By Chuks Iloegbunam
In 1999, I returned to Nigeria from London where I had lived for a decade, armed with my biography of Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi. I needed to have the book introduced to the reading publicl. Friends advised that it should be launched in Abuja, Enugu and Lagos, given the late Ironsi’s pedigree as a national figure. In Abuja, contact was made with broad sections of the society, especially leading Igbo men and women in the Obasanjo administration. On launch day at the International Conference Centre, not a single Igbo political appointee of President Obasanjo’s ventured within the precincts of the launch venue, let alone attends the event. The claim was that it was impolitic to publicly associate with anything to do with Ironsi, who posthumously had the dubious reputation of everyone’s political football; it could cost errant political appointees guilty of such pig-headedness their tassels!
We launched the book, nonetheless in Abuja and in Lagos. People speculated that Enugu, the capital of the former Eastern Region, would make for a resounding launch. But, how was one to achieve that spectacle? A respected voice pulled me aside and mentioned a name I hadn’t previously heard, promising that if I contacted the man, the Enugu launch of Ironside would be “a foregone success.”
Without hesitation I arranged to meet the man with the magic wand in his Enugu office, only two blocks away from the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium. He welcomed me warmly and, holding a copy of the biography in his hand, said “Congratulations” to me. Thereafter, we went to work. The man took the book launch as a personal project, helping to secure a hall for the event, providing a long list of those to be invited, and personally guaranteeing the presence of a number of prominent personalities. It was down to him that Justice Eze Ozobu, the retired Chief Judge of Enugu State and President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, chaired the book launch. The man had promised that he would bring Dr. Alex Ekwueme to the event. But it turned out that the former Nigerian Vice-President was abroad at the time. He got Chief (Mrs.) Beatrice Ekwueme to stand in for the husband. The man then went all the way to Umuahia and brought Dr. J. O. J. Okezie, a former Federal Minister of Agriculture, and Ironsi’s childhood friend, to grace the occasion.
All through the proceedings at the book launch, the man uttered not word via the public address system. He didn’t even bother with taking a seat on the high table. He simply sat behind a desk by the hall’s entrance, meticulously coordinating things, listing donors and quietly pointing out key people that could be offered the microphone and guiding the equitable distribution of the light refreshment available. At the end of it all, it was self evident that the man had consummately delivered. We shook hands and he took his leave, satisfied that he had struck a mighty blow for Ndigbo. That was the beginning of my enduring friendship with Joe Nwaorgu, who was then the Deputy Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
Dr. Nwaorgu, tall, regal, educated and patriotic, has been in the centre of Ohanaeze politics and activities since the inception of the apex Igbo socio-cultural body. HE HAS PAID HIS DUES. That explains why, when word reached me that he was interested in becoming the next President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, it struck me as imperative to underline the appositeness of his candidacy. He is eminently qualified to direct the affairs of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. He is not a turncoat. He is incapable of being pocketed by blinkered pseudo-political moneybags. There is hardly a central functionary of Ohanaeze through time that Dr. Nwaorgu does not thoroughly know, and has not actively interacted with. He encapsulates in his faculties a comprehensive knowledge of their tendencies and predilections. They equally know him as a man WITHOUT an iota of cant and duplicity and treachery.
One of Dr. Nwaorgu’s strongest points is that he is a walking Ohanaeze encyclopaedia. Last year when I was working on the second edition of the Ironsi biography, I read from the contemporaneous clamour for national restructuring an urgent necessity for personal intervention. In my view, the best way to do this was by foregrounding my argument with the June 2012 Ohanaeze Memorandum to the House of Representatives Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution. But I did not have a personal copy of the document. A search at the Ohanaeze Secretariat in Enugu strangely yielded no positive result.
