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Ichie Chibuzo Onwuchekwe is one of the few serious aspirants to declare his intent to contest for Charmanship of World Igbo Congress (WIC) which is billed to conduct election to choose its new officers in late summer of 2005. Osondu.com, in acknowledgement of the import of this landmark event for the Diaspora Igbo, has elected to offer a platform for those interested in vying for this important post by conducting a series of interviews with key candidates for WIC leadership as they emerge. Here are excerpts of a recent interview with Ichie Onwuchekwe:

Please, give us a brief introduction of yourself and what qualifies you to become the next WIC Chairman.

My Name is Ichie Chibuzo E. Onwuchekwe, P.E. I have BS and MS Degrees in Petroleum & Natural Gas Engineering. I am a licensed Professional Engineer in Texas with over 23 years of Progressive Engineering experience. My job experience includes five-year tenure as a Permits and Monitoring Engineer and I inspected refineries as well as petrochemical plants for the State of Texas. At Duke Energy, I was the Division Engineer in charge of Corporate Environmental responsiblity for Air Programs. I started my own company Merit Environmental in 1993 and have remained Company President till date.

My community service record includes: Secretary, Aguata-Arumba Association – Houston for 4 years. President, Igbo Peoples Congress (IPC)– Houston for 4 years and Chairman, Igbo People’s Congress 2004 to present.

I have worked within the Igbo Community for many years. I hosted the WIC Convention of 2002 as IPC President. I am familiar with all the major players in Nigerian Igbo Politics. I have direct access to Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo and various Igbo luminaries including Cardinal Arinze, Emeagwali and Dr. Ikejiani. I served in the Board of WIC since 2000. I know the inner workings of WIC. I know who is who and I am a consensus builder who knows how to get all the divergent players in Igbo Affairs to come together. I am uniquely qualified to chair WIC at this time.

Ichie Chibuzor Onwuchekwa is obviously a familiar name and personality in WIC circles. What do you plan to do to sell yourself and ideas outside the circles in which you are well known?

I am well known in the WIC Board. I am also known as a man of integrity and honor; a no – nonsense straight shooter. I believe in securing a piece of the floor before worrying about where the mate will be placed. After the elections, those who do not know me now will surely know me. Remember that the voting will not be done in the e-groups.

Ohanaeze has problems. I know this first hand because the Secretary, Col. Achuzie, came to Houston to seek our support when he was campaigning for election. We gave that support and even pushed some buttons. He got elected, and now we know that most of the time he and the Chairman, Dr. Irukwu, cannot see eye to eye. A house cannot be divided within itself and expect to stand. My administration will boldly articulate, pursue and cater to the interests of Ndiigbo in the Diaspora – that is my constituency. In the past, it has been the policy of WIC to defer to Ohanaeze in all things. My administration will partner with Ohaneze in everything. Note the difference. Whenever the policies of Ohanaeze conflict with the interests of the Diaspora Igbo, my allegiance is clear and will be well understood. I will implement the wishes of the Diaspora Igbo – my constituency. - Ichie Onwuchekwe

Many well meaning Igbo pundits are critical of WIC’s organization structure and operational agenda. How do you assure these skeptics that you have what it would take to bring about desired changes if elected?

I have been the most vocal proponent of “opening up” WIC in the Board - see my manifesto. I do not have the “complex” that fears letting more people come to the table. I plan to take WIC to the “retail” level by making every Igbo person a card carrying member of WIC whether one belongs to an affiliate or not. I have already started work on ID card design. I am the only candidate with the gravitaz to make the WIC Board accept taking WIC to the retail level. I have a block of the Board that is behind me, and they will support any well meaning initiative from me. We plan to run things the way it is done in the US Congress.

Lack of funds appears to be the biggest headache for the organization that you aspire to lead. Why is this so? Do you have any specific plans to overcome this stumbling block?

WIC has up till now relied on the $500 affiliates contribute. This is a joke. I plan to make every Diaspora Igbo person be part of WIC by contributing a certain amount per year to renew their ID cards. Membership allows a Diaspora Igbo person to access and make use of the services that WIC plans to be providing for Diaspora Igbos here and at home in Igboland. I have marketing experts in the WIC coalition that support me and we plan to market WIC extensively. I plan to set up service centers in seven Igbo states. These service centers will generate money not only to run themselves as a business venture, but money for the WIC also. The Internet cafes and offices we plan to set up can handle, for a fee, e-mail service, telephone services, and money transfer services and various other services. People are already working to fine-tune these plans. My administration will not ask people for monetary donations. We will rather initiate projects that will benefit WIC and members of WIC in the Diaspora. We shall ask people to invest in these ventures to their benefit and that of WIC.

