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The Travails of Onyeka Onwenu, MFR


“Onyeka Onwenu avers that her travails at the NCWD were down to her being Igbo. In this respect, she is in the good company of some others of her ethnic stock?”

Onyeka Onwenu was, on September 13, 2013, appointed the Director General of the National Center for Women Development (NCWD) by the Jonathan administration. The all-changing Buhari government relieved her of the position last month. On her tenure, she claimed thus in an open letter: “I served for two years and five months and did my best under very difficult conditions. We hardly had money to operate and the place was badly run down. 

“Worst, there was low morale and lack of commitment among the staff. Most spent the day loitering and gossiping. Many would not show up for work or arrive 11 am, only to leave before 3 pm. Some were absent for months and were just collecting their salary at home. 

“My administration changed all that. Most staffs were turned around and became passionate about the work, appreciating also the changes they thought were not possible but were happening right before them.”

Is she correct? The answer would seem to be positive because, nearly two weeks after the claim, no voice has controverted her. This should cause botheration in conscientious quarters because she protests that her sterling service to the country was repaid with the objectionable coins of injustice: 

“There remained, though, a remnant who felt that the Center was their personal reserve and that the position of Director General should only go to someone from their part of the country. I was initially dismissed as just a musician. When that did not work, I was targeted and abused for being an Igbo woman who came to give jobs to and elevate my people while sidelining them. 

“When these detractors could not provide answers to the spate of improvements we were bringing, they resorted to sabotage and blackmail. The first such salvo was fired when a Senate Committee visited on an oversight mission a few months after my arrival. All three Generators at the Center were cannibalized, overnight, just hours to the visit.”

Onyeka stated in her open letter that, to begin with, she hadn’t lobbied to be appointed DG-NCWD. Nor was she ever minded to grovel in order to retain the post. Once word arrived from above that she had had her day at the Center, she made to leave. 

“But some people were going to exact their pound of flesh. They organized some staff, mostly Northerners, invited the Press and set about to disgrace themselves. By mid-afternoon, while the Heads of Departments were putting together the handover notes, they seized the keys to my official car, even with my personal items still inside. Threats began to fly. ‘That Ibo woman must’, “We will disgrace her.”

Their chief organizer, the Acting DG, went about whipping up ethnic sentiments against me. Late 2015, the same officer had gone to the Center’s mosque to ask for the issue of a Fatwa against me, claiming that I was working against the interest of the North. We nipped that in the bud by calling a town hall meeting and asking that proof be provided. 

“The Fatwa was denied and peace reigned for a while. Police was called in to the Center to escort me out and avoid bloodshed as I disengaged. Eventually, in the midst of insults and name calling, with an angry baying crowd, some of whom were brought in from outside, I entered my official car and left.”

Onyeka Onwenu avers that her travails at the NCWD were down to her being Igbo. In this respect, she is in the good company of some others of her ethnic stock, or did not Professor Eni Njoku suffer a similar fate in the mid-1960s while the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos? 

Did not Professor Gilbert Onuaguluchi suffer the same fate while he was the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Jos in the mid-1970s? 

Was it not on account of being Igbo that Commodore Okoh Ebitu Ukiwe was forced from the office of Chief of General Staff in President Ibrahim Babangida’s junta? 

Was it not on the same score that General Sani Abacha ditched Rear Admiral Alison Madueke as his Chief of Naval Staff? 

Is there any aspect of Nigerian life in which Ndigbo are not subjected to indignities that would shock even even slaves elsewhere? 

Isn’t it for the reason of deep-seated antipathy against Ndigbo that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Diezani Alison-Madueke and Stella Oduah were singled out for remorseless media excoriation in a Jonathan administration that held at least an extra score of female appointees at the uppermost echelons?

Ms. Onwenu’s short shrift rankles. Isn’t it the same unfortunate and indefensible treatment that has ignited the resurgence of Biafran agitation, more than four decades after it’s Nunc dimittis was largely considered a fait accompli? Rather than address this critical issue, listless voices started chanting the false refrain that Onwenu had threatened to sue President Buhari for her disengagement. 

She also hadn’t flooded the NCWD with Ndigbo because the position of D-G statutorily precludes the incumbent from hiring. A few charged that, while meeting the President at some public function, she had knelt in salutation. Before now, it never crossed the mind that this had become a capital offence. She had also done so in greeting President and Mrs. Jonathan both of whom are younger than her. 

A lady phoned from Maryland, USA, with a fresh perspective on what, to Ndigbo, is aberrant, recalling that while she still lived in Nigeria, she often espied Onyeka in genuflection before the Blessed Sacrament at St. Agnes Catholic Church, Maryland, Ikeja. Meaning? Mrs. Onyeka Onwenu knows the One she worships! 

This gifted daughter of a First Republic Federal legislator cum Administrative Secretary of the Igbo State Union holds Bachelors and Master’s degrees from highly rated American institutions. She is a TV personality, an actress of distinction, one of the best-known Nigerian musicians, a composer in her own right and a study in intellection. But her pedigree must count for less than zero in Nigeria – simply because she is Igbo.

“I am a multitalented, multifaceted and multitasking child of God,” she declares. “By His grace, the future is greater. So what is the problem?”

Well, the problem is mostly in Ndigbo unconnected to their history. One of them asked Onyeka to “SHUT UP” on Facebook, hardly realizing that it amounted to hitting a child and circumscribing its entitlement to a tiny cry… Another claimed that Onyeka wasn’t truly Igbo! 

How could a technocrat who acquitted herself creditably on a national assignment forfeit her membership of an ethnic group of excellence, someone who has refused to be cowered? Of course, the social media is Babel of Thoughtlessness, which is forgivable. What seems beyond pardon is the current abnegation in some Igbo jostling for crumbs from the master’s table. 

Onyeka Onwenu’s testament: “I declare that I am a Nigerian citizen who should enjoy the rights attendant to that privilege. I am Onyigbo and proud of it. I respect myself and I love and respect all for who they are. We are all God’s children. No one has the right to insult or abuse me or deprive me of my rights. Nigeria will not hold unless and until we all come to that realization.”

Chuks Iloegbunam

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