Sir Ogochukwu Onyema, SAN, is the current Deputy President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and also the Acting President General, as the President-General, Professor Gary Enwo Igariwey, is away abroad for medical treatment. He tells Enugu Correspondent MAURICE OKAFOR that a new leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo would emerge on January 12, 2017 and that Ndigbo must back the new philosophy of economic industrialization of Ala-Igbo by Ndigbo. He also speaks on some other topical issues. Excerpts:
Who really is Sir Ogochukwu Onyema?
I am the Deputy President-General/Acting President-General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Organisation Worldwide. I am a Solicitor and Advocate of Supreme Court of Nigeria who had led Ohanaeze Enugu State as Secretary and as State President for four years before becoming the Deputy President-General.
There are mounting allegations that another crisis is brewing in Ohaneze Ndigbo. What’s your reaction to this?
Let me first of all correct an impression. There is no problem at all in Ohanaeze Ndigbo Organisation Worldwide. Ohanaeze has for a reasonable time enjoyed peace, unity and oneness. We know that the tenure of this administration will end on 12th day of January 2017, barely few weeks from now. We are aware that the ambitions of those who want to come on board as the new National executive of Ohanaeze, are gradually being manifest. The zoning of offices in Ohanaeze for the next election is not causing problems. I believe this is a figment of imagination of the speculators because no officer of Ohanaeze or any right thinking Igboman will say it. However, I will then not doubt you ‘ad infinitum’. In that case, I will simply tell you that it must have come from the mind of a person that is not well briefed - a mischief maker, or a person who does not like peace. It probably may come from the mind of a person who wants to sow a seed of discord in Ohanaeze; a person who hates the progress of Ndigbo.
I say this because, even before our assumption of office on 12th day of January, 2013, the constitutional rotation of offices in Ohanaeze (which laymen call Zoning of Offices) was known. Enugu State by the virtue of the provisions of Ohaneze constitution on rotation of offices will produce the next President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo. Even the constitutional rotation of offices by 2021 is known to everyone now.
It is determined by simple and glaring constitutional provisions, especially as it is contained in Article 11, 12, 13, 14 & 15 of Ohanaeze Ndi igbo constitution (reprinted 2015). Even a primary school child looking at the constitution will know whose turn it is to produce candidate for the next office. I therefore appeal to our people, to please not throw spanner in the wheel of progress of Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo Organisation Worldwide. Enough of the battering of the image of Ndigbo by the creation of one problem or the other in our apex body -Ohanaeze.
Going by the zoning principle enshrined in the constitution of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Enugu State will produce the next president of the organization, whereas Imo State produces the next Deputy President as the organisation’s Secretary will emerge from Rivers State.
What are the expectations?
At this stage of our nation building, we as Ndigbo should be much more focused, especially now we are preaching the philosophy of Economic Expansion and Industrialization of Ala-Igbo by Ndi Igbo. We cannot be asking our people to return home and invest, only to be seen embroiled in yet another controversy of leadership tussle in Ohanaeze. It is usually a shame, and may God touch the minds of anyone whom anybody wants to use to achieve that.
‘Ohanaeze’ is a sacred name that represents us. But we have not shown a sense of its sacrosanctness. Most often the boldness and effrontery with which sons and daughters of Igbo land rise on occasions to ridicule the image of Ohaneze is worrisome. Without achieving much, they destroy much by their careless utterances. Other tribes do not do this to their apex body.
Remember that “Onye kpoo oba ya nkpokoro, ndi iro ewere ya kpoo ntu.” This means that, if you say that your basket or cup is useless, your enemies will use them as dustbin. Therefore, I maintain that as Ndigbo, we should watch our steps and guide our utterances always. If there is anything, if those administering the affairs of Ohaneze are not doing well, it can easily be brought to their knowledge quietly and through a memo; rather than castigating our collective image in the public to our collective detriment anyway.
Who can contest?
