Evangelist Elliot Ugochukwu Uko is the Founder of the Igbo Youth Movement, Secretary, Eastern Consultative Assembly and the Deputy Secretary, Igbo Leaders of Thought. In this interview, he alleges that those opposed to the restructuring of Nigeria are after Nnamdi Kanu, and their intention is to kill him so the agitation will die.
He noted that Kanu has pushed the restructuring debate to a level no one has before with his agitations, warning that even his death cannot change the trend.
You were the centre of the vortex, in the midst of all these happenings in the south-east in recent weeks. Can you tell us what is going on?
Thank you, I have refrained from giving interviews for close to two years now. The reason I’m yielding to talk to you is because, if I fail to present the truth for the record, falsehood may take over the space. What is going on is that the military rolled in tanks in the eastern region in what they call Operation Python Dance, and then the centre could no longer holds.
First, there were altercations in Abia State, both in Umuahia and in Aba. And then, there were attacks on Mazi Nnamdi Kanu’s residence, and then the talks between Kanu and the south-east governors was deliberately scuttled by this military attack on Kanu. And then the army spokesman announced that IPOB is a terrorist organization, even though two days later the army, Lt. Gen. Buratai himself, said that the army does not have the power to label any group a terrorist organization; that was Friday the day south-east governors said they have proscribed IPOB. That’s where we are at the moment.
There are controversies regarding the whereabouts of Kanu, do you have any idea where he is?
I do not know the whereabouts of Nnamdi Kanu, but I hear all kinds of rumours, though I can’t substantiate them. Now, as to your question, what is going on has everything to do with the decision by the federal government to stop the agitation for Biafra, to crush the agitators, and also scuttle the peace meeting Prof. Ben Nwabueze initiated with the governors. Nnamdi Kanu told me that heard rumours that he would be killed if he attends the meeting in Enugu. From all indications, I think he was probably right.
I do not know why the military will scuttle the meeting between Nnamdi Kanu and the south-east governors. They might have their reasons, but I do not know. Prof. Ben Nwabueze and Nnamdi Kanu and myself met with the south-east governors 20 days ago, Friday, 30th of August, 2017 at the Government House, Enugu, and that meeting was largely successful. At that meeting, the south-east governors made it clear to Nnamdi Kanu that they want him to tone down the agitation, tone down his language, allow the Anambra election to go on, and then look for peaceful ways to express the grievances of his people. Nnamdi Kanu agreed to all they said, but pleaded that they give him a week or two to consult with the leadership of IPOB, and that he would like to bring the leadership of IPOB to the next meeting, so that he would not look as if he has sold out the group; and the governors agreed.
Prof. Ben Nwabueze who brokered the meeting pleaded with Nnamdi Kanu to, one, allow Anambra election to go on and, two, allow election to hold in the east in 2019, and accept restructuring as solution to the injustices in Nigeria… Nnamdi Kanu agreed, said he would make that pronouncement at the next meeting, with his leadership flanking him, so that he does not seem to be a dictator and took the decision all by himself…So we all dispersed, hoping that at the next meeting on 15th of September, Nnamdi Kanu would come with his leadership and the governors would ask Mr. President to begin the restructuring of Nigeria.
Nnamdi Kanu insisted that the restructuring should be along the 1963 constitution, not merely devolving powers to the states. So we dispersed. Within that intervening period of 10 days between the first meeting and the scheduled second meeting, the army now altered all the permutations by moving into the east with military equipment…So whether this was planned by the government to scuttle the peace meeting, I do not know, but this is what happened. I was in the meeting. I, Prof. Ben Nwabueze and Nnamdi Kanu, met with the South-East governors.
So what is going on is that there is a desire by certain people in government to use military might to crush the agitation. Whether they will succeed, time will tell.”
Why do you think the military scuttled the meeting?
What is going on is a struggle, some people do not want Nigeria restructured. They believe that if Nigeria is restructured they will lose their pre-eminent position, where they control the polity and determine the fate of 186 million Nigerians. They do not want Nigeria restructured because the unjust unitary structure favours them. Those people see Nnamdi Kanu as the greatest agent for change, as the greatest catalyst for change. They see Nnamdi Kanu as the man who has done more to make restructuring possible. Therefore they want him to pay with his life, they want him dead.
