Apex Igbo Socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, is not new to the crisis. The umbrella organization, which exists as a united platform to speak for Ndigbo, has had its fair share of squabbles since 1976 when it was founded.
It could be said that no year had passed in the lifespan of the organization without issues, such as rightful headship, tenure of elected officials among others, troubling the body. While some of these issues were resolved through the intervention of elders and political stakeholders, others had gone through litigation at various courts.
It was not therefore a surprise two weeks ago, when report of another crisis broke. Leading the way in the current imbroglio is the traditional ruler of Igbariam community, Anambra East Council, Igwe Nkeli Nzekwe.
The latest bone of contention revolves around Nzekwe’s decision to register a splinter group under the name of Ohanaeze Ndigbo General Assembly. Nzekwe, who had gathered certain persons from Anambra State, went and registered the strange body with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). Penultimate Monday, he inaugurated its “national and state executive committee members”, in his palace in Igbariam, while retaining the chairmanship of the Board of Trustees (BOT).
He had announced shortly after the ceremony that he had dissolved the bonafide Ohanaeze Ndigbo leadership headed by Chief Nnia Nwodo, saying, “ Ohanaeze had become a legal personality that could sue and be sued and no longer a self-serving platform.” He added: “The new leadership will pilot the affairs of the Igbo organization to the exclusion of anybody on the saddle before the incorporation of the group.
“I am one of the founding members of Ohanaeze Ndigbo in 1976. After the Nigerian civil war, some Igbo patriots and I came together to discuss the way forward for Ndigbo with the good intention to unite our people under a common umbrella body.
“This initiative was welcomed by our people, considering the maximum displacement of Ndigbo during the war and its aftermath. Our principal aim then was specifically to unite Ndigbo and speak with one voice.
“It was unfortunate that the organization later lost its primary focus and degenerated into a political tool in the hands of some greedy politicians, which created room for the formation of several Igbo organizations due to lack of confidence in the affairs of Ohanaeze.
“On the 25th of November 2019, some notable Igbo stakeholders visited my palace to discuss the way forward on how to restructure Ohanaeze Ndigbo and give it a corporate legal status instead of merely existing as a pressure group and a political tool in the hands of few individuals.”
Nzekwe noted that throughout the 44 years existence of the apex Igbo group, “it was neither registered at the Corporate Affairs Commission, nor recognized by notable international bodies as a corporate personality.
“I am glad to announce to the general public that Ohanaeze Ndigbo General Assembly is now registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission with the RC NO: 144918, under the present leadership of Barrister Basil Onyeachonam as the President General. The organization is recognized by the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” he stressed.
No sooner had the purported inauguration been concluded than several Igbo leaders rose in its condemnation. State President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo for Anambra, Chief Damian Okeke-Ogene, described the action of the renegade group as “a failed coup,” saying that Igbo people are too wise to be deceived by a group of fortune-seekers. He said the new group was being used by some politicians to cause disaffection in Igbo land, adding that the Nwodo-led Ohanaeze Ndigbo was able and intact.
“Ohanaeze does not need such registration the group is talking about to function as an entity. The Igbo group has been in existence before most of these boys were born.
“The young men are just being used to create confusion in Igbo land. The chairman of our BoT remains the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe. All the eminent Igbo leaders are in Ohanaeze: Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Prof Ben Nwabueze, SAN, Southeast governors, among others,” he declared.
Former National Chairman of defunct United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, faulted Nzekwe’s claims. While stressing that he was around during the formation of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Okorie stated: “I want to state categorically that he ( Igwe Nzekwe) is a blatant liar. He was not there in 1976. I was there in 1976 as an undergraduate in Enugu campus of UNN, where I was invited to serve and run errands for the leaders that formed what was then known as Igbo Forum, before it was changed in 1979 to Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
“The very first chairman was Dr. Akanu Ibiam, the Secretary was Chief Jerome Udorji, the Vice Chairman was Justice Daddy Onyeama and the Assistant Secretary was Chief J.U Agwu, my uncle, who invited me and I became part of that history. I am in my late sixties now, but I was a young man running errands for them then. Where was Igwe Kelly in 1976? He was a trader somewhere in Lagos. Let him state where the Ohanaeze meeting was held in 1976?”
