IN the past few weeks, a group of people from Owerri zone have continued to make embarrassing statements not only to Owerri zone but to the two other zones of Orlu and Okigwe. There is a saying in Igbo land “Okenye anayi ano na ulo eghu amuoo na obu.” As a proud and patriotic son of Igbo land, whose achievements and contributions towards the development of the land, Nigeria and humanity is widely acknowledged. As the Ahaejiagamba of Igbo land, a title conferred on me by the seven states of Igbo land—Imo, Abia, Rivers, Ebonyi, Enugu, Delta and Anambra. As the chairman of Council of Elders of Ohanaeze Ndigbo worldwide and as a patriot who has been honoured by Imo people as Grand Commander of Imo State, an honour which enlists my name in the Hall of Fame of Imo State, I am constrained to make the following comments.
I wish to state categorically that the public should note that this group has no mandate to speak for Owerri zone and I, therefore, appeal to our brothers in Orlu and Okigwe to totally discountenance and ignore their libelous and provocative statements. I want to put it on record for the benefit of the younger generation that Orlu and Okigwe helped to make it possible to locate the capital of Imo State in Owerri. There was a fierce struggle to locate the capital at Umuahia. At that time, Umuahia axis had very strong presence in the Armed Forces Ruling Council of Nigeria; but the support of many leaders from Orlu, Okigwe and Owerri zones made it possible to locate the capital at Owerri.
In this regard, mention must be made of the efforts of Chief R. B. K. Okafor, Dr K.O. Mbadiwe, Chief Sam Mbakwe, Chief Collins Obi, Mrs Chinyere Asika, Chief J.K. Nzerem, Chief Olumba Onyewuchi, Chief Ritchard Onyenobi, Chief Onyeso Nwachukwu, Chief Nnana Ukegbu, Dr Sylvester Ugo, His Royal Highness (HRH) Eze Onukogu, Dr Ben Uzoukwu Nzeribe, Chief John R. Anyaehie, Dr Walter Ofonagoro, Senator Evan Enwerem, Chief Sylvester Enwerem and many others. When Imo State was created, it included the present Abia State and part of Ebonyi State and there was mutual cooperation among Orlu, Owerri and Okigwe. We must acknowledge the efforts of Orlu leaders like Chief R.B.K. Okafor and HRH Eze S.N. Uzor (Nze Obi of Egbema) in preventing part of OhajiEgbema from being ceded to Rivers State – today Imo State is an oil producing State. Most of these Orlu leaders helped to make this possible.
Today, the Imo state government led by Senator Hope Uzodinma, has given political appointments to many men and women from Owerri zone. So far, in his developmental efforts, he has not discriminated against Owerri zone. I, therefore, appeal to him to discountenance all the attack this group made against him in the social and print media and face his governance of Imo State.The Imo Charter of Equity, which insists on fairness and equity to all zones of the state was originated by me. I was the leader of National Republican Convention(NRC) in the whole of Eastern Nigeria. At that time, geo-political zones had not been created in Nigeria; so, I had considerable influence in all the states in Eastern Nigeria such as Rivers, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Imo, Abia, Enugu and Anambra. These were the only states created in the former Eastern Nigeria at that time. Douglas Acholonu was a front runner in the NRC; he is very sound medical doctor and he has an excellent family background. His father, the late Igwe Acholonu, was one of the oldest and powerful monarchs in Igboland. Douglas was supported by very strong political and economic leaders. One of them was Sir Clement Maduako. We held a meeting and decided that zoning should start from Owerri zone. That singular decision led to the emergency of Chief Evan Enwerem from Owerri zone as a governor.I, therefore, want to state that Orlu and Okigwe people respected this decision and did not go about to abuse me or insult me; rather, when I contested for president of Nigeria, the three zones supported me and, indeed,Orlu gave me the highest votes. The government was toppled by a military coup.
In 1998, the Military Government lifted the ban on political activities. This charter of equity was revisited. This time, at my Corporate Headquarters, Oriental Plaza, Okigwe Road Ugwu Orji, Owerri, it was unanimously reaffirmed by the three zones. The only resentment was from a few individuals from Owerri zone who insisted that Owerri should go for another term. We, however, reminded them that the spirit of the Equity is that any group that got their own should endeavour to keep it. But if they are unfortunate to lose it through military coup, impeachment or any other cause, it has to go to another zone. Eventually, Orlu produced the governor in 1999 in the person of Chief Achike Udenwa.
