By Clifford Ndujihe, Deputy Politics Editor
With a flurry of endorsements by the Ime-Obi (Inner Caucus), Ohanaeze General Assembly, Ohanaeze Youth Council, OYC and Aka-Ikenga, the Amb. Raph Uwechue-led National Executive Committee of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, will enjoy a two-year term extension.
In other words, their term of office will no longer terminate this month. It will expire in December 2012, seven months after a new government would have been sworn-in.
However, that is not where the matter ends. In fact, the move is eliciting fresh discordant tunes that could put Ohanaeze on the cliff-hanger, if improperly handled.
Claiming that the tenure extension was brokered in breach of laid down rules and that some stakeholders were deliberately sidelined in order to push through the agenda, some Igbo leaders, at the weekend, threatened to return to the law courts over the issue.
The development is coming as the dusts raised by Ohanaeze’s endorsement of President Goodluck Jonathan for the 2011 polls were yet to settle and just as some groups urged Ndigbo to anchor their support for any presidential flagbearer on measurable programmes to address the challenges of the Igbos.
How tenure extension was brokered
In a chat with Vanguard penultimate week, Uwechue denied nursing tenure extension ambition, saying that the move was a collective one.
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 Elo 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 State 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.’
Ime-Obi, Aka-Ikenga, OYC endorse Uwechue
Indeed, the Ime-Obi, at its meeting of October 30, endorsed the two-year term extension. The decision was conveyed in a five-paragraph statement by Chief Eddie Onuoha (acting secretary general) and Prince Ralph Ndigwe (national publicity secretary) at the weekend. It was the first Ohanaeze statement or communique that Uwechue did not sign since they came on board in January 2009. The communique also endorsed Ohanaeze’s endorsement of Jonathan to proceed to the next level.
As things happened at a dizzying pace, the Igbo intellectual think-tank, Aka-Ikenga, in a statement by Dr. Sylvan Ebigwei (president-general) and Ferdinand Agu (chairman, political and strategy committee), also backed Ohanaeze’s endorsement of Jonathan and passed vote of confidence in Uwechue.
Aka-Ikenga, however, decried the treatment meted to leaders of Igbo Political Forum, IPF recently in Owerri when they were denied use of Concord Hotel for a meeting, forcing them to meet under the blazing sun.
Relatedly, the Ohanaeze Youth Council, OYC held a convention in Owerri, the Imo State Capital, weekend and elected her excos. Delegates and observers from the seven states that presently comprise the Ohanaeze States in the following order; Abia, Anambra, Delta, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Rivers States reportedly attended the gathering.
In a statement by Chilos Godsent (chairman, convention committee) and Nnamdi Ikonwa (secretary, convention committee), the OYC said, “the convention passed a vote of confidence on the leadership of Chief Ralph Uwaeche led Ohanaeze Ndigbo and pledged its commitment to defend the collective interests and cause of the Igbo race anywhere in the globe.”
It also among others called on the Goodluck Jonathan-led Federal Government of Nigeria to immediately grant amnesty to all the militant groups operating in the South_East region of Nigeria.
Among those elected as OYC excos were Comrade Oji Francis (President), Comrade Ekeji Chizaram (Vice President), Uzochukwu Chukwuebuka (Secretary General), Orjika Chidi Cletus (Financial Secretary), Comrade Henry Anyanwu (Treasurer), Comrade Ukeje C. Festus (Publicity Secretary), and Barr. Basil Obiora Agwigwo (Legal Adviser)
In like manner, the General Assembly of the Ohanaeze met on November 6 in Enugu and stamped two extra years for the exco as well as the earlier endorsement for Jonathan. The communique was also signed by Onuoha and Ndigwe.
The communique read in part: “In keeping with the Constitution of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, delegates from all the five South_East States,as well as those from Delta (Anioma) and Rivers States were duly accredited.
The President_Generalof Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Amb. Raph Uwechue OFR, presented a report on the activities of the body, which included current political developments in Nigeria, Creation of States, demand for equity in the States per zone, state of security in southeast among others.
“After deliberations on the report of the President_General, and consideration of the three Imeobi memos presented by the Secretary_General, the General Assembly resolved as follows: In accordance with article 29 of the Ohanaeze Constitution, that amendments should be made, to the constitution to provide that the national and state offices be a one term of four years and that the current Executive Committee shall remain in office till December 2012 as approved by Imeobi on 30th October 2010.
“Ratified Ohanaeze Ndigbo’s support for the Presidential bid of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan in 2011 election, as approved by Imeobi on 30th October2010.”
