Evang. Uko

Evangelist Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko, founder, Igbo Youth Movement (IYM) and Secretary of Eastern Consultative Assembly (ECA) has said one of the major reasons the North continues to dominate political power in the country is that it craftily exploits existing rivalry between the East and West. 

Uko who made the observation in this interview with OBINNA EZUGWU, also noted that Nigeria has come to a point where restructuring has become inevitable, as according to him, with the collapse of oil price, refusing to restructure the country would be an invitation to anarchy.

The IYM founder equally accused the President Muhammadu Buhari led government of neglecting Ndigbo, even in the distribution of Coronavirus palliatives.

He noted, however, that various Igbo groups have risen up to the challenge of taken care of their own people.

Excerpts:

Recently, you said the Buhari government is distributing the Covid-19 palliative in a lopsided manner. Has that changed?

Not at all. If anything, the problem is getting worse, because the endurance levels of some people are bursting and no news from the Federal Government. Hearing that some regions are enjoying government palliative, sounds offensive to the sidelined and discriminated Southeast. But we praise our people for coming to their brethren’s assistance. Our people are doing great, supporting and helping each other. That’s beautiful and quite commendable. The church, organisations, businesses and kind-hearted folks are surprising everyone, donating generously to communities, especially to the less privileged. It feels great to see the power and ancient wisdom of our forebears in establishing our quite unique extended family structure. Being one’s brother’s keeper is a wonderful experience. Our people are surviving through the benevolence and generosity of brethren. The FG and their palliative is nowhere to be seen. That is the situation in the East. However, acknowledgement of the impressive donations from groups and individuals doesn’t in way suggest that there are no suffering and starving folks around. Hardship and hunger is all around us. You can tell from the pressure from your people. It’s tough for everyone. In fact, I doubt if the people can endure another extension of the lockdown. So kindly inform the government that when, and if their so-called palliative gets around here, we’ll be the first to acknowledge same. They are yet to remember Igboland, for reasons best known to them, but our people are surviving. Thank God for the extended family system, especially remittances from Ndigbo in the diaspora.

But overall, do you think that the government’s response to the pandemic has been adequate?

Nigeria is under a leadership that has succeeded in getting everyone edgy, for certain reasons. One, no one knows why our President will never address us live, instead of recorded videos. Nobody knows why he can’t take questions and reassure us that he actually is on top of the situation. Secondly, Impunity, indolence and intolerable laxity by the authorities, has given a particular region the impetus and effrontery to disregard every law of the land and get away with it. Everybody knows same region will mock social distancing and stay at home order, with obvious grave consequences for all. Believing they are above the law makes it difficult for folks of the region to obey simple lockdown regulations. Their attitude to life will make it difficult for a proper and well coordinated effort to contain the virus. These are our fears. You hear of verbal autopsy, amidst mysterious deaths in Kano; you hear of folks still gathering in large numbers. Thirdly, failure by government to build a strong team of professionals to develop a holistic blueprint, you know, a powerful committee that will look at everything, security, health implications of the pandemic, but also the social and economic impact as well.

I watched the German Chancellor build a powerful team of professionals: bankers, agriculturalists, pharmacists, finance experts, surgeons, oil and gas gurus, security experts, media executives – you name it- to guide her. The idea is to create an intellectual bank, if you will, that will look at every angle of the problems and troubles the pandemic will create. But here the cabal as usual, isolated the VP who should drive government intervention at this time to the amazement of all. I’m not inspired, but I trust that God is able to keep this virus at bay. For some reason, lady corona is not wreaking havoc in tropical zones, especially sub-Saharan Africa. I am depending on God to drive it away with minimal damage. Answer to your question, I am not very proud of government’s response. But I hope government will sit up.

Do you have confidence, by any stretch, in Buhari’s ability to move Nigeria forward?

How do you appraise a government that says restructuring Nigeria is not important; a government that split the country along regional lines; a government that seems to be proud of its nepotistic style. President Buhari doesn’t seem to care about how the people feel. Governments the world over, all through history, guages and monitors the mood of the people. Even school children know that the country is heading for the rocks, what with the nosediving oil prices. Yet someone still believes that the current unitary structure, totally dependent on oil will grow Nigeria, how can that be? History will remember Buhari’s administration for it’s many blunders and shocking decisions. History will remember that this government, but for the outcry, tried to merge religious studies in schools. Imagine what they hoped to achieve with that! The same government plotted to take over waterways all over the country. I hope you know what that means. The same government tried to force the registration and regulation of every social and cultural organisation in the country, in order to control our destiny by repressing both freedom of speech and freedom of association. Same government tried to seize and annex ancestral land from all the 36 states and hand same over to Buhari’s kinsmen in the name of RUGA, a government that is very comfortable in totally and completely isolating eastern states from heading any of the 23 military, security and paramilitary agencies, a government that denies the east any project in all the foreign loans that will be repaid by all.

