By OBINNA EZUGWU
Nigeria’s former ambassador to the United States, Professor George Obiozor on Sunday, emerged new president of apex Igbo sociocultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, replacing Chief Nnia Nwodo as head of an organisation that has in recent years emerged as an aggregation of Igbo leadership.
For the astute diplomat and academic, it’s a tremendous responsibility, one that comes with enormous challenges, especially as the country titters on the brink and the Igbo stake in it ever more precarious.
And perhaps the tumultuous campaign leading up to the Sunday polls that produced him in Owerri, will remind the 78-year-old just how difficult the people he signed up to lead can be.
No doubt, it’s a critical time in the country’s delicate journey to nationhood, and for the Igbo in particular, the need for quality leadership at this stage is a crying one. The choice of Obiozor, observers note, is as good as it gets.
An accomplished professional and career diplomat who has served as Nigeria’s high commissioner to Cyprus and its ambassador to Israel and the United States, many agree that the electors could not have made a better choice.
“He is very experienced and has all it takes to deliver on the job,” said Oscar Onwudiwe, president of Lagos based Igbo think tank, Aka Ikenga. “In Nigeria today, I can’t think of anybody who is more experienced and more versatile than him. He has been Nigeria’s ambassador to the United States, Israel and Cyprus. He has all it takes.”
For Obiozor, it is this need for proactive leadership at this trying moment that prompted him to offer himself for the Ohanaeze leadership.
“My most compelling necessity was service, a timely and crucial service at one of the most critical times in Nigerian history with dire consequences, particularly for Ndigbo as a national entity,” Obiozor said.
“Indeed not only has governance become both difficult and complex in Nigeria, but down right an existential threat to Ndigbo in particular. The Igbo dilemma in Nigeria has come home at last. And the time requires a very careful and delicate skilled manager in the relationships between Ndigbo and other Nigerian nationalities especially the national power elites.
“This requires a mature and experienced person with a capacity to build enough consensus to define and defend the interest of Ndigbo.”
Many agree that his experience as a diplomat, and the respect his personality commands, will come in handy as he leads Ndigbo through a period that could make or break them, as the country prepares for a potentially explosive presidential election in 2023, with ever escalating security challenges, coupled with the emboldening separatist agitation in the Igbo country.
“I’m glad that Ambassador Obiozor emerged as Ohanaeze president. He has the experience, he is an elder statesman and Ohanaeze leadership is supposed to be reserved for people like him who have worked in different fields and retired. He is indeed the ideal person to lead Ndigbo and I’m very happy that with the decision of Ndigbo to elect him,” said Chief Anselm Njoku, leader of Southeast APC caucus, Lagos. “I’m confident that he is going to take the association to greater heights. He is very much experienced and versatile.”
His capacity to deliver cannot be in doubt, but perhaps that’s the most positive side of the commentary. He will be leading a difficult group at a difficult time. The disagreements, allegations and counter allegations that has trailed the election that produced him, is another sad reminder that the Igbo, even in the face of potentially huge odds, have learned little about the need to pull ranks.
The days leading up to the election witnessed series of controversies with some aspirants pulling out of the race over what they said was a move to impose Obiozor.
Obiozor had emerged as a consensus candidate at Imeobi meeting convened by the Nwodo-led executive, but his emergence was described as unconstitutional by some aspirants, who said he lacked the powers to summon the forum.
Apart from Obiozor, others who indicated interest in the job include Chief Chris Asoluka, Joe Nworgu, Prof Chidi Osuagwu, and Chief Goddy Uwazurike.
On Saturday, however, Osuagwu and Nworgu, as well as Okechukwu Nwadinobi who ran for Secretary General, dropped out of the race
Giving reasons for his action, Osuagwu, who briefed newsmen in Owerri, said he took the action following the decision of Imeobi members that the constitution of Ohanaeze was not adhered to by Nwodo.
He explained that the Imeobi asked Nwodo to quickly hand over to the South-East Christian Association, CAN, to run the affairs of the association for two months and conduct an election.
“I have bought the form for Ohanaeze election, which was sold for a half a million naira. It is so strange that Ohanaeze expected to be serving the people’s interests is now being used for money-making like political parties,” he said.
