By Clifford Ndujihe
“Ohanaeze Ndigbo firmly believes in the reality and absolute equality of the six zones and holds the view that the topmost executive office in the land – Prime Minister or President, which has eluded the two geo-political zones of South-South and South-East since the birth of our nation half a century ago, should now go to them in turn in unbroken succession as a matter of national priority, before any other zone can justly claim the right to a second or even third turn.
In line with this position, taken after wide consultation over several months, among Igbo people at home and abroad, Ohanaeze Ndigbo confidently urges the Igbo Nation to support en masse a credible new generation presidential candidate that has emerged from the South-South geo-political zone, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan.”
With these 132-word statement, apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, last week took a historic decision that it has been unable to take since the return of civil rule in 1999. The decision was couched in a four-paragraph statement by the President-General of the group, Amb. Ralp Uwechue. It was the first time Ohanaeze was endorsing a presidential aspirant in the last 12 years.
Ohanaeze had shied away from doing so in the past even when it was pressured. Reasons advanced by the leaders then were that Ohanaeze was apolitical and a socio-cultural body and such did not want to dabble into partisan politics. The best it could do for a horde of Igbo presidential aspirants then was to ask them to go and market themselves to other Nigerians.
Asked recently why the apex Igbo body was not taking a stand on the issue of zoning and other burning political issues ahead the 2011 polls, Prof. Anya O. Anya, a member of Ohanaeze Imeobi said: “People misunderstand what the role of Ohanaeze should be. Ohanaeze is a socio-cultural organisation of all Igbos whether in Delta, Rivers or South-East.
Socio-cultural and socio-economic relations become important because they can shape socio-political relations. To that extent, the priority for Ohanaeze should not be to direct the Igbos on a political path but to watch everything, analyse it, encourage everybody to put their ideas on the table so that a consensus emerges.
That consensus becomes the one that Ohanaeze spreads. It is not to make pronouncements. The day Ohanaeze starts making fire-written political statements that day it will lose its relevance and the moral authority it should have.”
But all that has changed. Suddenly, Ohanaeze has found its voice. And its endorsement of President Jonathan is clear, unmistakable and total.
Indeed, former National Democratic Coalition, NADECO chieftain, Chief Ralph Obioha, said the consensus in the South-East was for Jonathan to proceed to the next level.
Said Obioha: “The mood of the Igbo is that they have embraced the Jonathan presidency because of the kith and kin issue with the South-South and power has been in the North for long. Again, Jonathan has shown himself to be a transformation leader and Igbos want transformation in the country. If the country was transformed and the power sector fixed, Igbos will excel.”
However, he said the Igbo do no longer want to play the second fiddle in the politics of the country and are desirous of producing the president in 2015, after Jonathan.
Why Ohanaeze endorsed Jonathan
Ohanaeze’s reasons for backing Jonathan instead of a northern aspirant are embedded in the statement– short-changing of the South-South and South-East since independence in the production of Heads of State and power had stayed in the North for long and there is need to let other zones have a taste of power.
In addition to these reasons, Vanguard checks showed that one of the factors that informed the decision was the dearth of Igbo presidential aspirants. Unlike in the past, no Igbo has joined the race except former Abia State Governor, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu and Prof. Pat Utomi. Even the duo are yet to declare formally.
The scenario is strikingly different from what obtained in 1998/1999, 2003 and 2007 when there were many Igbo presidential hopefuls and if Ohanaeze pitched tent with any of them, by way of endorsement, might have sounded the death knell for the group, as Anya espoused.
In 1999, for instance, when there were only three political parties – Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, All Peoples Party, APP, and Alliance for Democracy, AD, there were many Igbo aspirants. They include Dr. Alex Ekwueme (PDP), Chief Jim Nwobodo (PDP), Chief Philip Asiodu (PDP), Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanw (APP), Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu (APP) and Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife (AD).
Those aspiring on the plank of PDP lost the ticket to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. They could not step down for one another. Ohanaeze could not make a pick as well. Ogbonnaya Onu won the APP primaries but was side-stepped for Alh. Umaru Shinkafi when the APP struck an accord with AD and elected to be the junior partner. So Shinkafi ran as running mate to Chief Olu Falae, who flew the AD/APP joint flag at the 1999 presidential polls.
The number of Igbo presidential aspirants rose in 2003, making it more difficult for Ohanaeze to endorse anyone. Most of them became presidential candidates. They include Gen. Ike Nwachukwu (National Democratic Party, NDP), Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu ( All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA), Nwobodo (United Nigeria Peoples Party, UNPP), Dr. Arthur Nwankwo (Peoples Mandate Party, PMP), Alh. Yahaya Ndu (African Rennaissance Party, ARP), Iheanyichukwu Nnaji (Better Nigeria Peoples Party, BNPP), Chief Rochas Okorocha and Sen. Chuba Okadigbo (All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP). Ekwueme also aspired but lost out at the PDP primaries once again.
A similar scenario played out in 2007 with the following presidential candidates (orji Uzor Kalu (Progressive Peoples Alliance, PPA), Ojukwu (APGA), Prof. Pat Utomi (African Democratic Congress, ADC), Nwankwo (PMP), Emmanuel Okereke, Maxi Okwu (Citizens People Party, CPP), Sunny Okogwu (Renaissance Party of Nigeria, RPN) and Nnaji (BNPP) among others.
In 2010, the situation is obviously different and even at that it took Ohanaeze quite a while to take a stand. It was not swayed by the South-East Governors’ backing of the President.
Igbo leaders divided over endorsement
As expected, some Igbo leaders have differed on the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation’s position.
Among those who spoke on the issue, in a telephone chat, were Second Republic Politician and one of the founders of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Guy Ikokwu, former Health Minister, Prof. ABC Nwosu and former NADECO chieftain Chief Ralph Obioha.
In a four-paragraph statement by its President General, Amb. Ralph Uwechue, weekend, Ohanaeze, in endorsing Jonathan, noted that Nigeria became independent on the basis of a tripod – North, West and East, which has metamorphosed into six geo-political zones and opposed power rotation on the basis of North and South. It said power should be rotated among the six geo-political zones with the South-East having it after the South-South, in an unbroken succession.
Asked to comment on the endorsement, Prof. Nwosu, who is backing Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s presidential bid, dissociated himself from the move. “I am not involved in that. Thank you and bye-bye,” he said and hung up.
However, Ikokwu and Obioha said the push was in the best interest of the Igbo and the country.
Ikokwu, said the decision was based on what would serve the interest of the Igbo better. “Which will serve Igbo interest? Is it favouring Jonathan or a Northern candidate? Jonathan’s interest is like second term. The Ohanaeze’s position is a policy statement. The policy analysis is in order. If the South-East doesn’t support the South-South now, when will the South-South support the South-East?” he asked.
Ikokwu said that those who were currently opposing Jonathan on the plank of Igbo Political Forum, were Igbo leaders and politicians who had problems with immediate past President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, adding that the Igbo should not be made to bear the yoke of their differences with Obasanjo.