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THE LABYRINTH OF WORLD IGBO CONGRESS

By NBF News

Have you heard about World Igbo Congress (WIC) lately? WIC, an organization that not only attracted Nigerian politicians of all stripes, but also was a gathering platform for those in the Diaspora, particularly during its annual jamboree; an organization that now lost the confidence of Igbo in the Diaspora, is in the news. WIC, once a viable Igbo apex organization in the United States, is no more. Hold your breath; succor is on the way.

First, let me review the context on WIC reached the flagging condition that is marred with controversies and selfish litigations. It started with an acrimonious election in 2005 in Los Angeles. There, Ichie Chibuzor Onwuchekwe emerged as the organization's chairman. The people gave Onwuchekwe an unfettered opportunity to lead WIC.

Lurking behind the tenuous support was an aspiration of some Board members to take another crack at the leadership of WIC in 2008. Realizing the strong quest to unseat him, Onwuchekwe began plotting for his perpetual reign. WIC, under Onwuchekwe, began to float various versions of its constitution; manipulations and misinterpretations of WIC's bylaw became prevalent. Collective interests of WIC became secondary while Onwuchekwe, in his conceited manner, continued his foolhardy and demented overreach. Interestingly, he lost his affiliate membership in Houston, becoming a chairman without a home organization in violation of the WIC's constitution and bylaw.

The next election was in 2008 in Tampa, Florida and Ichie Chibuzor Onwuchekwe was a candidate to the objection of Ndi-Igbo in the Diaspora. The issue was without an affiliate; Onwuchekwe didn't qualify to run. However, he used the incumbency power and nefarious activities to scheme himself in as a candidate. Thus, the Tampa tiff produced two parallel WIC factions.

In 2009 Onwuchekwe's group took the other faction to court for the ownership right of World Igbo Congress incorporation and logo. According to Eto, 'Upon losing the opportunity to continue as second term WIC chairman at the 2008 convention and elections, Chibuzor Onwuchekwe and some of his officers brought a lawsuit in a Federal district court in Texas against WIC Board of Directors, the WIC House of Delegates and the newly elected officers for infringement of the WIC name and logo. The presiding federal court judge, Judge Kenneth Hoyt, on July 31, 2009 ruled that Onwuchekwe and co have no standing to bring the lawsuit. Onwuchekwe appealed this ruling twice at the same court, failing to convince the court to vacate the ruling. In September of 2009, they took their appeal to a federal appeals court in New Orleans. In December of 2010, a three judge panel affirmed the decision of the trial court and awarded court costs against Onwuchekwe, which he has failed to pay.' Eto continued, 'Following their loss in Tampa, Florida at the convention in 2008, Onwuchekwe incorporated a parallel WIC in Washington, D.C, and used the certificate of this incorporation to file for ownership of the WIC Name and Logo, at the US Trademark and Patent Court.'

Since 2008, both factions have held parallel conventions. In its 2011 convention, Onwuchekwe's group had an election in Toronto where he supported the candidacy of Chief Larry Udorji. 'Chief Larry Udorji was definitely Onwuchekwe's candidate,' echoed Atty. Charlie Chikezie. Chikezie expressed disappointment in how Ichie Onwuchekwe bungled the leadership of WIC after 2008. Well, after Tampa debacle, Atty. Charlie Chikezie introduced Umu Ada Igbo to WIC, which Kate Ezeofor founded in Nigeria. Ezeofor wanted WIC to help her suggest a leader in the US-an unsavory bait. Unfortunately, Onwuchekwe got tangled with Umu Ada Igbo; thus, a division ensued. Onwuchekwe sided with Madam Grace Adaozor. 'By meddling in the leadership of Umu Ada Igbo, Onwuchekwe got involved and got distracted,' Chikezie agonized. This eventually led Onwuchekwe through a path littered with self-destructive pikes that devoured him.

Nonetheless, relief is on the way-'a fair and open election' that will lead to a possible 'rebirth and reunification' of WIC. Based on the agreement reached by the three factions, Judge Kirkland ordered the same on January 20, 2012. Upon the court order, Atty. Gerald M. Birnberg, the Court-Appointed Special Master, expressed confidence that he will conduct a credible election. Considering the fact that election manipulations have plagued WIC, one wonders if the jinx will this time be broken. In our email communication, Birnberg exudes glimmer of hope for Ndi-Igbo. He said, 'My goal is to conduct a fair and transparent election for officers of the World Igbo Congress, Inc. in full compliance with the Court Order, all to the ultimate end of, hopefully, creating the opportunity for the World Igbo Congress to achieve re-unification and return to focusing in a unified manner on its mission of contributing to the advancement of the Igbo people, rather than diluting its ability to achieve such positive results because of the internal strife which has precluded such work for the past four years.'

On preventing fraud and manipulations, Gerald M. Birnberg conveyed, 'There is no such thing as a 'fraud-proof' election at any level, but I am confident that we have substantial safeguards in place which will minimize any possibility of fraud in this election. In the first place, there are lawyers involved representing three factions of the WIC and those attorneys have an opportunity to raise whatever questions and issues they may have. Second, there is court supervision of the election, so any 'fraud' can be brought to the court's attention and appropriately dealt with. Third, the voting process itself has been set up to minimize votes being fraudulently cast. Only Official Ballots will be counted. They all bear unique, coded, randomly assigned voter sequence numbers. They must be returned in the envelope I am providing to the voter, which is my law firm's letterhead stationery. Email ballots are not accepted.

Ballots must bear the signature of the voter. Ballots are mailed directly to the voter, not to some third party to distribute to the voters. I notify each voter by email that I have mailed him or her a ballot, so if no ballot is received promptly thereafter, the voter knows to contact me about the missing ballot.'

'And very importantly, I am counting on the good faith and fundamental honesty and integrity of the Igbo people and their desire to get the problems of the past behind them in order to move forward with this organization for the sake of Igbo people generally,' he continued.

'With regard to offices in which one candidate received a majority of the votes cast by February 17, I expect to be able to announce the winners no later than February 23. With regard to offices for which no candidate receives a majority of the votes cast by February 17, I expect to be able to announce the winners of the runoff election no later than March 19, 2012,' Birnberg concluded.

All eyes are on WIC. We thank Judge Kirkland and Atty. Birnberg for this last hope. Joe Eto, likely to emerge as the unified WIC chairman, has onus to corral everyone for a common purpose.