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WHEN OHANEZE FOUND A VOICE

By NBF News
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One of the most recent features of Nigeria 's fledging democracy is the vocal contributions the ethnic nationalities within Nigeria 's federation are volunteering towards influencing the trend of public opinion. With the country's major elections just a couple of months away this cannot be totally out of place.

Amongst these groups are the Arewa Consultative Forum, Afenifere, Ijaw National Congress and the Ohaneze Ndi Igbo.  Politically, this is a commendable development as these were the same ethnic and sub ethnic groups that came together at independence to settle for a Federal Republic of Nigeria. Their role primarily is also to redress whatever deficiency that has been noticed in the federal structure.

It is indeed very significant that one of these groups, the Ohaneze, has come out with a most thought-provoking pronouncement on the knotty issue of rotational presidency and the position of  Ndi Igbo in the unfolding political debate.  Ohaneze repudiated the interpretation of zoning to mean the tilting of power between  the North and the South, describing it as divisive, atavistic , unjust and smacking of inequity.  This is premised on the evident and incontrovertible fact that the three regions at independence, the North, East and West, have evolved into six geopolitical zones.

The Ohaneze position which was arrived at after wide consultations  is that out of these six geo-political zones, two , the South South and the South-East have not yet had their turn at the topmost executive position in the country, the presidency . The group posits that in the spirit of equity, national unity and democratic justice, it is only fair that a candidate from the South-South geo political zone be supported in the current dispensation while it will be the turn of the Igbo (South East) come 2015. This argument draws strength from the fact that other geo-political zones had at one time or the other presided over the affairs of the nation.

The Ohaneze position is historically bold and courageous .Coming from a section of the country not always known for political consensus and cohesion, the position must be seen in the context of its maturity and ability to patch up the widening cracks that dot the nation's political space. Because of the political significance , timing of pronouncement, and the near faultless semantic imputations, the Ohaneze position has received wide commendation from within and beyond the country.

Understandably too, attacks have also been directed at the leadership of Ohaneze from quarters that feel threatened by the thoroughly articulated position of the group. Some have argued that since Ohaneze is the apex socio-cultural body of Ndi Igbo, nationally and in the Diaspora it should remain apolitical  to retain its respected  position as a rallying point for socio-cultural renaissance of Ndi Igbo .

Those who canvass this viewpoint  contend that the very day it starts issuing political statements, is the day its relevance and respectability start waning. However, in the socio-political circumstances the Igbo have found themselves in the national power matrix since the civil war, an apolitical Ohaneze will be a most monumental disservice to the Igbo of today and several other generations hereafter. What Ohaneze has done through its position mirrors the motto of the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe's defunct newspaper, The West African Pilot: 'Show the light and the people will find the way'.

But why would Ohaneze remain apolitical in a dispensation when other ethnic nationalities have waxed stronger in their vocal contributions to national debates and colloquiums?  If other such bodies namely the Arewa group, Afenifere, Ijaw National Congress, Middle Belt Consultative Forum, Urhobo Progressive Union can constructively and consistently contribute to political debates as a away of enriching national discourses, then Ohaneze should stand up to be counted in a moment like this. This justifies its recent position on the critical issue of zoning.

For indeed, 'truth is not only violated by falsehood, it may be equally outraged by silence', (apologies to Henri Frederic Amiel). Ohaneze has done the right thing: speak out. The insight Ohaneze has brought to the principle of zoning holds more light to equity and national unity. This is a sharp departure from the avowed position of the average Northern political elite who carries on with an entrenched mindset that there are only two sections (zones) of the country, the North and the South, and that political power must permanently reside in the North but can be ceded to any section of the South once in a long while under any political arrangement.

This was very evident in the political calculation of NPN in 1979 when Dr Alex Ekwueme was used to divide the Igbo votes on the promise that Shagari was to hand over to him as president after eight years in office. A self-seeking Igbo politician was reported to have said later that it is better for the Igbo to continue to play second fiddle rather than not to play any fiddle at all.

It however remains historically instructive that the same Northern political interests made sure that Shagari was toppled in a military coup early in the second tenure to foreclose and frustrate an envisaged Ekwueme presidency . The coup denied Shagari some three years of democratic rule but ensured an unbroken 14 years of absolute military rule to further the political interests of the North.

The Ohaneze position is in tandem with the principle of equity and national unity. If the South-South has not had its slot at the presidency and there is currently Dr Goodluck Jonathan who came into office on a joint ticket with the late President Umaru Yar'Adua, supporting him makes a whole lot of sense.  Jonathan should be encouraged to complete the mandate jointly secured with  Yar'Adua and subsequently run for a tenure which should terminate in 2015 as he cannot be sworn in as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria more than twice.

If therefore Ohaneze is galvanizing Igbo votes and interests groups  towards the emergence of a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction in 2015, it is the  most legitimate thing to do especially as the current position was a product of a long, deep and far reaching consultation. Nigeria's multi ethnic setting remains an asset when political power, access to economic resources and developmental opportunities are meant to spread among the six geo-political zones in line with the constitutionally enshrined prescription of federal character.

The leadership of Ohaneze deserves commendation not denunciation for deeming it fit to give the apex socio-cultural body of the Igbo a political voice after four decades of the end of the civil war.

Ubaka writes from Asaba