Prince Richard Ozobu, a chieftain of Ohanaeze, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, introduces a somewhat contentious dimension to the raging issue of the validity or otherwise of Ohanaeze’s endorsement of Atiku Abubakar/Peter Obi as the body’s preferred presidential candidate. He told Deputy Editor MIKE UBANI, in this interview that Nwodo had since ceased to be President-General of Ohanaeze. He argues that Ohanaeze is a cultural organization, and therefore, ought not to dabble into the murky waters of politics. EXCERPTS
What is your reaction to Ohanaeze’s endorsement of PDP’s Atiku Abubakar/Peter Obi, presidential ticket?
In the first place, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, ceased to be President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo on 31st December, 2018, the day his tenure expired. He was elected for two-year tenure, as provided for in the constitution of Ohanaeze. If he is claiming to be doing four-year tenure, I challenge him to bring the Ohanaeze constitution which provides for a four-year term for the president-general and his executive.
Assuming and not conceding that Nwodo is the extant president-general of Ohanaeze, how valid is the body’s endorsement of Atiku/Obi ticket?
There was no valid endorsement by Ohanaeze of anybody or specifically Atiku for any election. The statement credited to Nwodo on the adoption of Atiku/Obi is merely for himself, his friends and cohorts. There was no valid meeting of Ime-Obi Ohanaeze where Atiku was endorsed as the Igbo preferred presidential candidate. Ohanaeze has a constitution, and the essence of that constitution is to make everybody’s action predictable. So, you cannot make a statement that is totally out of tune with the provisions of Ohanaeze’s constitution. And going by Ohanaeze’s constitution, for decisions of Ime-Obi to be valid and regarded as the decision taken by Ndigbo, that decision must be tabled before the Ohanaeze General Assembly. It the decision of Ime-Obi is approved by two-thirds majority of the General Assembly, that decision will now have a force of law. And membership of the General Assembly is drawn from among ordinary Igbo people; from the seven Igbo states of Anambra, Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, Rivers and Delta. You are also aware that the secretary general of Ohanaeze Barrister Uche Okwukwu, said that no such decision to endorse Atiku/Obi was taken by Ohanaeze Ime-Obi. He said he was not even at the said meeting where the decision was allegedly taken. If that is the case, who took the minutes of the meeting of Ime- Obi? Who signed and issued the communiqué of the said meeting? The procedure for running Ohanaeze is documented.
So, Ime-Obi is not the final decision-making organ of Ohanaeze?
Ime-Obi is like a rapid response body that is summoned by Ohanaeze leadership when there is a matter that requires urgent attention. And the membership of Ime-Obi is drawn from the entire seven Igbo-speaking states, and the diaspora. There are also statutory members of Ime-Obi such as the sitting governors etc. But the decision taken at the Ime-Obi is not the stand of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. The decision taken at the level of Ime-Obi becomes the position of Ndigbo when it gets the approval of two-third majority of the General Assembly meeting. And if Nwodo claimed to have summoned an Ime-Obi meeting where the decision to endorse Atiku/Obi was taken, he ought to have summoned a meeting of the General Assembly the next day to ratify the decision taken at the level of Ime-Obi.
Would you have supported Atiku’s endorsement if it was validly taken by Ohanaeze General Assembly?
If a meeting of the General Assembly called by Nwodo had endorsed Atiku, I would still have kicked against it because Nwodo ceased to be Ohanaeze President-General on 31st December, 2018. He was elected for two-year tenure, and his tenure has expired. If Nwodo claims that he has a four-year tenure, he should show us where a four-year tenure was provided for in Ohanaeze constitution. All attempts made so far to make the tenure of Ohanaeze executive four years had failed.
What role should Ohanaeze play as far as the forthcoming general election is concerned?
For too long now, Ohanaeze has been very careful in not supporting candidates for election. The last endorsement of Goodluck Jonathan by the former Igariwey-led Ohanaeze was a disaster. Those who presided over the affairs of Ohanaeze before Igariwey and Nwodo came into office, were very careful over the issue of endorsing candidates for elections. Ohanaeze is not a political association, but basically a cultural organization that caters for the interests of Ndigbo; not only those living in Igboland, but mainly Igbos in the diaspora. Under Prof. Ben Nwabueze, and retired Justice Eze Ozobu, Ohanaeze never endorsed any political party. But if you are a politician, and you are being hounded by your colleagues because you are an Igbo man, Ohanaeze can come to your rescue.
Do you agree with Nwodo that Atiku was endorsed because of his promise to restructure the country if elected president this February?
You don’t even need a president to start the process of restructuring the country, and the president cannot decree restructuring under our constitution. The first question you should ask yourself is whether members of the National Assembly are willing to take a decision that will put them out of office because that is what restructuring is likely to do to them. The legislature, in the first place, should be willing to give up some of their powers within the context of restructuring. Restructuring cannot be done by a president without being called a dictator. The National Assembly should first try and find a way to amend the constitution to accommodate the word restructuring, and thereafter outline the process to follow in restructuring the country. To begin with two-thirds of the 774 local government areas in the country should first agree on the need for restructuring. That means that two-thirds of our governors should lobby the local government councils to approve the issue of restructuring, so that you have two-thirds of local government council approving restructuring. Thereafter, that approval will be taken to the National Assembly where those governors that approved restructuring will still lobby members of the National Assembly from their respective states to approve restructuring. And where that has been done, the National Assembly will thereafter send a bill on restructuring to the president for his assent. But tell me how the National Assembly can ever initiate a process that will technically put some of them out of office. If restructuring were that easy, why didn’t Atiku do it when he was vice president for eight years? We have an existing constitution which stipulates how we should rule ourselves; for instance, how to share our revenues, how to pass the national budget. How do you change these provisions?
Talking about Igbo interest, don’t you think the selection of an Igbo son, Peter Obi, as the vice presidential candidate is enough reason for Igbo electorate to support Atiku?
I don’t think so. Atiku’s does not have the capacity to defeat President Muhammadu Buhari. The PDP presidential candidate cannot in the present circumstances, muster sufficient votes to make him president even in the North where he comes from. Why do people keep making noise, and telling us lies. Majority of the voters are in the North, especially the Talakawas, and they will definitely vote for Buhari and not Atiku. I had already said that over 50 per cent igbos live outside igbo land, and therefore, what we should be interested in is the provision of security for these Igbos who live outside Igbo land so that they can pursue their various businesses in wherever they find themselves outside Igboland. We should be concerned about implementation of citizenship rights which will enable Igbos to contest for elections wherever they are resident. Why can’t Igbos contest council and House of Assembly elections in states where they live? We should be concerned about the safety and security of Igbos where they live and do business. What took Igbos to the North was not as a result of the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, was born in Zungeru in 1904, and so Igbos have been living and doing business in the North more than a hundred years before Nigeria came into being. We should be concerned about the true observance of rule of law, and provision of security, and not for our son to be vice president.