WHO STEPS INTO OJUKWU'S SHOES?
•Ojukwu & •Ekwueme
In a rather loose pattern, there is a general understanding that the late Biafran secessionist leader, and Ikemba Nnewi, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu naturally approximated the position of leader of the Igbo. The belief was so widespread that in life he was treated as a cult-hero, and lionized by the legions of ethno-centric groups that championed the Igbo cause.
Ojukwu graphically alluded to this underlying concept when he wrote in his book 'Because I am Involved,' that, 'I have had my belly full of wars. I will always fight for the welfare of the Igbos, though this time on a table of dialogue.
As a people who lost a war, we, the Igbo elite, owe the Igbos the responsibility of leading them out of their defeat trauma, out of the siege mentality they have developed over the years. in Aburi, I stated the Igbo case and I will continue to do so wherever it is necessary. 'I will state it within the institutions of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
I will not mind. The irony of the situation, however is that the people who should rejoice that somebody can put their case forward are precisely those who are making the most noise and showing signs of panic.' The Igbo geo-politics and the struggle to lead, as Jean-Paul Sartre put it, totalizes the modern experience. It has been an interminable journey of confusion and maximal patience. Overtime, the Igbo, a highly republican race had been regaled with issues of leadership.
In 'The Trouble With Nigeria ,' celebrated novelist Chinua Achebe wrote 'The real problem with the Igbo since Independence is precisely the absence of the kind of central leadership which their competitors pressume for them.' Since the end of the civil war in Nigeria, the Igbo have been without a central leadership and have greatly pandered to personal partisan whims and caprices. A Journalist, Emma Ezenwelu describes the unfolding leadership cul-de sac as follows:
Those who cannot manage their homes but aspire to be Igbo leaders.
Those who stumbled on sudden wealth and think they are rich, but they only have money.
Those who claimed to be educated but are only well read.
Fifth Columnists who position themselves to be proached by outsiders and used to destabilize the efforts of their well meaning compatriots.'
The posturing for Igbo leadership assumed a disturbing dimension in the intervening period between 1996 when the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe died and the flag off of the political transition to the present republic in 1998. Bands of ethno-centric groups emerged on the scene popping up figures for coronation as Igbo leaders. Self-anointed Igbo leaders also began to masquerade the length and breath of the nation, positioning for juicy political slots and mercantile profits.
The publicity Secretary of the Lagos chapter of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Engr. Joe Igbokwe in his book, 'Igbos: Twenty five years After Biafra' wrote that 'it is true that Igbos have never been organized along monolithic and autoritarian lines. Igbos are fiercely republican and jealously libertarian. In Igboland. It is difficult to find one traditional ruler whose authority extends with any finality beyond his immediate confines. Igbos love freedom. 'Yet Igbos have village and Town meetings wherever they find themselves. And despite this republican attitude, Igbos have a way of reaching themselves when the need arises. But do we have the competent leaders to lead the way? Where are such leaders?'
The race for Igbo leadership revolves around perennial issues of neglect or marginalization and whose voice is the loudest. Beneath the surfeit of the crises lie the interests of political office holders, who by virtue of their positions represent the race and serve as the mouthpiece. There is also the confetti of socio-cultural groups who tend to provide leadership in diverse ways.
The Apex socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo has so far served as a rallying point for Ndigbo in the quest for direction and soul-searching. The group annually organizes the 'Igbo day,' which has been used to showcase the cultural richness of Ndigbo and reflection on its odyssey. In a curious way, the president-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo naturally takes the unofficial baton of leadership and issues forth directives that reinforces the pre-disposition and claims of leadership. For instance in the last presidential elections, Chief Ralph Uwechue, who is the current president issued various press statements emphatically stating the position of Ndigbo on the contending candidates. Although, this position was arrived at on a seeming conscentual platform, partisan mononevres ensured it was administered and beaten down.
The National president of the Labour Party, LP, Barrister Dan Nwanyanwu describes Ohanaeze's leadership of the Igbo race as ineffectual, since their decisions are largely not all embracing and integral.
