By Douglas Anele
Ardent readers of the column, I am suspending continuation of the series entitled “The metamorphosis of religious fiction” by presenting my views on the election of a new Secretary-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo which would take place today.
The issue is significant to me because as an Igbo I am interested in who occupies such a demanding position given that he or she would play a decisive role in charting the future direction of the organisation and, as a result, contribute in resolving what might be called the Igbo predicament in the fractious colonial amalgam called Nigeria.
In an important sense, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, often described as the apex socio-cultural organisation for all Igbo worldwide, is a child of necessity conceived and delivered after the disastrous civil war that lasted from July 6, 1967 to January 15, 1970. As late Prof. Chinua Achebe sadly remarked, the conflict reduced Igboland to a huge smouldering rubble unprecedented in the history of Igbo people.
One of its enduring repercussions is that Ndigbo lost their preeminent position in the educational, bureaucratic, professional, and security architectonic of Nigeria, a completely untenable situation which has been perpetuated ever since by a succession of incompetent mediocre leadership at the federal level.
Irrespective of what ethnic jingoists and intellectually dishonest historical revisionists have been claiming, at independence and shortly afterwards the Igbo were the primus inter pares in relation to other ethnic groups in the country. The civil war dealt a devastating blow to their enviable position, necessitating concerted efforts by a handful of prominent Ndigbo to articulate a unifying common vision for the people still smarting from the deep wounds of that conflict.
The move was welcomed by a broad section of Ndigbo because it would serve as the much-needed launching-pad for Igbo renaissance. The first Pan-Igbo organisation that emerged after the war was called the Igbo National Assembly (INA). But it was proscribed by the revanchist federal military government which suspected that the group could provide a platform for the defeated Igbo to regroup and conclude the unfinished business of Biafra independence declared on May, 30, 1967 by the military governor of defunct eastern region, Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu.
Prof. Ben Nwabueze, a prominent constitutional lawyer and strong advocate of the Igbo cause, alongside other prominent Igbo sons such as Dr. Akanu Ibiam, Dr. Michael Okpara, Dr. Pius Okigbo, Chief Jerome Udorji, and Chief K.O. Mbadiwe co-founded Ohanaeze Ndigbo in 1976.
Now, although for obvious reasons Ohanaeze Ndigbo is not a political party, one of its core objectives is to foster unity among Ndigbo worldwide by providing a solid base on which the political and economic interests of Igboland can be projected and protected. Since its formation over four decades ago, the organisation has been working to advance Igbo interests by defending the rights of Ndigbo as equal stakeholders with Nigerians from other ethnic nationalities.
But unfortunately, there is a strong impression across Igboland that over the years Ohanaeze Ndigbo has performed below expectation, which necessitates the injection of new blood and creativity to turn things around for good. The outgoing executive led by its President-General, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, has played its part and elections to replace it will take place on January 10, 2021.
Without a doubt, Ndigbo are presently facing unprecedented challenges that have worsened since retired Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari became President in 2015. Most Ndigbo believe strongly, with good reason, that Buhari merely tolerates anything Igbo, which is why majority of them always reject him at the polls notwithstanding the shenanigans of some Igbo genuflecting before Fulani caliphate colonialists for primitive accumulation and ephemeral political relevance.
Given the very daunting challenges facing Ndigbo at the moment, particularly the agitation for a president of Igbo extraction in 2023, legitimate quest for self-determination by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), and deliberate marginalisation of Igboland by the Buhari administration and agbata ekee governors in the south-east, there is an urgent need to select a proactive executive for Ohanaeze motivated solely by the desire to protect and promote Igbo interests at all times.
The leadership problem in ala Igbo at the moment is becoming an existential threat to Ndigbo: that is why those going to vote in the January elections must wash their eyes thoroughly and choose men and women of integrity, selflessness, critical intelligence, and unshakable commitment to the progress of Igboland.
Accordingly, I strongly recommend Chief Ireke Kalu Onuma (IKO) as the next Secretary-General. I have known Chief Onuma for about a decade now and can confidently affirm that he will be a fantastic choice for the post at this critical time. Let us take a brief look at his rich bio-data to see why the claim above is justified. Chief Onuma served as the Personal Secretary and Assistant to the first President-General of Ohanaeze, Justice Ezebuilo Ozobu.
He is the pioneer Administrative Officer of Ndigbo Lagos under three Presidents of Ndigbo Lagos Foundation, namely, Chief Chris Eze, Prof. Anya O. Anya, and Gen. Obi Abel Umahi. Chief Onuma was Research Assistant to the Ohanaeze legal team during the Oputa Panel, working and reporting to the lead counsels, Chief Anthony Mogboh (SAN) and Peter Umeadi (SAN).
IKO is a tireless administrator and never shies away from any assignment that will uplift Igboland. He was part of the research and back channel team of Ohanaeze Ndigbo during the National Conference organised by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the PRONACO Conference, and President Goodluck Jonathan’s Conference.
He served as the West African Liaison Representative of former President-General of Ohanaeze, Amb. Ralph Uwechue, at which time he contributed immensely to the founding of Ohanaeze chapters in Mali, Republic of Benin and Niger Republic. He has been a member of several strategic committees of Ohanaeze; and a founding member, former Assistant Secretary and now Secretary, of the south-east and south-south professionals of Nigeria.
He was a member of several coalitions that engaged in the struggle for equity and fair representation of Ndigbo across the country. Chief Onuma served as the PRO and roving ambassador of the 50th anniversary of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart organising committee held across the seven Ohanaeze states. That is not all: he was a member of the Governors Forum/Ohanaeze Ndigbo/Alaigbo Development fund.
IKO is also an engaging editor and writer. He authored the book entitled Igbo Critical Essays and other articles where he expressed creative ideas about how Ndigbo can regain and surpass their previous preeminent position in the larger Nigerian environment. Presently, he continues to work selflessly for Igboland and her peoples across the globe advocating for capacity building together with an NGO for the protection of rights within the umbrella of Ndigbo Lagos Foundation.
Chief Onuma is a humble, unassuming and trustworthy human being with appropriate emotional intelligence to handle the functions of the Secretary-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo at this time. Those that know him well, like Chief Martin Agbaso, Prof. Anya O. Anya, retired Rear Admiral Ndubisi Kanu can testify to his loyalty, sincerity of purpose and willingness to listen and learn. In a nutshell, he would be a valued asset in the executive.
It would require several pages to do justice to the achievements of this Russia-trained historian and great son of Abiriba. But enough has been said already to establish his suitability as the next Secretary-General of Ohanaeze. On the private side, Chief Onuma is an exemplary family man, a loving husband and an adoring disciplinarian father.
As I suggested earlier, the post of Secretary-General is very important in any organisation. Therefore, for Ohanaeze Ndigbo it must be entrusted in the steady hands of a tested, trusted and experienced indefatigable champion of the Igbo cause with Igboness in his DNA. Chief Ireke Kalu Onuma is such a person; the best man for the job. He knows where the rain began to beat our people; if elected he has the creative umbrella to help stop the rain from beating us. You can take that to the bank.