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How governors influenced the outcome of Ohanaeze Ndigbo election, by Uwazurike

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Uwazurike

Former President of Igbo think tank group, Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, in this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO, speaks on the recently concluded national election of apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo. Uwazurike, who contested for the position of president-general but withdrew from the race just before voting started, explains in details how the Ambassador George Obiozor-led executive emerged, noting that the dissenting voices trailing the election were expected.

You were one of those that contested for the position of president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo at its recent election. What was your impression of the exercise?
Well, my impression is that of a candidate who went there to win. But since the delegates did not really appear until the morning on the election day, it was virtually impossible for me to talk to them. So, when I read the handwriting on the wall, just before the voting, I had to announce my withdrawal. There was no way I could go for an election without reaching the delegates, without seeing them. In other words, you must campaign among the delegates but that was not possible. So, I had to withdraw.

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My impression of what happened is that it was an election. In other words, if you have the means of reaching the delegates, go ahead; if you don’t have the means, you do the rightful thing. Somebody has won; somebody has lost. So, we have a brand new Ohanaeze Ndigbo president-general who has been sworn in. The former president handed over and the people there expressed their delight. So, for me, that is a closure to my contesting election in Ohanaeze.

Your tone suggests that there were some underhand dealings in the build up to the election. Was that the case?
No, no, no… Not to my knowledge. You know that underhand dealings are never done in the open. So, they can’t call me and say ‘come and see what we are doing.’ So, if there was an underhand dealing, nobody told me about it and if they had told me I wouldn’t have even made sense out of it. An election venue is always rowdy and if I am a candidate, I won’t go in person. I have to delegate. If you have the resources, you will have a lot of people to work with. Then the next thing is the management of the situation.

So, I’m not aware of any underhand dealing. But I know that governors had their choices. And being an Option A4 election, if a governor is queuing up on one side, who are you to go and queue on the other side. That actually describes what happened.

Are you lending credence to the allegation in some quarters that the governors have hijacked the structure of the organisation?
No, no, no… I won’t do that because a new regime has just started in Ohanaeze. The taste of the pudding is in the eating. Some governors are PDP members; some governors are APC members. So, if the new president of Ohanaeze attacks the president, the APC people will react; if he supports the president, the PDP people will react. But for a president to succeed, he must be independent minded. So, I have no fear at all for Ohanaeze.

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But some people insist that the new leadership of Ohanaeze was imposed by the ‘powers that be’ even outside Igboland. How would you respond to such claims?
I don’t know about that because I was not there to see that happen. But as far as I know, every governor had a choice being a member of Ime Obi and being a member of Ohanaeze. They all had their preferences. So, if their people decided to go along with their preferences, so be it. I know that for a state like Delta, their governor didn’t come. Some people came from there and there was a strong contest for the position of national vice chairman. So, it was not generally universal that once a governor pointed to one corner everybody must go there. There were dissenting people. But as I said, if a governor goes to one side, it takes a lot of courage to go to the other side.

You talked about your inability to reach the delegates ahead of the election date. Why wasn’t it possible?
One, to have a large network of managers for an election, you must have the resources, because in the first place a man cannot leave what he is doing for a living to come and assist you. If he does that, you have to transport him; you have to put him in a hotel and take care of him. It requires a lot. All the arrangements we had before collapsed by Saturday morning because a new Ohanaeze executive had come up in every state.

Are you saying that money played a major role to determine the outcome of the election?
Naturally, you can’t contest election without funds; that is the first basic rule. So, if the funds are not there, just forget it. I am not just talking about the funds for buying of forms and so on. No! You need a lot of money to contest an election.

Even a local election like Ohanaeze…
(Cuts in) Ohanaeze election was not a local election. We had delegates from South Africa, Europe and the United States. They were all there. I remember I shared the same hotel with the delegates from South Africa. So, it was not a case of just coming in and voting. No! It was a case of you having the funds and managing your affairs through your men; and if you don’t have them, then of course you have a problem.

