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Dr Ugorji O. Ugorji is one of the first 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 serious candidates for WIC leadership as they emerge. Here are excerpts of an engaging interview with Dr. Ugorji:

How would you tell an Igbo, who may never have heard your name before, who you are and what qualifies you as someone to be trusted with leadership?

First, I thank you for the questions. I appreciate your effort in making me think about issues that are pertinent to the declared quest. I commend the Osondu Foundation for its efforts in the struggles of our people.

I am Ugorji Okechukwu Ugorji; my mates and elders call me Okey; my younger ones call me Deh’mu Okey. I am the first son of Eze Stephen Nwabueze Ugorji, the traditional head of Lorji Nwe-ekeukwu Autonomous Community in Aboh Mbaise, Imo State. I attended school at Ekulu Primary School Enugu, and skipped the sixth class to enter high school. I graduated from Holy Ghost College Owerri at the age of 15. I arrived in the US in 1981 as an undergraduate at the then Trenton State College (now The College of New Jersey). I hold two bachelor’s degrees (one in Psychology, and the other in Biology), as well as a Master degree in Personnel Services from the same college. I obtained my doctorate degree in Education Administration from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey at the age of 29.

I see the World Igbo Congress and the position of Chairman as the greatest stage on which to hoist the flag of Igbocentricity as I have conceived and conceptualized it. A sentiment that approaches a layman’s description of Igbocentricity is the part of my declaration for Chairman that stated: "My God does not make mistakes, and as such I recognize no land holier than Alaigbo; I know no language more divine or more sophisticated that asusu Igbo; I have heard no name more majestic or spiritual that aha Igbo; I have received no love sweeter than that of Igbo women; I have not known any burial ground more sacred or more honorable than Alaigbo, and I place no heroes, heroines, prophets or saints above my Igbo heroes and heroines." - Dr. Ugorji
Many people I respect have testified that I am result-oriented and well rounded in experience. I have led among my Igbo people and I have led teams of multinational professionals in several settings. I am comfortably and unabashedly rooted in my Igbo heritage and yet profoundly conversant in the undercurrents of virtually all the cultures and peoples with whom the Igbo must compete and contend. I am the first to make the sacrifice I ask others to make. I abhor injustice and I have lost quite a bit in my career and in my personal life in pursuit of fairness and equity. I see myself in the tradition of the civil rights and Pan-African activists. I hold a Pan-African worldview, with an Igbo center. When I came about my Igbo-centric consciousness, I jettisoned once and forever the "Kingsley" that used to be part of my name.

Perhaps more importantly, in WIC I have not just sat and warmed seats – I have delivered in virtually every task that was either assigned to me or for which I have volunteered. Some say that I have done so superlatively. I have been associated with WIC since its 1995 convention in California, but I have only been on the Board since 2001. I know WIC, I understand WIC, and I am convinced that with the peoples support, I will make WIC consequential. We the people of the sun and of the sea shall not long posses the sky. Therein lies the rationale for trust.

Many have sharp criticisms about the organization that you aspire to lead. What's your take on these criticisms?

As always, there at least two sides to a phenomenon. There are critics and criticisms of the World Igbo Congress that are genuine, constructive and helpful. I too am a critic of my WIC. As James Baldwin once said "Because I love America, I must criticize it." I say because I have tremendous respect and hope for the promises of WIC, I must criticize it.

However, there are criticisms that are clearly mean-spirited and designed to pull down, rather than build. I would rather we stay away from such. I reject the Darwinian concept of survival of the fittest. I have never believed that someone else must fail or fall for me to rise.

Do you see WIC as more of a sociopolitical or socio-cultural organization? Should the WIC been more proactive in intervening in the Anambra state crisis?

I don’t believe that it is helpful or even useful to compartmentalize WIC and its sphere of influence in the lives of our people. Everything is at once social and political and spiritual and economic. The WIC of my dreams is holistic and all encompassing. WIC must be political but not partisan.

I regret that you refer to the crisis in the "Anambra" section of Ala Igbo as the Anambra State crisis. It is an Igbo problem. The World Igbo Congress however, must be conscious of its limitations. Even in the things it can do, WIC must be consistently on the side of the masses and on the side of what is right. I wrote the IGBO WORLD’s editorial that called for fresh elections as far back as August 2003.

