Daily Trust (Abuja)

27 January 2013

Nigeria: 2015 - Jonathan, Atiku Split Ohanaeze Leadership

Enugu — The leadership of the highest Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, is reportedly engulfed in incredible bickerings over who should have a grip on the association ahead of the 2015 presidential election.

Feelers indicate that the bone of contention has to do with the perceived political ambitions of President Goodluck Jonathan and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar in 2015.

Sunday Trust learnt that some Igbo politicians working for Jonathan and Atiku had purportedly penetrated Ohanaeze. The intention, it was gathered, is to ensure the emergence of a 'rubber-stamp' Ohanaeze executive that can easily endorse their candidate for 2015 presidential election as it was the case in 2011 when the immediate past executive adopted Jonathan.

Effort by one group to take over the Ohanaeze executive, it was further gathered, has yielded results. The newly elected executive is said to be loyal to a key Ebonyi State-born official in the Jonathan-led administration.

Our reporter was informed by a source that another top official in the Senate from Enugu State, purportedly working for Atiku could not succeed in his effort to grab the 'soul' of the new executive because his preferred candidates for President-General and Secretary-General were schemed out of the race.

Ambassador Ralph Uwechue, the outgoing President-General of Ohanaeze had his two-term tenure expired on Saturday, January 12, 2013 when he personally, in line with the constitution, dissolved his executive at the General Assembly of the organization held at Ohanaeze National Secretariat, Enugu. This was done to pave way for a fresh election that will usher in new executive for a period of two years in accordance with Ohanaeze's constitution.

Ohanaeze's highest decision making body, the Ime Obi (inner caucus) had earlier adopted a zoning formula for the election of the new national executive from member states that include Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, Abia, Delta (Anioma) and Rivers. Ime Obi's formula threw the respective positions zoned to member states open for all eligible members.

In the first week of January, 2013, the time-table for the election of new leadership was released. The time-table was duly signed by Prince Richard Obiroa Ozobu and Chris Asoluka as Secretary and Chairman of the Electoral Committee respectively.

The election was scheduled for Saturday, January 19, 2012 after the position of President-General had been zoned to Ebonyi State through rotational process. Going by the tradition of the organization, the State that will produce the President-General will host the delegates for the election. This explained the decision of Ebonyi State government to indicate interest in accepting the burden of hosting the event.

Having released the time-table and zoned the position to Ebonyi, four aspirants were said to have indicated interest to run for the coveted leadership stool of Ndigbo. They include Chief Gary Enwo-Igariwey, Senator Emmanuel Agboti, Senator Anyim Ude and Ambassador Aja Nwachukwu, all from the Southern Senatorial District of the State. The contestants reportedly bought nomination forms, completed them and returned same to the secretariat of the electoral committee.

Also, in line with Ohanaeze's constitution, each state is expected to present three aspirants for election. The three applicants would be forwarded by the affiliate states after they had gone through screening and clearance by the state committee.

The election process was, however, marred when a formidable 'tiny group' within Ohanaeze's leadership began to show keen interest in the exercise in order to pave way for their candidates at all costs.

Following this development, Ebonyi State government exonerated itself from the saga, insisting that Governor Martin Elechi was not interested in imposing any candidate on the Ohanaeze leadership.

Chief Press Secretary to Ebonyi State governor Dr Onyekachi Eni said the governor should not be linked to the current leadership problem arising from the Ohanaeze's election. He wondered why due process was not maintained in the election of the new leadership.

The 'progressives' in the association were said to have expressed discomfort over the development and maintained their preference for the conduct of a transparent, credible, free and fair election. They stressed the need for the emergence of a leader who has vision and integrity to re-unite all instead of operating an exclusive regime.

The arguments of the 'progressives' were, however, dismissed by a 'tiny clique' ready to plant their 'own people' in preparation for the 2015 general elections.

