By Lawrence Njoku, Enugu
Former Secretary-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Joe Nworgu, in this interview with Southeast Bureau Chief, LAWRENCE NJOKU, bared his mind on 2023 presidency and raging electoral issues in the socio-cultural organisation, among others.
*There’s a raging controversy over Ohanaeze Ndigbo election in January 2020. Is the election due?*
I was Secretary General from 2013 to 2017, and I was central to the election of the executive, led by Chief Nnia Nwodo. They were elected on January 10 2017. Their tenure is four years and would end January 10, 2021. The noise you are hearing about Ohanaeze going into election in January 2020 is from people who are not mainstream members.
It is true that every Igbo man or woman is a member of Ohanaeze, but that does not guarantee equal participation. Hence, some people call us Ndi-Ohanaeze. This is coming from people who are outside the Ndi Ohanaeze. If they have read Ohanaeze’s Constitution, they will not be saying Enugu State’s tenure, which now leads Ohanaeze expires in January 2020. It is not a three-year tenure. So, it must be outsiders who are beating the drum of election. The time for that is not ripe yet.
*Which state would step into the leadership, since the offices of the President and Secretary General have always been rotational?*
We formulated the Constitution guiding Ohanaeze that was approved on January 23, 2002 by the Imeobi and was finally approved in Abakaliki by the General Assembly. We agreed there would be rotational presidency and secretaryship. These were the two positions agreed on by the Imeobi.However, when we finished with the Constitution, a four-man committee, led by Prof Ben Nwabueze, the former Secretary General, Sen. Uche Chukwumerije, Chief Nnia Nwodo and the late Victor Nwankwo were asked to vet the Constitution. Snapp Press, acquired by Prof Amucheazi published the Ohanaeze Constitution.
In that publication, it was observed that four positions were for rotation – the President General, Deputy President general, Secretary General and Deputy Secretary General. This was not the original decision approved by the Imeobi. It was only two slots –President General and Secretary General that were for rotation in alphabetical order, starting from Abia.
Hence, Abia took the first slot, starting with Prof Joe Irukwu, who came in as President General and Delta (Anioma) coming in as Secretary General with the late Col Joe Achuzia, and with deep controversy, Chief Dozie Ikedife appeared on stage. I would say with the settlement on April 10, 2008, ending Irukwu’s tenure, Ikedife came in and lasted for eight months. This paved the way for the late Chief (Ambassador) Ralph Uwaechue, who came on behalf of Anioma, and in 2010, moved for the amendment of tenure. The executive brought up a motion altering the tenure from two to four years.
This was on August 16, 2010. There was heated debate over it. That meeting generally agreed that the two-year tenure was no longer good, and that it should be four years. On October 30, 2010, the Ralph Uwaechue-led executive summoned a well-constituted Imeobi and the topic was tenure amendment. It was approved that the Constitution should be amended on tenure, so that it will become four years. A second proviso was that the incumbent executive should also have four years, and both of them passed overwhelmingly.
Based on that, the General Assembly was summoned. The prayer was to ratify the Constitution, and it was generally approved by everybody. Dr. Ezeikpe, Chief Mbazulike Amaechi and majority of the people that make Ohanaeze tick were there, which signified that the Constitution had been amended on tenure.
The Constitution stipulates that, once the general Assembly takes a decision, it becomes effective automatically. This means that it took off that day on November 6. It has been a subject of litigation here and there, but has never been trashed. Each time a different political objective is pursued, it becomes an issue. Uwaechue administration (Anioma) spent four years; Ebonyi administration (Igariwey) spent four years and Nnia Nwodo is now in his fourth year. After Nwodo as President representing Enugu, the next President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo will come from Imo State.
*Why is this tenure issue recurring all the time?*
It is coming from those who have never attended Ohanaeze event and have never contributed towards Ohanaeze’s growth. They see Ohanaeze as path to whatever they want to achieve. Ohanaeze is an apex Igbo organisation that has meeting days. It has its Imeobi and standing committees. It has state wings and women wing, but these people have not taken part in anything.