He said the group should be confined to what it set out to be - a socio-cultural group, and leave issues of political leadership of Ndigbo to emerge seamlessly.
Adding his voice to the debate, former governor of Anambra state, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife said 'Ojukwu is simply irreplaceable. When you look around, you discover that none of those positioning themselves to replace him has anything close to his charm and charisma.
'People love and trust him. Nobody alive or dead comes near him in so many ways.' He affirmed that God has a way of throwing up leaders for the people in a natural way. He equally dismissed the equation of Ohanaeze Ndigbo with the political leadership.
Accusing the socio-cultrual group of lacking in what takes to provide political leadership, Ezeife insisted that 'like Ojukwu, a pre-ordained leader will emerge and will be loved and trusted by the people.'
A politician and former governorship candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, Chief Ziggy Azike, also expressed fears on the likely immediate successor of Ojukwu. 'At the base of our leadership crises is the process through which our leaders emerge. The Igbo cultural recognizes as leaders, strong and selfless individuals who have natural flair for sacrifice.'
He argued that Ndigbo, unlike the North and South West have natural rulers with deep roots in their religion and culture. 'In the North, leadership emergence is dictated by two prime factors, one is the law of natural selection and the other is stratified class system. In the North, the accident of birth rates higher, and determines ascension to leadership. This is in sharp contrast to the Igbos where social mobility counts.
Conscious of the lack of credible leaders to fill the gap, some reactions have been recorded over the years. In 1994, a bold attempt was made by a radical umbrella organization of Igbo youths and elites known as 'Mkpoko Igbo' at the presidential hotel, Enugu. It occurred during a pre-national conference workshop. The group made up of seven associations, namely: Aka Ikenga, Izu Umunna, Enugu Forum, Nzuko Abia na Imo, Anioma Forum, Igboezue Cultural organization, and Abuja Forum, was led by Prof. ACB Nwosu, a former Minister of Health.
The trenchant articulation of views on the way forward for Ndigbo automatically made the group popular and became a shortlived rallying point for the dreams and visions of the Igbo nation.
Igbokwe succinctly captured the dilemma of the Igbo nation today when he wrote that 'Igbo leaders are seen as a bunch of unprincipled bread and butter politicians. The Nigerian power elite cannot find among the Igbo leaders the likes of the late Gani Fawehinmi, MKO Abiola, Tony Enahoro, Ken Saro Wiwa, Ojukwu, etc, who can stick out their necks even in the face of the risk of imprisonment. Igbo leaders say one thing today, and tomorrow they say the opposite.' That in itself is the burden of charting a central leadership for the Igbo. Those who have the knack for it are mainly politicians and as Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa has observed. 'Politics is too important to be left to politicians.'
Projections as to the emergence of an authentic Igbo leader has been made over the years, even before the demise of Dim Ojukwu. Hon. Victor Ogene, who represents Ogbaru Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, singles out Ojukwu as the only one who met the unwritten set criteria as Igbo leader. He said his exemplary life of personal sacrifice, made him the greatest symbol of 'Igbo resilience, industry and character. His kind comes once in an aeon. Curiously, Ogene identifies Chinua Achebe's 'Things fall apart' a novel written in 1959 as the only thing that can be equated with Ojukwu, in terms of the desired qualities and impact on the people. Prodded further, Ogene explains that those who would have filled the big shoes especially in the areas of iconic vision and mass following, preceded Ojukwu. 'The likes of the former Imo State governor, late Chief Sam Mbakwe, who incidentally was a colossus under Ojukwu during the fraticide was actually to fill the gap.
Dr Alex Ekwueme
During the transition period that led to the formation of political parties, former second republic vice-president, Dr Alex Ekwueme played a Yeoman's role. The leadership of the various caucuses was duly conceded to him by other leading Nigerian politicians. This led to his becoming the protem leader of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP), a position he relinquished to contest the 1999 presidential ticket of the party. The circumstances that led to his defeat in 1999 and 2003 are now history. But he remains essentially a quintessential Igbo leader, respected and honoured. That was not the first time providence had bestowed leadership on him.