So you voluntarily stepped down?
Oh yes, I did. The moment it became obvious that voting was going to be by Option A4 and I knew I had not reached many delegates, it was meaningless going on. As we say in our local parlance, if you are in a cul-de-sac, you decide what to do otherwise you remain there.

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After the election, there are noticeable cracks on the walls of Ohanaeze with the emergence of different factions. What is your take on that?
Well, in Latin we say ‘Tot homines, Tot sentencia’. In English it means there are as many opinions as there are men. Now, Ohanaeze is not a walk over organisation. It has always been contentious in its activities. When Chief Gary Igariwey was president, you remember a man got up one day and declared himself the new president general of Ohanaeze; that he had sacked the existing president. And many people followed him. He would sit in his hotel and decide that Ohanaeze met last night and he had a news line to talk. Of course, when Nnia Nwodo appeared, there was also the same kind of contention. After two years, the secretary general was sacked but he still kept on pretending to be a secretary general. Then of course you go to what happened in Anambra. A businessman went and registered the name Ohanaeze Ndigbo General Assembly and said he was the owner of Ohanaeze; that we were impersonating him. Meanwhile, he just did his own registration some months ago.

So, there are things that happen and you will know that people don’t show interest in an organisation that has no effect. Ohanaeze is a giant organsiation. Therefore, there are so many people seeking to have a bite at it. And Ohanaeze will live up to it. Any dissenting voice should simply come around. There is always a General Assembly, you can go there; there is always an Ime Obi, if you are a member you go there. So, the assault on the institution known as Ohanaeze is not unexpected. People do that from time to time. I can even predict that in less than two years from now, somebody will rise up and announce that he is the new boss of Ohanaeze and that he has sacked the existing one with a lot of noise.

But isn’t the emergence of factions within the organisation a sign of disunity. Do you really think Ohanaeze is at peace presently?
No, no, no… Ohanaeze will always be Ohanaeze. There will always be dissenting voices, but how you manage it is what matters most. So, it is for the new president to manage all those dissenting voices, reach out to all those who contested or did not contest, those who walked away. He has a way. He is a diplomat; he knows what to do.

Aside from initiating reconciliatory moves, which other areas do you think the new executive should focus on?
Well, he has to chart his own course because as the president, he has to try and step into the mighty shoes of Nnia Nwodo; mighty because very few people can ever fill that shoe. But as it is today, the president is Ambassador Obiozor; he has to carve his name in gold more by his actions than inactions. Our people are listening; they are waiting to hear which way he wants us to go. After four years, another person will step in from Rivers State. But as it is today, the sky is his limit. Let him take off; let’s give him a chance to perform.
The immediate past president general was at the forefront of the push for the emergence of a Nigerian president of Southeast extraction in 2023.

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How do you think the new administration should proceed in this regard?
I spoke with him and he said he wants somebody from the Southeast to be the president of Nigeria in 2023. So, he has taken that stand and for me that is enough. The rest is for the political parties to do because the president of Ohanaeze cannot get up and point at someone and say, ‘you will be the president’. No! Whoever is aspiring should go to his party, build the necessary alliance and get nominated. That is how to come in. Nobody has to hand over any ticket to you; you have to work for it. And I believe that if the contender knows that Ohanaeze is for 2023, he will work hard. It is only if Ohanaeze is not for 2023 that he will feel naked outside. But we are behind anybody who is serious about contesting.

How should the new leadership proceed with respect to building bridges across the nation?
This is very, very important because Ohanaeze has to work hard on our image. Presently, most people have one suspicion or the other about Ndigbo. It is the job of Ohanaeze to clarify and let them know that Igbos are hard working people who are out to get the best in this country. It is the job of Ohanaeze to water the ground and level the high hills of objection and suspicion.

Given the dissenting voices trailing the election, what is your message to the various stakeholders in Ohanaeze? 
My message is very simple – let’s rally round Ambassador George Obiozor. The election is bigger than any individual. The success of Ohanaeze is a victory for Ndigbo. It is not a victory for Obiozor or me but for Ndigbo generally. Therefore, let those dissenting voices come around. Success is for all, failure is for all. But success must be fought for by rallying round Ambassador Obiozor.

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