Chief Tony Ogana, the new National Publicity Secretary, Ohaneze Ndigbo, spoke to Chiemelie Ezeobi on the Southeast Region's quest to occupy the presidential office in 2015 as well as efforts to reach out to aggrieved members of the group amongst other sundry issues
Although the apex body of Ohaneze Ndigbo, a pan-ethnic group of the Eastern region, has recently gone through troubled time because of dissatisfaction in the electoral process on the part of some of its members, the group has reiterated that the quest of the region to rule come 2015 is not negotiable.
However, to achieve this, THISDAY gathered that the body hopes to mend fences with its aggrieved members in order to present a united front for the 2015 presidential elections, which they say should rightfully come to the region. Charting a new course for the body, the newly elected executive under the leadership of its incumbent president, Chief Gary Igariwey and the Secretary General, Joe Nwaorgu, a former university lecturer and Estate Surveying, has been making efforts to bridge the gap between the body and its aggrieved members.
Accordingly, the newly elected National Publicity Secretary of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief Tony Oganah, who held no punches back, spoke on the burning issue of the next presidential candidate for 2015. He said any attempt to shield the presidential seat from the region come the end of the tenure of president Goodluck Jonathan would be fiercely resisted in its entirety.
But he first called for the collapse of selfish and personal interest in favour of a unified front as regards the quest of the region to rule the nation in 2015. The graduate of Law from the University of Benin and publisher of Anioma Trends Magazine, a weekly journal which celebrates the culture of the Igbo speaking people of Delta State and Prince of Onicha-Ugbo, however said the desire of the Igbo's to occupy the seat would be determined by President Goodluck Jonathan's decision to either run for another term or leave.
He said, "We are fighting that once Jonathan's tenure is over, an Igbo person will take over but this depends on whether he will leave in 2015 or not. It is imperative to note that it is his choice. Either way, we will support his decision as long as it is constitutional."
Reiterating the region's quest for the presidency, he said, "It is unfortunate that Nigeria's ruling system is on a tribal tripod, but that is what we have on ground. Therefore, come 2015, Igbo's must sit down and organise ourselves for the next election. And to achieve this, there must be an element of uniformity."
Going down memory lane, he insisted that a Nigerian from the Igbo extraction should occupy the office of the president of Nigeria for the purpose of equity and fairness since every other region has had it shot at the seat. He said, "Igbo Presidency is not negotiable. As soon as President Goodluck Jonathan leaves office, be it 2015 or 2019, it is the turn of Ndigbo to take over power. Every part of the region has had its shot in government except the South East. It is only fair to ensure a level playing field for all regions.
"Our stance and agitation remains that we owe no apologies for our quest to rule, but it depends on the president. I say this based on the constitution, because it allows the president to contest for second term. So it depends on him to decide whether to renew his mandate and also to Nigerians whether they still want him, but the issue is that whenever he is leaving, an Igbo person must replace him.
"So, we have to get ourselves really organised, nobody gives power, so we have to put in our own effort; it is a collective responsibility of all Ndigbo. We are not against Jonathan's second term; it all depends on him, his wife and his God. So as far as his decisions are constitutional and equitable, Ndigbo supports him till whenever he wants to step down.
"After the South East has had its shot at the presidency, we can now begin to vote on merit. It is unfortunate that politics in Nigeria is run on tribal tripod. However, since that is the exigency of the moment, there is nothing we can do but to get our share for the sake of justice and equity. "For the Igbos, we must sit down and organise ourselves to know who will represent us. We must show we need power. Igbo leaders need to begin to prepare themselves so that the presidential ambition for the Igbo people could be realised."
He added, "Ohanaeze Ndigbo wants a fair share of the national wealth. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. There must be an element of uniformity although the is nothing in the constitution about zonal structure, realities and practicalities on ground have proven that things are better done zonally." To achieve this quest, he said the agenda of the newly elected executive of the group under the leadership of Mr. Gary Igariwey was to reach out to aggrieved members.
"The recent election had drawn its fair share of blood as disenchanted members flayed the election. However, Oganah said the newly elected body has extended an arm of fellowship to aggrieved members, urging them to sacrifice personal interest in favour of a unified front especially in the region's 2015 quest in the presidential election.
To buttress his point, he said the new leadership has pledged to reach out to all members of the group who may have been piqued by actions or inactions of the former Ambassador Ralph Uwechue led executives.
Oganah, said the agenda of the Igariwey-led Ohanaeze Ndigbo is to reposition the organisation as a structural power base for the Igbo people in Nigeria and Diaspora and to ensure they speak in one voice, adding that the body will not fail to reach out to the aggrieved members in order to get them sheathe their swords in the interest of Igbo unity.
He added that asides from reaching out to aggrieved members, plans are in the offing to reach out to their immediate neighbours as well as other ethnic groups to drum support for the region's quest. Oganah, who agreed that the region alone cannot realise their presidential ambition without the support of other regions, said it would engage its neighbours in Southwest and South-South and other geo-political zones to ensure that the dream comes to reality.
Still on the election that almost tore down the house of the apex body, he said the highest body in Ohaneze, which is the Ime Obi, made up of past and present members of Ohaneze Ndigbo, and governors amongst others had come up with a memo that mandated that power must be handed over early this year. He said, "National Electoral Commission (NEC) adopted and approved the guidelines that the national election must take place on or before January 15. So if you conduct the election on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd or up to 10th, you are in order but if it is conducted after the date, you are not in order; you are on your own.
"At the end of the day, the election was conducted, although it was not perfect, what we used in voting were mere papers with names of the candidates and there were wastebaskets that served as election boxes. So no matter who won or lost, the will of the people were maintained. There was a period when the former Secretary didn't want the election to hold, 14 out of 15 members of NEC of Ohaneze wanted the election to hold except the secretary who walked out. The man was ignored, the elections were conducted and the elected people were sworn in," he said.
If the body thought that was the end of the fight, they had another thing coming when another group came up and said they don't recognise the leadership of Ohaneze led by Ambassador Ralph Uwechue and everything Ohaneze Uwechue has done.
He expressed satisfaction that the election planned by the group did not hold because the militant arm of Ohanaeze (MASSOB) made sure of that. He said, "Anybody dealing with any other group or person is making a big mistake. Once we are inaugurated, we would begin a new journey of giving Igbos a befitting leadership. Ohaneze belongs to everybody from the Igbo extraction, No one needs special invitation to attend Ohaneze meetings, once you are from any Igbo speaking part of the country, it qualifies you to be a member.
" We want to tell the aggrieved members that this is not the time to go to court, rather it is time to rally round and build the Igbo nation. You can see what the Yoruba people have achieved and see what the Niger Delta people are enjoying today. It is because they are organised. We are begging our brothers to come together, everybody cannot be in the executive of Ohaneze, and some of them can serve in the various committees.
"We are appealing to them to support the new executive and in the larger interest of the Igbo nation, come together to reach out to the Niger Deltans, our brothers in Hausa land, our Southwest members and collapse our selfish interest for the group's interest. Let us come together, pull our resources to achieve the Igbo agenda," Ogana appealed
On how the region would address the division in the body he said this time around, the region will be speaking with one voice as well as engage other neighbours like the South-West, South-South, through peaceful dialogue.