Those who have been there consistently cannot make such statements on tenure. They are those who have taken anti-stand on Ohanaeze all the time. There are feelings that the way Ohanaeze has carried on so far is affecting Ndigbo’s political fortunes, especially its position during elections.
*Must Ohanaeze take a position at each election?*
Ohanaeze is formed to defend and project Igbo interests. It is the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation. The word is socio and there is politics in the word socio. Socio is the people, their wellbeing, and if it is in saying it is in the best interest of Igbo to vote a particular person, we think is more inclined to meeting our objectives, there is nothing wrong in that. The body has been taking these decisions for some time. It is not a new thing. Maybe it is because of Nnia Nwodo and his flamboyance they think has political inclination.
In 1999 election between Olu Falae and Obasanjo, Ohanaeze took a position. Again, in 2003, Ohanaeze took a position and in 2010, Ohanaeze took a position, just like in 2015. It has no connection with Nnia’s regime. Ohanaeze takes position, as it ought to be in Igbo interest. What Ohanaeze checked at that time was what was good for the people, but it is now left for Ndigbo to know whether what Ohanaeze said then was right or wrong. Everybody has experienced all.
During military regimes, Ohanaeze couldn’t take any position. Ndigbos is an intelligent group. They make up their mind, based on where they are. Nobody sways them to say you must vote for this person. You can rig the elections, but you will always know where Igbo people stand. So, Ohanaeze will continue to provide the leeway.
*2023 politics has taken the front burner. There is interest from almost every zone on where the pendulum should swing. What is your position on this?*
If there is equity and fair play, Southeast zone should have it. The 1979 Constitution formulated by a Northerner had provided there is no zoning.
The fact that we went into zoning was a particular political party’s programme. There is no zoning in the 1999 Constitution that we are operating now and so, anybody can rely on that because there is a Supreme Court judgment on that.
I remember quite well that the two parties, the PDP and the ANPP then zoned their presidential candidates to Yoruba land. The two main parties we have now can do the same. They can zone the slot to Igbo land and that is my position on 2023. I am happy that groups are mobilising for Southeast 2023. It is unthinkable for anybody to start suggesting that the North should hold power beyond 2023. It is not for me to state the implications of that kind of arrangement, but for the sake of unity and fairness, it is the Southeast’s turn and we should be accorded the right.
Most people are asking that the existing political parties should zone the slot to Southeast. I agree with them as presidency for the zone in
2023 will further unite the country. Equity, justice and fairness must address the clamour by Ndigbo for presidency in 2023 and those at the corridors of power must promote these virtues for Nigeria’s survival.
Some persons from the North seem not to understand there are six zonal structures. They think rotation is between the North and South only, and that the South has had it more than the North since 1999.
*Did Nigeria start in 1999?*
Who has held power since 1956? Why should anybody put the counting point from 1999? In 1956, Abubakar Tafawa
Balewa was head of government. We gained independence in 1960 and after that, the NPC was said to have won the election and formed the government up to 1966, when there was the Nzeogwu coup.
Unfortunately, the boys who carried out the coup got dethroned and in July 29, 1966 and till 1976, when Murtala and others were killed, the North was in power. Obasanjo was head of government by accident and ran away after three years because he knew his environment was hot, even though Danjuma was Chief of Army staff. They handed over to a Northerner. Shagari was in power from 1979 to 1983 and Buhari and his military men struck.
In 1985, Ibrahim Babangida removed Buhari and Idiagbon and lasted till he stepped aside in 1993. After that, a Yoruba man came in and stayed for only three months. Thereafter, Abacha came in and stayed till 1998. In November 17, 1998, Abubakar came in. These were all northerners. So, why are they discussing 1999? In this itinerary of insight and dates that I have outlined, how many southerners were there?
