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On 21st May, 2018 at the Ohaneze Ndigbo Summit on Restructuring in Awka, Anambra State, Pa Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, the elder statesman charged the Igbo leadership on the need for continued dialogue with the leadership of IPOB.
According to him “These boys are being unfairly treated. How can you brand them terrorists while the herdsmen with AK47 are allowed to move around freely? I wish they were around to hear what I’m saying. As their fathers, Igbo leaders should not get tired of talking with them.”
The uncommon common sense contained in the above statement struck discerning members of the audience deeply. The Nonagenarian was telling the Igbo leadership that their house could not be in order, as long as their youths and women continued to stage walk outs at important occasions such as the summit, where Ndigbo were expected to speak with one voice.
Pa Edwin Clark is eminently qualified to give the advice he gave based on the experience he has at his disposal in constructively engaging Niger Delta militants and helping to ensure an end to militancy. In spite of the militants being armed unlike IPOBians, he and other Ijaw leaders went into the creeks to talk with them, making them to embrace the Federal Government’s Amnesty deal.
He was telling Ndigbo that even though IPOB and other Biafran agitators may be seen as rebels, they were Igbos and their views ought to be accommodated in order for Ndigbo to have a united front. Certainly, dialogue between Ohaneze Ndigbo and IPOB at this juncture will not be easy owing to the amount of bad blood and enmity that openly flows between both organizations. Ensuing from their openly accusing the Ohaneze leadership of complicity in last year’s genocidal Python Dance II that claimed the lives of many of her members, IPOB has steadily denigrated the Ohaneze leadership using her powerful propaganda machinery. The animosity climaxed at the Hand Shake Across the Niger summit held in Enugu on 11th January, 2018, when IPOB women said to have lost their loved ones; sons, brothers and husbands openly jeered the Ohaneze President General with unprintable words and stripped themselves naked, all in protest.
However, the above scenario does not foreclose further dialogue. Rather, it makes further constructive engagement and dialogue pertinent. Why should Ohaneze and IPOB not get back to the dialogue table when they are engaged merely in a verbal war, no matter how harsh and unkind the words used may be, whereas warring countries like Nigeria and the then Biafra observed cease fires so as to dialogue for peace? Even warring campus cult groups still go for peace talks.
The Ohaneze position that IPOB is making dialogue more difficult by their continuous verbal onslaught against the Ohaneze leadership and Mazi Nnamdi Kanu not keeping to his words in an earlier dialogue, though understandable should not be a barrier to renewed dialogue between these two influential bodies. Although IPOB by its mandate has both Igbo and non Igbo Biafrans as members, their influence on Ndigbo is enormous. Likewise Ohaneze, as the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, no matter what naysayers may say equally has great influence on Ndigbo. As such, it is in the best interest of Ndigbo that these two organizations find ways of cohabiting within the same political space called Ala-Igbo without undue friction. Ohaneze is not being expected to become a Biafran organization neither is IPOB expected to become an arm of Ohaneze. However, out of political expediency, both groups need to have a meeting point borne out of mutual respect despite their differences. Indeed, the relationship between Ohaneze and IPOB and other Biafran groups should be like that between Afenifere and OPC or PANDEF and Niger Delta militants.
Many analysts regard the relationship between Ohaneze and IPOB as the relationship between a father and his son. As a father, if your stubborn son lies across your path in protest when you are rushing to catch a flight, will you crush him with your car so as to not to miss your flight?
It is quite instructive that despite the heavy security cordon, IPOBians not only found their way into the Ekwueme Square, the venue of the Restructuring Summit, unknown to Ohaneze, they also occupied virtually the whole covered stand in the arena. Surprisingly, when the Ohaneze President General, Chief Nnia Nwodo began his address, the covered stand which incidentally was immediately behind him erupted into protests as the members of the audience there turned out to be IPOBians numbering over a thousand persons staged a walk out. Their women all appeared in asoebi. Having come as early as 8 am and not wielding Biafran flags or any other IPOB insignia, they easily beat the heavy security mechanism put in place to stop them. Some of them were seated in the VIP stands. Imagine what could have happened assuming they wanted to cause havoc!
Presently, a group of eminent Igbo elders, Ndigbo Consultative Assembly (NCA) intends to champion this all important dialogue. They also intend to include other Pro-Biafran groups such as MASSOB, Biafran Independence Movement (BIM), Eastern Peoples’ Congress (EPC), Movement for Biafrans in Nigeria (MOBIN), etc in the all encompassing peace parley geared towards smoothening relations between Ohaneze and other key Igbo groups/ regional bodies such as Ala-Igbo Development Foundation (ADF), Igbo Leaders of Thought and Lower Niger Congress (LNC) all of which have differed with Ohaneze regarding the Ekwueme Square Declaration. To achieve a fruitful dialogue, NCA intends getting Igbo leaders who enjoy the confidence of both Ohaneze and the Pro-Biafrans such as Prof Ben Nwabueze, Adm. Ndubuisi Kanu, Rtd. and Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe to spearhead the said dialogue.
Finally, in order to manage the various interests and tendencies in Ala-Igbo, between the Restructurists and the Self Determinationists on one hand as well as the elders and the youths on the other hand, so as to engender unity of purpose, there is need for unending dialogue.
Mazi Ikechukwu Bismarck Oji, MNSE
Former National Chairman, Ohaneze Youth Wing.