Indeed, not only did the process leading to the election on Sunday, witness lots of backbiting and court cases, a certain Chief Ozobu with the suspended secretary general of Ohanaeze, Uche Okwukwu, organised their own Ohanaeze election on Saturday, producing a certain Chief Chidi Ibeh, a former commissioner in Imo State, president-general.
Okwukwu himself, from Rivers State, was ‘elected’ deputy president general, while the suspended president of the Youth Council, Okechukwu Isiguzoro from Abia State was also ‘elected’ Secretary-General, in an an exercise many have described as an absurd charade.
“Those are jokers,” Onwudiwe noted. “If you think Ohanaeze is useless, go and create your own group and impact on Ndigbo. If you do that, Ndigbo will follow you. Why must you use the same name to do whatever nonsense you want to do? You don’t need to answer Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to be a good footballer. Can’t you answer your own name and play well so that people will recognize you? There are just too many stup*d people around.”
Onwudiwe, however, concedes that the controversies bear testimony to the challenge of Igbo cohesion, and their inability to reach a consensus on simplest of things, much more complex challenges.
“Ndigbo are not ready. There is nothing better than telling yourself the truth,” he said. “Ndigbo are not ready for Nigeria. Imagine if President Muhammadu Buhari was an Igbo man, it is other Igbo people who will tear him down. But look at the way his people cover him up. We are so strong when we are fighting ourselves. Whereas what we need most is cohesion. When other people notice that this is the way we are, they just leave us.”
Onwudiwe’s position was also highlighted by novelist Chimamanda Adichie in an interview a TV presenter, Ebuka Obi-Uchendu few days ago, and for which she was vilified.
Addressing the growing agitation for Biafra in the zone, the renowned writer had wondered how the Igbo could achieve separation when they can’t unite towards a single candidate for Nigerian presidency.
“There is no Biafra. There are new movements but, for me, it’s a question of being practical. Where would the border be? What is propelling these movements is a sense of marginalisation, which I think is completely valid,” she had said.
“But this idea that the answer is independence is what I’m not convinced of. Nobody has made a logical case for me. Quite frankly, I’ve observed the terrible leadership that we have in the Southeast.
“Igbo people cannot unite if, for example, we say we want an Igbo president. And then we’re talking about Biafra. There is a lot of political work we need to do in the southeast. We need to do a lot of rethinking on how we strategise politically before we can talk about Biafra.”
Adichie perhaps couldn’t have put any better. While the Igbo individualism, enterprise and communal effort, have seen the Igbo emerge from the devastation of a 30-month Biafra war to build a thriving economy just few decades later, they can’t seem to find their feet in politics, as their penchant for bickering continues to cost them dearly.
“The impression being created is that we are unable to govern ourselves, which is worrisome,” said Chief Abia Onyike, chairman, publicity bureau, Alaigbo Development Foundation. “We can and should do better.”
Obiozor, who has a five year mandate, will spearhead the Igbo quest for president in 2023. He has the reach and the expertise to navigate the political spectrum. But for many, the question remains whether, going forward, the Igbo will manage to get their acts together to mount serious challenge for power.
“I still say that we are not ready,” Onwudiwe argued. “Watch it. Tinubu has started now. He is penetrating places in the North. He is moving around, doing all sorts of things. We are still demanding that it’s our turn. But we have not projected one person to run, and the person going to start meeting people. We are not ready.”
For Chief Njoku, however, it’s not all doom and gloom, especially with the new Ohanaeze president leading from the front.
“Ambassador Obiozor’s emergence as Ohanaeze president will give the quest for Igbo president added impetus. He is a man who can play the game. He knows how to put things together to achieve results,” he said.
“With him as Ohanaeze president, we are more confident that despite the challenges, we will achieve Igbo president. He is someone who can make it happen. He is a negotiator and a seasoned administrator who knows how to manage people and how to get results.”
On his part, the founder of Igbo Youth Movement (IYM) and secretary, Eastern Consultative Forum (ECA), Evangelist Elliot Uko, called on those aggrieved to shield their swords and work with Obiozor to advance Igbo interest.
“The election has come and gone. It’s time for everyone to rally round Obiozor. Everyone should support him. There is hardly any perfect election anywhere. Those who lost should support him and stop fighting,” Uko appealed. “They are not sending good signals to the younger generation by so doing. It is for the unity of Ndigbo and for the public image of Ndigbo.”