TIME TO STRENGTHEN OHANEZE

Eke, Sun. Apr. 05, 2020:

I have heard people say that the incumbent President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, is weak; that he doesn’t do this and that he does not carry the entire Igbos along. When I say Igbos, I mean Enugu, Ebonyi, Anambra, Imo, Abia and some parts of Delta, Rivers and probably Kogi States. But Ohaneze officially includes five core Igbo States and Igbo speaking parts of Delta State, since the Igbo speaking parts of Rivers State have dissociated themselves from Ohaneze.

Ohaneze Ndigbo is a successor to the defunct Igbo State Union which was banned in May 1966 by the military regime of General J. T. U. Aguiyi-Ironsi along with all political parties, tribal, cultural and social organizations in the country. The Igbo State union dates back to December 1948 when a pan-Igbo conference was held at Port Harcourt to organize the Igbo linguistic group into a political unit. At the conference a new Igbo union called Igbo State Union was inaugurated with membership opened to all towns and clans in Igboland and which became a voice for Igbo and whose objectives were mainly for the political interests of the Igbo in Nigeria.

At the conference,Dr. Azikiwe was elected president of the Igbo State Union but he did not stay long in the post and resigned, his reason being that his national view of a Nigerian leader conflicted with his leadership of a tribal organization. He was succeeded by Chief Z. C. Obi as the new president of the Igbo State Union.

In those days, every Igbo man and woman were fond of Igbo State Union and it had a lot of influence on the generality of Igbo people. I believe that was what late Akanu Ibiam and other great Igbo men and women had in mind when they formed Ohaneze. But then, some people have described Ohaneze as presently constituted as a toothless bulldog, the simple meaning being that the organization lacks the financial and logistic wherewithal to perform, hence the need for us to come to its rescue.

1.We have to give it full financial support. Without a strong financial base, Ohaneze cannot stand on a firm footing and be in position to serve the purpose for which it was formed. We need a system whereby every adult Igbo man or woman with a means of income can pay in something, no matter how little, into the coffers of Ohaneze, through their respective town unions. With a population of over 35 million, if every individual can pay as little as five hundred naira every year, it will go a long way to sustain Ohaneze financially.

2. We need to make Ohaneze active at the State, local government and community levels. In my own assessment, as of today, although Ohaneze is working in all the five States of the South East and Delta State, but not as actively as in Anambra and Enugu States. Enugu State chapter of Ohaneze under the leadership of Chief Alex Ogbonna has organized many major events that were estimated at millions of naira.

Ditto for Anambra State where the State chairman of Ohaneze, Chief Damian Okeke, Ogene Nnaka, has effectively restructured Ohaneze, including the introduction of regular payment of office rent as well as salaries to Ohaneze secretariat and ad hoc workers, something that was impossible for years before he became chairman.

3. The five governors of main Igbo States should be officially committed and mandated to provide financial support to Ohaneze as a matter of obligation and not voluntary donation, the same way the governors of the South West region and Northern governors, including the Middle Belt do to Afanifere and Arewa respectively. It is unfortunate that most of Igbo governors have been reluctant in giving their annual financial support to Ohaneze with the exception of Enugu and Anambra States which have been paying regularly, although the annual subvention needs to be doubled or even tripled if we really want Ohaneze to be strong and perform effectively.

In spite of his shortcomings as former governor of Imo State, we need more Rochas Okorochas who personally bulit a modern secretariat for Ohaneze as well as the Ojukwu Center in Owerri. It is equally instructive that a non-Igbo governor, far from Igboland (let me not mention names for strategic reasons) recently promised to build a secretariat for Ohaneze chapter in his State. If this could happen, why would Igbo governors lag behind in giving support to their own?

4. In order to enhance the relevance and impact of Ohaneze, the use of English language in Ohaneze meetings at all levels, including ‘ime obi’ should be stopped forthwith. It is absurd that an organization such as Ohaneze Ndigbo should conduct its business in English language.

This is unlike its counterparts like Afenifere and Arewa organizations where all meetings are conducted in their respective cultural languages which makes it difficult for non-natives to know what they are discussing. The use of English language in Ohaneze meetings is like a meeting held in the market square for everybody.

One reason that has been adduced for the use of English language in Ohaneze meetings is that some sections of Igbo people do not understand the common Igbo language. But as far as I know, the recommended central language for Igbos is Owerri and Onitsha languages. If a Calabar or Ogoja man can speak and understand these Igbo central languages but an Abakaliki man cannot, is that reason enough for an entire tribe to adopt a foreign language as official language?

