From George Onyejiuwa, Owerri
Ikedi Ohakim, a former governor of Imo State bares his mind on the forthcoming Ohanaeze Ndigbo general election. He and why the Igbo must resist every attempt to destroy the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation.
You went to court over some developments surrounding the forthcoming general election of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. Why did you resort to the court, was it that the matter could not be resolved by Ohanaeze and Igbo leadership?
I had to go to court because the matter was getting to a point where the key dramatis personae had seemingly become recalcitrant and were not ready to listen to anybody. All entreaties to those who want to scuttle the election schedule for January 10 in Owerri fell on deaf ears. When it became obvious that these elements were being used to destroy Ohanaeze, the only rallying point for the Igbo and ridicule the Igbo race, I decided that something must be done as a stop-gap measure in order to ensure that this great subterfuge against the Igbo does not succeed.
My major aim is to ensure that nothing stops the election from holding because if that election is scuttled, then the stage is set for the collapse of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. Besides, I am opposed to the emergence of a parallel Ohanaeze because that will sound the death kernel of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. And I believe that the Igbo, generally, do not want that to happen. If we save Ohanaeze from this imminent collapse, then we can go back home and settle among ourselves. We are brothers and sisters. Even children of the same parents disagree at times, even go to court but they finally go home to settle. All the contestants and most of the leaders of the different groups asking for one thing or the other are my personal friends. They may not like what I have done today, but tomorrow, they will realise that it was all in a bid to save the fate of the Igbo in Nigeria. They are all great and illustrious sons and daughters of Igbo land. I believe that when tempers cool, we will go back to the same kitchen – our mother’s kitchen – and resolve our differences.
You got some reliefs from the court. Do you believe that those concerned will obey the court order?
I have no doubt about that. As I said earlier, those concerned, I mean our brothers and sisters who have raised one issue or the other concerning the scheduled election, are great sons and daughters of Igbo land. Among them are some of our most educated, most enlightened and exposed. I have no iota of fear that they will obey the rule of law, being law-abiding citizens of Nigeria.
Are you saying in other words that they have genuine cases?
Every case is genuine, it depends on the circumstances. But the ultimate collective objective is to save Ohanaeze Ndigbo as the apex socio-cultural body of the Igbo. I am not saying that I love Igbo land more than any of them loves it but what I am saying is that if they continue in their path due to temporary setbacks or even out of anger, it will ultimately lead to the collapse of Ohanaeze and when tempers cool at the end of the day, they will not like the outcome. Without meaning to sound immodest, those of us who have been involved in the affairs of the organisation are perhaps in a better position to predict the final outcome of the current crisis particularly if the election of the national officers fails to hold this weekend.
But the groups claim that what they are doing is also aimed at saving Ohanaeze
If their goal is to truly save Ohanaeze, then they are going about it the wrong way. The method they have adopted can only destroy Ohanaeze and not save it. As governor of my state for four years, I played a critical role in settling factions of Ohanaeze and the World Igbo Congress and I know what we went through. You cannot save an organisation by creating a parallel body to challenge it.
You think people are that enamoured by Ohanaeze Ndigbo?
Of course, no system or arrangement is error-proof or perfect but at the same time, no true Igbo man or woman can deny that the body is important to our collective history. But that’s not my worry. People are free to resent Ohanaeze and what it stands for but let’s save it first so that if you don’t like it, you would even have what to criticise. If Ohanaeze dies, its critics would also have nothing to criticise.
It would seem the major grouse is the adoption of a consensus candidate. Do you think it is a genuine grouse?
As I told you earlier, even the worst case could be genuine; it depends on the circumstances. In this case, the grouse is based on the fear that there is something inherently wrong with consensus candidacy. Consensus candidacy is a legitimate option in every leadership selection process, be it partisan, cultural, social or religious. It is part of Igbo culture. In selecting leaders, the Igbo culturally and traditionally, do not go for the rigour of individuals campaigns. The usual thing is to ask different sections of the community to select somebody from among themselves and present to a central body or authority ‘Unu Gaa Kpotara Anyi Mmadu’, meaning, go and bring us, one person. So, consensus candidacy is not alien to our people. But if a certain group presents one consensus candidate, nothing stops another group from presenting another consensus candidate until the matter is finally settled and one person finally emerges. You don’t resort to name-calling and abuses.
Yes, a consensus candidate was selected by a certain group in Imo state but did it stop another group from throwing up its consensus candidate? No. Even at that, the Ohanaeze leadership under Chief Nnia Nwodo has insisted that every other fellow from Imo state who is interested in the position of president-general is free to contest notwithstanding the emergence of a consensus candidate from a certain group. Let the delegates give their votes to their preferred candidates. As far as I am concerned, it is all media hype and a deliberate attempt to over-heat Igbo land using hack writers in the social media. But I am glad that the more critically minded writers and commentators have refrained from the hype. Most of those writing are the usual social media irritants.
There are complaints that the expression of Interest Form is sold at an exorbitant price of N500, 000, what is your take?
Those complaining do not have the correct information. This is not the first time that the expression of interest form is sold for N500, 000. It was the same fee during the time Nwodo and co contested in 2017.
The group agitating for a postponement of the election have also adduced the COVID-19 issue. What’s your take?
COVID-19 has protocols which are being observed in Nigeria and all over the world. Nobody should give the impression that our people in Igbo land are timid. America held its presidential election amid COVID-19. The Republic of Congo had its general elections amid COVID-19, the same for Ghana. The people in those areas are not more knowledgeable or exposed than Nigerians. The ongoing leadership has mapped out plans and strategies to comply with the protocols during the elections. During the just-concluded yuletide period, our people attended weddings and burials. Anybody making a song and dance of COVID-19 as a reason to postpone the election is only being mischievous.
Those agitating against the Ohanaeze election contend that it is usually held in Enugu and want the venue shifted back to Enugu, what do you say about that?
First, it is not true that Ohanaeze general elections are always held in Enugu. The election that threw up the late Ralph Uwechue in 2003 was held in Awka. The one that threw up the late Dozie Ikedife in 2007 was held in Umuahia. That of Joe Irukwu was in Owerri, the ones that brought in Igariwe and Nwodo held in Enugu respectively in 2013 and 2017. Besides, the hall in Enugu where Ohanaeze usually holds its meetings and elections has been knocked down for reconstruction. Going to Enugu would mean erecting tents and canopies which will expose our leaders and delegates to danger. More importantly, the Ime Obi in its last meeting on December 20, 2020, resolved that henceforth, the state producing the president-general will host the election.
So, the bottom line of what you are saying is that the election must go on as scheduled.
The tenure of the Nwodo-led administration must end on January 10, 2021, and a new executive headed by a fellow from Imo state, whose turn it is to produce the president-general, must begin that day. Imolites will not accept a postponement. Why is it now that the rules governing Ohanaeze elections are being challenged? We do not want a caretaker committee even if it is to be headed by a fellow from Imo. We want a properly constituted executive.
You seem to have sympathy for the consensus candidate
Of course, as a bona fide Igbo man, I have my own preferences. But whom I prefer is not the issue now. The point is that some are hiding under the issue of a consensus candidate to destroy Ohanaeze using our own very brothers and sisters. As I have already said, it’s all sign of timidity. Why do you say that the election has already been rigged? If you are strong, that fear should not arise.