Former Director-General of the defunct National Maritime Authority (NMA), now Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Mr. Patrick John Egesi, opens up to JOE CHIBUEZE and ANTHONY NWACHUKWU on the imperative of reinventing Ohaneze Ndigbo to provide new direction for the Igbo in the Nigerian project. Holding that the socio-cultural body must distance itself from party politics, he clarifies why he believes that Prof. Chiweyite Ejike is the best candidate to lead Ohanaeze Ndigbo. Excerpts:
What is your take on the forthcoming election for a new President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo?
One is delighted that such an opportunity has come again for the Igbo world-wide. It is tempting to lose interest in such an Igbo institution because of its past unimpressive record. We all know that part of its problems was that it was almost, if not completely sucked in by party politics, with the result that the leadership seemed to have forgotten what their mission was.
I just hope that this time, the organisation distances itself as far as possible from any political party – be it PDP, APC or APGA – otherwise it will lose relevance.
We understand that the presidency has been zoned to Enugu
I suppose this is to give every section of Igboland a chance. While it is a privilege for Enugu State, it is also a duty for them to submit the very best for the election.
Names like Admiral Allison Madueke, Chief Nnia Nwodo and Prof. Chiweyite Ejike have been mentioned. Who do you think could do a better job?
All three are good - I must be frank with you. However, if we are talking about distancing the Ohaneze from party politics, we should not be looking for a dyed-in-the-wool politician. So far, I can say that two of the contenders have not been politicians in the true sense of the word. While they may all be quite good, I sincerely believe that the Ohaneze should not be perceived as an extension of any political party by the generality of Nigerians.
With regards to the admiral, I have met him a number of times when he was the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) and when he lost his first wife in 1995. On both occasions, he came across as a nice and caring person. Even his close aide, like the former CNS, Vice Admiral Dele Ezeoba (rtd), has remained a good friend over the years.
My choice, however, is Prof. Chiweyite Ejike because of my deeper knowledge of his capability. I have worked with Prof. Ejike as an assistant and have seen him care for the poor, and for people he hardly knew. He is an extraordinarily good manager of men, a man that is endowed with intellectual ability far beyond the ordinary.
At this period when most Igbo seem to feel neither here nor there, we need a man with an unquestionable integrity. What Prof. Ejike tells you in the morning is what he will tell you in the night. He has demonstrated political courage in tenaciously and diplomatically holding onto what he believes is a moral ground, even at the risk of losing favour.
Can Prof. Ejike really command the respect of an average Igbo man?
Yes, he has been a university lecturer in all parts of Nigeria. The development and advancement of young people all over the country has been his life-long career. He is currently the Chairman of the Convention for Intellectual Cooperation of Nigeria. Prof. Ejike holds first and second degrees from the University of Manchester, England and a Ph.D. from the University of Ibadan. Between 1976 and 1986, he served as the Foundation Head of Zoology and Dean of Natural Sciences, the University of Jos (UNIJOS). For 23 years, he served at various levels at the Universities of Ife, Ibadan, UNN and UNIJOS.
He was the Vice-Chancellor, Anambra State University of Technology (1986 to 1991), and between 1993 and 1999 he was the Pro-Chancellor, University of Maiduguri, and later the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO). He was also President of the Science Association of Nigeria (1984 to 1986), and the founding president of the Biotechnology Society of Nigeria (1985 to 1987).
Ejike is the incumbent Chairman of Ozo Society of Nigeria and the Deputy Chairman, Igbo Leaders of
Thought (ILT). He has an abiding interest in matters concerning the wellbeing of Ndigbo and has a passion to restore the core cultural values of the Igbo nation. He strongly advocates the adoption of what he terms the Four Pillars of Igbo Worldview: Humility, Even-handedness, Rationality and Objectivity.
As Deputy Chairman of ILT, I’m sure that great men like Prof. Ben Nwabueze will have a lot to say about his prowess, amiability, humility and great leadership qualities. Nwabueze wrote last week about him: “At a time that Ohaneze Ndigbo is in shambles, and in some kind of disarray inflicted on it by lapses on the part of the leadership in recent years, we need someone of great integrity, impeccable character, outstanding sagacity and intellect, principled and disciplined, someone imbued with a passion and a vision for the promotion of the interest of Ndigbo, especially within the context of Nigeria.
“Prof. C. Ejike seems to me such a person. He possesses, in an eminent degree, the qualities mentioned above. In terms of educational/academic qualifications, experience and other credentials, Chiweyite Ejike has it. From working closely with him as my deputy in ILT, I know him to be a good manager of men and resources, however small the resources, an exemplary leader, a man of outstanding intellectual endowment, with an affable personality and a high sense of responsibility.”
That coming from Prof. Nwabueze himself, I don’t think a person of his caliber will give such great testimonial to somebody who does not merit it.
Enugu State is said to be working on a consensus candidate. How does that affect Prof. Ejike’s chances?
The constitution of Ohaneze has no place for consensus candidacy. It requires the office of President-General to rotate among the five South-Eastern states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo, as well as the Mid-Western state of Delta. It further requires the state whose turn it is to produce a President-General, to nominate three candidates to be presented to the electorate, from whom a choice will be made at a duly conducted election.
The above requirements are intended to ensure justice and fairness among the states, as well as ensure that the candidate emerging from the election as winner possesses the requisite qualities. These requirements should be maintained. There should be no imposition of anyone as a sole candidate.
The office of President-General belongs to the entire Ndigbo, not any particular state as to bestow on it the right to impose a sole candidate on the organisation, which will stultify the idea of a healthy contest or competition as the guarantee for a credible and competent choice. So, as both a privilege and a duty, Enugu State must ensure that it is putting its best foot forward.
How well has Ohaneze faired in its responsibilities, especially of galvanizing the Igbo nation?
Personally, it has not lived up to its billing, especially in the area of redirecting the younger generation on the Igbo pre-war values of hard work and integrity – with the result that a lot of them feel quite at home with unwholesome habits of indolence and dishonesty.
The organisation should set standard for conferment of chieftaincies and other forms of recognition in order to shame those who illegally acquire wealth. People who have served the community honestly without acquiring illegal wealth are not respected. This should be reversed.