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Bottlenecks ahead of January 10 Ohanaeze election

By  Lawrence Njoku, Southeast Bureau Chief
08 January 2021   |   4:20 am
If there is anything that should bother President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo and Ndigbo at large at the moment, it is how to wriggle out of the logjam that has enveloped the national election...

[FILES] John Nwodo, President General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo

If there is anything that should bother President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo and Ndigbo at large at the moment, it is how to wriggle out of the logjam that has enveloped the national election of the organisation billed for January 10, at Owerri, Imo state.

Indeed, several developments since the idea of the election was mooted suggest that the outgoing administration of Nwodo may have boxed itself into an unfriendly corner as well as exposed its inability to conduct a successful exercise that should enthrone a successor in Ohanaeze this year.

The sound bites everywhere in Igboland indicate uncertainty over the January 10 date, which is also the exit date for the administration of Chief Nwodo. In just a few days to the election, a parallel Ohanaeze Ndigbo has emerged with an electoral committee different from the one constituted by the Nwodo-led executive some weeks ago.

In the same vein, another group of Igbo leaders are rooting for a Caretaker Committee to run the affairs of the organisation, adding that while the period of the exercise lasts, it would serve as opportunity for Ndigbo to put their house in order. They are equally hinting that the ravaging Covid-19 disease would make it difficult for an acceptable election to be held for Ohanaeze.

There are those still opposed to the idea of holding Ohanaeze election in Owerri, Imo state, following the purported interest of the state government in one of the candidates for the position of the president general of the union. Sources have indicated that the near-crisis situation which Ndigbo have found themselves over Ohanaeze forthcoming election is a clear pointer that all is not well within the four years Chief Nwodo led the socio-cultural group.

A few days after the December 20 Ime-Ob Ohanaeze Ndigbo meeting that adopted the 40-man electoral committee, headed by Chief Gary Igariwey from Ebonyi state, to conduct the election, where they also resolved Owerri, Imo State, as venue of the election, another group of Ndigbo, led by a former Secretary General of Ohanaeze, Uche Okwukwu, met and raised a parallel committee for the conduct of same election.

Okwukwu’s group appointed Chief Richard Ozobu from Enugu State to head the electoral committee with 21 other members. Okwukwu, whose tenure as Secretary of Ohanaeze was cut short following the controversial endorsement of Abubakar Atiku and Peter Obi as consensus presidential candidate of Ndigbo in the 2019 general elections, insisted that he remained the “secretary general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo” and that it was in his place therefore to summon an Ime-Obi meeting.

In a communiqué after the parallel electoral committee was set up, the Okwukwu-led group said the meeting of the apex Igbo organisation where Chief Gary Igariwey’s election committee was set up during an Ime-Obi meeting was null and void.

Okwukwu alleged that “unauthorised people not mandated by the Ohananeze constitution have hijacked the electoral process for the purpose of imposing their preferred president general.

“Imposition of a candidate for president general is illegal, undemocratic and unacceptable. The electoral timetable, as pursed by the Nwodo–led Ohanaeze is deliberately delayed to rob candidates of any chance of campaigning before delegates.

“The same electoral process is deliberately implemented in breach of Covid—19 protocols. Diaspora delegates, for instance, cannot come home to vote on account of the lockdown,” adding that the electoral committee nominated by his group was the only one entitled to conduct the election.

Ozobu stated that he remained the authentic chairman of the committee saddled with the responsibilities to organise elections for new officials of Ohaneze from the local government to the national levels. He alleged that the Igariwey-led committee was illegal, explaining that it was not established in line with the constitution governing the activities of Ohanaeze.

He said: “My electoral committee is authentic because it was set up in accordance with the constitution of Ohanaeze, following a meeting called by the secretary-general. The president-general and the secretary-general are the only two officials that can summon the meeting of Ohanaeze Ime-Obi, general assembly or the council of elders.

“The president can summon the meeting through the secretary-general. It is stated black and white in the constitution. So, any meeting that is not summoned directly by the secretary-general is inconsequential. So, on December 31, I received a circular to the meeting in Owerri.

“It was summoned by the secretary-general and there a committee was raised for this election and I was made the chairman. Other issues were also handled at that meeting. We are talking about a major election and there are provisions in the constitution on how these things should be done.”

What is not certain is how the Okwukwu group intends to realise the conduct of Ohanaeze Ndigbo election. This is because, apart from Ime-Obi Ohanaeze ratifying his expulsion from the group last year, he has not been able to recover his lost position nor contest same in court anywhere. Ohanaeze has functioned through an acting secretary general since he was removed.

But Okwukwu insisted that nothing was amiss with his position as secretary general in Ohanaeze, stressing that anyone that holds contrary view should consult Article 21 of the Ohaneze constitution.

He said: “Ask those saying I have been suspended to read out Article 21 of the constitution. Ask them who suspended me and where and when I was suspended. The article says only the general assembly can remove the secretary-general not Ime-Obi. If you remove him, you must replace him with somebody from his state.

“If they said I have been removed, did they replace me with someone from Rivers State? Was I removed by the General Assembly? You purportedly claim I was removed by Ime-Obi, can Ime-Obi remove an officer? They have lost the case. We are going ahead with our election.