Same government carefully excludes the east from railways mordenisation project, same government failed to curb and contain the repulsive criminality of herdsmen, same government told Benue indigenes to choose between their land and their lives, same government is currently selective and discriminatory in disbursement and distribution of so called FG palliative. We may go on and on.These frightening agendas of this regime strikes fear into the souls of citizens, making clear their intentions and plans for the future. My dear brother, it is history and the masses of this country that will judge Buhari’s administration, not me. Dipping oil prices will soon jolt us to our senses. Any government that displays and enjoys nepotism, lacks credibility to demand loyalty, especially from the oppressed zones. Does this government inspire trust and faith? Hubris and ignorance seems to drive the dysfunctional leadership of today. Square pegs in round holes, ethnic, religious and regional considerations placed above everything else, sad.Sometimes you wander what people who divide the country along ethnic lines, actually hope to achieve. Ethnic considerations makes it possible for governments to fail perennially. When you look at the economy, unemployment, insecurity, poverty and hunger in the land, you see why people pray to God and God alone for deliverance. We are clearly in trouble. History will judge everyone. Buhari is nobody’s hero.

The president’s supporters argue that Nigeria was in bad shape when he came on board?

He has been in charge for five years now. Has the quality of life improved in Nigeria? Has unemployment reduced? Are we more secure today? You see the government’s incompetence cannot be excused by the fact that Nigerians have been serially failed and disappointed by past governments. The greed and avarice of our political elite is legendary. Both military and civilian regimes failed us.

We have been quite unlucky with leadership. I agree with you there. I weep when I remember the heady early 1970s, when oil money drove us mad. The missed opportunities. The wastefulness, we all indulged in. You could count hundreds of parties going on in every street corner, as Nigeria celebrated the oil boom and the defeat of Biafra. Party after party, day after day. Asian and middle eastern shop owners in Europe made a fortune off mindless Nigerian money-miss-road shoppers, who regularly terrorised shops, bazaars and mini markets in London, Paris, Rome, Frankfurt, New York, Los Angeles, Amsterdam etc.Oil boom drove us mad. Nigerians made small back streets market like London’s Shepherds Bush very popular. People organised birthday parties for their 3rd or 4th wives. People paid so the media would title them LAGOS SOCIALITE, whatever that means. People placed In memoriam advertorials for their great grandmother who died 50 years earlier.

Our Nigeria, where mindless secondment of clearly unqualified fellows from the states to the federal civil service, in the name of quota system, destroyed the service. A country where officials boast openly about their corrupt actions, Not to be outdone, civil servants bought houses in London and major cities of the world. Wide body Mercedes Benz 500 competed with Volvo on the streets of our cities. “We have arrived”, we screamed for all the world to hear, ” we are the wealthiest country in the world ” we shouted. After all, that’s what our 30 something year old head of state announced to the world in London. “Money isn’t our problem” he declared “but how to spend it”. Then, a very vicious, predatory political class emerged, stealing and destroying everything in sight. They took us all to outer space, before drowning us into the Bermuda triangle. They turned us into a huge joke. Every body went mad, we simply lost control. Regrettably, trying to validate the narrative of the racist caucasians on the abilities of the black man to govern himself, thereby creating a huge problem to caucasians who hold that no race is intellectually inferior. My dear brother, simply put: Nigeria failed the negroid race.Heart rending, but painfully true. Yes we made grave mistakes in the past, it’s never too late to mend our way, but the biggest disservice to Nigeria is for any one to suggest that this unitary structure, can move Nigeria forward. That is impossible. Nigeria must restructure or perish.

There are Nigerians who say that the present structure is just fine. They blame corruption and mismanagement?

Anybody who pretends that he doesn’t know that the current unitary system not only breeds corruption, but encourages it, is either, ignorant, mischievous or both. A conglomerate of hundreds of nations, some larger than over a hundred and fifty of the world’s 200 plus countries. A country founded principally as British economic and colonial enterprise. A country so badly fractured that every nation state of the United nations, knows their is a secessionist movement thriving there, a country where more than half of the 36 states can’t pay workers salaries.A country where only one of the 36 states can survive without oil revenues.

