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Atiku/Obi: An endorsement by Ohanaeze Ndigbo mired in controversy 

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[FILE PHOTO] Former Anambra State governor Peter Obi, former Nigerian vice president and the presidential candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party Atiku Abubakar and the director-general of his campaign organisation and former governor of Ogun State Gbenga Daniel on Friday, October 12, 2018.


The apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo has always prided itself as “protecting Igbo interests.” And it is in the pursuit of these “interests” that it has always been mired in controversies. On several occasions, Ohanaeze either faced leadership crisis or was at the centre of controversy over decisions bordering on Ndigbo’s interests.

Thus, the current brouhaha over endorsement of the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) Presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and his running mate, Mr. Peter Obi by Ohanaeze Ndigbo last Thursday is not new. Indeed, what could have been new is if the endorsement had occurred smoothly without any dissenting voice within Igboland.

Ohanaeze Ndigbo’s endorsement of politicians dates back to 1979, when some members of the group supported the late Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and his running, the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme. The development was against the aspiration of the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who was also running for presidency in the rival Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP). The crisis that the action brought in its trail led many, especially Igbo bigwigs in NPP, to jettison Ohanaeze, which became comatose for some time.

In 2002, Ohanaeze canvassed support for President Olusegun Obasanjo’s third term agenda at a general meeting held in Abakaliki. All hell was let loose, as the backlash of that failed plot was the instant break up of the apex Igbo body into factions.In the 2011 and 2015 general elections, Ohanaeze endorsed and indeed adopted former President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in what the then leadership termed “effort to give equal sense of belonging to all parts of the country.”

As the 2019 general elections approach, Imeobi Ohanaeze (apex decision making organ) met in Enugu last Thursday and endorsed the joint presidential ticket of Atiku/Obi. A communiqué from the meeting signed by the President General, Nnia Nwodo said Atiku’s serious commitment to restructuring the country if elected president, and the nomination of Obi (a son of the soil) as the running mate were some of the reasons that prompted the endorsement.

Others include what Nwodo tagged “complete neglect of Ndigbo in the scheme of things in President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.” He said never had the plight and pains of Ndigbo been heightened in the country as now. Buttressing Ohanaeze’s stance in a live radio broadcast later, Nwodo insisted that the coming presidential election would be fought like a war to liberate Ndigbo from stagnation and position them at the centre of affairs in the country. He revealed that should restructuring be achieved, it would end the agitation for self-determination, among others.

But no sooner was the content of the meeting revealed than a sharp division hit Igboland. While many felt Imeobi’s decision was in sync with the thinking of Ndigbo in the coming presidential election, others said it was not in Igbo’s interests. There are others who also believe that President Muhammadu Buhari and not Atiku should have got the endorsement.

Meanwhile, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) are calling on Igbos to boycott the presidential election.Incidentally, Ohanaeze’s action coincided with President Buhari’s visit to Anambra and Enugu States, where he went to canvass for Ndigbo’s votes in the coming elections. He had barely left the zone when news filtered in that Ndigbo prefer his opponent.

Some Igbo leaders in the All Progressives Congress (APC) had summoned a midnight press briefing to register their displeasure over the development, and advanced reasons why people of the zone should not abide by it.At the briefing were the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, the Minister of Science and Technology, Chief Ogbonnaya Onu, Minister of Labour, Senator Chris Ngige, former Senate President, Chief Ken Nnamani, former governor of Enugu State, Mr. Sullivan Chime, the Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria, Mr. Osita Okechukwu, Gen. J.O.J Okoloagu (Rtd.) and Prince Richard Ozobu.
 
Aside their claims that over 90 percent of the members of Imeobi were not at the meeting, they equally said the power to carry out such endorsement was vested on the Ohanaeze General Assembly and not the Imeobi. They said the meeting was a mischief; having held same time President Buhari was attending functions in Igbo land. Ngige told the media that the President-General of Ohanaeze, Chief John Nnia Nwodo had earlier agreed to move the meeting to 7p.m, wondering why it was later held at 4p.m and a decision hurriedly taken.
 
He said: “All of them that met are Ohanaeze PDP. So, it is now Ohanaeze PDP versus Ohanaeze APC. They have factionalised Ohanaeze. I want to say clearly that endorsement has never favoured us. They endorsed Falaye and he failed. They endorsed third term; it also failed. They endorsed Jonathan he lost. We are not going to continue on this trajectory. We are going to dig up our arsenal and all we need to fight this.”
 
Foreign Affairs Minister, Onyeama said the development would have consequences in future. He said: “Mr. President was visiting two Igbo States, where he commissioned projects, including the Mausoleum of the great Zik of Africa. So, it was inappropriate to hold a meeting of Ohanaeze to discuss such a weighty issue on whom to endorse. This is not decent for the Igbos.”Science and Technology Minister, Onu lamented that he was rushing to attend the meeting only to be informed that it ended over an hour ago, even before the 7.m scheduled.

 
“There was no reason for the President-General of Ohanaeze to be informed of President Buhari’s visit and he still went ahead to hold that meeting. We must be inclusive in anything we do,” he noted.
 