You indicate an interest in bringing about change in WIC. What are your areas of priority?

My first priority is to build WIC into a formidable entity indeed not just in perception. I can’t do that unless I enable Ndigbo in the Diaspora to buy into WIC. They won’t buy in unless they are given ownership and yes, control. My abiding mantra shall be this: WIC should never worry about whether the people are with it; WIC should always worry about whether it is on the side of the people. Whenever we are on the side of the people, the people will be on our side.

Another priority is to actualize the corporate nature of WIC, financially and organizationally. As Chairman, I shall be willing to share whatever is perceived to be power in the office, with an Executive Director whom I shall search and appoint with Board approval. I shall appoint volunteer continental and regional directors to help us improve our reach and accountability.

I want to professionalize WIC’s conventions. Starting with the Boston convention in 2006, I want it run like a professional confab, with professional accountability. But beyond the annual conventions, I want WIC to have at least three other major events in the year: An annual World Igbo Youth Conference for Igbo youth; an annual Igbo Heritage Awards (which I once proposed to WIC as the Ikenga Awards); and an annual Philip Efiong Lecture series.

I see the World Igbo Congress and the position of Chairman as the greatest stage on which to hoist the flag of Igbocentricity as I have conceived and conceptualized it. A sentiment that approaches a layman’s description of Igbocentricity is the part of my declaration for Chairman that stated: "My God does not make mistakes, and as such I recognize no land holier than Alaigbo; I know no language more divine or more sophisticated that asusu Igbo; I have heard no name more majestic or spiritual that aha Igbo; I have received no love sweeter than that of Igbo women; I have not known any burial ground more sacred or more honorable than Alaigbo, and I place no heroes, heroines, prophets or saints above my Igbo heroes and heroines."

What specific things can you do as WIC Chairman to enhance the Igbo Diaspora presence in our new adopted home overseas?

The Igbo must be seen and heard. I shall work to provide outlets for them to be seen and heard, in print (as in the Igbo World), in books, and in the movies. I shall assemble experts in various fields to put together guide books for survival and success for new Igbo immigrants in various localities. I shall link WIC clearly and visibly to the Black Congressional Caucus, the NAACP, the Urban League, and the Jewish national organizations. I shall be present at a rally of an Igbo candidate for political office anywhere in the Diaspora if duly invited. I shall work with Igbo governors to seek incentives for prominent and economically viable African Americans to locate their African roots in Igbo land, with the hope and belief that should hell break loose, in the Diaspora or at home, we shall find ready allies.

WIC is thought of, by many, as a secretive organization run by a reclusive Board of Directors. Is this a valid viewpoint? What makes you feel that you have what it takes to change the status quo when you assume the mantle of leadership?

Everyone that is supposedly "INSIDE" right now in WIC was at some point "OUTSIDE." I alone can not open up WIC. My visions alone, no matter how articulate and inspiring, can’t open up WIC. Only the delegates and Board members from the various affiliates will open up WIC. The extent to which I will change anything will depend on the "people power" that I can bring to the table. Board members of WIC are people too, and my candidacy is an appeal to both the Board and the masses.

WIC has no financial resources to operate with. Why is this so? What are WIC revenue generation sources at this moment?

To the best of my knowledge, the main source of revenue to WIC at this point is the dues the affiliates pay. The conventions have not had a good record of revenue generation. WIC does not have money because the people have not fully bought into it. This is why enabling the necessary buy-in must be job number one.

The Education Committee of the WIC appears to be the only component of the organization that is active. What other committees exist in present WIC?

I thank you for your kind words regarding the Education Committee. I will submit that the Constitution Review Committee headed by John Udoh has been active too. So has the Economic Development Committee headed by Joe Nzepuome, with Chuks Ibekwe as a productive member. So has the Road Map Committee heeded by Professor Kalu. The Membership Development Committee headed by Nnaerika Okonkwo has been active. The Electoral Committee does its seasonal work as at when due. And now the National Conference Committee heeded by Kemnagum Okorie is fast at work.

Are you content with present committees or are you contemplating specific changes if you become the Chairman?