Obasanjo who came by luck stayed for three years. Shonekan was appointed by Ibrahim Babangida and co and stayed for three months and was swept out. So, they are not in any position to discuss who has dominated governance. It is clear to everybody that group of people from a particular tribe has dominated governance in this country and the level we are now should be attributed to that group. They should take responsibility for the management of our economy, as well as the low level we are today.
If there is anything to be discussed, it is why the North would not allow other sections of the country a sense of belonging in the entity called Nigeria. It is sad, it is unfortunate, it is the height of man’s inhumanity to man.
*Some are saying that giving the Southeast the chance could pave the way for the dismemberment of Nigeria.*
I see it as a wicked submission. MASSOB has been on since 1999. IPOB is about five years old. The discrimination and molestation of Ndigbo predates these dates we are talking about. These organisations are a response to the wickedness being administered to the Igbo tribe, and it is the youths that are responding that way. The older people are calling for caution.
If you take a census of those who are happy being in Nigeria, you will discover that it is not only these youths that are disenchanted with the situation of things. What is right about a little boy, whose mother suffered to pay his school fees and he scored 280 and is being denied admission, and another boy, who government has been feeding for years scored 14 or 17 to be in the same class?
You discuss federal character, and all these institutions are there and nobody obeys the law courts. So, where is equity in all this? What will entice anybody to love this country, when there is no fair play, when there is cheating here and there? Is that religion or politics?
Even in a family, when you start favouring a particular child, other children will start looking at you somehow, as they expect you as a parent to be fair. So, the young people are revolting because they don’t know what is happening to them and that is their response to it.
The Igbo tribe is not afraid to contest with any other tribe in the country in a free and fair competition. There is unfairness in the system and government’s insensitivity and this is what is fuelling the problem. We are Nigerians and want to be treated equally with others.
*When you talk of fairness, what exactly are we looking at?*
There is healthcare and economic wellbeing. Which of these can you see in Igbo land? There is decayed infrastructure. There is total neglect of Igbo land. Look at the employment saga. Have you looked at the security architecture? Have you looked at other appointments and projects here and there? Look at promotions from Commissioner of Police and the rest. When they appoint one Igbo, they will appoint more than 15 Northerners. When you look at all these, you begin to ask whether we are educationally backward, so that there could be affirmative action for us. All those allegations are not true; they are being propagated because there is a design to keep the zone down.
*What has happened after the war, the 3Rs by Gowon? Did he do anything about them?*
It was just a useless slogan. What has been done about it? That is why I get annoyed with Gowon, when he goes about claiming he is praying. I wonder for what purpose, when he has demonstrated hatred.
But did this infrastructure deficit in the Southeast begin with this administration?
I am not discussing Buhari. I’m just talking about a group of people, whose tribe is clearly known to have been in control of power overtime from the country’s independence, till the war and after the war. It is not about Buhari.I don’t know what they think the Igbos did. All I know is that Igbos never sat in a meeting to carry out the January 15 coup. Igbo Union should have known, NCNC should have known. These young boys struck, as a result of what was happening. They claimed they wanted to remove the 10 per centers. So, they should state the issue. Are they frightened of our energies or our intellectual abilities or what? What is terrifying them? Why can’t all of us build this nation?
*What do you think has given rise to this level of division along ethnic and religious lines in the country?*
It is the style of governance in the country. It is the inability to accommodate every shade of opinion and see every Nigerian as one and belonging to the segment or entity. For me, this administration has not done well. It has not been a government for all. It is very selective in its actions. I will always go with the editorial of the Punch Newspaper recently that what we are operating is not democracy.
Democracy means rule of law and respect for each arm of government. It is clear and people are very unhappy with this regime, and the way out is for the President to start being the president of Nigeria. He must keep to his oath of his office in his actions. It seems as if those who said no to him in 2015 have been vindicated. They knew his antecedents too well, and they knew it would not be in Igbo’s interest should they vote for him. One would have thought as a statesman, that even if that is our mindset, he should have something to show for it. So far, there has been no positive step to disprove our 2014/2015 position, and to show that the Igbo did not accept him, they still voted against him in 2019.
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Source: Guardian Newspapers.