By Clifford Ndujihe, Deputy Political Editor
PRESIDENT-GENERAL of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Ambassador Ralph Uwechue has a four-word statement for those opposing the group’s endorsement of President Goodluck Jonathan for the 2011 polls: ‘They are talking rubbish.’
After what it said arose from wide consultations running into six months, the apex Igbo body had on October 15, in a statement by Uwechue, endorsed Jonathan to continue in 2011 and asked that the South-East should succeed him in an unbroken fashion because the South-South and South-East were the most short-changed zones in the country in terms of presidential power sharing. Ever since, the four-paragraph endorsement statement has been repeated several times by leading national dailies.
As expected, the endorsement is raising dusts among Igbo leaders, with a section of them contending that backing Jonathan now would make it difficult for the Igbo to produce the president in the foreseeable future.
According to this school of thought, the shortest route to an Igbo emerging as president is for the South-East to support a Northerner, who had promised to do a term and relinquish power to the Igbo in 2015. So far, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar have promised to do four years and handover to the South-East, if elected.
South-East to produce president 2027?
Some permutated that the South-East might not produce the president until 2027, if Jonathan scales through. According to them, Jonathan has not made any promise on the number of terms he would do and is likely to seek re-election in 2015, which will give him nine years on the saddle and terminate in 2019. After him, they contend that the North would have it for eight years up to 2027. In essence, the South-East, going by the permutation may not have it until 2027.
Uwechue betrayed Igbo
In a 25-paragraph statement on Monday by Chief Simon Okeke (chairman) and Chief Chyna Iwuanyanwu (secretary general), the Igbo Political Forum, IPF, accused Uwechue of betraying Ndigbo by single-handed signing an advertorial ‘claiming that Ndigbo have adopted a presidential candidate for the 2011 presidential election.’
Notable Igbo leaders in IPF include former Vice President Dr. Alex Ekwueme, former Senate President, Sen. Ken Nnamani (who is backing Babangida), Sen. Jim Nwobodo, Prof. ABC Nwosu, Chief Achike Udenwa and Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu among others.
The group, which on August 10, met with Northern Elders Political Forum and reached an agreement to collaborate with the North to produce the President in 2011 while the South-East takes its turn in 2015, said Ndigbo had not endorsed any presidential aspirant.
Stating that its decision to collaborate with the North was articulated in a pre-summit stakeholders’ meeting hosted by Governor Peter Obi (chairman South-East Governors’ Forum) with Igbo organisations including Presidents of Aka Ikenga, Ndigbo Lagos, Izu Ummuna, Igbo delegates Assembly and several eminent Igbo leaders in attendance, the IPF alleged that Uwechue was pursuing tenure extension as Ohanaeze leader and endorsing Jonathan without consulting anyone.
It said: ‘It is on record that in recent weeks, there has been no meeting of any decision making organ of Ohanaeze in which the endorsement of presidential aspirants was discussed. There has been no Imeobi (inner caucus), no executive meeting and no general assembly…We wish to alert Ndigbo of the clandestine moves to extend the tenure of the present leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo to enable him mortgage the interest of Ndigbo during the 2011 presidential elections.’
Jonathan ‘ll quit 2015 – Uwechue
Responding to the attacks in a 26-minute phone chat with Vanguard, Uwechue said Ohanaeze’s adoption of Jonathan was in the best interest of Igbo and the country. He said that legally, Jonathan would quit in 2015 to make way for another zone, expectedly the South-East.
On the allegation that he unilaterally endorsed Jonathan without consultation, the reason he was the sole signatory of the advertorial, the former ambassador said: “It is absolute rubbish. The advertorial was not the first statement that Ohanaeze was issuing.
When late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was ill and in Saudi Arabia, we issued a statement that Jonathan should be sworn-in as acting president. Ralph Uwechue signed the statement. We also issued another statement before the last one and Ralph Uwechue signed all.’
Ohanaeze not consulted over agreement with North
Uwechue said those complaining against Ohanaeze’s decision were Igbo leaders, who had signed an agreement with some Northerners without consulting Ndigbo or Ohanaeze. ‘Some people went to sign an agreement with the North for the Igbo to produce president in 2015 without consulting Ndigbo and Ohanaeze.
