By OBINNA EZUGWU
On January 10, Nigeria’s former ambassador to the United States, Professor George Obiozor, 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, he has his job cut out for him. It’s a tremendous responsibility, one that comes with enormous challenges, especially as the country tethers on the brink and the Igbo stake in it ever more precarious. He, however appears to have come prepared.
Last week, he unfolded a four-point agenda which intends to implement to preserve the Igbo interest in contemporary Nigeria with leading the effort towards ensuring security coming uppermost on his agenda. The former Nigeria ambassador to United States, Israel and Cyprus, promised to work for the safety of the Igbo at home and diaspora.
“Ndigbo must be safe at home and abroad. Ndigbo must never again be victims of circumstances they did not create nor can they control. Security of Ndigbo, young or old will be a priority in my tenure. And security does not come alone, it comes with justice. Therefore, we must always seek justice, equity and fairness no matter how difficult or how long it takes to achieve them,” he vowed.
“I know this is no easy decision on the part of Ndigbo or even my humble self. But I promise you all and my God that I shall take up to the best of my ability to tackle the challenges and the responsibilities that come with the hallowed office with honour, dignity, dedication, decency and decorum.
“My dream type of leadership is leader/manager model, using the most and best available efficient persons and instruments to achieve Igbo collectively defined objectives. I believe this can be done without malice but with diplomatic dexterity, decency, candour and decorum.”
Restating that his decision to contest for the office was not based on personal ambition or self-aggrandisement, which he said he had outgrown, Obiozor said:
“My most compelling necessity was service, a timely and crucial service at one of the most critical times in Nigeria’s history with dire consequences, particularly for Ndigbo as a national entity.
“Indeed, not only has governance become both difficult and complex in Nigeria, but downright an existential threat to Ndigbo in particular. The Igbo dilemma in Nigeria has come 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 consensus to define and defend the interest of Ndigbo.”
For successful and continuous progress and prosperity of Ndigbo all over the world, Obiozor said he would “continue with religious zeal and commitment” the South-East Economic Stabilisation fund established by his immediate predecessor, Chief John Nnia Nwodo.
On education, he promised to work with Igbo-speaking state governors to revamp the education system because “the neglect of education has nearly thrown Ndigbo into incremental irrelevance in Nigerian politics and other national events.”
Appealing for the support of Ndigbo to achieve these objectives, he said: “We must make peace among ourselves. We must engage in healing Igboland, spirit of reconciliation and harmony among Ndigbo. Peace must reign in Igboland.”
To work with him in pursuit of these goals are 22 men and two women, who were elected as members of the Ohanaeze National Executive Committee, including Chief Joel Kroham, Deputy President-General; Dr. Lawrence Kingsley Chidozie, Vice President-General (Abia); Chief Afam Okeke Ogene, Vice President-General (Anambra); Chukwuemeka Festus Ogwu, vice President-General (Delta.
Others are Okeagu Ogadah, vice President-General (Ebonyi); Mrs. Selina Ugwuoke Adibuah, vice President-General (Enugu); Ambassador Okey Emuchay, secretary-general; Chief Michael Nnakwuzie, deputy secretary-general; Mrs Beatrice Eze, national treasurer; and Chief Bathlomew Okere, financial secretary.
Others are Chief Chiedozie Alex Ogbonnia, publicity secretary; Joseph Obinamma Ojobu, legal adviser; Dr Ezechi Chukwu, assistant treasurer; Chief Nicholas Nnamdi Ezeh, assistant financial secretary; Dr Gilbert Egwu, assistant publicity secretary, and Mr. Peter Chidera Aneke, assistant legal adviser.
They are also states presidents: Comrade Okey Paul Nwankwo, Abia; Prince Emeka Festus Udodeme, Anambra; Prince Frank Nwandu, Delta; Dr. Peter Obasi Mbam, Ebonyi; Professor Fred Eze, Enugu; Mr. I.C Ihemedu, Imo, and Mr. Lucky Achinihu Ekeji, Rivers. Elder Eugene Ibeabuchi serves as administrative secretary.
Achieving these goals, however, would not be a work in the park. And perhaps the tumultuous campaign leading up to the Sunday polls that produced him in Owerri, and the continued insistence by his opponents, including members of the Concerned Imeobi Ohanaeze Ndigbo, that the election was unacceptable, will remind the 78-year-old just how difficult the people he has signed up to lead can be.
“We do not accept the election because it was not done properly,” Chief Abia Onyike, chairman, Alaigbo Development Foundation Publicity (ADF) publicity bureau told BusinessHallmark. “The governors arrogantly organised a charade, disregarding well laid down procedures for Ohanaeze election.”
Onyike whose ADF is one of the organisations that boycotted the polls, confirmed that plans are already underway by the aggrieved groups to form a parallel organisation. For the new president-general therefore, the first job, would bes to appease these groups and individuals.
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. As insecurity and ethnic tension threaten the country’s continued peaceful coexistence, Ndigbo who have a significant proportion of their population outside their region are most vulnerable. His diplomatic experience will have to come in handy in this regard.
Many, however, agree that the choice of Obiozor, is as good as it gets. And confidence in his ability is not lacking.
“I have high confidence in his ability to deliver on the job,” Sir Marc Wabara, elder statesman and Chairman of Overt Energy told Hallmark.
“He is an accomplished academic and an accomplished diplomat with vast experience in international relations and diplomacy. He has extensive contact not only within the Igbo nation, but across the country and beyond.
“He has the wherewithal to do the job and to extend his capability beyond the borders to other tribes in Nigeria and the international community. Therefore, for me, he is eminently qualified to lead in the Igbo at this time.”
The quest for a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction is on the front burner of political discourse. Obiozor, who has a five year mandate, will spearhead this quest for Igbo 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.
It is perhaps his job, more than anyone else to ensure that there is cohesion in this respect. And it’s a responsibility his fellow diplomat and elder statesman, Ambassador Ogbonna Aja-Nwachukwu told Business Hallmark that he believes he can accomplish.
“I have confidence in his ability to lead and unite Ndigbo towards 2023,” Aja-Nwachukwu said. “He is a very intelligent man. He is smart, clever and quite capable.
“A president of Igbo extraction is a wish that everybody desires, and I am sure that he can lead the efforts in this regard. We hope for the best. He is a Professor and was an ambassador like I was. I believe that he is clever enough to know what people want and how to actualize it.”
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 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.”
The biggest threat he faces in the immediate, however, remains the insistence by aggrieved camps that they cannot accept his election. But for Sir Wabara, time has come for everyone to sheathe their swords in the overall interest of the Igbo.
“From information reaching me, I know that the majority opinion of the people in Igboland is that the election was free and fair, and supported by to a very large extent by eminent Igbo leaders, both in the political and professional field. To that extent I want to say that, yes, the electron that produced him has overwhelming support of Igbo leaders and stakeholders,” Wabara said.
“For those who may have some misgivings about the election, I will say that unity is strength. They should look at the overall interest of the Igbo. I encourage them to sheathe their sword and embrace the emergence of Obiozor as our next president; so that at the end of the day, they will be able to help in achieving results.
“I believe that primarily that goal is unity because in unity there is strength. So we need them to come together to bring their own experience towards achieving that goal. At any rate somebody must win an election,” Wabara said.