The political culture of the Igbo of Nigeria is often characterized as republican. In other words, the average Igbo feels a deep sense of pride and dignity in expressing his or her views in a public gathering. To preside over an Igbo meeting, patience must be exercised for whoever raises hand to speak. Anything short of this is an invitation to chaos. The benefits of freedom of expression and ventilation of viewpoints cannot be over-emphasized. In fact, free exchange of ideas is the hallmark of civilized societies.
While the above Igbo republican character has proved very gainful in several ways, it has remained the major cause of crises in Ohanaeze Ndigbo and indeed in every Igbo community all over the world. There is hardly any Igbo community without leadership tussles leading to two or more factions of Igbo groups; all in the ego or pride of asserting self-esteem.
The constitution of Ohanaeze Ndigbo stipulates that every four years, there will be an election to usher in a new executive. The constitution adopts the principle of zoning and rotation of offices among the five Igbo states including the Igbo speaking people of Delta and Rivers States. Going by the rotation principle, in alphabetical order of states, the following leaders have been elected the presidents General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo; namely, Prof Joe Irukwu (Abia), Dr. Dozie Ikedife (Anambra), Ambassador Raph Uwechue (Delta), Prince Enwo Igariwey (Ebonyi), Chief John Nwodo (Enugu), and now Professor George Obiozor (Imo).
Four years ago, it was the turn of Enugu State to produce the President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo. The governor of Enugu State, the Rt. Hon Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi summoned a meeting of the Enugu State Leaders of Thought to deliberate on a suitable person for the leadership of the Igbo apex sociocultural body. It was Prof. Sen. Ike Ekweremadu, CFR that moved a motion that the position be zoned to Enugu North senatorial district. He adduced reasons to substantiate his motion. At the Enugu North senatorial zone, various interest groups were invited to a meeting whereupon almost all the groups were on one page that Chief John Nnia Nwodo was the rightful candidate for the position. In spite of the efforts to reach a consensus by the Enugu state leaders, Prof Chinweite Ejike and Rear Admiral Allison Madueke in our republican character, insisted on contesting the election at the polls. Even after the election that Nwodo won convincingly, Chief Enechi Onyia (SAN), in the expression of Igbo republicanism, went to court against Nwodo and Ohanaeze Ndigbo. It took the intervention of the Late HRH Igwe Chris Ogakwu, the Okwuluoha 111 of Udi and other Enugu State dignitaries for Chief Onyia to withdraw the matter from the court.
In December 2019, Chief Nnia Nwodo as the President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo had delivered a speech at a public function in Imo State where he charged the Imo indigenes to commence a search on who would take over from him as the president General in January 2021. The then governor of Imo State, Chief Emeka Ihedioha, in his remarks expressed the challenges in getting a suitable Nwodo replacement. Several names were thrown up but Prof. George Obiozor was on the lips of most people because of his pedigree as a reflective erudite scholar, the Director General, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs; Nigerian Ambassador to the United States and the State of Israel, Cyprus, etc.
Towards the end of 2020, each state in the South East of Nigeria made efforts to harmonize the elective positions zoned to it by the Electoral Committee of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo. Almost all the aspirants to the various positions sought the face of the state governor and leaders for possible endorsement. In Enugu state for instance, the governor of Enugu state, Rt Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, in his peace-loving disposition, ensured that all the positions zoned to Enugu state enjoyed the state consensus. Governor Ugwuanyi held two meetings to that effect and at the end, everybody was satisfied. The governor of Ebonyi State and the Leader of the South East governors, Engr. Dave Umahi also recorded huge success in reconciling the various interests from his jurisdiction. Other states did their best to achieve state consensus and for those that could not resolve their differences, elections were conducted for them at the Dan Anyiam Sports Stadium, Owerri; using the popular rig-proof open ballot system as espoused by Professor Humphrey Nwosu. The Owerri election was observed by the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe, the chairmen, traditional rulers’ council in the South East States, other eminent traditional rulers from Anioma and Rivers States. All the South East governors were either in attendance or represented. The serving ministers, former governors, the clergy and captains of industry were in their numbers.
The irony of the whole exercise is that those who lost in the intrigue of state endorsement went berserk, shouting to the rooftops and threatening hell and brimstone. Unfortunately, those who couldn’t secure the endorsements of their state leaderships are more in number. In their republicanism, they have issued all forms of press releases condemning the election as a show of shame. In their estimation, it is either they were endorsed by the leadership of their states or the Igbo apex socio-cultural organization be pulled down. This is most unpatriotic and the height of ambivalence.
Even one of the claimants to sainthood who merely expressed interest to contest election into one of the offices but couldn’t purchase a form to qualify as an aspirant took advantage of loose social media to upgrade himself to the status of a candidate; and in such a delusion, joined the fray of the disenfranchised. Truly, it is not the way to go.
It has become necessary for the Igbo to review and moderate their unbridled republicanism. The hardline philosophy of; it is either my view or heavens will fall is no longer fashionable. Elementary civilization imbibes humility and morality in human affairs but for a man to sit in the comfort of his home and presume that events must either go his way or there will be a resort to nihilism is most curious aspect of the Igbo republicanism. The common adage, that too much of everything is bad quickly lends the excessive Igbo republicanism to a vice that destroys the fabrics of Igbo nation.
It is regrettable that in every Ohanaeze general election, one group or the other constitutes itself into an Imeobi or a General Assembly or Ohanaeze Concerned Citizens, etc. Any right thinking Igbo knows that it is not to the advantage of our people to always present ourselves as a laughing stock to the other rival ethnic groups in Nigeria. On the other hand, time has come for an Igbo retreat; in the words of Socrates, It is important to use our highly developed faculty of thought to raise our existence above that of mere creatures, adding that an unexamined life is not worth living.
Finally, every true Igbo who wants to embrace the truth knows that Prof George Obiozor’s passion for his Igbo heritage is not in doubt. Several eminent Nigerians are very proud of the very impressive career history of Prof. Obiozor. His intellectual prowess, global contacts, oratorical skills, creative audacity, tenacity and diplomatic finesse are the exceptional assets the Igbos need at this critical time of our history.
Chiedozie Alex Ogbonnia National Publicity Secretary, Ohaneze Ndigbo Worldwide.