Immediate Past Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nduka Eya, spoke to LAWRENCE NJOKU in Enugu on some contentious issues in the organization. Excerpts:
WHAT could have caused the controversy surrounding the election of the new leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo?
As far as I know, that process of election was entirely within the competence of Ohanaeze Constitution. The chairman of that committee is a renowned and respected excellent lawyer and despite the reaction from some people, he insisted that the constitution gives him leeway on what he did. He briefed the Imeobi and he was given authority to go ahead with the election, but the ripples now is characteristics of the job of a spoiler and this character manifested itself four years ago when I was elected secretary general. It was the same character who jumped out like a soldier that came out of the trench, not knowing that the war is over and started shooting with the claims that he was elected secretary general by a kangaroo group, not appointed by the National Executive Committee and not approved by the Imeobi. He is trying to repeat the same by wanting to conduct his own election, not Ohanaeze election. He was appointed secretary to the electoral committee and he accepted. He worked with the committee until January 10, 2013, when the NEC was informed that he (secretary) was having problem with the chairman; that whereas the committee agreed that it would hold the election as scheduled on the 12 January, the secretary insisted that it must be postponed to January 19. Following that report, the NEC invited the secretary general to a meeting on January 10 and told him that the Ohanaeze had a plan and had scheduled the election for January 12 and that the process should not be disrupted. Rather the secretary said he was not consulted and because of that, will not be a party to the election. He immediately walked out. How dare he say so? If you remember, it was this same character that four years ago, locked the secretariat of Ohanaeze, prevented the duly elected executive from running office until about three months after he was called to order. NEC said since he would not cope with the schedule of the election and had walked out, it amounts to resignation. The NEC immediately replaced him with another member of the committee, Dr Mrs. Felicia Ene and the committee continued working and conducted the election of January 12. As far as I am concerned, the elections have been held. There are processes for petitioning on the election held. If there are petitions for whatever reason, there are bodies set up to look into them. He is angling to run another election as what? This is the question Richard Ozobu must answer, who appointed him?
What is your reaction to the contentions over the position of the Deputy President General, which was won by a card-carrying member of the PDP and appointee of state government contrary to the constitution of the Ohanaeze?
The National electoral committee had the mandate to screen all the candidates. If there is evidence about these claims, it should be forwarded to the appropriate body. It is not only that, I was also told that the man who was supposed to contest the same position with the candidate that won was shot a day to the election and is now receiving treatment at the hospital. The election committee said all these are hearsay, there is no written evidence connecting that incident with the election. If anybody has evidence, the process of the election will clearly solve the problem. If anybody says he is still a card-carrying member, it is a basis for petition and I want to ask anybody with contrary view to protest the development. Part of the problem we have in Ohanaeze is that the politicians are politicising Ohanaeze and that has been my problem with the body in the four years I worked as secretary general. Many people are linking Ohanaeze to political leadership because of the financial involvement but this is not true. In the history of Ohanaeze, it has had crisis from the time of Eze Ozobu and Ben Nwabueze as secretary general, Irukwu and Achuzia, we didn’t have peace and this time around, we must have peace so that Igbo can work in unison. That is why I think that when a secretary to a committee begins to behave like a bull in the China shop storming over the national executive committee to begin to run his own election, he should be sanctioned for it.
What is the ideal tenure of elected executive of Ohanaeze Ndigbo?
When our two years as provided by the constitution was coming to an end, the National Executive had certain plans which they wanted to implement which of course was delayed because of this type of situation, sought for extension of their tenure, not amendment of the constitution. They went to imeobi and that body looked at everything, despite the opposition in its wisdom extended the tenure with another two years. The general assembly ratified that decision of the Imeobi. As far as I am concerned that tenure extension was properly obtained. We have tried to amend that constitution because it is clear to everybody that two years is nothing. For now, it is two years, but what we enjoyed as four years was a mere extension and not amendment of constitution to give elected executive four years. So the current executive could midwife the process of amendment in the tenure if they so wish.
What is the extent of involvement of the immediate past executive in the issue of Ohanaeze foundation and Ohanaeze leadership centre?