Our Nigeria, where kickbacks range from 50% and above. Our Nigeria, where sacred cows are above the law. A country so divided that people talk about ethnic President. Our ever growing population, a large army of unemployed folks, unwieldy economy, entirely sustained by the informal sector, a predatory leadership cardre and bitter ethnic rivalries. I tell you, those who oppose restructuring, are only waiting for the meltdown or implosion to occur. Stark political and economic realities clearly makes it clear for all to see, that the 1999 constitution cannot sustain Nigeria much longer. What is debatable, is how long we can continue to pretend. That is the truth. Interestingly, the region that will benefit most from a restructured Nigeria, incidentally seems to oppose restructuring most, either probably due to lack of understanding or a deliberate scheme by leaders from the region to mislead their people. They seem not to understand that untapped minerals under the soil would change their fortunes, they do not know what boosting agriculture, truly holds for the region. They cannot see that unitary structure makes it possible for brazen looting to occur, while a restructured format will force political leaders to be accountable. They are unwittingly opposing restructuring which will ultimately improve their lives, just like they erroneously opposed Alex Ekwueme, in 1998/1999, who would have handed over to the north after only one term.

They moved into Jos stadium, to oppose Ekwueme and enthroned one who preferred third term after effectively burying the presidential ambition of the the Maradona. Again, they are opposing restructuring out of misplaced paranoia. Only a new people’s constitution anchored on true federalism and devolution of power, affirmed in a referendum can save Nigeria. Those who still don’t get it, are living in another planet.

How come Igbo youths, especially the Biafra agitators are always at loggerheads with Igbo elders and political leaders, even to the extent of attacking one of the leaders in Germany last year?

I don’t want to talk about that, because I am in the centre of the cortex. I command and enjoy the trust and confidence of both groups, through God’s special grace, I must say. You see the Igbo younger generation, believe the older generation and the political class have sold out their soul to the oppressor. They hold that Nigeria is only able to mistreat the Igbo race, because those who should speak and fight for the Igbo, are collaborators and accomplices to the continued oppression of Ndigbo. That has been the view and mindset of umuigbo for decades now. They are angry with the elders, because they are of the opinion that the elders have not done much to ameliorate the oppression and discrimination Ndigbo have consistently suffered in Nigeria, since 1970. You see the 80 year olds today, were merely 30 years old at the end of hostilities in 1970.The trauma of defeat crushed their spirits. They were deliberately and endlessly humiliated by victorious Nigeria. Their subordinates before the war, suddenly became their bosses. Hurt, subdued and defeated, they were primarily preoccupied with how to survive and raise their kids. I try to rationalise their perceived weakness, because I know they faced challenges their angry grandchildren know nothing about. The angriest segment of the Igbo society, are those born in the 1990s. They are in their 20s today and so angry with Nigeria. They have sworn that their children will never inherit the second status Nigeria seem to have arranged for post civil war Ndigbo. Therein lies my fears. The real danger lies in the hidden fact that the Nigerian state seem unaware of the frustrations of the Igbo. Nigeria seem not to care. That is the time bomb and land mine ahead. For over 30 years, I have worked well with our elders. I partner with them and invite them to my events. These youngsters have no patience for them. That’s why I am worried.

You see, the decision by the victorious Nigerian state to humiliate, discriminate and marginalise Ndigbo perpetually, was, and remains a very wrong policy. But, it is driven by envy and fear of the Igboman. Now, these children, simply don’t understand how their grandparents who were blackmailed and blamed for the actions of a few soldiers, (who obviously did not consult anyone about their coup) would be slaughtered in a ruthless three wave pogrom, chased out of the north and hounded and hunted down every where, including Ikeja Airport and Ibadan army barracks, levied war upon, as they tried to escape Nigeria, blockaded and bombed to submission, by Egyptian pilots, Russian jets and British military advisers, Niger and Chadian hired “gwodogwodo” and on top of all these litany of injustices, still blamed for the war. They don’t understand how they should pay for the sins of Nzeogwu, Adegboyega, Ifeajuna and co, for ever. They don’t understand why Nigeria should refuse to forgive them for an offence, they know nothing about. They cannot understand the disparity in scores for admission into unity schools and universities. They believe they committed no crime and therefore should be treated fairly and equally with other Nigerians. With a population of almost a quarter of the country, they don’t see why they should be crammed into 5 out of 36 states and 95 out of 774 local government councils. They know that Ndigbo are more populous than Poland, Canada, Ghana, Cameroon, Australia, Cote D’voire, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Hungary, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway, etc. They believe they are caged in Nigeria, and with some people opposed to restructuring, they believe they will never attain their full potentials on earth.

They are at the bottom of the ladder, so they feel the pinch hardest. They feel if they do nothing about it, then, they will bequeath status of servitude to their own children. That’s why they want out of Nigeria, and can’t trust the older generation.

But the older generation Igbo and the political leaders don’t seem to be doing much to change the situation or atleast improve upon it?

