By Ode Ojowu
In a recent interview with Editorial Director of jamesibechi.com (a news blog site), Mr James Ibechi, Prof Johnson Onah was not fair to me when he accused me of playing God concerning his candidature for the post of the 1st Class chief for the Igede people. I am very saddened by this characterization of me and flatly deny that I play God. Rather, I have played and continue to play a fatherly role. It was never my intention to reveal to the public what roles I have been playing behind the scene. But now he gives me no other option than to explain myself publicly. Let me elaborate with a concrete example.
- Based on our agreement to meet, Prof Johnson Onah came and met me in my house in Abuja on Monday Jan 23, 2017. We had a three-hour session on his ambition to become the 1st Class Chief of the Igede people. This was one out of themany previous meetings and consultations we had. At the end of the meeting we agreed that I should contact Commissioner Ogah Ero, his first cousin and a contender for the same post. I did.
- The following day, Tuesday morning January 24, the three of us met in my house again in Abuja and the discussion was frank and honest between the two of them. This meeting was the first between the two since Commissioner Ero joined the race. At the end of the meeting, it was obviousnone was willing to step down for the other. I expressed my gratitude to them for allowing me to mediate the discussion. I advised that the two of them should go home and reconcile the family in the spirit of the understanding and the mutual respect for each other’s position that came out of the meeting.
- However, in the evening of Wednesday 25 January, Prof Johnson Onah sent me this text message which I now reluctantly reproduce here as it was originally meant to be private; “Good evening Sir, We arrived Makurdi safelyyesterday. Wish to thank you again for your commitment to our family unity. As the present head of the family, I invite you to conclude the reconciliation efforts that you have initiated. Please persuade CP OGA ERO to step down.” I turned down the request and replied as follows: “I urge that the two of you step up your communication”.
As a ‘father’ it was my decision not to take sides with any one candidate, no matter how close they were to me. As at the time of my interaction with Prof Onah and CP Ero, there were 10 other aspirants known to me who all looked up to me for support. And I let each of them know this stance of mine. This stance of mine is what I believe Prof Johnson Onah decides totranslate to my “Playing God”and leading to his wrong belief and conclusion that I am opposed to his candidature. Unfortunate!
With all modesty and sincerity, this is not time for Prof Johnson Onah to show resentment, bitterness and vilification. It is a time to woo and to persuade. In addition, I advisethat he, right from the very beginning, stick to the honesty of purpose which he vows to uphold if selected as chief. It does not help to know the real truth inside you and yet give an alternative version to the public. ‘Post-truth’ era it is called!
Now in particular that it has emerged that he and his junior first cousin are the lead contenders, Prof Onahshould be grateful first to God, even as he and CP Erocoordinate their strategies to clinch the post for the family. Second, he should climb to roof tops along with his cousin and indeed all members of his family, to woo and sing praises to the Igede people for the rare honour about to be done to his family. This is my minimum of expectation of him as the most senior member of his immediate(Ejugu) family. Chieftaincy title in Igede is not a lineage property, but republican. Therefore, we should be extra grateful that two candidates that have appeared dominant in the racecome from his own family. But we should also be careful not take the victory for granted.
Just a word about my relationship with the family. I was introduced to the Ejugu family in 1969 as a young Grade II teacher in the community. It was instant bonding between me and the family Patriarch, Chief Isaac Onah Ejugu of blessed memory. His immediate junior brother of SAME Father and Mother, Ero Ejugu is father to CP Oga. Prof Johnson Onah and CP Oga Ero are therefore first cousins.Over the years, the young members of the family, and they are many, have grown to adulthood, and the family even in its extended form, is one of the most educationally advanced families, both in quantity and quality, in all of Igede. Although I am not responsible for their progress, but over 90 percent of this large family defer to me and consider me as a father and mentor.So, when Johnson refers to me as the ‘head of the family’ in his text message, it was not political flattery. I have more valid and better reasons to be concerned for the sustenance of this family’s cohesion and welfare than any other ‘outsider’. And I am indeed very concerned right now about the avoidable crisis that the competition for the chieftaincy title has generated in this otherwise progressive and peaceful family. I am determined, in my own little way, to continue with my modestmediating role, no matter how uncomfortable and unsettling it may look now.
Though I have taken much bashing over the planned selection of the 1st Class Chief, I am convinced that those who are senior enough to be driven by community interest rather than the personal ambition to become a chief, must stay objectively above the mindset of a contender. It is for this reason that I urge the family of Johnson and Oga, and all others connected with and concerned for the family to band together and unite behind these two candidates, so that if and when the Igede people decide to pick one of the two as their chief, we will be united in appreciation, victory and in rejoicing.
Still on the issue of an anointed candidate from the official quarters. It is gratifying to note that His Excellency Gov. Samuel Ortom has said publicly,and more than once, that Government does not have a candidate and directed that the laid down procedures for the selection of the chiefs be followed. In an interaction with the Deputy Governor by some Igede political leaders, even after the botched selection process of March 10 2017, he too confirmed that he had no candidate. It leaves open the question as to who the shadowy officers of government are that intimidate, humiliate, and threaten the traditional rulers from Igede to submit to government wish for an anointed candidate. I personally think that it is these people, whoever they are, that choose to disrespect the Governor’s political stamp of authority, disregard the administrative guidelines and seek to subvert the law, that we should beam our search light on. It is they who carry the potential for violence. Igede youths, before and since 1999,have continued to demonstrate maturity in political and cultural matters to the envy of many other communities. They are not known to have ever disrupted any election since 1999, no matter how contentious they were. Yet desperate contenders for office are quick to refer to them as thugs. This is most unfair in my humble opinion.
I recommend strongly to government that when next the selection is going to take place, officers of higher integrity and respect for truth, who cannot be easily manipulated by these shadowy officials, should be sent to supervise the selection process.
I will restate my advice for the umpteenth time. Every candidate on the list for the 1st Class Chief of Igede claims he is the choice of the people. This is normal claim in all campaigns for positions. The only way to prove this claim is to subject it to the will of the people, in this case through the laid down process of selection that is transparently followed. All stakeholders must insist on this transparency and government must ensure that this is done in a secure, free and fair manner.
The selection of a chief is a graceful undertaking and must therefore be conducted gracefully
March 28, 2017.
- Prof. Ojowu, former Chief Economic Adviser to former president Olusegun Obasanjor wrote in from Abuja.