Okorie explained that founders of Ohanaeze deliberately refused to register the organization with the CAC because, “they did not want Ohanaeze to become a certificated body, which somebody could one day rise up and withdraw the certificate.”
Consequently, Okorie warned: “Ohanaeze has become spiritual and is the umbrella union of the entire Igbo people. Anybody tampering with it is endangering his life and the life of his generation. If the proponents of the new group want to be useful to Ndigbo, they can go and form another association, but not with the name Ohanaeze Ndigbo.”
A former governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, berated promoters of the new group. “It is wrong and it is shameful. I am part of the elders’ forum and I want to tell you that this is a sign of rascality. It is a ploy to destabilize Igbo. I believe they want money to destabilize Ohanaeze and Igbo interests,” he said.
Emeritus President General of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, said Ohanaeze had one president general worldwide in Nnia Nwodo, adding however that the attempt to split the group was to truncate the national election that would produce somebody from Imo State as Nwodo’s successor in January next year.
“This is the job of a hireling and a joker. What I see here is the voice of Jacob and the hand of Esau. They want to truncate the election in January, when it will be the turn of Imo State. The plan is to destroy Ohanaeze Ndigbo, but I tell you, the organization remains one and there are no two heads.
“They are planning to cause disaffection and enrich themselves in the process. It is sad and unfortunate,” Uwazuruike said. He wondered how Igwe Nkelli would supplant His Highness, Igwe Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe, who is the Board of Trustees (BoT) chairman of Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
IRRITATED by the scale of condemnations of its action and that of the new group, the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), announced the withdrawal of the certificate it issued the new group. The Commission in a statement said the certificate was issued in error and asked those parading it to return the same to it.
“This is to inform members of the general public that the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) has withdrawn the registration certificate with No.144918 inadvertently issued to the Trustees of Ohanaeze Ndigbo General Assembly.
“The trustees of the association have been advised to return the said certificate to the commission as the same has been canceled. The conditions for the issuance of the certificate have not been fully fulfilled,” CAC stated.
Although the promoters of the group have threatened litigation over the stand of the commission, this is not however the first time the Nwodo-leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo has been attacked since its emergence three years ago.
Nwodo’s executive would quit office in January next year. In line with the rotational arrangement in Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the office of the President General would move to Imo state among others.
The first attack the Nwodo leadership of Ohanaeze faced was the refusal by a former president of the youth wing, Okechukwu Isiguzoro, to hand over after his tenure elapsed and a new leadership under Arthur Obioha was elected.
When efforts to make him yield to the new youth leadership failed, the leadership of the parent body suspended the recalcitrant former youth president from the organization. He, however, refused to heed the suspension order, but rather rushed to the CAC and registered a parallel youth organization, from where he continued to launch attacks against Ohanaeze Ndigbo under Nwodo.
In the build up to the 2019 general elections, the Nwodo-led Ohanaeze Ndigbo had endorsed Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Mr. Peter Obi’s presidential candidacy on the ground that they promised to restructure Nigeria, as well as, the alleged insensitivity of the All Progressives Congress (APC) administration of President Mohammadu Buhari against Ndigbo among others.
Few days after endorsing the PDP standard bearers, Mr. Uche Okwukwu, the Ohanaeze Secretary General, dissociated himself from Nwodo claiming that the meeting where the decision was reached was not properly convened. Okwukwu was however, consumed in the battle of wits as the National Executive Committee (NEC) of Ohanaeze met and approved his suspension from office, while the general assembly later expelled him from the body. A new Secretary General was appointed.
Immediate past administration of Gary Igariwey faced similar opposition. In fact, certain Igbo leaders had formed a parallel Ohanaeze Ndigbo over the implementation of the approved constitution that allows two terms of two years each for elected officials.
Court actions were instituted and it took the intervention of state governors for the matter to be resolved. Igariwey’s candidacy was also opposed by the government of his home state, Ebonyi State. After the people rejected its nominee, the Ebonyi State government in turn withdrew its support for Ohanaeze Ndigbo, all through the four years that Igariwey served as president general.