By Ugo Chukwuka
As far back as 1905, the Spanish philosopher George Santayana in his work, The Life of Reason, made the eternal aphorism: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This simply means that people who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are going to make the same mistakes.
Ohanaeze has not heeded such ancient warning and its inherent wisdom. By endorsing and adopting Mr. Peter Obi as its sole presidential candidate, the Igbo umbrella body demonstrated yet again that it has learnt nothing from her past mistakes and now runs the risk of repeating the fallouts of its endorsements of Goodluck Jonathan/Namadi Sambo ticket in 2015 and Atiku Abubakar/Peter Obi in 2019.
When the idea of endorsing Peter Obi was muted in some quarters Ohanaeze explained that it was yet to endorse any candidate because such a decision that would affect Ndigbo as a whole, as a democratic ethnic group, ought to be taken in consultation with Igbo interest groups. And not much consultation with individuals and groups took place before it was announced by the Ohanaeze Publicity Secretary that the apex body had endorsed Peter Obi.
A little historical tour de force will show the pattern of the Ohanaeze blunders called endorsements, which have caused the South-East so much underdevelopment and insecurity. Since the civil war, the South-East has witnessed systematic marginalization, which calls for very strategic and constructive engagement championed by Ohanaeze and political leaders of the zone.
The Ohanaeze leadership in 2014 under its former President General Chief Garry Igariwey and former Ohanaeze Ndigbo Secretary General, Dr. Joe Nworgu openly rejected holding a meeting with General Muhammadu Buhari. To date, Buhari has not received a reply to the request letter that he wrote to Ohanaeze Ndigbo in 2014. Buhari had simply requested a meeting with Ohanaeze before the 2015 presidential election. Ohanaeze’s leadership gave flimsy and very emotional reasons for refusing to engage. In a press conference in 2014, Ohanaeze told the media: “We know him(Buhari) very well. During his first outing from 1983 to 1985, what did he do? Shagari, the number one person (in the previous civilian administration) got house arrest; Ekwueme, the number two, who had no constitutional functions, was imprisoned. Igbo took note. He (Buhari) came out again as the Executive Director of the Petroleum Trust Fund, what did he do? Have you checked the allocations of PTF? Sixty-six percent of all our petroleum money went to the North-West, his zone. He gave us (South-East) 6.2 percent.”
Though Ohanaeze rehearsed some verifiable historical facts, Buhari was a frontrunner for the office of the President of Nigeria, which Ndigbo must live with should he win. Such consultative meetings would have been an opportunity for the Igbo ethnic group to present the demands of Ndigbo to the APC candidate. But instead, the association refused to even acknowledge the letter sent to it by Buhari. The APC candidate – Buhari – won against all expectations.
Again in 2019, Ohanaeze under Nnia Nwodo as President General did not only endorse the Atiku/Obi ticket of the PDP but again refused to give Buhari an audience despite being an incumbent president seeking reelection. Buhari was supposed to engage Ohanaeze the day he came down to Anambra state to commission Zik’s Mausoleum, which he completed.
Strangely, Ohanaeze PG rather than receive Buhari as a co-host to the historic moment, was in Nike Resorts in Enugu, endorsing Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi’s ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Nnia Nwodo said then that after a critical and dispassionate appraisal of the issues and the visible fault lines in our polity, including the analysis of the election manifestos of the various contesting parties, especially with regards to the restructuring of the federation and continued relevance of our people in the Nigerian geopolitical space, Ohanaeze resolved to endorse the Atiku/Obi ticket. Furthermore, PDP nominated an Igbo son, Peter Obi, as the vice presidential candidate to give Ndigbo an opportunity for inclusivity, Ohanaeze noted.
Ohanaeze also said they opted for the PDP presidential candidate Alhaji Atiku Abubakar because he had made an avowed commitment to restructuring of the federation, which is in sync with the position of Ndigbo at the Awka Declaration.
Buhari commissioned Zik’s project and returned to Abuja. The 2019 Presidential election was held without Ohanaeze granting Buhari an audience or presenting any set of demands. Again, Buhari won.
Fast-forward to 2022. The Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze, Chief Alex Ogbonnia, in media statement, gave very salutary reasons why Ohanaeze would not endorse Peter Obi. Chief Alex Ogbonnia said the duty of Ohanaeze Ndigbo ended when about 90 percent of Igbos and the majority of other Nigerians keyed into the Ohanaeze’s philosophy of having a President of Igbo extraction. He said the major agenda of Ohanaeze led by Prof. George Obiozor was producing an Igbo Nigerian President and now that everybody has keyed into that philosophy and it has become an ideology (movement), the job of Ohanaeze in this regard was done and dusted. His words: “So, when people are embracing an ideology all you have to do is commend them. It will be childish if we begin to endorse ourselves.”
What then happened less than two months down the line? Why did the dog go back to its own vomit?
In a statement issued in November, the same spokesman for Ohanaeze Alex Ogbonnia started singing a different tune while claiming that “the position of Ohanaeze was constant, consistent, and very clear”. He said: “In the first place, going by the principles of zoning and rotation of power in Nigeria which has been in existence since 1999, it is the turn of the South East of Nigeria to produce the President in 2023…”
The spokesman of Ohanaeze Ndigbo started talking about how delighted the body was with the responses from the various groups and highly placed patriotic Nigerians. Then he reeled out the qualities of the Labour candidate as part of the reasons for the endorsement. Ohanaeze said “Obi represents the Nigerian conscience, moral probity, generational hope, redemption epiphany, among others”. For good measure, the Ohanaeze image maker added that the Labour Party presidential candidate has filled what could have been a very sad gap if the poll was left for the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Without a doubt, Peter Obi has been phenomenal by rising against all odds to become a Third Force, proving wrong the pundits who foreclosed the possibility of a 3rd force long before his emergence. Yes, going by the principles of zoning and rotation of presidential power in Nigeria, which has been in existence since 1999, it is the turn of the South East of Nigeria to produce the president in 2023 and the odds favoured the South-East and Peter Obi has been a front runner. Nigerians have already accepted the Ohanaeze prayer and are now selling Obi as a Nigeriaproject. What then is Ohanaeze trying to achieve with its needless and parochial endorsement? Are they afraid that Nigerians are taking the shine and glory over the Peter Obi presidency project?
The initial position of Ohanaeze was both noble and sacrosanct. The apex Igbo as a socio-cultural organization has no business endorsing candidates. They had already made a case for a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction and there is only one viable Igbo candidate in the race, the other is a running mate in the PDP. Ohanaeze ought to have realised that its partisanship hurt Ndigbo in 2015 and 2019 and is set to repeat in 2023.
Ohanaeze should learn a thing or two from big-time businessmen. Without mentioning names, Nigerian business billionaires give support to every viable candidate because, in politics, anything can happen. That’s wisdom. Whoever wins, they are covered. But Ohanaeze since 1999 picks a candidate even without negotiations and closes the door on others. The result is 5% voters’ treatment, which has now rendered the South-East desolate.
Can somebody tell Ohanaeze that nobody gets what he/she deserves in politics but he/she negotiates? Even now, it is not too late for the Igbo umbrella and apex body to negotiate. That way, ohanaeze will ensure that South-East will not be relegated yet again in post-2023 Nigeria.
· Chukwuka is Publicity Secretary ANYASAA IGBO FOUNDATION (AIF) BASED IN ENUGU… e-mail email@example.com.