Ohanaeze, town union and new path for Ndigbo ~ By Collins Opurozor
Chief John Nnia Nwodo is no longer the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. The Ukehe-born lawyer and politician has served out his tenure. Everyone knows this. However, there are now three contending congregations of Ohanaeze elements making claims to the leadership of the group.
While Basil Onyeachonam Onuorah claims that his own faction, Ohanaeze Ndigbo General Assembly, is the only authentic group, having been registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission, the mainstream Ohanaeze previously led by Nwodo, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, has now further been torn asunder by irreconcilable political contradictions which began in 2019 and culminated in a situation that saw Nwodo constitute an electoral umpire which announced Ambassador George Obiozor as his successor even as his former Secretary-General, Barr. Uche Ukwukwu, set up a parallel electoral body that declared Hon. Chidi Ibeh as the new President-General of Ohanaeze. The situation has now gotten so messy, that George Obiozor has been reportedly ordered by Onyeachonam to confine himself and his operations within Imo State alone, with a threat of being arrested if found anywhere else in Igboland.
Yet, within the Nwodo camp, the crisis generated by the inadequacies and shortcomings of the electoral process that brought Obiozor onboard keeps escalating. Before the election of Obiozor in Owerri, three major contenders in the election, to wit: Prof. Chidi Osuagwu, Dr. Joe Nworgu and Dr. Chris Asoluka, had pulled out of the electoral process, describing it as totally fraudulent and unacceptable.
The three former aspirants had fumed that throughout Igboland, they did not see anything like local government congresses and elections of Ohanaeze, neither were there state congresses and elections. According to them, some politicians sat down somewhere and drew up names of persons as officers of the group at the lower levels. They also bemoaned that till the day of the Ohanaeze presidential election, none of them, each of whom had purchased nomination forms to the tune of half a million Naira, could lay hands on any electoral guidelines, nor lists of delegates, nor knew about the venue of the proposed election. For them therefore, Ohanaeze simply took their cold cash and dumped them, only for them to later hear in the media of a winner in an election they could not tell where and how it held.
Worse still, sixty-three prominent Igbo leaders under the auspices of Concerned Ime-Obi Members of Ohanaeze Ndigbo had objected to the proposed election in view of its glaring weaknesses, and had recommended that a transition committee led by the Southeast Chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria be set up for a proper election to be conducted within two months. This recommendation fell on deaf ears.
Essentially, the Ohanaeze crisis has problematized the leadership path and paradigm which Ndigbo have lately embraced either wittingly or unwittingly. It has also provided a context for serious reflection on the need for Ndigbo to rediscover and embrace their endogenous leadership arrangement so as to unleash the potentials of the people and chart a course for their peace, security and prosperity. An attempt to set this agenda is in order here.
A unique feature that distinguished the pre-colonial Igbo societies was the pattern of political organization which the people had evolved. It was not recorded anywhere that the Igbo did badly in economic growth relative to the rest of the colonized world. And, of course, if anything, they did better.
Since savagery and cannibalism were indicative of the overriding necessity for survival in the face of debilitating want, the Igbo were not met as savages nor as cannibals when they were colonized. They had largely attained some level of self-sufficiency, and had established certain peace and order, a feat which only a political organization could have ensured.
But since they mostly built no empires nor dynasties nor kingdoms nor chiefdoms nor ezedoms, how could they have ensured order, peace and collective progress?
The ancient Igbo, even though consisted of independent villages, were generally ruled through diffused authority devoid of formalised and unitary power. They were republican by nature. They maintained a thoroughly decentralized society that was democratic and egalitarian to some significant extent.
The villages were not organised in kingdoms. The function of government was carried on by a direct village-level democracy, where the assembly of the people represented the popular authority.
The age grades, titled men, women, and ritual priests, as organs of the society, played their roles in enforcing compliance to collective decisions and adjudication.
The organic evolution and metamorphosis of this system led to the convergence of various related villages to form towns and to commit themselves to unions which would further promote civic participation, collective labour, development, peace and security. Some chose to go by development unions, some others chose improvement unions, some progressive unions, while a lot more simply bore town unions. No matter the nomenclature they adopted, they were the same in every form, shape and purpose. What began as the coming together of families paternally related by blood has become republic with structures and functions!
It is interesting to as ask: What could have accounted for the evolution of the same leadership structures by people who lived independently in different remote villages, separated by miles apart, and who seldom had any form of communication nor any agreement to do act in a like manner? They were only living out their genetic configuration of abiding democratic and republican tendencies! This democratic proclivity of the Igbo which has found expression and realization in the town unions remains one thing which even the affront of colonialism or the assault of the Civil War could not decimate. Rather, these two ugly episodes in the end reinforced and reinvigorated it.
What the advent of state system in Nigeria with its corresponding local government arrangement did was to incline the town unions to further expand and assemble themselves along the lines of local government areas, senatorial districts and states. Today, the town unions in Igboland have coalesced themselves, established national structure which since 2013 became known as Association of South East Town Unions (ASETU).
What this, in a nutshell, explains is that a people cannot be separated from their identity, and that even in the face of alien political institutions, a people invariably still owe their first allegiance to that institution which is endogenous and authentically theirs. This is the reason no community toys with the quality of people they entrust with town union leaderships. A rogue can be ignored and maybe even be allowed to become a councillor, local government chairman, senator or governor in Igboland, but in choosing town union leaders, character, integrity, trust, competence and wisdom are the inescapable criteria. The power of the town unions lies essentially in the capacity of their leaders to freely earn the mandate and trust of the people, and in their actions reflecting popular wishes and aspiration. This is the reincarnation of the direct democratic system of village assembly. It is no magic that the vast majority of the landmark infrastructural projects which dot the landscapes of Igbo communities owe their origin and existence to the town unions.
ASETU is therefore not a formation or group or movement. It was not formed or created by anyone. It only followed the law of evolution and, just like a living organism, it evolved from simple to complex. What the key actors in this evolutionary process, like Chief Emeka Diwe, did was to make themselves available to be used by the spirit of Igbo nation for the realization of nationhood and unity for the Igbo through the only structure which throughout history has existed and to which successive generations have made contributions.
For Ndigbo to realize their manifest destiny in these trying times, there is need to understand that no society develops with borrowed institutions and cultures. The town union system has proven to be the most formidable tool in uniting the people and delivering development. To move forward, it is time for Ndigbo to look back and embrace, energize and reposition the town unions, and indeed make them the bastion of Igbo nationalism.