
In the event, however, Bola Tinubu, candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) was pronounced winner of the election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Obi placed third behind the announced winner, Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar, candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
The controversial election, which many local international and local observers say fell below expectations, has heightened ethnic and religious tensions in the country, with the Igbo particularly suffering ethnic profiling in Lagos, the home state of Tinubu, by those the new Ohanaeze president had described as ‘political rascals’ during the commemoration of Anambra State governor, Charles Soludo’s first anniversary in office.
Barring an intervention from the court based on the legal challenge mounted by Obi and Atiku, Tinubu will be sworn in as president, and will rule the country for at least four years. It’s a prospect that presents big dilemma for Ndigbo and their political future, and one which Iwuanyanwu has been chosen to help them to navigate.
“We are in a crucial moment in Nigeria,’ noted Amb. Ogbonnaya Aja-Nwachukwu, former Nigerian Ambassador to Botswana. “Nobody can really tell what is going to happen to Nigeria tomorrow, because of the issue of ethnicity, which has become very bad. It is about the greatest problem we have today in Nigeria, and if care is not taken, it will destroy the country.”
Many had anticipated that compensation would come to the Southeast in the mould of senate presidency, with the likes of Orji Uzor Kalu, former governor of Abia State and senate chief whip, as well as David Umahi, Ebonyi State governor who will be going into the red chamber after his tenure, emerging as contenders.
But the prospect of Southeast presidency under Tinubu has also become unlikely, a development that would further alienate the zone and possibly heighten political tension. The president-elect has since endorsed Godswill Akpabio, former governor of Akwa-Ibom State in the South South for the role. On Friday, Umahi formally stood down from the contest and endorsed the former minister of Niger Delta Affairs, who is already emerging as the ruling party’s consensus candidate.
Speaking with reporters after a meeting with Akpabio on Friday, Umahi said he had dropped his ambition, and is not also considering the post of deputy senate president.
“My brother (Akpabio) came to consult with me,” he said. “Yesterday, I saw the president-elect on his invitation and he told me that he is already committed, and that please ‘don’t run’ and I accepted and stepped down for my brother, Senator Akpabio. He is my consensus candidate. I also step down for him as the deputy senate president.”
Speaking after Umahi was Ali Ndume, senator representing Borno south, who disclosed that Akpabio is the president’s preferred choice, but he did not state, who he was referring to between President Muhammadu Buhari and the president-elect.
“As you can see, I am leading the campaign for Akpabio because he is the president’s preferred candidate and we have to put the interest of the country, the party, above any other interest,” Ndume said.
Abdullahi Ganduje, Kano State governor, had earlier declared that Akpabio would be the next Senate President. And the former Akwa Ibom governor also proclaimed that “Insha Allah, it’s the will of God” that he is chosen to be the number three man in the country.
Akpabio appears to be all clear to emerge senate president, but still has hurdles to cross. Kalu has not accepted to step down, and Abdul’aziz Yari, former Zamfara State governor from the Northwest insists he is still in the race. The opposition parties, who account for 50 out of 109 senators may also have a say in who becomes senate president if they vote as a bloc.
Many in the APC had rooted for South South senate president because, according to them, the zone contributed more to the party in terms of votes, than the Southeast. The choice of Akpabio will perhaps to an extent, also assuage the Christian population in the country, who are becoming agitated over the APC Muslim-muslim ticket, and would not witness resistance from the Southeast, where available feedback shows that many couldn’t care less about where the senate president comes from.
Still, denying the zone senate presidency in the event of Obi’s failure to overturn Tinubu’s victory at the court will likely embolden the separatist elements. Iwuanyanwu, as Ohanaeze president, will be tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that the Igbo voice is heard, while managing the agitations that have lately gone violent. The question for many is how will he fare in this role?
Regarding the quest for senate president and the events that followed the outcome of the presidential election, Ohanaeze had maintained that it was focused on the legal challenge mounted by Obi and not concerned about the race for senate president. Speaking further to Business Hallmark on Saturday, Chief Ogbonnia disclosed that Igbo elders would meet soon and take a position.
“Igbo elders will meet and address the 2023 general elections,” he said. “It is after the meeting that we will come up with a position regarding senate president or anything else.”
The new Ohanaeze president had in his acceptance speech, noted that all through his life, he had done his best to serve the Igbo both in times of war and peace, and will maintain the same spirit in his new role.
“I contested the presidency on three occasions but I did not succeed. I took my losses in good composure knowing full well that as a Christian, all powers and promotion come from God,” he said.
“But today, destiny has placed squarely on my shoulders the duty of leading the Igbo as the president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide. I, therefore, have a duty to valiantly defend the Igbo cause and I promise Ime-Obi and all Igbo people that by the grace of God, I will not fail them.”
Iwuanyanwu noted that he had carefully examined the present circumstances of Ndigbo and had decided among other things to focus on education, agriculture, industrialisation, electricity, power generation, and health among others as the core of his assignments during his tenure.
On the security situation in the South-East, Iwuanyanwu described it as very disturbing and expressed his belief that there is a very urgent need for a peace summit in Igboland.
He appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to release the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, before the expiration of his tenure in office.
According to him, Kanu is very crucial for any key discussion and it is not possible to negotiate any peace while he is in detention.
As Nigeria, and Ndigbo in particular face the uncertain political and economic future, many will look up to him to provide direction. Iwuanyanwu, at 80, has come a long way. For decades, he played prominent roles in the polity as businessman and a politician. He has experience and necessary connection across the country to make impact. But leading a disillusioned, mostly youthful population could prove challenging in the best of times, much more in the age of economic upheaval and internet where everyone has a voice.
“Iwuanyanwu has always worked hard for the good of the Igbo nation. He will continue to do that as Ohanaeze president, and that’s important,” Amb. Aja-Nwachukwu said.
“But these days, things are going crazy. The youths have taken over, which is not a bad thing.”