Enugu-The day was Tuesday January 10, 2017 and before 9a.m. the Park Avenue GRA Enugu, venue of the national secretariat of pan-Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, was cordoned-off using the heavy duty machines of the Enugu Capital Territory Development Authority.
Vehicles had stretched up to Parklane Specialist hospital, a distance of about two kilometers and traffic was hellish around the area. It was a day for election of national officers of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
Four-year single tenure
Though Ohanaeze elections had always elicited concern among Ndigbo, the 2017 election was different in many ways. It had elicited interest after the dispute on the real tenure of the out gone executives led by Chief Enow Igariwey was resolved by Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo state.
Chief Nnia Nwodo, acknowledging pleasantries while arriving venue of the election
There was argument as to whether their tenure was two years or four but at the end the Igariwey-led executive did a four-year single tenure and handed over on the election day.
At the gate of the organization was a crowd of Ndigbo, security agents, newsmen and other interest persons, struggling to be accredited to gain entrance into the secretariat complex. In the process, a journalist with the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, Mr. Emma Acha, was molested by the operatives of the Department for State Services, DSS.
The accreditation took more time than was expected, yet members of Ohanaeze Ndigbo including the traditional rulers waited patiently. The candidates for the election came one after the other, exchanged pleasantries and took their seats at the Akanu Ibiam auditorium of the secretariat.
The entrance of one of the candidates for the position of President-General, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, attracted more cheers than any other candidate. Nwodo arrived the venue in company of Senator Chuka Utazi, his elder brother and former governor of old Enugu state, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, among other dignitaries.
Different diaspora groups
Other chieftains of Ohanaeze that took their seats one after the other included former Senate President Ken Nnamani, the Chairman of the election committee, Prof. Anya O. Anya, Chief Emmanuel Iwanyanwu, Secretary of the election committee, Prof. ABC Nwosu, Chief Enow Igariwey, Prof. Joe Nwaorgu among many other prominent Igbo Chieftains.
The Igbo of different diaspora groups were out in force including delegations from United States of America, United Kingdom, African countries, different states of Nigeria outside Igboland, Igbo states delegations, local government and ward delegates. The venue was peopled with enthusiastic Ndigbo and they waited till about 3pm when the processes for the election began.
Chief Iwuanyanwu prayed for the success of the business of the day, noting that it was a happy gathering of Ndigbo. The out-going President General of Ohanaeze, Chief Igariwey in a valedictory speech said he hopes to see a rejuvenated Ohanaeze and charged the would be elected executive to complete the on-going remodeling of the Ohanaeze secretariat being executed by Governor Okorocha .
Igariwey expressed gratitude to God and Ndigbo for supporting his executive to make Ohanaeze regain vibrancy and authenticity, to act without fear or favour in defence of Igbo interest in Nigeria. He applauded Governor Okorocha for transforming the national secretariat of Ohaneze Ndigbo at No 7 Park Avenue GRA Enugu and urged the incoming Executive to liaise with Okorocha for the completion of the secretariat. He urged the incoming executive and other Igbo leaders to add their collective voice to the clamour for restructuring of Nigeria as other geo-political zones have moved the motion for restructuring of the country.
He called the attention of the incoming executive to the challenges ahead which he said include, the completion and commissioning of the new Ohanaeze Ndigbo secretariat, building of confidence between the elected Governors in all the Igbo speaking nations and ensure that ‘Igbo decisions” are implemented in the best interest of the people.
After Igariwey’s speech, his executive council was dissolved through a motion moved by Chris Asoluka from Imo state, seconded by Chief Ejiofor Onyia from Delta state and supported again by Dr. Jombo Offor from Abia state. There was no counter motion.
Chairman of the election committee, Prof. Anya in his bid to make preliminary remarks before the election caused controversy by speaking in English language whereas majority insisted on use of Igbo language for the day’s proceedings.
Anya was forced to speak Igbo alternating between Igbo and English language. He told Ndigbo that 47 years after the Nigeria/Biafra war, it was time for reflection and repositioning of Ndigbo.
Silence on topical issues
He urged the incoming executive to ensure that they restore the position of Ndigbo in the country, saying that the Igbos will not develop until it is restored to their normal position. He said that to restore the position of Igbos, the Igbo must strategically learn how to maintain a studied silence on topical issues.
