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Ohanaeze Ndigbo leadership: The candidates and their chances

By Onwuasoanya FCC Jones

The Ohaneze Ndigbo is gearing for what may be its most exciting election in many years. The interest generated by the upcoming election may not be far from two factors; the zoning of the presidency to Imo State – a State noted as one of the most ‘politically combustible’ States in Nigeria – and secondly, because, at no other time since the fourth republic has it been more auspicious for an Igbo to lay a claim to the presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria than now. It is a given that anyone who emerges the President of the Igbo apex sociocultural and political collection, will have to play a most significant role in the morally, politically and patriotically apropos demand for the Igbo to produce the President of Nigeria.

Interestingly, the array of candidates angling to succeed Professor John Nnia Nwodo could be said to represent some of our best in Igboland. They are individuals who have made their marks in their different careers over the last three decades or more. Someone told me in the course of our discussion on this that anyone of these candidates can deliver efficiently on the expectations of the average Igbo man. While this assertion may be too audacious, I agree however that everyone of the candidates is eminently qualified to lead Ohaneze Ndigbo. But, who really are these candidates and what are their chances of emerging as the next President?

1. AMBASSADOR GEORGE OBIOZOR: At 78 and with his rich and enviable attainments in national service, academics and even in his service to the Igbo nation, this seasoned diplomat and academic has acquired enough of the grey hairs and laurels that his crown of wisdom and far-reaching contacts within and beyond Igboland should be great assets in his bid to become the President of the Ohaneze Ndigbo. But, his critics do not want to hear any of that. His long-term association or romance with the Nigerian establishment should also position him on a vantage position as one with the needed reach to negotiate for the Igbo nation, but some ultranationalist Igbos have rather tarred him as an apologist of the Caliphate and stooge of the Miyetti Allah. While this is obviously political propaganda taken too far, not a few people have taken to those narratives with incredulous convinction.

Ambassador Obiozor’s status as a pan Igbo leader, diplomat and respected negotiator could have made him an easy-sale to the position at this time, but a combination of factors, especially, his ill-advised endorsement by a section of Imo politicians have placed him at a precarious situation, both with the Igbo elite and the ordinary Igbos. While the elites would be concerned that an Ambassador Obiozor presidency may be tantamount to handing over the Ohaneze Ndigbo to the All Progressives Congress and especially the Imo State governor who has unapologetically championed Obiozor’s candidacy. The highly dissatisfied younger generation of Igbos are discomfited by the diplomat’s alleged affiliation with the North. These factors may have meant little though, if not further complicated by his endorsement by the Imo State House of Assembly – allegedly at the prodding of the State governor.

The resentment against the Obiozor candidacy by a wide range of Igbos, leaves the delegates with very tricky options; go ahead and vote for a man, who is undoubtedly one of the best hands for the jobs and risk his non-acceptance by majority of Ndigbo or reject him, merely on the basis of such sentiments.

PROFESSOR CHIDI OSUAGWU: Hardly an outsider to Ohaneze politics, having at a time served as the Chairman of the Imo Chapter of the Organization. Like the outgoing President, Osuagwu is also a university lecturer. He exhibits in his few speeches that I have read up recently, a good and encouraging grasp of Ohaneze vision, its challenges and probably, the solutions to these problems. What hasn’t been tested yet, is the efficacy of his prescriptions. Unfortunately, very little is being written or said about his time as the Chairman of the Imo State Chapter of the organization. This leads me into concluding that it is either the organization is too centralized that the chapters are left with little or no powers to execute programs or make interventions on their own, or Prof didn’t make any wonderful impact in his first missionary outing in that capacity.

If the election guidelines of the Association was not collegiate, maybe, one could conclude that Professor Osuagwu, given his very strategic investments in the media and observable consultations across Igbo groups and the youthful, and therefore vibrant outlook of his campaign set-up, should easily be the man to beat in this election.

As a university don, one doubts if his pocket is as deep as that of a former Ambassador to the United States of America. Also, Obiozor’s endorsement by the Imo State Government and a number of APC politicians would also mean a lot more money for him to to spend. It is left to be seen if the Biochemist could muster the kind of funds that will most certainly be available to his main challenger. So, if the election boils down to paying delegates One Million Naira each for their votes, would our activist Prof stand a fighting chance or will he simply call a press conference to cry foul, thereby, damaging the credibility and acceptability of the eventual winner?

3. JOE NWOGU: The Umuota, Umuhu Ngor-Okpala born politician may have had the least media coverage of all the candidates, but he is apparently the candidate with the most interesting resume of service and experience to Ohaneze Ndigbo. A former Secretary-General of the Association, Nwogu stands out among all the contestants, such that if practical knowledge on the running of the Association is anything to go by in choosing its next President, then, none of the contestants would measure up to his credentials.

Nwogu doesn’t seem to be enjoying the support of any of the power blocs or moneybags, either within Igboland or outside it, as his campaign has been the most quiet among all others, but it mustn’t be taken for granted that he could spring a surprise in the election, given that his old allies in the Association will definitely be among the delegates in the election.

For a man who boasts of having worked in the Ohaneze secretariat for two decades, it would be dangerous to dismiss his seemingly ‘weak’ candidacy with a wave of the hand. This is because as someone who had managed the correspondences and data of the Association for a long time, he might have the benefit of directly reaching out to the potential or confirmed delegates, while his rivals continue to run from one newspaper house to another politician’s mansion, Nwogu may be busy counting his votes and preparing his acceptance speech. Who even told us that the outgoing President doesn’t have any interest in influencing the choice of his successor? And if he does, like he is wont to, who else among the candidates could be said to be closer to him than Joe Nwogu?

4. CHRIS ASOLUKA: Suave, savvy and well spoken, the former Commissioner for Finance in Imo State is naturally a great guy for any leadership job, having stood out as a technocrat and a different-from-the-mix kind of politician, Chief Asoluka could easily be voted for, if we wanted the Ohaneze President with the boldness and brilliance required to speak to anyone or any group in defense of the Igbo interest. His many years of active participation in politics also equips him with a good understanding of our political terrain, such that he would both advise as well as negotiate effectively for whatever concerns the Igbo, when the time is appropriate.

Among all the candidates vying for the position, none could be said to be as currently involved in partisan politics as Chief Asoluka, and his comrades in the PDP – where he was last primaried in his bid to represent Owerri zone in the Senate – have been at the forefront of his campaign.

His opponents have expectedly raised this against him. Is Ohaneze Ndigbo, a sociocultural wing of the People’s Democratic Party? I appreciate the reservations of these people against the candidacy of Chief Asoluka. With all his qualifications, it would be a huge error for delegates to elect someone who is seen or truly is, an active partisan politician as the President of the Ohaneze Ndigbo. Asoluka’s close association with a former governor of Imo State, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha and the latter’s affinity with Aminu Tambuwal, who has made no pretentions about vying for the Number One seat in the country, has got tongues wagging about how the Sokoto governor may be sponsoring Asoluka in order to scuttle Igbo presidential candidacy in 2023.

5. GODDY UWAZURIKE: Someone described the former President of Aka Ikenga as playing a spoiler game for one of the candidates, but I told him that they would be too demeaning a role for Chief Uwazurike. Uwazurike has paid his dues and deserves equal respect like everyone of the contestants, but it is either he is carrying out his campaigns surreptitiously or he is not really doing enough to galvanize the kind of support he requires to clinch the presidency.

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