There are many important issues that need to be addressed by the next WIC Chairman. What are 3 principal issues that you intend to target soon after your election?

(1) Establish a physical contact point between WIC and Igbos at home by opening up offices in Igbo States. I have completed preliminary research on this in April 2005.
(2) Make WIC financially viable by unleashing my economic ideas which shall result in Diaspora Igbos investing in the future of Igboland. I will lead the change with putting my pennies where my mouth is.
(3) Open up WIC to the retail level. Any Igbo or friend of Ndi Igbo can participate in the WIC. We have plans to get this rolling without worrying about constitutional amendments.

Should WIC Chairmanship be rotated amongst states of the Southeast and Igbo groups domiciled in the Southsouth so as to assure adequate representation of all Igbo interest groups in this Diaspora apex body?

WIC is unique. Anyday it degenerates to state “quotas”, it will die a natural death. States already participate the way the organization is structured. I am an Igbo man and I personally do not place much priority on my state of origin.

Are you pleased with current methodology for choosing WIC leadership? What specific changes would you like to be made before the 2005 election of WIC officers?

The current method is not perfect, but it could be improved. It has worked so far to keep the organization stable. Imagine the chaos of having everyone who attended a convention voting to elect a WIC chairman. The problem is that most people do not participate until there is an election. After the election, most go back to the “wood works”. In my opinion, the greatest danger now is that people who have no knowledge of the candidates being given the authority to choose a candidate based on what they could read from the e-groups. At this time, the members of the Board and HOD should cast the votes on behalf of the people they represent. This will ensure semblance of order and avoid chaos and “mob effect”.

Are you content with level of participation of youths and women in WIC affairs? What do you specifically intend to do toward enhancing the profile of these groups in operational agenda of the WIC?

My manifesto specifically has plans to integrate the Diaspora Woman in WIC. I will go after their economic potential, their ideas and their energy. I have already started a model in Houston, which I intend to draw on. On May 21, 2005 my organization sponsored a convention of Igbo youths 18 years and those in college. Emeka Okafor of the NBA was the events speaker. I used him to draw all the college kids to the hall and they had a “ball”. They will have another event on August 13, 2005. I have access to Emeka Okafor because his dad is a member of the Ndi Ichie Organization of which I am currently the President. I plan to use all the resources I have in the Diaspora to improve our youth and women in the Diaspora including calling on Emeka Okafor from time to time.

Some say that Ndiigbo are a difficult bunch to lead. How can that be? Do you have any specific ideas on how to mobilize the Igbo and channel their energies to accomplish desired goals?

Ndi Igbo do not have a patent on being difficult. I do monitor the Yoruba and Hausa Organizations also. For Ndi Igbo, our strength is in our diversity. The guide for me is articulating common “interests”. We can always address our common interests in the spirit of “trust but verify”.

How do you assess US Diaspora Igbo participation in their host country’s economic and political system? What role should WIC play in support of Igbo entrepreneurship within Nigeria and the Diaspora?

Without establishing access here in USA, most of our pursuits at home will remain hollow. I belong to one of the political parties. I will use my contacts therein to foster WIC agenda. Diaspora Igbos must wait and see how I plan to re-shape our conventions. Most of us are now US citizens. There is no reason why George Bush could not be invited to our conventions. This topic is priority in my heart and I will say just wait and see.

How many WIC committees currently exist? Are they functioning to your satisfaction? If elected chairman, do you intend to run the organization with an executive director?

I plan to run WIC with an Executive Director. I also plan to run the Board with committees. Appointment of Committees in the past has been a sham, that’s why they could not ever function. I will never appoint anyone a committee chair that does not participate in local organizations. Only elected organization Presidents/Chairmen can recommend a committee chair to WIC Chairman.

PNF USA-sponsored pan-Igbo annual conference was held in early May in Dallas, TX. Don’t these conferences divert focus from WIC’s own strategy for galvanizing Ndiigbo under one formidable umbrella?

I do not know much about PNF. I have never attended their events nor do I have plans to in the near future.