He was the leader of the G34 that routed the military from power in 1998 and had at various times chaired prime political bodies that needed direction.
Ekwueme, an Igbo hi-born, is like Ojukwu deeply intelligent, resourceful, charming, but is deficient in the gift of the garb. He also lacks the cult-like following and hero status of the Ikemba. Although he has v ision and transparent leadership skills, he does not have the knack of daring-do and courage as exemplified by Ojukwu. He has also not openly been associated with 'Igbo battles.'
Perhaps, the only exception was when about a decade ago, he hugged the headlines when he told a gathering at Enugu that the Russian Technical Partners of the Ajaokuta Steel project had recommended to the federal authorities in a paper which he was previledged to see that for Nigeria's steel project to be viable, it must be sited in Onitsha. This advice, according to him was ignored and they went to establish it at Ajaokuta. Ekwueme said: 'Today, more than 10 years after that decision, we are yet to have a viable steel project. We have to start a new township and provide virtually everything to make the project take off.'
New kids on the bloc
In 2011, former Abia State governor, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu made history when he declared at a momentous Igbo day gathering at Enugu that 'I am the new face of Igbo.' That declaration, which was attended with pomp and celebration by Igbo Youths at the arena became an instant launch pad for his presidential aspiration years later.
Ezeife however pooh poohs Kalu's categorization as emerging Igbo leader.
'He does not have the essential qualities to step into Ojukwu's shoes. Yes, he has the charisma, and courage, but there are things like general acceptability.' Kalu's political stature in Igbo land is kingsize. In 2007, he led a political party, rogressive Peoples Alliance, PPA, to 'capture two states - Abia and Imo.
In the words of Igbokwe 'the loss of the two states afterwards diminished his stature and influence, together with the combined effects of 'bring him down syndrome from other competing politicians.' Amongst the coterie of Igbos who have held or are holding exalted public office, none so far measures up. But former Anambra State governor, Senator Chris Ngige enjoys intimidating mass following and popularity. If these were to be considered, he is top in ranking in the succession race. The circumstance s of his emergence as Anambra State governor, the controversies that surrounded his tenure, especially his abduction by a vicious cabal and his popular resistance to the old order put him in a good stead as a desirable element for Igbo leadership.
Ogene however defers. For him, although Ngige is popular with the vast majority of the youths, traders and artisans, his political activities today, and even in the past detracts from the noble path of Igbo leadership. Today, he is a member of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, a party that has its roots in the South-west. An authentic Igbo leader should not be seen plying in disparate, opposing parties to Igbo vision, ideology and ideals. He may have the candour and mass following, but that is not where it ends.'
Dr Edwin Madunagu corroborates Ogene. 'Of all the power blocs in Nigeria, the Northern power-bloc is the most serious, most political and most sophisticated. It knows best what power is, and what to do to retain it.' He argues that unlike in the South-East, the essential power-blocs are perennially in crises and spend much time trying to sort themselves out.
Ojukwu minimized the significance of a personified leadership when he said, 'I do not believe there is an exclusive way, neither can I accept that any one person possess all the answers. Rather, I have continued to search for a more perfect idea to support, and the most efficient system to follow. All indications point, at this moment in our development, towards a socialist ideal and a democratic system.' So, away from the succession battle, another problem is that of challenge. Who among Igbo leaders can stand tall like Ojukwu in adversity, plough through misfortune, overcome obstacles, and rebound from setbacks Great leaders display complete confidence and swerving optimism, even when things don't seem to work out. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and sweeping and times of adversity are great laboratories for teaching the people about perseverance, mental toughness and problem solving.
General George S. Paton, a man who thrived on crises when he commanded the United States of America, USA, army a century ago had his own definition of bold leadership, which the Igbo clamour for in the aftermath of Ojukwu's exit.
He recommends that a people's leader must be tactically aggressive (Loves a fight), strength of character, steadiness of purpose, acceptance of responsibility, Energy, good health. But the snag remains; will Ojukwu's exit stir a deliberate common front for a spontaneous, purpose driven leadership?