From George Onyejiuwa, Owerri
Dr. Ikedi Ohakim, former governor of Imo State in this interview with a select group of journalists bares his mind on the recent Ohanaeze Ndigbo General Election.
The Ohanaeze Ndigbo general election has come and gone, are you satisfied with the outcome. You dragged some individuals to court over an alleged plot to truncate the election?
Of course, I am satisfied with both the conduct and outcome of the elections. It was one of the most peacefully conducted exercises I have ever witnessed since my career in public service. The delegates, the officials, the contestants, everybody comported him or herself well. You can see the beauty of the Option A4 that was used. It was so glaringly transparent. As a result, none of the contestants disputed the outcome. Even those who watched it on television were marvelled at the calmness of the entire exercise.
As for the outcome, I am as elated as most other Igbo and indeed Nigerians with the emergence of Professor George Obiozor as president-general of the apex Igbo body. There could not have been a better choice. I congratulate our people for making such a wonderful choice.
You were part of those that supported Obiozor’s candidature?
That question is now academic. Whether I was part of it or not, the outcome is that the Igbo have made a good choice of who will lead the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, which is their only rallying point.
Some concerned Igbo groups described the election and process that led to it as a sham?
What is the definition of ‘concerned’? Every Igbo fellow is concerned, so whatever your preferences, those who might not like Obiozor or Okechukwu Emuchay, the secretary-general or any of the other officers elected are concerned Igbo. Those individuals or groups who supported those that emerged are also concerned Igbo, so no individual or group can claim to be more concerned than others. If anything, those who supported the successful candidates are more concerned because they have a higher stake. Our people should jettison meaningless semantics and pull our creative energy together and work for the better of the Igbo nation. As for the process that led to the election, how can you describe something that was yet to take place as a sham? The people putting up that argument were merely cooking up reasons to rationalise their inevitable withdrawal from the election, having discovered that there was no way they would have won.
Are you then confirming the allegation that the outcome was predetermined?
Nobody predetermined anything. Did you not witness what happened at the Dan Anyiam Stadium, Owerri? The truth is that the Igbo saw a good candidate in Obiozor and they went for him. That was not the first time such a thing would happen. In electoral processes, candidates sometimes emerge unopposed. But Obiozor was not returned unopposed, he was challenged to the very end. If there was a predetermination, those doing it would have ensured that he emerged unopposed. But three other candidates slugged it out with him to the end, even as three withdrew before voting started.
There was this parallel election in Enugu from which a parallel executive of the Ohaneze emerged. That didn’t quite jell with why you went to court?
The so-called parallel election is laughable but I can assure you there was no election anywhere. Let them show us the video and photographs of the election process. In any case, a committal process has commenced. There was a court injunction restraining anybody from doing anything outside the electoral committee constituted by the Imeobi led by the immediate past president-general, Chief Nnia Nwodo and headed by Igariwey. All those who announced a parallel executive will eventually have themselves to blame. They should tell us where and where their candidate or candidates visited to canvass for support. Who and who did their candidates consult. Did they consult me for example? You may say I am sounding immodest but I do not need to emphasise the fact that no serious contender for the position of president-general of Ohaneze can afford not to consult me, Ikedi Ohakim when it is zoned to Imo. I am not saying that I am the person that will give him the thing. What I mean is that you can’t be serious if you think that my opinion on who emerges does not matter. Let them tell us who else they consulted. Did they complete the relevant forms? Who did they submit the forms to? Which bank account did they pay the stipulated fees into. You don’t win a contest by sitting at home and paying some miscreants to abuse your opponents in social media. the Igbo do not take the recalcitrant Enugu group and their sponsors seriously even though they still have to face criminal charges in court.
There are allegations that Obiozor was sponsored by the Imo state government?
Without conceding to that allegation, let me ask you this question: Are people in government not bona fide citizens like you and I? Don’t they have their own preferences? It is naïve to expect that a sitting government will be hundred per cent neutral in a matter like that. I have been a governor. It is the duty of the government to find out how people believe their interest would be best served. The information available to the government is usually not in the public domain. In the end, the question you ask is, is the outcome objectionable. Outside the few contenders who, quite legitimately, felt that it should have been them, the acceptance of Obiozor has been overwhelming. The Igbo are getting kudos for making the choice they made. So, what are we talking about? In any case, I am aware that some of the candidates also sought the government’s support. One even contacted an influential senator from the North to lobby a South-East governor and some leaders on his behalf. One of the contestants contacted a top politician in the North who then called me on his behalf. Now, because he could not make it, he is going about alleging that northerners hijacked the exercise because their own lobbying failed. My plea to the contestants is to tell their supporters to stop bandying unpalatable things about the new Ohanaeze leadership. As they say, what you call your dog is what it answers. If some of us succeed in giving the new leadership of Ohaneze a bad image right from day one, we should have ourselves to blame when other ethnic groups take advantage of that and look down on Ohaneze Ndigbo. That election has come and gone. Let’s put it behind and forge ahead as brothers and sisters from one family.
Why do you think the rest of Nigeria is so interested in Obiozor’s emergence?
Why would they not? The Igbo have chosen a world statesman to lead them. Professor Obiozor is an epitome of world diplomacy, having served in two of the most strategic nations in the world as a diplomat – Israel and the United States. He is wired, if I may use that language. There is nothing anybody in African knows about world politics and diplomacy Obiozor does not know. He knows every trick about the Nigerian establishment. In fact, I can even state that some of our compatriots across Nigeria would have wished an Obiozor did not emerge. They know they cannot dribble past him. In short, I think the Igbo have just made on one of our best choices and I congratulate our people for that. Let me also seize this opportunity to congratulate the electoral committee lead by Egariwey for setting the stage for such a wonderful outing.
What do you say to the allegation that the APC hijacked the exercise?
How? Chief Ben Obi who moved the motion for the desolation of the Nwodo-led executive committee is a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party. Professor ABC Nwosu, who seconded the motion, is also a chieftain of the PDP so, what are we talking about?
Some people say the outcome of the election lends credence to the allegation that Ohanaeze has been hijacked by the North?
My answer to that is simply that it is sacrilegious to say such a thing. And I plead with you in the media, not to be part of such heresy, either directly or indirectly. To say that Ohaneze has been hijacked by the North or any other section of the country is a big insult to our people and please do not help in propagating such nonsense.
Do you see any relationship between the Ohanaeze election and the 2023 presidential election?
Well, the current leadership will be on the seat by the time of the 2023 general elections and you know the sentiments of our people over 2023. Ohanaeze is the biggest rallying point of the Igbo, so a lot of negotiation will be done. And the Obiozor we all know is so independent that they may find it difficult to have him rationalise any position that is not in the overall strategic interest of the Igbo.
Today, even outsiders believe that it is the turn of the Igbo to produce the next president of Nigeria. It is to be expected that our fellow compatriots look towards that direction. It is not a fait accompli or a do or die thing but you can be sure that with a person like Obiozor on that position, a lot of talking will be done.