The committees are not the issue. The major issue is getting people who are willing to leave foot prints with the assignments they are given. If approved by the Board and HOD, I would like to streamline the committees under Vice Chairpersons of WIC. Additionally, I plan to set up a shadow government that mirrors the major ministries in Nigeria’s government. In other words, I plan to appoint, with Board and HOD approval, Secretaries of Education, Defence, Commerce and Industry, Energy, Agriculture, etc., to not only monitor their counterparts’ performances in Nigeria, but to be the lead advisors on WIC’s visions for these vital areas.

Some have charged you for fraternizing too closely with political elite outside of Alaigbo, particularly the North. Doesn't this fact disqualify you to lead an Igbo Diaspora apex group?

I am a Pan-Africanist in the tradition of Zik and Ojike. I believe Odumegwu-Ojukwu was born in the North and has remained in fraternity with the North, even after a bloody war of survival. The issue is not fraternization. This is the question: Is Ojukwu or Ugorji comfortable enough in his Igbo skin and rooted enough in Igbocentricity to choose the Igbo group interest over any other interest? The answer for me is an unqualified and unassailable yes. Having said that, I will also say that what is good for the Igbo is good for the Nigerian nation, because the Igbo is the one group that can be found in virtually all local governments in Nigeria.

I will tell you this story: There is this brother of mine in New Jersey who used to rant and rave about who is too close to the North and how northerners are the enemy of Ndigbo. Yet each time this community leader shows up at Igbo events, he comes in babariga. One day I pulled him aside at an Igbo-USA event and asked him why he was so much in love with babariga, if he saw northerners as enemies and oppressors? He was puzzled. His ranting was never grounded in any consciousness at all. What one is proud to wear speaks more to your closeness to the culture and people from whom the outfit comes, than hypocritical polemics designed to hide complexes. The brother has generally left me alone since that encounter.

How do you intend to bridge the gap in perception that is evident between the leadership of pro-Biafra groups and the WIC, for example?

First I must ascertain, and help all sides understand, that we are all in the same boat, as far as our love and hopes for our people are concerned. I am not sure that the anti-Igbo forces make any distinction between pro-Biafra Okoros and pro-Nigeria Okoros. We must find a way to agree that we are not each other’s enemies, not even when we attempt to pull each other down. In other words, at some point we have to sit down and talk Igbo to Igbo.

Is there any need for other pan-Igbo groups like PNF USA, Ekwe Nche, Enyimba and World Igbo Council (WIC)? How will you relate with these groups if you become the Chairman the World Igbo Congress (WIC)?

Where two or more are gathered in the reported interest of Ndigbo, I will ask my father to pour libation to their success and strength. I would pour the libation myself except that my father, thank God, is still here on Earth with me. I will relate to all Igbo groups who wish WIC well, as brothers. I shall be fraternal to those groups who are fraternal with WIC; I shall however keep my distance from any group whose agenda is to demonize WIC or to see to its disappearance altogether.

WIC presently supports Igbo presidency project for 2007. Is this a realistic ambition for Ndiigbo? How can the WIC help to make this a successful endeavor?

I find the question as to whether a President of Igbo heritage in Nigeria is realistic insulting. Was it realistic for the women at Aba to route the colonialists and their warrant chiefs? Was it realistic that we would survive a 33-month war with complete blockade and with both the Soviet Union and NATO against us? Was it realistic to think that Chioma Ajunwa would beat Jackie Joyner Kousie in the long jump at the Atlanta Olympics? Was it realistic that Enyimba football club would win in the continent two years in a row? Of course an Igbo presidency in 2007 is realistic and I predict it will happen.

How can WIC help? First WIC must not flirt with any other candidate unless none of the formidable parties nominate an Igbo. WIC must call on all the parties to nominate a competent Igbo among them. WIC must set up the machinery to raise money for a consensus candidate if he or she requests it. We must go home to register to vote. We must go back to not just vote, but to protect the real votes that are cast. And finally if need be, we must be prepared to fight stolen elections. If we truly know that any government in any part of the country stole an election in 2007, then we have no business giving that government’s functionaries the coveted stage at WIC conventions.