This period of change-in-batton is yet another time for anyone who feels that the National Executive Council of Ohaneze is not doing things right, to come and contest for a position and join in getting things right. Throwing spanners in the wheel of progress of Ohaneze by our utterances et cetera, should not be encouraged anymore. Ohaneze is our institution. The way we package it is the way it will be seen. And to an extent it will outlive each and every one of us today. So the earlier we help our self by showing reverence to Ohanaeze, the better for us and our posterity.
Why was President-General Prof. Igariwey not available during the 2016 Igbo Day celebration?
Indeed, it is true that my principal - the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Organisation Worldwide (Chief Gary Enwo Igariwey) did not feature during the Igbo Day 2016. It was simply because of his doctor’s recommendation - who put him on a bed rest. He had been working tirelessly for years and being a human being, going on a health check is not abnormal at all. You may recall that I effectively stood in for him during the IGBO DAY 2016 held at the National Secretariat of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Organisation Worldwide, at No 7 Park Avenue GRA Enugu. And I gave our Igbo Day message accordingly. He is currently out of the country, and I am holding brief for him, and things are going on well.
Why the delay in setting up Ohaneze Election Committee?
As regards the upcoming election, the National Executive Council would have set up the Election committee in our earlier proposed meeting of 19th October, 2016, but we decided to give more time to see if the President-General himself will be around to make inputs. Hopefully, before the end of November, 2016, Ohaneze would have set up an Electoral Committee to conduct election for the new executives that will be handed over on 12th January, 2017.
I agree that it is getting late for the composition of the Electoral Committee, especially as the Electoral Committee that brought Uwaeche’s government, and our government in place was set up in the month of July, preceding the hand over. We will not wish away the fact that the absence of the PG is affecting things adversely. But I assure you that nothing has spoilt. We desire to give honour to whom honour is due, especially as it is all about our handing over. But I assure you, nothing will get out of hand. Our executive will surely hand over to a newly elected executive on the appointed day - 12th January, 2017.
I therefore seize this opportunity to once again, appeal to our brothers and sisters who might be having the ambition to contest election in Ohaneze, to know that not all who contest will win. Hence, we should from onset have it at the back of our mind that service in Ohaneze is a service to Ndigbo. It is an unpaid job; although we are struggling hard to make the administration of Ohanaeze self-sustaining, and the governor of Imo State Owelle Rochas Okorocha is helping to see if we can actualize this by the next tenure.
There is some talk on amendment of Ohaneze Constitution…
Yes, as regards our ambition to amend the constitution of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo Organisation Worldwide - it is a welcome development. But unfortunately, till date nothing has been concluded about it. And in our last Executive meeting which I presided over, we addressed the issue, and observed that those who ought to have concluded work on it over 3 (three) months ago, where much more occupied by other national Ohaneze assignments like the IGBO UNITY FORUM. We therefore resolved that the issue of constitution review will be left for the new administration that is coming up in January 12th, 2017, and I have so conveyed it to them.
There is no need hurrying over ‘constitution review’ in few weeks to our hand-over. Hurrying over a constitution review now (today is 24th October 2016, and we are handing over on 12th January, 2017) could be misinterpreted and it can easily portend prejudice to some people and cause confusion and trouble to the fragile peace being enjoyed in Ohaneze now. Any person insisting that he or she must tamper with the constitution of Ohaneze few weeks to hand over, should tell the public his or her personal interest, which will override the collective interest of Ndigbo.
Are there any inputs from the South-East governors?
Owelle Rochas Okorocha has done a lot towards kick-starting a ‘Peace Committee’ through which Ohaneze created what we call IGBO UNITY FORUM. The 1st edition was hosted by the governor of Imo State, while the 2nd edition was hosted by the governor of Anambra State. This is a conglomeration of both Igbo Intelligentsia and Igbo leaders to formulate strategies for harnessing our comparative advantages in our country. It is designed to evolve the needed platforms for the ECONOMIC EXPANSION AND INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION OF THE SOUTH EAST. The South East governors are taking this seriously and we commend them for that. They have gone extra miles to complement our efforts. We thank them for the kind of respect and reverence they show to Ohanaeze, as our Apex Igbo Organisation. I think things are turning out well, and for the better.