Some MASSOB members languish in Nigerian jails without option of bail. Should WIC provide material and moral support to this group and its mission of seeking sovereign autonomy for Ndiigbo?

MASSOB and WIC must have a synergistic relationship. My administration has developed a policy for MASSOB. After all, Odua People’s Congress is currently providing needed security to the Yoruba contingent at the on-going National Conference in Nigeria.

As a former Biafran combatant officer, you had a firsthand knowledge of huge sacrifices of the Civil War. Why is there no national holiday in Nigeria today to remember those who paid the ultimate price during this national catastrophe?

The reason is that we lost the War. Let no one be fooled by the “No Victor. No Vanquished” rhetoric. Those who know why we really lost the war always hold their Heads high. The leaders at that time were not thorough in doing their homework. Nigerian Troops were never able to beat Biafran Troop in any fair combat situation. The economic blockade cut Biafra off from all ability to of replenish her war materials. With time, this alone reduced combat situations to using a “machete” against someone with a machine-gun. If we had developed such agencies like PRODA before we actually started the actual combat, things would have been much different. By the time the “Ogbunigwe” and other local war items made it to the fronts, it was already too late.

Are you satisfied with what WIC has done so far to improve the lives of handicapped Biafran veterans, particularly those in Oji River settlement? Do you have any specific plans for your fellow veterans if elected WIC chairman?

The Oji River issue is personal to me because there is no other reason other than providence why I am not one of those our brothers begging there. In fact, it could even have been worse. Read my manifesto regarding my plans for Oji River, even if I have to execute that plan by just myself and a few friends.

If you become the next WIC Chairman, how are you going to address the matter of Igbo presidency project for 2007?

The 2007 Presidency Project must be addressed from a practical perspective. I hosted the WIC Convention in Houston 2002 and was in the thick of things for the 2003 effort. We learned a lot of lessons, and this time we must be truthful to Ndiigbo and ourselves. We can’t let anyone use us again for personal reasons. I am an Igbo partisan, and any politics that addresses the interest of Ndiigbo as a group will get my support.

How effective has the Ohanaeze Ndiigbo been in shepherding Igbo interests in today’s Nigeria? If elected WIC chairman, how will you do bridge the perception gap between supporters of Igbo National Assembly (INA) and those who remain loyal to Ohanaeze?

Ohanaeze has problems. I know this firsthand because the Secretary Col. Achuzie came to Houston to seek our support when he was campaigning for election. We gave that support and even pushed some buttons. He got elected, and now we know that most of the time he and the Chairman, Dr. Irukwu, cannot see eye to eye. A house cannot be divided within itself and expect to stand. My administration will boldly articulate, pursue and cater to the interests of Ndiigbo in the Diaspora – that is my constituency. In the past, it has been the policy of WIC to defer to Ohanaeze in all things. My administration will partner with Ohaneze in everything. Note the difference. Whenever the policies of Ohanaeze conflict with the interests of the Diaspora Igbos, my allegiance is clear and will be well understood. I will implement the wishes of the Diaspora Igbos – my constituency.

Many regard APGA as the Igbo party, but the Igbo political elite are overwhelmingly supportive of PDP. What will WIC do to support APGA political formation in raising its profile if you become the elected chairman?

APGA, as I know it, may be referred to as the Igbo Party in name, but I know that it has a long way to go in reforming it’s modus operandi before anyone can really call it the Igbo party. For one thing, it is now run as a private cooperation, and that is not the way a national party can be organized or run. WIC can help the current APGA leaders streamline it’s policies, have standard rules and conditions of participation that is understandable to everyone, and above all, educate everyone about the ultimate source of power….the people, instead of political chieftains.

As an Igbo traditional title holder, what is you view about the increasing incidence of iconoclasm and disdain for our indigenous cultural artifacts by followers of new rival faiths that have mushroomed throughout Alaigbo in recent times?