“So, everything they did was illegal. Why are they panicking? Let them conduct their own election if they think they are right. I don’t want to comment on Igariwey because he was a former president-general. By my training I don’t make comments on leaders. But the only thing I know is that he knows he is presiding over an illegal institution that cannot stand the test of time.”

WHILE the drums of discontent over the election is nearing fever pitch, a coalition of Igbo groups, under the aegis of Global Igbo Leaders, after holding an emergency Zoom meeting on Sunday, January 3, 2021, recommended the postponement of the election and constitution of a caretaker committee to run the affairs of Ohanaeze Ndigbo.

According to the group; “This is in view of the health hazards associated with Covid-19 and the limitation of lockdown measures, the confusion generated by the duplicity of outgoing Ohanaeze Ndigbo and their allies, and pursuant to the desire of Ndi Igbo to maintain unity in Ohanaeze and Igbo nation.

“As a result, we therefore recommend that a properly constituted Ohanaeze Ndigbo Caretaker Committee be established to run the affairs of Ohanaeze Ndigbo from January 10, 2021. The Ohanaeze Ndigbo Caretaker Committee must be charged with full executive powers and must not include any of the outgoing national, state, local executives as member.

“The caretaker committee to serve for a maximum of three months and renewable for a further three months should it become necessary due to Covid-19 lockdown measures, and within which time it must in turn constitute an electoral committee to be ratified by Ime-Obi Ohanaeze Ndigbo in order to conduct a safe, free, fair, and credible elections of the national, state and local government executives of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. Furthermore, and in view of the Covid-19 potential implications, an electronic voting system is to be considered for implementation during the first three months period of the tenure of the caretaker committee.

“We urge the caretaker committee and the electoral committee, when constituted, to take into account the resolutions and recommendations of the Global Igbo Leaders, and those of other pan-Igbo organisations, the youths organisations and concerned Igbo individuals as well.”

The resolution of the group was signed by Prof. Timothy Uzodinma Nwala for Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF) Nigeria; Prof. Anthony Ejiofor and Dr. Festus Okere for World Igbo Congress (WIC); Dr. Nwachukwu Anakwenze, Chief. Christian Onuorah and Chief Oliver Nwankwor for Igbo World Assembly (IWA) Worldwide and Prof Chika Moore, and Ngozi Odumuko for Nzuko Umunna (U.S. and Nigeria).
Others are Ben Allison for Ndi Igbo Canada; Luke Nwannunu for Ekwe Nche (U.S.), Austin Okeke Mazi Obi Okoli for Igbo Board of Deputies, Alex Coker Ezeamakam for Council of Igbo Communities (U.K.), Ogbuefi Delly Ajufo for Aka Ikenga Nigeria, Mazi Obi Okoli for Council of Igbo Leaders (U.K.), Chief Oliver Nwankwor and Alex Coker Ezeamakam for European Igbo Communities (EIC) Europe and Iyom Josephine Anenih and Mrs, Regina Amadi for Nkata ndi Iyom Igbo (Nigeria and U.K.), among others.
The position of the group was not different from that held by an elder statesman, Ichie Uma Eleazu, who suggested an interim administration to be led by Igariwey, while Ozobu heads the electoral committee as constituted by the extraordinary Ime-Obi. Eleazu suggested that the local and state delegates’ elections should be held by mid February 2021, while the general elections should be held on March 10 and installation of new executive at all levels on March 15, 2021.
Nonetheless, the Igariwey-led electoral committee appears determined. Last week it released an election timetable for the commencement of the process from the local government from Wednesday, January 6, 2021, followed by that of the state offices for Friday, January 8 in all states of the Southeast, Rivers and Delta and national election for Sunday, January 10, 2021 in Owerri.
The committee said every Igbo adult was free to contest, adding that to be eligible to contest, such contestant must have completed and submitted approved nomination forms and have been cleared by the screening subcommittee before the elections.

The urgency with which the Igariwey committee is approaching the elections at the local, states and national levels to be concluded in a space of five days has elicited wild speculations in some quarters, with many saying there was “secrecy attached to it”. Those who hold this view insist that the electoral process lacks basic information, including list of the general assembly members that should vote in the elections, which they say is a recipe for confusion and the destruction of Ohanaeze.

Indeed, those familiar with the politics of Ohanaeze Ndigbo readily agree that the current fuss is a tussle between political power and control on one hand and the will of the people to take what rightly belongs to them. A cursory look at the contestants for the post of president general reveal that some of them have grassroots Igbo support, as they have overtime proven to be true Igbo sons.

A source said; “These are the ones they think are not controllable. Delegations have been sent to them to back down on their ambition to no avail. The plot did not start today. It started with the outgoing executive putting forward a draft constitution to amend the age limit of president general to between 50- 70 years, knowing that it will exclude certain persons. When that failed, they went into meetings to start adopting consensus candidates.”

But one of the presidential candidates told The Guardian: “I must contest the election, even if the venue is in the bedroom of the governor. We are all indigenes of Imo state and we cannot run away from our place of birth. You cannot jump into the ring without permission”.As it is, all eyes are on Ndigbo and what Sunday, January 10 portends.