Prince Emeka Udodeme is the president of Anambra State branch of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, after emerging in a peaceful election conducted in Awka recently. Udodeme, who took over from Chief Damian Okeke-Ogene was once the President of the Presidents-General for all the communities in the Central senatorial district of Anambra State. He had also been the Chairman of Ohanaeze Ndigbo in Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State. In this interview, Udodeme, expressed confidence that the new President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo worldwide, Professor George Obiozor, has what it takes to unite the Igbos for public good. Stressing that Nigeria’s unity is paramount to Ndigbo, Udodeme call on all Igbos in Nigeria and the Diaspora to support Obiozor to move Ohanaeze forward. Excerpts:
How do you feel about your elevation as the President of Ohaneze Ndigbo in Anambra State?
Well, I see it as a call to service, a call to serve my people, Ndigbo. I have set up an agenda to take Ohanaeze down to the grassroots, to all the 181 communities in Anambra State. I want to see the presence of Ohanaeze in all the communities and ensure that the voices of our people are heard. I will reach out to the people to hear their complaints and do justice to what they are complaining about.
What exactly does Ohanaeze Ndigbo stand for and of what essence is the organization?
Ohanaeze Ndigbo is the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation in Nigeria, serving as an umbrella body uniting all Ndigbo in all parts of the world. It is the mouthpiece of Ndigbo within the country and in the Diaspora. Ohanaeze Ndigbo is not a political party. It is not political. It is a socio-cultural group established to enhance the wellbeing of Ndigbo no matter where they reside.
What are your specific plans for Ohanaeze Ndigbo in Anambra State?
Like I said before, every adult that is up to the age of 18 is a member of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. Ohaneze Ndigbo is all Ndigbo who have attained the age of 18. So, my first assignment is to let people know what we are doing in Ohaneze, like taking it to the grassroots, to all the wards, to all the communities in Anambra State. Then my second agenda is to put up a permanent secretariat for Ohanaeze in Anambra State, where our sons and daughter will be meeting regularly. If we have something very important to discuss we go there. If we have some misunderstanding we go there to settle it. Like I said earlier, people should know what you are doing before you think about their support. I think Ohanaeze has not gone to the grassroots as expected. Therefore, I have a major task of making sure that it gets to all the communities.
After Prof. George Obiozor emerged as the new President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo worldwide, Chief Chidi Ibe announced that he has equally been elected as the President General, thereby creating factions in the organization. Who would you say is the authentic President General and which of the factions do you belong to?
There are no factions in Ohanaeze. Rather we have our brothers who are aggrieved, probably because they lost in the election that produced Ambassador Professor George Obiozor. I belong to the mainstream of Ohanaeze. The Ohaneze handled by Nnia Nwodo which conducted the January 10th General Election in Owerri, Imo State, where Professor Obiozor emerged as the leader, as the President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. That is the Ohanaeze I belong to. But let me quickly say something here. They are our brothers. Chidi Ibe, Okwukwu and others are our brothers. And if you had listened to the world press conference by Ambassador Obiozor, he said one of the first things he is going to do is reconciliation. That he is going to entrench peace and unite all our people who are aggrieved. I think we should give him a chance. From now till March, all these things you see about faction or no faction, you may not hear it again. I mean, the Egyptians you see today, you will not see them again tomorrow. So, what we are doing is giving this man (Professor Obiozor) a chance. Let us continue to pray for him to achieve his aim of bringing the sons and daughters of Igboland together. Let us be at peace with one another. My advice to Chidi Ibe and co is that there is no way we can achieve meaningful progress if we are preoccupied with internal rancour. Let us choose the path of peace in Igboland.
Do you have absolute confidence in Professor George Obiozor as the President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo worldwide?
Of course, I do. I have 100 per cent confidence that he will offer the best of leadership to move Ohanaeze Ndigbo forward. He has what it takes to bring the entire Igbos together. Obiozor has been tested. He has been there since 1979 in international relations. He has served many governments. He has been an ambassador to the United States, US. He has been an ambassador to Israel. He has served as a Permanent Representative representing Nigeria in the United Nations, UN. He has been there as Director General, DG, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, NIIA. He is a complete diplomat. And there is no way we can achieve our aim in Igboland without reaching out to others. When you go to Afenifere, you will see the people that have worked with Ambassador Obiozor. Most of them are his friends. If you go to Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, the Middle Belt and the South-South, it’s the same thing. So, Obiozor is like to me our Lionel Messi or Christiano Ronaldo. If we give him the chance, I think he will score the goals we needed to win.
There has been the agitation for the Igbo to be allowed to have a shot at the Presidency in 2023. Does the South-East truly deserve the Presidency come 2023 as it’s been canvassed?
