By Hon Echezona Okechi, ex member, Anambra State House of Assembly
Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, the greatest Nigerian ever, remains to this day the only person to be made the patron of Ohaneze Ndigbo, the apex socio-cultural organization of all Igbo people numbering some 40 million. Zik of Africa is richly deserving of this honour. Yet, on the day he was being honoured by the nation with the commissioning of the long-awaited Zik Mausoleum in his hometown of Onitsha in Anambra State, the Ohaneze leadership chose to desecrate his memory and, of course, the entire Igboland as well as the Nigerian nation, if not the whole Black world because the Great Zik lived and died for all Blacks and Africans.
Once it was announced that President Muhammadu Buhari would commission the mausoleum on Friday, January 24, the Ohaneze leadership chose to fix a meeting of Ime Obi, that is, the inner caucus, at 10am of the day the president was visiting. Statutory Ime Obi members include ministers from the Southeast who, of course, were bound to be with the visiting president. In other words, the Ohaneze leaders did not want ministers and other prominent Ime Obi members to attend.
Well meaning Igbo leaders like Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, who is chairman of the South East Governors Forum, advised that the meeting be shifted to another day so that it could be more inclusive. Ohaneze leaders refused, but accepted to shift it to 4pm the same day. Other Igbo leaders like Dr Chris Ngige protested because the president would still be around with his ministers and other aides from the Southeast till 6pm when he was scheduled to return to Abuja from Akanu Ibiam Airport in Enugu. At this point, the Ohaneze President General, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, announced that the meeting would now hold at 7pm, and it was widely publicized in the media.
But before 6pm, the Ohaneze leaders had concluded the meeting at Nike Lake Hotel. For instance, delegations from Ebonyi and Anambra states comprising top government functionaries who arrived early enough were shocked that the meeting had already taken place. There was no Ohaneze leader in sight at the hotel by 7pm. None could be reached on the phone, according to journalists who tried to do so.
The meeting had only one agenda: adoption of a presidential candidate in the 2019 vote. The Ime Obi Ohaneze, as expected, chose Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), dressing him in borrowed robes, as William Shakespeare would say.
Nwodo and his associates may have been afflicted by a tragicomedy kind of amnesia. The only time an Igbo came very close to being Nigeria’s president since the Civil War ended in 1970 was in 1999 when former Vice President Alex Ekwueme was almost winning the PDP presidential ticket. Ekwueme practically founded and led the party with dignity, thus turning it into a national movement. As Dr Ekwueme was about to pick the ticket unopposed, the PDP wing known as the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) led by Atiku Abubakar went into an emergency alliance with army generals like TY Danjuma and joined the PDP with a view to hijacking it. Their sole mission: to stop an Igbo from becoming Nigeria’s president. They succeeded. Ex President Olusegun Obasanjo who had just been released from jail and knew next to nothing about events in the country and made no contribution to the party was handed over the PDP presidential ticket.
Ekwueme was living quietly in his hometown of Oko in Anambra State when northern politicians led by Atiku prevailed on him to run against the sitting president in 2003, pledging to support him all the way. Ekwueme reluctantly accepted. But guess what? At the (Special) Presidential Election Convention in Abuja, as Atiku and his men were dump Dr Ekwueme, the former vice president pledged to do only one term which would enable Atiku to take over as president in 2007. Yet, Atiku chose to humiliate Ekwueme, as he and his powerful group supported Obasanjo. They succeeded in humiliating Dr Ekwueme, a fantastic gentleman, polyvalent intellectual and statesman in the finest of this word. Ekwueme scored fewer votes than he did four years earlier at the PDP Presidential Election Convention.
It is a grave paradox that Atiku, who has been behind the machination to not only deny an Igboman a shot at the presidency but disgrace a national icon in the person of Dr Ekwueme, is now being celebrated by a couple of Ohaneze officials as an Igbo messiah. Great Igbo leaders like Dr Azikiwe, Dr Ekwueme, Dr Michael Okpara, Dr Akanu Ibiam, Dim Emeka Ojukwu, Chief C. C. Onoh, Dr Sam Mbakwe and others must be turning in their graves that Ohaneze leaders have done it again. Just four years ago, they declared, without any sense of embarrassment, that Dr Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw from Bayelsa State, is Igbo. In fact, they went as far as concocting the fantastic story that Jonathan was living in Oguta, Imo State, during the Nigerian Civil War.
Ohaneze leaders then made sure that Jonathan did not rehabilitate one single federal road in the Southeast for the six years he was president. They made sure he did not touch the Second Niger Bridge which he pledged at a town hall meeting attended by then Governor Peter obi and the Obi of Onitsha in Onitsha in September, 2012, to complete in 2013 or else go into exile. They made sure that Jonathan, whom they gave the middle Igbo names of “Ebele Azikiwe”, did not touch the Zik Mausoleum started by the Sani Abacha regime 23 years ago. What happened to the huge amounts approved for the projects?
Many observers believe that endorsements of presidential candidates by Ohaneze are fast turning into death kisses. Prof Ben Nwabueze is reported by Chief Chekwas Okorie, leader of the United Progressive Party who is also the Igbo Ezue founder, as unilaterally and controversially endorsing Chief Olu Falae in the 1999 presidential election on Ohaneze behalf. Chief Falae was defeated, and Obasanjo who won thought that Dr Ekwueme was behind the endorsement. The result was the ceaseless war which he (Obasanjo) waged against Ekwueme throughout his presidency. Ohaneze backed Dr Jonathan in 2015 and in the process went to demonise Gen Buhari and the North. We are all living with consequences of the endorsement.
Though Ohaneze’s endorsements are a mere public relations stunt as they carry little electoral value, thoughtful Igbo people have been warning the organization against such acts because of the high risks for NdIgbo. Top Igbo leaders belong to various political groups, and so it is a grave error to endorse one candidate or party. Ohaneze should be an umbrella organization for all Igbo, and not a partisan association. Why should Ohaneze adopt Atiku, and not Professor Kingsley Moghalu of the Young Progressive Party (YPP), a highly knowledgeable, patriotic, bold, well travelled and eloquent former Central Bank of Nigeria Deputy Governor, who is also a proud Igbo?
The Ohaneze Ime Obi meeting of last Friday was obviously informed by a sinister agenda. Those who conceived and executed it have desecrated the Great Zik of Africa, Igboland and the whole nation. They must account for their action.
Okechi is former chairman of the Committee on Information and of Public Petitions Committee in the Anambra State House of Assembly. He is happy to have left PDP long ago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 0803558 5188.