The entire Ohanaeze executive is one and united on this issue. We had extensive consultations for over five-and-a half months. The Ijaw National Congress, INC contacted Ohanaeze at a stage, to back Jonathan and we told them we had not taken a decision.
At the Imeobi meeting of August 14, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu tried to make a suggestion that we should adopt Jonathan and I told him ‘no’ until after our consultation. We consulted Igbos in the Diaspora. We consulted the clergy. October 13 and 14 was the final meeting.
We spent two days with traditional rulers and they gave us total support on Jonathan. Former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim and Prof. Anya O. Anya of Ndigbo Lagos addressed the traditional rulers. So, we came out with the statement on October 15. Only a few people who want to mortgage Ndigbo to the North are protesting.
‘We support zoning but it has to be among the six geo-political zones not on the basis of North and South. Zoning of offices for sometime now has been based on the six zones. When Yar’Adua was elected President, Senator David Mark was elected Senate President, so the three arms of government went to the North.
But Yar’Adua was elected because he came from North-West while Mark emerged because he is from North-Central. That was why they held the two arms of government. It is ridiculous when it comes to the presidency, you say ‘North and South’ but for other offices you say ‘six zones.’
On permutation that the South-East might end up producing the president in 2027, the Ohanaeze leader said it could not be so. Reason: ‘We have consulted lawyers on this matter.
Nobody can be sworn-in more than twice. Jonathan cannot go for eight years. He was elected along with Yar’Adua and has been sworn-in based on that election following Yar’Adua’s death. So Jonathan cannot go for eight years. Ndigbo are sure that Jonathan’s transition point is 2015. Currently, he is the only person we are sure of, any other person can do eight years.
‘Our point is that after Jonathan, South-East will be the only zone left out. Ndigbo should anchor their 2015 presidential ambition on something that is certain. You can’t promise what you don’t have.
Our position is based on equity and fairness to all and it is in the best interest of Ndigbo. People are trying to attack me personally instead of puncturing our argument. But I am not disturbed because we are getting congratulatory messages from Igbo leaders, Bishops and stakeholders over our decision.’
On allegations that he was nursing hopes of elongating his two-year tenure that ought to end next month, Uwechue said the consensus among Igbo leaders and groups was for excos of the Igbo umbrella body to have three-year renewable tenure, to be effective.
Consequently, he said that subject to the ratification of the Imeobi (inner caucus), his tenure would end in 2012.
His words: ‘Ohanaeze Ndigbo is an organisation that is dynamic. At the moment, the president-general and the executive committee have a two-year tenure but since the time of Prof Joe Irukwu six years ago, it had been pointed out that no executive can do anything worthwhile in two years.
Three or four-year tenure was suggested. So the Dr Dozie Ikedife exco set up a constitution review committee headed by Prof Amucheazi, which reviewed the tenure situation and recommended a three-year renewable tenure making six years. Ikedife did not act on it until he left office.
“Now, Ndigbo are saying that the two-year thing should no longer be tolerated, a minimum of three years is what can help and that the new exco should have an extension of two years.
The matter was raised at the Imeobi meeting of August 14 and 17 speakers on the issue, including written representations from Ndigbo in the Diaspora – United Kingdom, Korea, United States and South Korea, said a minimum of three years is required and the current exco can have extension of two years. Only Ikedife opposed the decision.”
So, the position is that the current exco did not ask for tenure extension”.
‘There is the question of rotation in Ohanaeze leadership. The next state after Anioma is Ebonyi and Ebonyi representatives said they will prefer four years to two years. In the time of Igbo State Union led by Chief Zaccheus Obi, the father of Senator Onyeabor Obi, there was no time limit.
The way it is, if you had an Ohanaeze president-general, who is strong, outsiders will say ‘it is only two years’ and there will continue to be stooges in Igboland. So there has been a build-up of demands and if the Imeobi sanctions it, as it is being pressured, then our tenure will end in 2012,” he said.