Well, we are still in 2021. I don’t see the reason why we should be talking about 2023. Firstly, let us pray for Muhammadu Buhari that is still there as the President that may God give him the wisdom to continue to pilot the affairs of the country as we expected. And that may God give him the grace and the wisdom to continue to do the right thing. As you said, Ndigbo are part of this country and they deserve to be at the helms of affairs of this country, talking about the presidency. But we are not talking about it now. At least, the Ohaneze Ambassador Obiozor is heading is a new one. Let us wait for him, exercise little patience so that he will unfold his plans. Ohanaeze is not a political party. If we say we are going to produce Nigerian president of Igbo extraction, we are not a political party. None of us is a national chairman of a party. So, on that matter let us keep our fingers crossed. But if the opportunity comes, I plead with other regions to see reasons why Igboman should be president.
I read a report where Obiozor was quoted as saying Ndigbo will never separate from Nigeria. Is that supposed to mean that Ohanaeze Ndigbo is not in support of the struggle by IPOB and some other Igbo groups for Ndigbo to have a country of their own – Biafra?
Anyway, I know he said something about restructuring. Even most of our stakeholders and well-meaning Igbos have been queuing behind restructuring. That is what we stand for now. Let us restructure this country first. And then let us move ahead. The civil war ended in January 1970. And I don’t think any section of this country needs civil war again now in Nigeria. The unity of this country is very paramount to us. And to our brother, friend, son just let us give Obiozor little chance, I think he will manage all these things properly. He is experienced. Let us give him little chance to prove himself.
There are some who believe that disunity among the Igbos themselves is one of the reasons they have not been able to secure the seat of power in the country for this long. How do you see this assertion?
I don’t think disunity can deprive a section of the country from producing the president in the country. Are you telling me that there is no disunity in Arewa Consultative Forum? Or, in the North? Are you telling me there is no disunity in the Afenifere? I don’t think these things are going to deprive Ndigbo from getting to the top in this country as president. Disunity is all over the place – all over the regions. The North has their own. The Yorubas and the Middle Belt have their own. Everybody cannot agree at the same time. So, I think the job placed on the table of our President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo is reconciliation. That is the first thing. And he has said it. Uniting our people and ensuring peaceful reconciliation.
Do you agree with those complaining that the South-East is being heavily marginalized by the incumbent government of President Muhammadu Buhari?
Well, it depends on the perspective anyway. From all indications, from what I can see, the second Niger Bridge has been on paper for a very long time, including during the PDP administration of Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan. It was simply on paper. It was only during the period of Buhari that the project was actualized to an extent. The second Niger Bridge is a very important project to us in the South-East. If you go there now you will see that about 70 per cent of the job has been done. I thank God for that. Then, talking about roads, I went to Umuahia the other day and I saw the rehabilitation of that road. Work is ongoing on that road. Then, talking about Enugu – Onitsha express road, which is a federal road, work is ongoing. So, in terms of infrastructure, I think the man (Buhari) is trying. But what we are saying is that let him do the same in the rail line projects.
What about in terms of appointments?
If you are talking in terms of appointments, to me, the Igbos have not been fairly treated. That is what I can say. In terms of appointments, I don’t think Igbos have been fairly treated.
As part of its efforts to cushion the effect of COVID-19 on the economy, the Federal Government recently launched the Special Public Works Programme across the 36 states of the federation including Abuja, engaging 774,000 Nigerians to be paid N60,000 in three months. Do you see this as a welcome development?
Anyway you have said it all. You said to cushion the effect COVID-19 pandemic. Just this morning, I was been talking with the person in charge of the programme in Anambra State. And I have been sending text messages to all groups and most of the communities in Anambra State. I have sent the list of all the successful candidates to all the local governments in Anambra State. And the designated banks where they are going to go and open an account. That is what I am doing this morning before this interview. The main thing is to help the government to spread the news. That is a good intention to cushion the effect of this pandemic. You remember many shops were closed. Many businesses were closed because of this pandemic. And the president in his wisdom thought it wise to help alleviate the suffering of the people and created these 774, 000 jobs. It is a welcome development. As a person who has led a community, who has known the sufferings of many communities in our locality, it is indeed a welcome development. But let me use this medium to appeal to Buhari’s government to consider an extension of the programme to six months. It will certainly go a long way to further alleviate the sufferings of the poor masses, who are the beneficiaries of the programme. An extension from three to six months will be better. I think what they are doing is to test run these three months to see if they can extend it. I am pleading with them that after testing these three months, let them extend it by another three months.