Our ancestors were right in the first place. I am of the Anglican faith, and my Bishop at home is the Most Rev. Anikwenwa, the Bishop of Awka. I sought the Bishop’s advice in 1990 when I took the Ozo title after completing my father’s burial rites. The Bishop told me that so long as I did not sacrifice animals on the
“NwaOmaku and “Oji Ozo” there was nothing wrong with getting initiated into the Ozo title. I have some Reverend Fathers who are my friends, who also took the Ozo title. I am a lay chaplain in the Episcopal Church here in Houston. From my church training, I can tell you that our ancestors were right on the money in their religious practices. Those who condemn anything Igbo culturally, do so out of ignorance. I am happy to pray the traditional Igbo way in the mornings, with kolanut and sometimes a shot of good Cognac. I prepared a write up for the Ichie Organization in Houston here regarding Igbo traditional way of praying and last year, I was instrumental in inducting a sitting member of the USA Congress into the Ichie Organization. I have the tapes if you care to publish such. The Hon. Judge Al Green is always proud of his red cap just the same way as I am.

What can be done by WIC, if you become the Chairman, to promote authentic Igbo values and culture within the Igbo Diaspora?

We already have some models we are developing in Houston to look at. As the President of Ndi Ichie Organization and an avid supporter of Igbo culture, it is obvious that my position as WIC Chair can only help advance and promote our culture.

Lack of regional solidarity in the former East is a major impediment in Igbo political ascendancy on the national scene. How can a group like the WIC help to build links with our neighbors to the Nigeria Delta and southeast coastline?

We are reaching out to the areas you mentioned here. We no longer talk about 5 Igbo states but 7. One of the first acts of our administration will be to send a reach out package to all governors that have Igbo speaking people in their states, such as Delta State Governor Ibori and the Governor of Rivers State - Dr. Odili. It can be done, and we will make it happen because without broadening our base we may not create the kind of impact we all want.

How often do you visit Alaigbo? What is your assessment of the dual menace of poor environmental sanitation and uncontrolled flood erosion? If elected WIC Chairman, what role will you play in tackling this problem?

Brothers, I visit home at least twice every year. I was in Nigeria this April, and will be home again with my entire family this Christmas. If any of you will be in Nigeria this December, join me for the Ama Iyi Masquerade Festival December 31 & January 2. Next year, December 24, 2006 is our Ofala. The Igwe of my hometown has given me advance notification for the event. I have been informed that I will be conferred with another title at the next Ofala. If any of you can come I will be honored the more.

Dr. Ugorji, Mr. Joe Eto and others are your rivals for WIC chairmanship. Do you think that popular support for candidates amongst the non-voting Igbo Diaspora community can play a decisive role in the ultimate outcome of this contest?

WIC is destined to be opened up to make it much more inclusive. This is the crux of my campaign. If we have more good heads at the table, better things are bound to happen. With this policy, it is clear that I cannot ignore popular support, even if they are “non-voting” Igbo Diaspora Community.

Tell us a bit about your nuclear family. Do you have any preferred Igbo foods that you wish to share with us?

I came from a traditional Igbo family. I pride myself as "onye Igbo" period. I do not emphasize the Igbo village I was born in. My parents had six of us, three boys and three girls. I have three girls and a son. I also have two grand children a son and a daughter. As for favorite foods, I come from the part of Igboland where the man of the house must have his bitter leaf soup with pounded yam. Here in my house in Texas, my backyard is lined with luxuriant bitter leaf plants, as I like it fresh. When I am in my house in the village, I like to start the morning with kolanut and palm wine. To break fast, I prefer roasted yam with fresh red palm oil with “ukpaka” and I usually have these washed down with more palm wine before I call my drive, if I had anywhere to go that day.

You must be a very busy person. Tell us what you do with your spare time?

Come to think of it, most of my spare time are spent in more meetings. I play tennis sometimes. I also play golf but have not had time to do so this year. I will try to go out to the green this weekend and practice on my swings.

Any parting words for our Igbo readers who may not be part of WIC?

Tell Ndiigbo that there is a reason why we all left our father’s compounds and came to this foreign land. Tell everyone to get ready to act on those various individual reasons. I will give everyone an opportunity to do so. I talk about an opportunity to invest in ourselves, an opportunity to take the good things in America back to our compounds in Igboland. Tell Ndiigbo that I will challenge their Igboness and bring out that magic that has made the Igboman the envy of other tribes. I will do it with honesty and integrity. I have a track record and all that anyone has to do is to give me a chance one time. To me, this is a “calling” and I will be true to that “calling”. My campaign theme is “Igbo ekunnie”. Tell everyone not to take this theme lightly. It is from my heart as "Onye Igbo".

Ichie Onwuchekwa, thank you for sharing this valuable time with our guests.

Thanks. I am glad you guys gave me this opportunity.

Osondu
The Survival Struggle for Ndiigbo

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