By Obi Nwakanma
Some years ago, in the din of the conflict that had marred its promise, I had written a piece titled “the world Igbo confusion” in great frustration about the direction of the American-based World Igbo Congress (WIC). It had structural problems. Its raison d’etre had also become profoundly watered down to the point where the Igbo in the United States began to see no point in the thing.
The leadership was involved, and mostly without insight, consultation or consensus, in negotiating its own interests rather than what was considered the strategic Igbo interest with the powers of the moment, precisely, the administration of Olusegun Obasanjo who had a clear adversarial relationship with the Igbo.
The WIC had slipped into decadence and the ineluctable miasma of corruption as it increasingly became the tool of prebendal politics and twisted politicians. It had moved far apart from the interests it was established to represent, and it was mired in internal power struggles as a result.
The power struggle led to its decline, and almost put to death a potentially powerful tool for organizing an Igbo Diaspora. In reaction to the crisis within the WIC, many Igbo in the United States began to actively subvert it, or ignore it, or in great frustration abandon it. Factions rose. New fissiparous organizations like the Igbo World Assembly (IWA) were formed, quickly cobbled together to fill a vacuum, or what was seen to be the impeding vacuum soon to be left by the WIC.
Well, frankly, its death knell was clear and reverberating. It would have been a terrible thing for an organization founded to bring together an Igbo Diaspora in Europe, the United States and Canada, and increasingly in Asia, where the ever migrant Igbo have established new homes across the world away from the homeland.
The WIC was an exciting addition to the Igbo question when it was formed in the middle of the 1990s at the height of the Abacha dictatorship. It came with so much hope. The Igbo in Nigeria seemed to have been worsted and exhausted from the alienation of life in Nigeria.
The Igbo organization, the “Ohaneze Ndigbo” felt like a tepid and reactionary instrument, always malleable, and not forceful enough to rally the Igbo to a precise political purpose and direction. It was too right-of-the center. So when the World Igbo Congress was announced, and its first conventions held in Houston and then in London, featuring great Igbo names like the now late Dr. Ikejiani who lived in Canada, and the world famous scientist, Professor Alex Acholonu and others like CC Momah, former Librarian of the United Nations among other elders of the Igbo living in the United States, in concert with a younger generation of Igbo professionals who rallied together, a great stirring happened in the homeland. Some of us felt that stirring from the distance. Many felt a new spine for the Igbo that was growing from its Diaspora.
There was always this expectation wrongly or rightly, that the Igbo Diaspora held the key to Igbo transformation. When the first International Congresses were held, many leading Igbo traveled to the conventions hoping to be part of that renewal that the Congolese modernist poet, Felix Tchicaya U’Tamsi had claimed as the “pagan renewal of the world” – that is a pulsion of such energy that creates a powerful renaissance. Perhaps there was where the damage began to happen.
The WIC conventions soon became a jamboree; the gathering point of many Igbo politicians representing sometimes clearly antithetical agenda and interests that were frankly dangerous to the Igbo. They came with large purses and waved so much carrots that it became clear where the pork lay.
These interests soon found connections with partner groups within WIC whose main purpose seemed to be to use the WIC as a means to furthering their personal ambitions riding on the back of the Igbo. It became such a thing that visiting governors and ministers and other political appointees who came to the conventions were inundated with applications, requests for money, and other such curious diversions.
There was also that pesky fact that the leadership felt too immature, too disorganized to provide clear directions for growth for the WIC. It was, given all these, that I penned my frustration. Recently however, it does seem that a new page might turn with the WIC under the new leadership of Mr. Joe Nze Eto, a Geologist and Environmental Engineer, and President of SETS an Environmental Engineering Corp in Atlanta. Eto was involved in the litigations and the leadership tussles that have marred the WIC.
But as he said this past week in Orlando, Florida where the annual World Igbo Congress convention held, “all my fight is to reposition the WIC for its great task of organizing the Igbo in the Diaspora. It was not personal.” I am prepared to give Mr. Eto a benefit of doubt.
Given the tenor of this convention that held at the Doubletree Hotel by the Universal Studios in Orlando, just with the background noise of the National Republican Convention not too far away in Tampa, it seems that WIC has come on to a new direction. The atmosphere here was crisp and businesslike.
There were guests from Nigeria including the Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, Ambassador Ralph Uwechue, the President of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, former governor of Abia State, Mr Rex Onyeador, former Permanent Secretary in the government of Enugu State, Dr. Pat. Utomi of the Lagos Business School, Chuks Iloegbunam, Journalist and former Chief of Staff to the Anambra State government, Professor Ebere Onwudiwe of the Center for Democracy and Development, and so many others who joined the Igbo from across the United States including the distinguished Professor MJC Echeruo, Emeritus professor of English at Syracuse and current Chair of the board of Trustees of the WIC Foundation, CC Momah, Dr. Gaius Akuchie (Ofokaja), so many indeed, for a concourse.