Ohanaeze foundation and Ohanaeze effective leadership centre were beautiful proposals made to Ohanaeze national executive about three years ago by a young man called Nze Akachukwu Nwankpo. The immediate past president general, Ralph Uwaechue brought him and he addressed us. The aim of the foundation was to make Ohanaeze economically and financially independent so that it will function wholly as a socio –cultural organization and not running to beg politicians for money or funding of her activities. The NEC accepted it wholeheartedly and set a process running for its establishment. Two years after that we heard nothing, we did not know whether the thing was registered or not. So we started asking questions, especially when we saw an establishment – an Ikenga Express Transport company, which under it is written ‘an Ohanaeze Foundation Initiative.’ We started asking whether the initiative had been registered and we are not in the know. It was then that the NEC set up a fact finding committee headed by Chief Chris Asoluka. I worked with him as secretary to that committee. We came out with facts that we found out, that somehow, that laudable thing had been manipulated and we were in the process of recovering this thing to the Ohanaeze. Glad to tell you, a meeting we held on 12th November, last year, the president general told us that they have retrieved the certificate of Ohanaeze Foundation and the leadership centre and that the certificates are held by the solicitors to Ohanaeze. We have made our findings and recommendations known to the NEC and Imeobi. The imeobi in their wisdom decided that the election should be held first, which the incoming executive can look into the issue of the foundation as they so wish. That is the situation for now. There were many issues in the fact finding committee which will tear Ohanaeze into pieces if we release them and we said let us not pursue the matter, let’s keep it in abeyance for the next executive. I can assure you that part of the problem we are having with Richard Ozobu for the second election is under the cover of this Ohanaeze Foundation. Those behind the second election are those behind the foundation who would not want the truth to come out and are trying to create confusion in Ohanaeze.
Who manipulated what in the foundation?
We discovered that somebody who registered the companies is solely managing it. I can tell you that the companies were registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission. We got the registration details. However, in registering the companies, there was a clear fraudulent subversion of the NEC’s original mandate with regard to membership of the board. The bank accounts were in private names and the banks where the accounts are domiciled were not given to us. So we were not able to know how much is in the account. We discovered that the transport company has over 21 buses, yet in the last two years, nobody has accounted to Ohanaeze.
What was the original mandate of Ohanaeze on the foundation?
To have an interim board made up of the Deputy President General, the five Vice Presidents-General as well as the President General as the chairman. However, what we discovered was that the president general became the chairman and Nze Akachukwu the secretary.
You said nothing came to Ohanaeze for two years, but the immediate past president general in a report listed how money received from the foundation was shared among members of the executive including you?
The President General is a gentleman. If he had written anything, I believe the onus lies on him to prove it. Why should I get involved in that kind of venture? All these things happened when I was sick, I was away for six months and part of the problem we had was that my Deputy who is now an Ambassador was ready to do everything. I have not seen the report but when the chips are down, we will see how it goes. But the report will speak for itself.
Did you care to know how much was raised for the foundation and the source?
We learnt that two donors contributed over N250 million to the foundation and it was the money that facilitated the venture.
What did your administration achieve for Ndigbo in the last four years?
When we came on board, Ndigbo had never been focused as they are within these four years and our aim was to move Ndigbo to speak with one voice, irrespective of internal disagreement and we have succeeded. I must swear that without the unity of Ndigbo and their focus, the last election would not have come out the way it did. The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) were able to reach out to us, it has never happened before but because of time, we told them we would study their demand and now it is for the next executive to carry on. We submitted valid document for the review of the constitution for Nigeria, even with our paucity of funds. I want to tell you that from 2010 till last year, Ohanaeze had survived by the imprest given to it for running of the secretariat and payment of salaries by the president general. Despite the handicaps and challenges we faced, we have done our best to mobilize Ndigbo to be focused on their collective aspiration.
How do you solve persistent crisis in Ohanaeze?
They need a strong team of constitutional people to look at the constitution of Ohanaeze again and plug all those loopholes that put Ohanaeze in crisis. First and foremost, you have to decide whether Ohanaeze will be a political pressure group or socio-cultural. I am voting for socio cultural because as a socio –cultural organization, you can damn these governors. Political interests have always played a fast one on the group.