Lack of firm spiritual anchor contributes to corrosion of our Igbo values. Do you consider spiritual reawakening as a necessary step in mobilization of downtrodden people? Do you have any model that best suits our present circumstances?

H. D. Major once said: "when the religion of a civilization dies, the death of the civilization speedily follows." There can not be an Igbo-centered people without an Igbo-centered sense of spirituality. In our Igbo heritage, our ancestors told us that there were certain kinds of transgressions that were so heinous you could almost never expiate them (e.g. murder and incestuous rape). As such our people were ultra cautious not to engage, the result was that these crimes were quite rare.

However, along came the concept of individual salvation, as opposed to communal balance. Now a politician can kill his opponent at night or steal elections in broad day light and run to sing the praises of foreign saints and prophets, at shrines built with Igbo wealth on Igbo land but named after foreign saints and prophets. And they are forgiven and saved. Even with this antidote, I do not prescribe a particular spiritual model for my people. I believe in religious and spiritual freedom, provided that no one is deliberately exploited or harmed in the process. I am as appreciative of the impact of Christianity in my life as I am of my Igbo religious heritage. All I say is that onye ma nnaya ma ndi iche. Nna anyi bu Chukwu. Let my people be whom God created them to be – a quintessential, righteous people by nature, beholden only to one supreme God. And when one transgresses, one apologizes to umunna and makes whole with both God and umunna. Egbe felima, Ugo felima.

You have pledged to run the WIC, if elected Chairman, with an Executive Director. Why do you think that the cost is worth the benefits?

The biggest cost is in not having one. We’ve got to leave the daily management of the organization to competent hands that have the time, the motivation, the expertise and the reach to make the organization consequential.

Are you content with current electoral system in WIC? If so, why? If not, what specific changes do you propose for implementation before this year's election?

I have said it before: I believe that the delegates and members of the Board must participate in the election of their leaders. I am more comfortable with a leader chosen by the many than one chosen by the few. I am the leading proponent of "one delegate one vote" in WIC. I believe that the pool of voters and potential candidates for WIC leadership should include members of the House of Delegates. If this does not happen in this election, and if I am elected Chairman, I assure you that I will go to meetings every time seeking support to open up the organization.

Women and youths are often the most underutilized resources of the Igbo Diaspora, especially in operational agenda of the WIC. Why is this the case? Do you have specific plans to address this if you become the WIC Chairman?

I am not sure why it used to be the case, but the Education Committee set up by Dr. Diogu has changed that. With my leadership, we have set up scholarship programs for the youth and some have benefited already. We have identified and profiled some of our youth in Igbo World, which I edit for WIC. And we have proposed an annual World Igbo Youth Conference that is now awaiting the approval of WIC’s Board. God willing, the first of such a conference will take place sometime this year (tentatively scheduled for May 21, 2005).

Regarding the participation of our women, the challenges of work, motherhood (sometimes), and tradition have combined to make it difficult for our women to be as engaged in WIC as the men are. I know that it was a woman (Ester Ohen) who chaired the constitution drafting committee of WIC back in embryonic days. Gladys Nwosu (New Jersey) and Anuri Nnodim (New York) have been active in the Education Committee. And Mrs. Oruh has been carrying the torch as the lone woman Board member.

I will encourage other affiliates to do what Peter Nwogu did in Washington, DC - send women to the Board. And I shall seek from affiliate Presidents names of competent women to name as heads of committees.

Should an umbrella organization like the WIC not fund and offer strategic assistance to MASSOB whose main objective is sovereign self-determination for Ndiigbo?

To the best of my knowledge MASSOB has not asked for funds or strategic assistance from WIC. If I am elected to serve, we will cross that bridge (in house) when the request comes. However, I am on record as insisting that WIC must fight to protect the civil rights of all Nigerians, including the rights of MASSOB members.

What are your personal thoughts about the lot of Biafran War veterans?

I am ashamed as an Igbo about it. What we do in the memories of those who died for us, and what we do for those who were maimed in the process, will affect significantly the ease or readiness with which this generation and future generations would want to risk it all for their people. My first visit upon election as Chairman of WIC shall be to the settlements where we have our veterans. I will put the feet of Igbo governors to the fire on this matter – I will literally shame them into action if need be. I will also call for the establishment of a Veterans Department in each Igbo State or at the very least the establishment of a Special Assistant for Veterans Affairs in each state governor’s office, with a budget to support it.