However, the general assembly thumbed down the election of the OYC excos in spite of the latter’s endorsement of Uwechue and his team.
It said: On the purported election of Ohanaeze Youth Council held at Owerri on 31st October 2010, the General Assembly disapproved the purported election of the so called Youth Council. The General Assembly emphasized that the Youth Council is an organ of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and any election into that organ must receive the approval of the national Executive Committee (NEC) of Ohanaeze Ndigbo.”
Stakeholders ‘re sidelined – Ikokwu
Kicking against the tenure elongation, a member of Ohanaeze’s Imeobi and Second Republic Politician, Chief Guy Ikokwu said that some long-standing members of Ohanaeze were shut out of the meeting to pave way for the term extension
“The two- year tenure of the Ohanaeze Executive had been interpreted by the Attorney General of the Igbo states, the body of Bishops, and finally by the Forum of the South East Governors. It was therefore taken as settled when Dr. Dozie Ikedife handed over to Uwechue from Delta, who had never held any Ohanaeze office in the past, but was considered to have the pedigree to lead the body.
The Uwechue Ohanaeze administration started on a high note of optimism and goodwill, but it seems that his period of tutelage took too long since he was not familiar with the inner workings and background of Ohanaeze undertakings in the past and seemed unwilling to learn from the experience of others in his team.
For more than one year Ohanaeze had remained almost comatose under his watch. He soon began to sideline other more experienced members of his team and would not call meetings of the organs of Ohanaeze, not to talk of sub committees on different subjects,” he said.
He outlined how the Ohanaeze constitution could be amended, saying: “Any member of Ohanaeze may propose an amendment to Ime_Obi. The proposed amendment, if adopted by Ime_Obi, shall thereafter be tabled by the Secretary_General before the General Assembly, and shall become effective and operative if it is passed by not less than two_thirds majority of the total membership of the General Assembly.”
Contending that the General Assembly should be about 370 delegates, Ikokwu said proper accreditation of organs of Ohanaeze was not had because Uwechue’s administration had not constituted them.
He challenged Uwechue to disclose how the General Assembly members were recognized and accredited because “many of us who are legitimate members had no invitations to the recent Ime_Obi meeting; talk less of the so_called General Assembly!”
The politician, who is in support of Jonathan’s presidential aspiration, faulted the way Uwechue went about it.
“ It has and should be emphasized that the aspiration of President Jonathan to emerge as PDP flag bearer is not and ought not be the concern and agenda of the Ohanaeze at this time ahead of the internal democratic exercise of the PDP as a party. Political associations and lobby groups should be at liberty to canvass for their preferences before the PDP exercise.
For Ohanaeze, the endorsement unilaterally by President Uwechue was premature. Ohanaeze may indicate what the core Igbo interests in the forthcoming elections are for the enlightenment of Igbo polity. It is only when most of the big parties including the PDP have chosen their flag bearers that Ohanaeze can put them on an imaginary scale to see which of them will enhance our Igbo interests in the polity.
Clearly President Uwechue has put the cart before the horse, which explains why he is having difficulties. To make matters worse he has added the distraction of illegal Tenure Extension to the Ohanaeze discomfiture.
He should toe the path of honour by having an election for a new executive this November and to handover in January 2011,” he said.
If Uwechue failed to conduct an election and handover to a new exco headed by a rotational President from Ebonyi State, Ikokwu said the Ohanaeze leader would be beckoning a new constitutional crisis in Ohanaeze and “asking for trouble, resistance and litigation.”
2011 polls behind looming crisis – Uko
Commenting on the issues, Evang. Elliot Uko, President of Igbo Youths Movement, IYM, linked the crisis to posturing for 2011 and support for different presidential aspirants.
He disagreed with the mood, tempo and pace of the political climate, saying that “our politicians are not addressing issues of governance, development and welfare of the citizens. Everyday we are inundated with talk of ‘where the president should come from.”
According to him, zoning or no zoning was not important to the average Nigerians. “Zoning is purely an elitist argument which has nothing to do with the masses of this great country. The issues that affect Nigerians are issues of poverty, decayed infrastructures, unemployment, ethnic bigotry, insecurity, religious intolerance corruption and refusal to restructure our polity along the lines of true federalism.”
He continued: “We should be talking about credible elections and level playing field for all candidates not which zone should or should not produce the president. Here in the South-East, the people are almost losing hope in Nigeria. The roads of the South-East are the worst in the country, unemployment rate is probably the highest in the world.