I then put a call through to Dr. Nwaorgu. He was home, he said, and it was my freedom to visit. After we traded greetings and pleasantries at his Enugu home, and he presented kolanuts, I told him what I had come for. Saying nothing, he rose and went to his library. Back in a minute, he said, “Here You are.” And the document was in my hands. Signed by Ambassador Raph Uwechue (President General), Chief Nduka Eya (Secretary General), Professor J. O. Irukwu (former President General), Hon. Justice Ezebuilo Ozobu (former President General), HRM Eze C. I. Ilomuanya (Chairman, South East Council of Traditional Rulers), and Chief Gary Enwo-Igariwey (Chairman, Constitution Amendment Committee), the document occupies pages 272 to 285 of the new edition now entitled Ironsi: Nigeria, The Army, Power And Politics.
Dr. Nwaorgu is as ready as any in terms of education and public service. He holds a doctorate degree in Estate Management from the University of Cambridge. He lectured for 10 straight years (1974 to 1984) at his alma mater, the University of Nigeria. Thereafter, he joined the Federal Civil Service where he rose to the position of Director, Department of Estates, Federal Capital Development Authority, Abuja. Upon retirement in 1988, he set up and became the Principal Consultant of Joe Nwaorgu and Associates, Estate Surveyors and Valuers. Between 1994 and 1996, he was the Commissioner for Works, Housing and Transport in Imo State. In that capacity, he was the chairman of the Task Force on the Completion of the Imo Airport, which was opened for commercial flights in 1994.
In terms of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr, Nwaorgu, apart from having been both Deputy Secretary General (2000-2004) and Secretary General (2003-2017), has also been a statutory member of Ohanaeze Ime Obi since 2002. He was the chairman of the National Organising Committee of the Igbo Day celebrations in 2003, 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2013. He was a member of the Ohanaeze Planning and Strategy Committee from 2004 to 2007, serving as the committee’s secretary during its first four years.
His range of experience is not limited to Ohanaeze affiars. At the Federal level, he was a member of the Presidential Task Force on Port Decongestion in 2001. He was a member of the Governing Council of the Federal University of Technology (FUTO) Owerri, 2000-2004. He was a member of the 2005 and 2014 Constitutional Conferences where he contributed to the formulation of Igbo interests and the defence of the ethnic group’s positions. With a few other people of the eminence of the late Senator Uche Chukwumerije, he participated in the formulation of the Igbo petition to the Oputa Panel of 2002/2003.
In conferring Dr. Nwaorgu with a Merit Award in 1998, the University of Nigeria Alumni Association said in its citation that the man was incapable of accepting injustice in any form or shape, “brutally honest, fearless, self-confident, contented, articulate, clear-headed and fair-minded, kind to a fault, very compassionate…” A people with the likes of Dr. Nwaorgu do not require the desperation and insolence of “endorsement” of “consensus” candidates by court-appointed and jesting political “leaders” to decide their leadership. For, if truth be told, Ohanaeze leadership boils down to charting a course to peace and plenty for Ndigbo, not the chicanery of discredited and recidivist nonentities bereft of the fundamentality of the people’s mandate.
It is a capital insult to the Igbo psyche to see folks materialising from the woodwork who had rarely attended Ohanaeze meetings, suddenly displaying the effrontery of proclaiming the intention to head the organisation. Some of these instant presidential candidates don’t even know the location of Ohanaeze headquarters. They have remained blind and dumb and immobile over the massacring of their kith and kin with the ease flies are swatted. Yet, they hope to hoodwink Ndigbo by strutting around, confiscating the social media and brandishing “credentials” the size of electronic billboards.
If the scenario is imagined of the launch of a book on Ahmadu Bello or Samuel Akintola in Sokoto or Ogbomoso, majority of those who would attend and occupy the front seats would be “Ndigbo” who would proceed to announce the largest donations but would not give a damn if a book on Eze Akanu Ibiam or Dr. Obi Wali was being presented in either of Afipko and Port Harcourt. Surely, those are not the sorts of characters to burn interest on when the talk is connected to the existential imperative of the Igbo nation. Ohanaeze Ndigbo must put its best foot forward. The Igbo culture of apprenticeship is unique, and has attracted international acclaim and scholarship. People who dutifully serve are invariably rewarded by being allowed a stint at the controls. This age-old principle should not be negated in the instance of Dr. Joe Nwaorgu whose abiding motto is: “No Friend, No Foe; Simply Igbo Interest.” A vote for him can only be informed by patriotism and vision.