On Ohaneze’s Festering Leadership Crisis

Once again, Ohaneze, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization is enmeshed in crisis. It is ravaged by schism and the pangs of division are threatening its already fledgling commitment to give direction to the storm-tossed Igbo nation in Nigeria. It is trudging on a familiar terrain for Ohaneze was born and groomed in crisis. As has been the norm, the crisis this time around revolves on the quest to lead. Yes, Ohaneze is a compound word derived from Oha (the generality of the people) and Eze (the leadership). It sources its real meaning from the interface between the leaders and the people. No one is in doubt of that but this has existed merely as a façade behind which lies the inordinate desire to carnalise leadership and employ it as a nest-fending business that serves the interests of the leaders. Is it not an irony that the many crises that have ravaged Ohaneze, have revolved around the quest to lead? And if the desire to lead a free people; a fiercely republican stock could spark such deadly politicking, as we have known of Ohaneze’s succession trials in recent times, does it not speak volumes of the great difference between the concepts of Ohaneze, from the two broad prisms of the Oha and the Eze? These are topics for another day. For today, I am worried that, like a negative sphinx, Ohaneze’s leadership crisis struts the group at a critical time Igbo desire clear headed and focused leadership.

I must confess that for some time now, I have taken a disinterested position on the affairs of Ohaneze. I am quite convinced that most Igbo, especially of the egalitarian genre, have given up on Ohaneze to lead the quest for the advancement of Igbo interests in the rancorous, hugely divided, ethnically calibrated Nigerian polity. My frustration with the Ohaneze is that it seems to be hunted by its own history for Ohaneze was birthed in the demeaning politics of the second republic. Apart from the Dozie Ikedife leadership of Ohaneze, which strived to reflect the interests and views of the generality of Ndigbo, most other Ohaneze leaderships have merely seen their office as veritable means to access the perks and perquisites of political leadership in Nigeria; either at the state or the federal levels. This predilection for self fending has greatly limited the capacity of Ohaneze to recruit the sympathy of the generality of Ndigbo and also to advance what it fancies as its primary responsibilities. The quest for self interest has greatly shackled Ohaneze, shrank its capacities and has raised the ante in the desire to lead the group; not necessarily for the purpose of leading the people aright but for the access it gives the leaders to political offices in Nigeria.

Today, Ohaneze is in a predictable crisis over who will lead the organization in the next four years. In a normal situation, the desire to lead Ohaneze should not generate so much fuss. In a normal situation, the Oha would naturally invest on whoever it deigns competent the task of leading them. But with Ohaneze, as with almost everything in Nigeria, we are not in normal times hence the desire to lead Ohaneze is generating so much tension among the combatants and the interests they represent. Because Ohaneze has virtually become a tool in the hands of politicians and public office holders, the choice for who leads Ohaneze has become a heated combat of fortes among various political interests and that is the tragedy of Ohaneze today.

I understand the outgoing leadership led by Ambassador Ralph Uwechue, as part of its transition program, empanelled an Electoral Committee with Chris Asoluka as Chairman and Richard Ozobu as Secretary and the committee has other members. I equally learnt that the committee had done extensive works on the various levels of elections that don the Ohaneze transition time table; local government, state and national; and that the grand finale was the national election, which the committee fixed for Saturday, January 12, 2013. I gathered that every stakeholder in Ohaneze was carried along in this transition outline. I understood that schism reared its head late December 2012, when the government in Ebonyi, the state where the leadership is zoned for the next four years, felt it was the right of the government to appoint whoever will lead Ohaneze. That way, the next President of Ohaneze will be the nominee of the Governor of Ebonyi State and not the Ebonyi man the generality of the members feel has the requisite qualities to lead Ohaneze, as should be the case. The desire of the Ebonyi government is an anomaly to the Ohaneze constitution, which states in Article 11, b, that, “The President General shall be elected by the National General Assembly from all the interested candidates from the state whose turn it is to fill the office provided that there is at least three candidates”.

I gathered that as soon as Ebonyi government happened on this fancy idea of appointing the leadership of Ohaneze, in contravention to the constitution of the group and in violation of the rights of Oha Ndigbo, division set in. The secretary of the Electoral Committee, Ozobu became the firing pin of the emerging schism. He set up another court and issued different orders. Among the orders was that the election of officers for Ohaneze will no longer hold on the scheduled 12th but 19th of January 2013. Sadly, among the members of the Electoral Committee, he was alone so in the new court he set, he was a sole administrator, urged on by the interest of the current government in Ebonyi. I gathered they had a mandate to impose one Senator Agboti, a ranking member of the PDP as the new president of Ohaneze, again contrary to the provision of Article 11, ii (e) of the Ohaneze constitution, which states that, “The President General must not be a member of a Political Party nor a Traditional Ruler”. This howling political interest was enough to steal crisis in Ohaneze. Even as the body has gone ahead to hold an election that was adjudged credible by Ohaneze watchers, the other group has vowed to trudge on with another election on Saturday, January 19th. One’s understanding of factional politics is that nothing will stop a group bent on enabling a faction so we must expect fictionalization in Ohaneze very soon except good reasoning and maturity prevail and this brings me to the kernel of my discourse.

Ohaneze badly needs a reinvention and the new leadership under Enwo Igariwey must rise to the occasion to provide newer and stronger props to Ohaneze. Coming with less of the elephantine egos and gargantuan airs that afflict past Ohaneze leadership, Igariwey must see the need to arrest the drift in Ohaneze, meld the disparate tendencies that are running wild at present and draw out a people-oriented work plan that will target the generality of Ndigbo. He should not shy from directly reaching out to those saddened by the fact of his emergence. He should stay as far away from the measures of those in power and look for ways to lift inspire the crest-fallen Igbo in the competitive Nigerian polity. Several pressing issues stare Ndigbo in the face today and these include, but not limited to, poor infrastructures, high crime rate, debased value system, high level of unemployment, dwindling educational and health services delivery, poor consideration in sharing the nation’s resources, less competitive operational environment. The new leadership must clearly work on these problems and capture them within a larger framework that aims at tapping the Nigerian political advantage for the upliftment of the Igboman. This remains the trust of the Nigerian politics in the highly contentious polity we operate. He must mobilize the Oha around clearly identifiable and trappable goals. When he has done that, I believe he will achieve credibility-a character trait that has been in very short supply among Ohaneze leaders in the past. I want to assure him that he will make or mar his presidency by how well he approaches this simple outline. If he sees it from how many visits he makes to

the seats of political power, I will wish him well but history will judge him as it is already judging his predecessors. History is his to make or mar and he alone will decide the path he has to chart; either to recreate Ohaneze or further lead it into the Sheol where it is sweating today.

I believe there is no need for factionalization in Ohaneze so I counsel those that are bent on dividing the group to sheathe their swords and work with Igariwey to realize the stated goals of Ohaneze. There is no need to exacerbate the image crisis Ohaneze suffers, especially among the Oha who have felt exposed by the penchant of the Eze to employ leadership to feather their nests. All must join hands in salvaging Ohaneze from the drudgery of the past and position it as the credible mouthpiece of Ndigbo. There is no need for parallel election and I counsel that all the observed imperfections of the election that brought Igariwey to the helm of Ohaneze should be ironed out for Ohaneze to start the much needed recreation quest.

Written by
Peter Claver Oparah
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