That is the problem. The political class are actually guilty, as they never imagined the youngsters could ever build up a critical mass so huge, and therefore, seem to be at a loss, how to effectively address the situation. There strategy of distancing themselves from the youths, out of fear of being labelled discreet supporters of the agitation, simply isn’t working. Younger generation agitators believe these oldies and the politicians are so comfortable, that they don’t give a damn about the sad and uncomfortable Igbo condition in Nigeria, as long as they and their children are comfortable. But you see, the problem is older than this season. It began at the end of the war. Every body is guilty. Even among the youths, you find quislings and traitors,

Ndigbo missed it decades ago,when they placed individual survival over group interest. They struggled to conquer the war-induced lack and poverty and subconsciously put survival at all costs, in overdrive. You did everything to escape poverty, including betraying your tribe. You hustle madly to make it by all means, even when group interest suffers, as is usually the case. The most important thing was to make it, by fire by force. The community will celebrate and honour you.

Every man on his own. There was no group agenda to meet, articulate and drive group interest. Every body was afraid of activities of informants, mostly because everybody was an informant. It’s funny, but there was clearly a lack of any genuine platform, where the core development of Igboland was articulated and pursued. Whatever platform they had was merely designed so the few elite in control of the body would get attention of the central government for patronage, while effectively fooling the people that they were fighting for their interests. It’s a potpourri of accusations, allegations, some of which are sadly true. The elders should be respected, but they are no angels. For example, the elders of today, were young men during the second republic when they abused the great Zik to no end. One of them referred to Ziks complaints as the rantings of an ant.All of them, in pursuit of patronage, trooped to the NPN, abandoned NPP to Zik. One Senator from Onitsha, said he has taken over NPP from Zik. They called him “Zik nna a” on Television, they forcefully delivered the old Anambra to the NPN, to humiliate the great Zik, who rallied Ndigbo, creating the Igbo union, inspired communities to build their own schools, making Ndigbo to catch up and overtake all in education. They insulted him mercilessly. They established one newspaper called Trumpet, just to attack Zik and the NPP.

Well, today those who abused Zik endlessly, abandoned Akanu Ibiam, (they never enquired wether Ibiam was feeding well or not ) during the second republic, when they were in their 30s and 40s,are now in their 70s and 80s ,and they are complaining that the youths do not respect them. Moreover Igbo elders have not been seen to lead the struggle for justice like Yoruba elders did under the leadership of Pa Abraham Adesanya 25 years ago and earned the respect of their youths. I am known for working very well with Igbo elders, my father will be 91 this year, but I know Igbo elders are no saints and angels.

Is there hope for a collaboration between Igbo youths and elders, and how can Ndigbo feel comfortable in Nigeria, again?

For the second part of your question, it is actually up to Nigeria to decide whether she will make everybody comfortable in Nigeria, as nepotism and oppression breeds discontent, which inspires rebellion and seccesion. Now the first part of your question:on Igbo elders and the younger generation. You see, truth must be told, every body is guilty, therefore, we must search for and attain a certain meeting point and partner intelligently, in order to build synergy and maximize our bargaining power as Ndigbo in order to achieve justice. As a house divided can’t actually achieve anything. But the Nigerian state must face reality. Oppression, nepotism and discrimination has destroyed many countries. In Nigeria, everyone wants justice and equity for his tribe, but nobody wants justice for Ndigbo. This particular government, deliberately introduced the infamous 95%/5% formula and woke up fears and anger in the land.

Yes, you posited elsewhere that Buhari mishandled and mismanaged Ndigbo?

Of course, banking on the discredited strategy of building alliances elsewhere, and ignore Ndigbo, he erroneously deepened the Igbo isolation, probably because Ndigbo didn’t support him in 2015. Well, he misfired and created political opponents for himself. You see, even a teenager, knows that if you run for your town union chairmanship and 3 out of 9 villages opposed you during the elections and voted another candidate, the very first thing you do, after you win, is to draw the 3 villages close to you, appoint them into your inner caucus and win them over. They will lead your campaign for reelection and give you more votes than the other 6 villages. But when you isolate them in order to teach them a lesson for not voting for you, you’ve just made enemies for life. Their children will remain enemies to your children and their children’s children to your children’s children from generation to generation, for ever.Even a teenager should know that. He clearly made a mistake thereby unwittingly strengthening a very weak opposition.

Someone should tell him that the north cannot dominate Nigeria forever. The north has only succeeded so far, due to 3 factors. One, the North craftly exploits the rivalry between the east and the west. Secondly, The colonial master and other neo colonial and imperial oppressors of Africa, find the North more amenable and more useful to their exploitative devices and thirdly, the minorities of the north, who are actually in the majority, still find it difficult to unite and stand as one. Moreover, they have been successfully subdued for decades through religion and empire building traditional rulership. But, the greatest truism in life, is that nothing lasts for ever.