Chief Nnamani said Ohanaeze never took into consideration that sons and daughters of Igbo land belong to different political parties.He said: “One of the things Ohanaeze came up with is that our son, Peter Obi was picked as the number two in PDP. It does not make sense, as there are people of Igbo extraction angling to be number one, but those guys endorsed number two.
 
“On the restructuring they talked about, the APC as a party, which I belong, set up a committee and it endorsed restructuring. But let me say clearly that anybody telling you he will restructure, be it the President, Senate President or the Chief Justice of Nigeria, no one person can restructure. It is just a fallacy. It will take the National Assembly and a constitutional amendment involving the state Houses of Assembly too.
 
“So, those of us in APC find it totally repugnant. It is not in the interest of Igbos. Ohanaeze should not dabble into politics at all. If they want to register Ohanaeze as a political party, let them do so, after which those that are not interested will leave.”

Enters Anambra Governor Willie Obiano
ONE governor who has not hidden his rage since that meeting held is Obiano. He was said to have been so infuriated that the endorsement was perfected on a day the Owelle of Onitsha, the late Azikiwe was being honoured by the Federal Government with the commissioning of his Mausoleum in Onitsha.  Obiano also reportedly sent his Secretary to State government and Commissioner for Information to the meeting, but were said to have missed the event.

The governor raised the ante when he allegedly threw caution to the wind, picked his phone and called Nwodo, describing him in foul language. Nwodo, who recounted the shocking encounter, said he decided to go public over the matter, “so that Igbos would know about it.”One of his aides confirmed to The Guardian that Obiano really “insulted the President General by the use of that word.”

He said: “I don’t know why the Anambra governor will take a matter involving Ndigbo so personal to the extent of disparaging the President General in the public. But we shall see whether the course he has decided to take will lead him anywhere.But in their separate discussions with The Guardian, both Anambra State Commissioner for Information, Mr. C. Don Adinuba and Chief Press Secretary to Governor Obiano, Mr. James Eze doubted that their boss used those words attributed to him.

Crisis Claims First Victim
ON Thursday, the Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Uche Okwukwu was suspended from office by the National Executive Committee (NEC). Okwukwu’s suspension followed allegations that he paraded the organisation in a manner that didn’t only ridicule it, but was also dangerous to the wellbeing of Ndigbo. It was gathered that Okwukwu, who was present at the Imeobi meeting when the endorsement occurred, had gone to the media to deny that such took place in Ohanaeze.

Okwukwu, who addressed Journalists in Awka said: “The Ohanaeze Ndigbo never held a meeting of the Ime-Obi where we endorsed any candidate for the 2019 presidential election.“Secondly, if we organise the Ime-Obi meeting, we inform members beforehand, and in the meeting, we will also set up a communiqué committee that drafts the resolutions or communiqué arising from the meeting, which will be presented before the general house for ratification. No such thing was done and anybody purporting to have had any Ime-Obi meeting where Alhaji Atiku Abubakar was endorsed as our Presidential candidate is on his own.”
 
The NEC said his reactions were “false representations of decisions of meetings of the NEC and the Ime-Obi Ohanaeze,” adding that he had arrogated to himself the power of the organs of Ohanaeze by uttering positions purportedly taken by these organs, which are patently and obviously false.”
However, Okwukwu has insisted that he remains the Secretary General of Ohanaeze, stressing that under Article 14 of its Constitution, NEC lacked powers to suspend an elected official.

“Nwodo lacked powers to convene a meeting. Only the Secretary General has powers to convene meetings of Ohanaeze. I did not sign any communiqué adopting Atiku. Ime-Obi does not have the power to endorse him. Let him show evidence of the communiqué drafting committee. He is just on rampage,” he said.

The IPOB Challenge
WHILE the rest of Igbos are “fighting” over the endorsement of Atiku/Obi by Ohanaeze, a major challenge in the zone is the campaign now being mounted by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) asking “Biafrans to stay away from the February 16 Presidential election of the country.”The group said February 16 is the day it would conduct a referendum to determine Biafra people’s position in the Nigerian project.

“The test will be side by side with Nigeria Presidential election to examine how many people boycotted the forthcoming presidential election. On the format of the referendum, the planned boycott of the forthcoming presidential election would be a barometre to measure those who want Biafra and those who want to remain in Nigeria. The success of the sit-at-home order during the presidential poll in Biafra land will be a confirmation that Biafra is no longer under the bondage of one Nigeria,” Emma Powerful, the group’s Media and Publicity Secretary said in a statement.

A political analyst, Jude Ozor, said the contention over the endorsement would have amounted to nothing, should the people abide by IPOB’s call, adding, “What we should be thinking at the moment is how to mobilise our people to vote.”He continued: “The truth is that there is no way you will not expect this level of disagreement over endorsement, when majority of our Southeast leaders are in different political parties. What APC was in 2015 in Igboland is not what the party is presently. It has captured some notable Igbo leaders, and you will be shooting yourself in the leg if you think you can take any decision on any matter without appropriate consultation and some sort of consensus.”


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