The returning officer and secretary of the election committee, Prof. ABC Nwosu announced that arrangements have been made to ensure credible and successive elections and the contestants were presented for their manifestoes.
The candidates for the post of president General were Chief Nnia Nwodo, Prof. Simon Atuanya, Chief Joel Ezeugwu and Prof. Chinweyte Ejike. While Ejike, a former Vice Chancellor of the old Anambra State University of Science and Technology, ASUTHECH, spoke against Ohanaeze collecting against money from any organ of government, his counterpart, Nwodo, promised that he will be transparent and accountable if elected. “Money does not make a man but integrity,” he said.
Nwodo vowed to die for the cause of Igboland, if asked to do so and also pledged to dialogue with the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, so as to make the self determination group speak in one voice with Ohanaeze Ndigbo. He also pledged to make efforts to repatriate Igbo business capitals scattered in diaspora back to Igboland.
The two other candidates- Prof. Simon Otuanya, and Chief Joel Ezeugwu stepped down for Nwodo leaving him to contest with Prof. Ejike. Commodore Alison (retd) who had picked nomination form for the President General and failed to turn up for screening on Monday also failed to show up on the election day.
At the end of the election which ended at about 6pm, Nwodo polled a total of 242 votes to defeat his only rival, Prof. Ejike, who gathered 13 votes. 6 votes were voided in the contest for the President General. Nwodo was therefore declared winner and new President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
The post of Secretary General of the organization went to Barrister Uche Okwukwu from Rivers state who scored 166 votes against Chief Issac Wonwu who got 63 votes, while Chief Kroham Joel got 4 votes.
In the same vein, Emeka Okwu from Delta state emerged the national Treasurer with 168 votes defeating veteran journalist, Emma Okocha who tallied 34 votes. Okocha alleged that the election was rigged against him by the Governors. “They don’t want a journalist there,” he alleged.
DIG Hillary Opara from Imo state was declared the Deputy President of Ohanaeze as he was unopposed. Other people that were elected include, Deputy Secretary General, Solomon Oginji, National legal adviser, Chief Chuks Momah among others.
Protests of imposition
Protests of imposition were rife in the election, particularly from Imo state where Governor Okorocha was accused of imposing the Deputy President General.
Candidates also complained of high nomination fees such as N500, 000 for President General, N300, 000 for Secretary General, N250, 000 for Deputy President General and N100, 000 for National Treasurer.
Before the election, two different lists circulated, itemizing preferred or what some called imposed winners. Out of about 500 delegates for the election, the Movement for Actualization of Sovereign state of Biafra, MASSOB, and IPOB secured 5 delegates, respectively.
However, a day after the election, on Wednesday, a group lodged a legal proceeding against the election of the new executives.
Represented by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Chief Enechi Onyia, the group is insisting that the past executive committee of the group led by Chief Igariwey had no locus to conduct the Tuesday election that produced Nwodo as the President General of the apex Igbo body.
Onyia said that the tenure of the Igariwey-led executive had expired two years ago, noting that the Igariwey led executive was served the court process on December 22, 2016 but was defiant and went ahead to conduct the election.
The court action came even when the former Minister of Health and the Secretary of the Election Committee that conducted the election, Prof A.B.C. Nwosu dispelled insinuations that the five governors of the South-East states as well as governors of Rivers and Delta states had effectively hijacked Ohanaeze by imposing cronies as new leaders of the Igbo group.
Nwosu said rather than accuse the governors of hijacking the body, Ndigbo across the globe should be excited that after several years, the governors finally accepted to show a healthy interest in the affairs of Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
The court process lodged in an Enugu state high court presided over by Justice A. O. Onovo, fixed March 1, 2017, as the date to commence hearing on the validity of the Chief Igariwey-led executive to have conducted the election.
In the suit, the plaintiffs are arguing that the Prof. Igariwey-led executive was not the actual body entrusted to conduct the election, based on an agreement they reached at Owerri, the Imo state capital when the Imo state Governor, Okorocha intervened in the leadership squabbles prevailing within Ohanaeze Ndigbo leadership.
The group is claiming that based on the Owerri peace agreement, it was Chief Mbazuluike Amaechi and Chief Ralph Obioha-led Ohanaeze caretaker committee that was entrusted with the task of conducting the Ohanaeze Ndigbo election.