Uche Honnah, newly elected President of the Anioma Association USA – the umbrella organization for all Anioma people in the United States of America is a man on a mission. This real estate investor and efficient organizer spoke with Thetimesofnigeria.com correspondent last week on his plans to build a strong, unified association. He also weighed in on the controversy surrounding the election of an Anioma son, Chief Ralph Uwechue, as head of pan Igbo group, Ohaneze Ndigbo.
TON: Congratulations on your recent election as the National President of Anioma Association, USA. Kindly tell us a little bit about yourself?
Answer: Thank you very much. My name is Uche Honnah and I am from Idumuje Ugboko in Aniocha local government area of Delta State. I am based in Maryland and into real estate investor and appraiser. That is what I do for a living. I have a family which comprises of my wife, two sons and a daughter. One of my son is currently in Nigeria doing his national youth service. My other son is in India studying while my daughter lives here with me.
TON: What is your vision for the Anioma Association?
Answer: As the saying goes, everything starts locally. Before I joined the race for the national president of the association, I did notice that the association was not really progressive. They were not addressing the goals I felt should be address. They were enmeshed in infightings and were losing chapter members as a result. Some people came to me because they knew what I had done with another association called Aniocha progressive union. They felt I will be able to bring some purpose to Anioma national. I thought about it and decided to join the fray. Since I became the president we have been better focused. My goal is to unite our people here in the USA and I think we are making headway. I have travelled to a lot of chapters and spoken to members and I think we are beginning to see the fruits. I was in Nigeria last year to make our people aware of our present here. I spoke a lot of our leaders. Anioma leaders who are captains of industry and our political leaders. I spoke to Col Okwechime, I spoke to the president of Oganihu Anioma, Pat Utomi and other leaders. My goal is to concentrate on bringing economic benefit to our people by exposing to opportunities here in America and elsewhere. Bring people from Nigeria and America together so that we can benefit from interacting with one another. At the same time we want to project our culture. We are a people who are very proud of our culture. These are the things I want to do; regenerate our culture.
TON: How do you intend to actualize these lofty goals of projecting Anioma culture and economic empowerment for your people?
Answer: Let me take the economic part of it first. We have a lot of people in Nigeria who I believe needs to be plugged in the right channel. If you have ideas and you are not aware of people who can help you achieve them they don’t come to fruition. Next year I want to use the forum of Anioma World Economic Summit to bring politicians, captains of industry, - people who want to bring industry to our people because once you bring industry it creates jobs and it helps the development of the area. At the same time, there are people in America who want to sell their goods and services to other parts of the world and are looking for markets. So one of the things we have to do in the Anioma world economic summit is to link the buyers and sellers. We will also use the occasion to showcase Anioma culture and tradition to the world.
TON: How do you intend to reposition the association to become more relevant both in the United States and Nigeria?
Answer: Thank you. That is a very good question. The point is that previous leadership of the association was not able to look into the direction of making it a strong political force. When I was elected I decided there is a need to make Anioma association relevant in the body polity of Nigeria because no matter what we do we have to realize that we come from somewhere and we need to establish our presence there. One of the ways we intend doing it is by more media exposure, become more involved in local issues, raise issues relevant to Anioma people and hold our political leaders accountable. Work with our political leaders as partners. They will also hear from us whenever they go wrong. When do right we will praise them. I hope that they are there for the betterment of our people and part of that is to hold them accountable. We will shout it out when they do good and also shout it out when they do bad.
TON: if you look at similar organizations, they are not just a socio-cultural group but they are also political pressure group. Do you plan to steer the association towards this type of political advocacy back home?
Answer: As an organization, despite the fact that we realize the need to look out for our peoples interest are always are that we are a non-profit organization and there are pitfalls associated with it. So whatever we do, the paramount question is whether our elected officials are working in the interest of our people. So if there comes a time where we realize that our elected officials are not doing the right thing, despite the fact that we are not an all out political organization, we will weigh in on it and make our position known. I believe that one of our primary goals will be to speak up when things are going bad. So they will hear from us.
TON: There has being this lingering issue over the place of Anioma people within the Nigeria political and cultural space. While some see Anioma as Igbo and believes it should be a member of Ohaneze other are vehemently opposed to this idea saying that culturally and politically Anioma has a distinct identity and should remain so saying Anioma should build a strong group that will represent the people’s interest. What is your take on the matter as President of the association?
Answer: My position is based on facts. Facts based on history. One it is a fact that culturally we have a lot in common with the Benin kingdom. That is very obvious because if you look tradition, the succession of the Obiship it is same as in Benin. It is from father to son – hereditary. That is not the same across the Niger. Secondly the mandate for a new Obi or king in our area comes from Benin because of the cultural affinity we have with them. Also you look at the traditional titles such as Iyase; these are not Igbo words. What it alludes to is that there is a place we came from. When you look at places like Ebu and Obamkpa they have different language that’s not even Igbo. You go to Ndokwa area; you discover they don’t have any affinities with Igbo across the Niger. These are facts. So if you put the fact on the ground together, you can say yes we do speak a dialect of Igbo but we are not from across the Niger. What it then tell you is that we are a unique people. We are Anioma. That is what we are. But we have association with people across the Niger because we speak the same language. Whatever people want to interpret is as is left to them but the question you asked is who are we? We are Anioma. That’s what we are and that is indisputable.
TON: An Anioma so is currently president of Ohaneze and some are interpreting it to mean all Anioma are both Igbo and member of the group. Prominent Anioma people have publicly criticized Uwechue on this. As President of Anioma association in the USA what is your position on this?
Answer: First I will like to thank Ambassador Uwechue for his previous service to our people and the country. I believe I am not in a position to criticize him. He has seen fit to take up the position he has taken and why he did that obviously is up to him. But again, there are facts on the ground and the facts remains that we are Anioma people. I can give you an example; the fact that the Americans speak English does not mean they are English. But they speak English. But if an American decides that he or she wants to go and become the Prime Minister of England and the English allow him or her, that’s ok with me. That will not make all Americans English. So I wish Ambassador Uwechue all the best but that does not mean I am Igbo or that all Aniomas are Igbo because we are Anioma people.
TON: So you are in agreement with Col Mike Ukwechime who while reacting to Uwechue’s election as Ohaneze president said, “Anioma is by birth, Ohaneze is by association” meaning uwechue is free to associate with whomever he wants.
Answer: I think there is a lot of wisdom in that. Okwechime is right.
Photo courtesy of Times of Nigeria