Igariwey-led clique said to be enjoying the support of the outgoing President-General, Ambassador Uwechue, with the tacit support of the Chairman of the Electoral Committee, Asoluka, met before the scheduled date and re-fixed the election for Saturday, January 12, 2013 at Enugu.

Having succeeded in fixing the new date, Igariwey-Asoluka group went ahead to mobilize their loyal supporters and delegates without giving adequate notice on the change in the time-table. The group was also said to have failed to inform other three presidential aspirants from Ebonyi State and some delegates, possibly in order to manipulate the process.

Not quite satisfied by the conflicting dates, the 'Ime Obi' was said to have met on that fateful Saturday, January 12, 2013 and agreed that the election should still hold on Saturday, January 19, 2013 as earlier slated. The Secretary of the Electoral Committee Prince Ozobu was also said to have opposed the conduct of the election on January 12.

Apparently bent on having their way, Uwechue and Asoluka removed Ozobu from the committee and replaced him with Mrs Grace Eneh to continue the duties of the committee's Secretary.

Ozobu, however, insisted that he remained the Secretary of the committee and would not release the election documents to anybody. This prompted Asoluka to adopt interim measures by asking the contestants who were willing to continue with the election under his own arrangement to come forward with the photocopies of their nomination forms. Some complied, but a few others from Ebonyi and Delta (Anioma) declined, expressing loss of confidence in the Asoluka-led committee.

Later, Asoluka-Igariwey group took over the proceedings and elected new leaders in an election that had been lampooned by aggrieved members of Ohanaeze.

Chief Igariwey contested against his younger brother Barrister Idume Igariwey and Friday Isu, the immediate past member of the State House of Assembly for the position of President-General. The duo were said to have stepped down for Igariwey to emerge while nothing was said of Aja Nwachukwu and Emma Agboti regarded as major opponents of Igariwey in the race.

Having suspected that something was fishy with respect to the twist in the election date, some delegates and contestants from Ebonyi, Rivers, Enugu, Delta and Imo States stayed away from the election.

Five South-East governors also boycotted the election which they had been attending in the past after it had raised controversies. Some were said to have confided in some governors that they were not in support of the purported election, wondering how he wanted to lead Ndigbo without the support of the governors considered as political heads of the South-East States and the major financial pillars of Ohanaeze.

But Igariwey told reporters shortly after the election that he did not need the governors to function as Ohanaeze President-General. He emphasized that the body ought to be free from any interference to enable it play the roles expected by Ndigbo.

Shortly after the newly controversial elected officers were sworn-in by Justice Eze Ozobu (rtd.), Prince Ozobu, the sacked Secretary to the Electoral Committee called the January 12 election a sham. He said he would go ahead with a fresh election scheduled to hold in Ebonyi State on January 19. Ozobu was supported by some aggrieved members of Ohanaeze like Chief Emma Okocha from Delta State who claimed they were not given nomination forms in his state.

At the General Assembly where Uwechue formally announced the dissolution of his executive, some dignitaries, including Senator Uche Chukwumerije and Professor ABC Nwosu, who were said to be opposed to what many regarded as "fictitious and magumagu arrangement" had earlier advised against the conduct of a factional election and left the hall.

The angry members took measures to conduct what they regarded as the "proper election" for the election of the Ohanaeze executive penultimate Saturday at Abakaliki, Ebonyi State capital.

However, while arrangements for the election were being concluded, some members of the Electoral Committee went to an Enugu High Court and obtained an interim injunction stopping the election. The court had on Thursday, January 17, 2013 given an interim injunction restraining Prince Ozobu from conducting any further election to elect officers of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation after those elected on January 12.

Chairman of the Electoral Committee Chief Asoluka and Mrs Eneh, who replaced Ozobu as Secretary, went to court and obtained the injunction to stop the Ebonyi election.

Prince Ozobu, who claimed that he was not served the order of the court but heard about it in the media, said that after due consultations with the stakeholders, he decided to suspend the Saturday election until further notice.

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