5. Urgent steps should be taken to rescue the national image of Ohaneze by arresting the paroliferation and bastardization of Igbo titles by Igbos living outside Igboland in form of Eze-Igbo titles by every Tom, Dick and Harry in most States. These fake Eze-Igbos even have their cabinets and confer chieftaincy titles to other Igbos in their domains. And these are people who have not attended their respective home town union meetings for one day.

What is happening in a State like Lagos will make every Igbo man cry, what with several Eze Igbos here and there and even down to local government levels. In Igbo land, we all abhor and protest non-Igbos posing as traditional rulers such as Emir. Why should we allow Igbos in other lands to do the same, thereby desecrating and trivializing our sacred institution? This shameful practice should be proscribed and stiff penalty stipulated for contravention.

6. In the same vein, steps should be taken to check and or streamline the proliferation of Igbo associations which creates the impression of a disunited and disjointed Igbo nation. If these mushroom Igbo associations cannot be proscribed, they should be streamlined and made subservient to Ohaneze and take directives from it.

A situation where various Igbo associations make public statements on behalf of Igbo people, often at variance with the policy statement of Ohaneze simply makes nonsense of Ohaneze in the eyes of other tribes and belittles its worth and integrity.

Any Igbo association that makes public statement in the name of Igbos must get clearance from Ohaneze, otherwise, Ohaneze should publish a disclaimer to such statements in addition to sanctioning the leaders of such associations. While there can be a father and his children, you just cannot have two or three fathers in one house. That would be an aberration. We cannot have two parallel Igbo organizations. You don’t see such things in the South West or Northern States.

7. In similar vein, there is a need to also check and streamline the activities of Ohaneze Youths. Like various Igbo associations, we cannot allow the situation where Ohaneze is saying one thing and Ohaneze youths are saying a different thing, worse still, contrary to what Ohaneze is saying.

I remember during the leadership of late Justice Eze Ozobu when Ohaneze adopted Odumegwu Ojukwu of APGA as presidential candidate and asked all Igbos to vote for him, but Ohaneze Youths would not take it and issued a counter statement endorsing the candidature of Olusegun Obasanjo of PDP. There have been similar confrontations of Ohaneze decisions by Ohaneze youths. It is either the youth is scrapped entirely or re-organized.

8. The practice of Ohaneze endorsing individual presidential candidates should be stopped because it helps to destroy the organization. For instance, Ohaneze was the first tribal organization to endorse late Yar’Adua through the then President, Joe Irukwu, even when Arewa Consultative Assembly had not given a thought to adopting a candidate. So also did late Ralph Uwechue from Delta State and Gary Enwo- Igariwey from Ebonyi State adop presidential candidates without due consultation.

In all these cases, the Ohaneze leaders did not make proper consultation with Igbo mainstream. The only Ohaneze leader that did not adopt any presidential candidate was late Dozie Ikedife. In all, while Joe Irukwu performed below average which some people said was because he was a known establishment man, Ralph Uwechue’s tenure was nothing to write home about, but the worst of them all was Gary Enwo-Igariwey whose tenure marked the worst period of Ohaneze in history

This calls to question the wisdom of rotational leadership of Ohaneze which has thrown up some incompetent Ohaneze leaders whose tenures ended up doing more harm than good to Igbos. Rather, we should always go for the best perceived person to lead Ohaneze through a democratic general election in every election year.

It turns out that the two best Ohaneze leaders so far both come from Enugu State, namely late Eze Ozobu and the incumbent Nnia Nwodo. Ozobu’s achievement as first Ohaneze President have been unequalled, including his leadership style which was based on wide consultation and democratic decisions which he adopted during the endorsement of late Ojukwu. It was also Ozobu who gave Ohaneze its first constitution and introduced rotational State by State leadership of Ohaneze.

On his part, Nnia Nwodo made nationwide consultation of all State chapters of Ohaneze across the country before the adoption of Atiku/Peter Obi presidential ticket, more so given that it was the nearest chance for Igbos to be at Aso Rock which had eluded them since the second republic. Nnia Nwodo has the requisite courage, just like Eze Ozobu, to speak out against injustice against Igbos which he has done several times now. He was also bold enough to speak against the proscription of IPOB as a terrorist organization by the Federal government while Fulani herdsmen are absolved.

This is why it is necessary for Igbos to rally round Nnia Nwodo-led Ohaneze at this point in time and give him all the support and solidarity so we can rescue Ohaneze from the vampires.

By Mazi Omife I. Omife
Mbuze Mbaukwu

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