After eight years, the next zone to produce governor was Okigwe. A lot of things happened but I fought like a wounded lion to make Araraume from Okigwe zone win the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship primary under severe contest by some candidates from Orlu and Owerri. What transpired thereafter is part of history. But I was satisfied that Dr Ikedi Ohakim from Okigwe zone eventually won the election from another party because PDP decided to support him in a bye election. He later on decamped to PDP. Ikedi Ohakim needed to serve his second term in order to handover to Owerr zone but very much to our surprise, in 2011, some group of Owerri people had a bargain with Owelle Rochas Okorocha to work against Ikedi Ohakim. They claimed that Okorochas signed an agreement with them to serve only one term and handover to a candidate from Owerri zone. I warned them that no politician who has opportunity to serve a second term would abandon it based on any agreement not in consonant with the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria. They completely ignored me. But undaunted by the forces against Ohakim, some leaders of Owerri zone and I mobilised Imo people from Okigwe and Orlu to plead that Ohakim should be given a chance to complete his tenure so that an Owerri man would emerge after his tenure. I must observe that most Orlu leaders including HRM Eze, Dr Cletus Ilomuanya, supported us in our effort to ensure that Ohakim won the election. It is important to mention that Ohakim won in a number of local government areas in Owerri zone but lost woefully in some council areas and this resulted in his failure. If all the local government areas had supported him, he could have won and then handed over to an Owerri person in the spirit of the Charter of the Equity. This action led to practical collapse of the Charter of Equity. After Rochas Okoroachs’ first term, I championed the cause of an Owerri candidate in the PDP. Senator Uzodinma was a very strong contender for the governorship. He was very close to me. He is part of my political structure and he respects and holds me in very high esteem. But because of my strong belief that Owerri zone should be given an opportunity, I did not support the candidature of Uzodinma. It was clear to me that Uzodinma was very strong and if he contested at the primary, he could win and so I prevailed on him to drop his ambition and instead, he should go back to the Senate which he did.In 2015, our candidate in PDP lost the election to His Excellency Okorocha. Uzodinma, on the other hand, won election senatorial election.
In 2019, our candidate, Honourable Emeka Ihedioha won election as the governor of Imo State. I was the leader of the party at that time. After Ihedioha was sworn in as governor, in a brief ceremony at his residence, I made it clear to the people that I was getting old and, besides, I am a statesman respected and revered by reasonable Imo people of all political persuasions. Therefore, I will not be able to continue to lead the party in the state. From this point, Ihedioha became the leader of the party in the state. From the foregoing, it is clear that Owerri zone has been given the opportunity by Imo people to be governor two times and on those two occasions, I played major roles in actualising them. Ironically, some of the people criticising me are political travelers and adventurists; one of them since 1999 has gone round the major political parties. He started his journey from the PDP, he later joined Action Congress (AC) and from there to the All Progressives Congress(APC). In fact, he is one of those who negotiated the agreement with Okorocha and persuaded Owerri people to vote for Okorocha. He later joined All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) from the APC and during the last election when he saw the prospect in PDP, he left APGA to join PDP. At the end of the day, he achieved what he wanted by getting a big political appointment in PDP government in the state. I have the benefit of good family background. I was told by my parents that every elderly person, irrespective of his position, must be treated with respect. I, therefore, take this opportunity as a father to advise every Igbo person that our forebears taught us the golden rule of respect for elders and I advise the younger generation today to keep to that rule of respect for elders.
In Igbo culture, it brings happiness, peace, love and progress. From the above, it is clear that I played major role in making it possible for Owerri zone to produce two governors. When a governor is sworn in, it is his duty to protect his job, and not mine. Evan Enwerem was removed by a military coup, and not by me. Ihedioha was removed by a Court judgment in favour of one of the contestants, Uzodinma, and not by me. Uzodinma did not act in consonance with Orlu, Okigwe or even anybody from Owerri zone. He acted in actualisation of his aspiration to be a governor. This group has said that I don’t have the mandate of our people to speak for Owerri people but I have the mandate to speak for Igbo as chairman of Ohaneze Elders Council. If I can speak for Igbo, I can also speak for Ndi-Imo. My advice is that we are Christians; the Holy Bible makes it clear that we should pray and support our leaders; it did not say that we should destroy them by words or action. These few people should change their ways and know that a governor of a state has got executive powers; he takes decision on economic and social issues pertaining to the state. I have observed that Uzodinma has been fair to the three zones in the state: Okigwe, Owerri and Orlu in allocation of resources. He did not take the part of narrow minded politicians who always try to victimise those who did not support or vote for them.