Further, I plan to lead WIC to initiate the building of a War Memorial edifice somewhere in Ala Igbo in commemoration and remembrance of a particularly significant period in our history as a people. Once the Board and the HOD conceptualizes what should be located at the memorial site, we would invite our finest architects to compete for a design of the memorial complex.

How often do you visit Alaigbo? What can the WIC do to help address dilapidated roads and widespread erosion menace in Alaigbo?

I visit at least twice a year. I suspect that I would have to visit more often as WIC’s chair.

Roads are another area where we must put our governors’ feet and our president’s feet to the fire. These are principally the responsibilities of government. To the extent that we can inspire grants from international bodies to address roads and erosion control, we should do so in WIC.

As a publisher and writer, you must respect the power of the written word. How can the WIC help to advance literacy and growth of popular African literature?

WIC must encourage the support of Igbo authors and publishers. You can’t be a capitalist without capital. Somebody packaged Achebe’s first works and presented them to the world, and it was not Igbos. In this time and generation, we must package our own stories and patronize them. WIC can do this easily by dedicating a session during each of its conventions to the discussion of works by Igbo writers and publishers. To this I am committed as a person.

As an opinionated member of our vibrant Igbo Diaspora community, you must have stepped on some sore toes over the years. What word do you have for those who may elect to oppose your candidacy due to their past personal experiences with you?

Among the first things I did, even before I decided to run and independent of my aspirations, was to apologize personally to all I may have offended. Ofo nnam ji dictates that I do that for homeostasis. My Christian upbringing demands that of me as well. All I say to those who may still be aggrieved is that Nke iru ka. I shall live the rest of my life making them understand that the whole is much more than the part. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift, which is why it is referred to as the present. I can not promise that I won’t offend someone tomorrow – every effective leader offends some people some of the time – but I pledge not to make the same mistakes again.

Are there other credible contenders for the WIC chairman? What do you fear most in the capacity of your potential competitors for the WIC chairman?

Oh there are many credible potential leaders of WIC. I like Sam Enyia’s sense of honour. I like Chibuzor Onwuchekwa’s knowledge of my Igbo culture. I like Gibson Chigbu’s long history and experience in serving our Nigerian and Igbo community in the Diaspora. I like John Udoh’s attention to detail. I like Bernard Nwaiwu’s commitment to the principles of fairness and equity. I like Dr. Louis Okonkwo’s command of respect. I like C.Y. Nwaguru’s political acumen. I like Ezeudo Egbujor’s generous and kind heart for Igbo causes. I like Peter Nwogu’s magnanimity and sense of decorum. I like Joe Nzepuome’s dignified presence. I like Chuks Egwuim’s uprightness. I like Uzodike’s calmness and efficiency. I like Chikezie’s assertive prodding and analytical mind. I like Chuks Ibekwe’s sense of loyalty. I like Okey Nwanna’s sense of commitment. I like the fresh air that Dike and Dr. Orji bring to the Board. I like Mrs. Oruh’s uniqueness and courage. I could go on and on. Anyone of them could emerge to lead and I would be glad to follow. And I fear nothing about any of them because each is too lovable to be feared. I am inspired by all on the Board and by everyone in the HOD clamoring for change.

Do you have free time at all? How do you usually spend it whenever available?

I read, write, and edit written materials in my free time. Intellectual and creative works are where my passion lies. However, my greatest joy comes from playing with my wife and my four boys, although it is a different kind of play with the wife.

What is your favorite Igbo food?


Gari and ofe egusi, with okporoko and anu ewu.

Please, tell us a little bit about your nuclear family.


An exciting thing happened on my way to Lorji from the US in 1991 – I fell in love with a young woman called Chioma. She works in the same field that my father worked for years – teaching. I call her Chifine. I have four sons – Nnamdi, Ugonna, Uzonna, and Uchenna. My wife does not find it funny that they are all boys, with all these nna nna names. She says she has five boys altogether in the house (counting me) – four are growing up and are eager to leave the house; one refuses to grow up and has no plans of leaving.

Osondu
The Survival Struggle for Ndiigbo

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