Generally speaking, how would you assess the government of Buhari in all sense of sincerity? Some Nigerians believe that Buhari’s administration is the worst of all the governments the country has had previously. Do you share that view?
What I can say is that when we want to criticize let’s do so constructively. There is nothing wrong in criticizing a leader. But it is just that there are some criticisms that distract a leader. What the leader needs at this point is our prayers for God to guide him, give him the wisdom of the biblical Solomon to lead his people aright. To me, I don’t score somebody who is still writing an exam. I wait for you to finish writing your exam.
Don’t forget that this exam has two phases? He has ended the first phase and now in the second phase.
I am telling you my mind. What I am saying is this. I don’t score people who are still writing exams. I score people who have finished the exams and submitted their answer sheets. Then I will score them. If you ask me to score Buhari now, there is nothing I can say because he is still writing his exam. But I can advise him as a leader of Ndigbo in Anambra State. And my advice is this: He should look into the security of this country and make amends where necessary. He should always call the meeting of his service chiefs to get briefings and charge them on what to do. Security is a big issue now in this country. It seems it has collapsed. But I believe that by God’s grace we would get over all these problems of insecurity in the country. It is a matter of time. He should also look into other complaints. Like the issue of Igbos being marginalized which you raised earlier. I think in terms of appointment, it is true. So, he should also look into that and treat all sections fairly. That is what justice demands.
As a citizen of Anambra State, will you say the government of Willie Obiano of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, has done well almost seven years after he took over the mantle of leadership as the governor of the state?
As I said earlier, I don’t score people who still have their question papers on their table. But I will simply give kudos to the Obiano-led government. He has done so well. He has tried his best. In terms of security, he has done so well. In agriculture, he has done so well. He has done quite well in road construction. There is peace in Anambra State. We are enjoying peace, security in Anambra State. That is why you see during the last Christmas holiday, a lot of our brothers and sisters came home and enjoyed their holidays. And we didn’t hear most of the past stories of these bad boys. He has done so well in the areas I mentioned. And APGA government has done so well for Anambra people. Remember Peter Obi, then a member of APGA was there for eight years. He did so well. He laid a good foundation for Obiano. And Obiano has continued with the foundation laid for him by the former government of Peter Obi.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has scheduled the Anambra governorship poll for November 6, while political parties are to hold primaries between June 10 and July 1, 2021. What would be your counsel to Anambrarians as the state prepares to commence the electioneering process to choose Obiano’s successor?
Yes, INEC has fixed November 6 for the next gubernatorial election in Anambra State and party primaries are billed to hold from June. My candid advice is that Anambrarians should choose wisely, vote wisely. There should be no violence. Let us be at peace with one another, irrespective of the political party you belong or the party you are supporting. Let me use this opportunity to admonish the politicians to endeavour to play according to the rules. The election – from the party primaries to the election proper shouldn’t be a do-or-die affair. You should not kill the people you are clamouring to rule or govern. We are looking forward to having a peaceful, transparent, free and fair electoral process that will eventually produce the right person that will not derail or deviate from the good work Obiano is doing. That is our prayer. As the leader of Ndigbo in Anambra State, my own is to pray and give advice and take action within my power where necessary.
You have been the Director General of Senator Victor Umeh Campaign Organization all this while. How would you describe his leadership and person? He represented the Anambra Central Senatorial District for 17 months in the Eighth Senate and was believed to have performed excellently well. Yet, he lost in his bid to seek another mandate from the people of the district. What could have been responsible for that?
Well, I will right away say what I know about most Distinguished Senator Dr Victor Umeh, OFR, Ohamadike Ndigbo, a consummate politician, a Christian, a humble family man, a man who is ready to sacrifice for the country and Ndigbo. When he was the National Chairman of his party, APGA, despite temptation, he stood his ground. And we all saw what he did at the National Conference of 2014. Again, when he represented his people at the Senate, his performance was outstanding. Umeh is a very bold and courageous man, a man who leads with the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Samson and the courage of the biblical David. It is regrettable that people did not give him the second chance to go there and finish what he started. Go to many communities now – we have 58 communities in the central senatorial district – you will see his structural legacies in all those 58 communities. Go there and see the constituency projects he attracted to all these communities. It has never happened in Anambra State anyway. But I am no longer a politician. As a leader, all we have to do is to pray for those who are there now to keep on rolling the wheel of progress. Let it not stop. Let them do better. We will continue to pray for them. But to me Victor Umeh did wonderfully well in the 17 months he spent in the Senate. The impact of his representation was felt in every part of the central senatorial district. The current Senator, Mrs Uche Ekwunife, is doing her best. But I encourage her to do more