My role in Ohanaeze Ndigbo president-general race
On the Ohanaeze issue, it is important to correct many misleading information about my role in the emergence of Professor George Obiozor as a possible consensus candidate as president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. From the constitution of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the state is to produce the next president-general in January, 2021. I played a major role in reviving Ohanaeze Ndigbo when President IbrahimBadamosi Babangida lifted the ban on political activities. At that time, I was mobilising to contest election as president of Nigeria. I have held various positions in Ohanaeze Ndigbo. When Ikemba Odimegwu Ojukwu’s tenure expired as chairman of planning and strategy of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, he handed over to me as the next chairman of the committee when he disengaged. I was also the chairman of the Political Committee of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide. I was also the chairman of the Constitution Review Committee of the organisation that produced its constitution. And today, I am the chairman of Elders Council of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. In 2019, at the time Ihedioha was governor, Professor Obiozor approached me and said that he wanted to find out if I was contesting the position of president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo; that if I would contest, he would support me but if I am not contesting, he would like to contest. I told him that I have served Igbo, Nigeria and humanity to the best of my ability, both in times of war and peace and at every stage, I did my best; my contemporaries are my witnesses. So, I said I would not contest but I would not make any commitment until I know all the candidates. Later this year Professor Obiozor approached me and meanwhile more than 25 people have indicated interest in the organisation’s presidency. Most of them were going round distributing drinks and money to people.
As a leader, I found this situation very undesirable and embarrassing. In my capacity, I called a broad meeting of select Imo leaders which included traditional rulers, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), former governors, and former deputy governors, former speakers, political office holders, former chairmen of all political associations, religious leaders, community and business leaders from Owerri zone. The meeting was held at Lady Eudora Iwuanyanwu Hall in my corporate headquarters, Oriental Plaza, Owerri on November 4, 2020. The meeting was well attended. The meeting resolved to set up a committee to screen the candidates. The following were members of the screening committee: Chief Dr. E. C. Iwuanyanwu – chairman, Dr. Ezechi Chukwu president of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Imo State – secretary, Rev. Dr. Eche E. Eche – chairman Christian Association of Nigeria Imo State, Bishop Athan Azubuike, HRM Eze Samuel Agunwa Ohiri – chairman, Council of Traditional Rulers Imo State, HRM Eze Cletus Ilomuanya – former chairman Council of Traditional Rulers Imo State and Chairman South East Council of traditional rulers, Douglas Acholonu – former deputy governor of Imo State, Barrister Eze Duruiheoma,SAN, former Inspector-General of Police, Sir Mike Okiro(rtd), Professor Maurice Iwu – former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Ebere Udeagu – former deputy governor of Imo State, Chief Maxwell Duru – Former Speaker Imo State House of Assembly, His Excellency Ambassador Eddy Ohuoha, Sir Ambrose Ejiogu – business and political leader, Chief Sam Obaji – business and political leader, HRH Eze Oliver Ohanwe – a prominent traditional ruler.
The committee called all aspirants to submit their Curriculum Vitae and programmes for Ohanaeze Ndigbo during their four years’ tenure. Many of the aspirants later withdrew on their own; only six people sent in their resume and programmes of action. The committee screened the six aspirants and Professor Obiozor credentials and programmes were outstanding. We now reconvened a meeting of Imo leaders and they unanimously endorsed Obiozor and requested that appointment should be obtained from Uzodinma, governor of Imo State. It is embarrassing to us as Christians that our people have embarked on all sorts of malicious falsehood. Some have presented petitions purported to have been written by one Professor L. C. Kalu living in Washington USA. Other people forged letter from Meitty Allah. We have investigated the two and found all to be false. In fact, the writer of the falsehood is based in Owerri here.
In the course of my assignment, some people from Owerri zone approached me and insisted that since the governor is from Orlu, the president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide should be zoned to Owerri. I explained to them that the post is zoned to Imo State to produce the best irrespective of senatorial district. In effect, if someone of the same mother with the governor is the best acceptable candidate to the Igbo, he will be selected. They, however, did not accept my advice and rather prefer to carry out malicious falsehood against me.
Finally, I have received some curious concerns from various people in the state and beyond over this incident. Most of them expressed deep sadness and worries in view of what is considered to be my past selfless contributions to the development of Imo State and Nigeria. I want to assure all friends and well wishers that I am not perturbed; everybody has a right of expression. I will, however, in future prefer in order not to overheat the polity, for people to engage in dialogue before making provocative and insulting statements on me or any other person. Rest assured that I will continue to serve our people in Owerr zone, Imo State, Nigeria and indeed the entire humanity.
Chief Dr E.C. Iwuanyanwu, CFR, OFR, MFR, FNICE, FNIST, KSC