“In 1952, Nnamdi Azikiwe, the NCNC President, had tried unsuccessfully to persuade Eyo Ita the leader of the NCNC Government in the Eastern Region and a director of several companies in the Zik Group of companies to influence the deposition of local government funds in the Africa Continental Bank in which Azikiwe and his family had controlling shares. In the power within the party that year Azikiwe retaliated by rudely expelling Eyo Ita from NCNC: Your behavior on the question of your resignation is a shame to you and your race. It is obvious that no self-respecting party can associate with a person like you. You are hereby informed that you have been expelled from the party with ignominy and for life.” Page 168 Ethnic Politics In Nigeria by Prof. Okwudiba Nnoli.
The above sacking of Eyo Ita was not taken submissively by his Efik brothers and they aligned with the Ibibio and formed their own political party, the National Independent Party. This act by Zik and the reaction by Ibibio State Union led by Dr. Udo Udoma started the political disagreement between the igbos and people of COR-Cross River, Ogoja and Rivers. It was also a sore point during the Biafran war as the igbos did not trust the COR people and the camel’s back was broken when they demanded for state from Ojukwu. Ojukwu refused, stating that Biafra was at war and creation of states will weaken the war efforts. Gowon on the other hand struck and created Rivers State, which exposed the anus of Biafra and the amphibian brigade of the Nigerian Army had an easy access to Biafra.
This age long mutual suspicion always play out in any political configuration that mixes ndi igbo and the people modern day Niger Delta.
In best practice of inclusion, the Chairman of NBA Abuja 2014 was zoned to the North, comprising of the States that made up the Old Northern region. Elechie Agada emerged Chairman. The next zone to produce Chairman in 2016 was the East-comprising of Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Cross Rivers, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Rivers states.
Apprehensive of the crisis of 1952, I met Chief Akpan Nkereuwem at Alozie Emerengwa’s daughter’s birthday and told him the need for his people to partner with ndi igbo and be allowed to produce the next Unity Bar Chairman. He saw the wisdom in this but was skeptical if ndi igbo will allow them a shot at it. I did a follow up Victor Abasiakan and we met at Eden Garden Utako. I reiterated what I had told Chief Akpan.
Among the igbos, the most prominent young candidate for 2016 NBA Chairman then was Afam O.Okeke. I met Afam and suggested that he should not contest but allow somebody who is not an igbo person but from the East to contest. I further told him that if he caves in, we can partner with the other states in the East to mobilize for him to become a national officer of NBA. He bought into this but with a caveat that it must be a collective decision by ndi igbo.
Before 2010 there was Out Oka-iwu (Association of Igbo lawyers). Although not overtly political, it still wielded political influence among its members. Unfortunately after 2010 Unity Bar election that had two igbos contesting-Okey Ajunwa and Afam Osigwe, Out Oka-iwu became comatose. People believe that it went into coma because of the inability of the association to get a consensus candidate and prevent two brothers from going to war. The war had many relations, siding one brother against the other and having shed brother’s blood, unity is hard to achieve again. The battle cry of Cabal in Unity Bar, was used to mobilize young lawyers and they lost respect for any group of elders tagged as member of “the Cabal”
Now we know better that there was no cabal but disagreement among brothers and one felt that the elders will not resolve in his favour, chose to use the tag of cabal to muster anti-elders feelings and muster votes. I heard that a similar battle cry is on again with only mutilation of replacing elders with SAN.
The winner of that 2010 election also did not encourage healing after the election, rather he entrenched the division by not giving any structural support to the loser to assist him advance to the national. I played a role in trying to broker a healing having participated actively in the war. But the winner wasn’t open to that instead he chose Emeka Obegolu to be Unity Bar’s sole candidate for the post of 2012 General Secretary of NBA. Emeka won and compensated him by also taking him to Eastern Bar Forum for endorsement as 2014 General Secretary Candidate of Eastern Bar Forum (This is story for another day)
With Otu Okw-iwu in comatose, there was no group to negotiate working arrangement within the peoples of Eastern region. This opened an avalanche of and the following candidates showed interest; Dan Nwaobodo-Enugu State, Ezenwa Anumnu-Imo State, Afam Okeke-Anambra State, Izy Nwaiwu- Abia state and Victor Abasiakan-Akwa Ibom.
The argument among ndi igbo was that an Anambra man should not be allowed to be the next Unity Bar Chairman because ndi Anambra had taken the slot twice-Jude Okeke(now My Lord Justice Jude Okeke) and Afam Osigwe. Associations like Old Imo lawyers and Enugu State Lawyers associations sprung up and lines were drawn.
In light of freshly amended NBA Constitution, Afam Okeke, Anambra man, was disqualified and strict interpretation of other sections also made the Electoral Committee to disqualify Ezenwa based on the illegibility of his sponsor, who had like Afam, held two executive posts in the Branch. This didn’t go down well with Ezenwa and the rest is documented in the multiple affidavits he has annexed to more than 6 law suits against NBA.
Against the run off of brothers fighting to death, a stranger inherited “the estate” and crisis ensued. Unfortunately most of the combatants in this war, have not sat down to look at this angel to this crisis.
Had ndi igbo agreed to allow non igbo of the Eastern region to contest, would there have been crisis in Unity Bar? This is what absence of Out Oka-iwu has caused. It is also evidence of one man, insisting that his ambition supersedes the collective ambition and interest of a group.
Interestingly, 2018 NBA Presidency has been zoned to the East. The rumor mills are abuzz with believable loud whispers that 4 igbos are interested and a dark horse is emerging from Cross Rivers. Will Abuja thunder strike at Eastern Bar Forum ( Eastern Bar Forum is made up of Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Cross Rivers, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Rivers states.) Or will elders consult Amadioha and seek spiritual solution, start chasing away the fox before it blends with the poultry?
One year is far; it is also near, can we start now to look for the black sheep before it is dark?
Like the NBA President A.B. Mahmoud SAN said, “In Abuja, here, we have had serious issues of indiscipline, indecorum and indecent conducts. It is not about who is right but about what is right and appropriate for our profession.”
And I ask, will this Abuja virus be allowed to spread to other branches where harmonious, principles of leadership have been laid down; principles some of the rumored igbo NBA aspirants had benefited from.