Those people were frightened that the restructuring has gained ground everywhere, from the middle belt, from the oppressed peoples of north-east and north-west, south-west-the Ibadan Declaration, not long ago, the south-south, the south-east. Everywhere the restructuring breeze is sweeping. So the enemies of restructuring believe Nnamdi Kanu is responsible for instigating the restructuring breeze blowing everywhere. So they conclude that he has to pay with his life. They will tell you, after all they killed Abiola and nothing happened. They will boast that if they kill Kanu that nothing will happen.
But the truth of the matter is that this issue is not about Kanu. The issue is not about an individual. The issue is purely about the unjust structure of Nigeria, and the unhealthy state of affairs in Nigeria. The military constitution of 1999 and the unitary structure created by the military is the problem with Nigeria. TBoth the constitution and the xtructure are not working. Every other thing is as a result, a direct fallout, of the unworkable 1999 military constitution and the unitary structure imposed on the country by the military. That is why 31 states cannot pay salaries. 23 states owe even pensioners as well. About eleven states are owing salaries for months, especially Kogi and Imo.
Nnamdi Kanu is not the problem of Nigeria. He is a product of the problem of Nigeria. There are millions of angry people who do not want to have anything to do with Nigeria anymore, especially from eastern region, where I hail from. Nnamdi Kanu only represents leadership they trust. They trust him because they believe he speaks their mind. He is not the problem. If Nnamdi Kanu dies today, another leader will rise up, who could even be more vicious than Kanu.
The minute President Buhari announces the formation of a committee to advice government on how to restructure Nigeria, a committee of elders that will bring together all the past national conferences, every agitation will die down. But some people do not want to do that. They want to use guns and bullets and armoured cars to hold onto this unitary structure, to hold this military constitution of 1999, for as long as they can. That is why they support Operation Python Dance.
Now the matter of Ndigbo and agitations: This is a very historic moment in the life of the Igbo nation. I served my leader Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu for the last 15 years of his life. Before he passed on, he told me that Nigeria will be restructured, that the owners of Nigeria will not give up without a fight. They would not agree to restructure Nigeria until blood is shed. Everything Ojukwu said has come to pass. The youth of the eastern region are fed up with Nigeria.
Every year they sit for JAMB. Over 700,000 of them sit for JAMB. In the five south-east states, over 80% of them will score marks over 180, over 150, over 130, but they will not get admission, because the cut-off mark of their region is higher, at 180-plus. They will watch and see some states in the north that have only about 5,000 JAMBites, and they have cut-off mark of 10, 15, 20, and all of them will get admission. So those young men and women see IPOB as the only way of escape. They believe Nigeria hates them with passion, and they desire a country of their own.
That is what is going on. And those people are emboldened because they believe that the Igbo political class will always play along with them, because for 47 years the Igbo political class has always played a game of individual survival at the expense of group interest. So the owners of Nigeria, the masters of Nigeria believe that the political class of the south-east can be easily blackmailed and intimidated to do their bidding, at the expense of the group interest, and at the expense of the very survival of Nigeria. That is the game. That is what is going on.
Gov. Umahi, who is the Chairman of the South East Governors Forum, has been in touch with me. We’ve spoken twice from New York. He even told me he’s in the same hotel with President Buhari, and he even pleaded with me to assure Prof. Ben Nwabueze and Nnamdi Kanu that when he comes home he will invite them again to continue with the peace process. But the damage done by Operation Dance has affected the confidence of the easterners. The Operation Python Dance has deepened the hatred in Nigeria. The army invasion of the east has confirmed to easterners that they are hated and despised in Nigeria.
If the people of Catalonia march in the hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, in demand of a separate Catalonia out from Spain, people of Scotland demand theirs to the extent that they even had a referendum not long ago, they want out from the UK, nobody branded them as terrorists. This problem began on the 27th of May, 1967, when Gen. Yakubu Gowon proscribed the regions and created 12 states by his Supreme Military Council, but there was no Igbo man there… and the Igbo were reduced to a minority. The Igbo were fixed in 1 out of 12 states. Every other state creation has continued on that format, Murtala’s of 1976, Babangida’s of 1987 and 1991, and Abacha’s state creation of 1996, all reduced Ndigbo to a minority. That’s how the problem began.
But some people will say it was indeed Gen. Ironsi who tinkered with the regional arrangement?
No, Gowon is in his 80s. He’s still alive and he knows there’s a lie going on, that it was Ironsi that proscribed the regions. And Gowon is keeping quiet, going around praying. Gowon has refused to tell the younger generation the truth, that it was he, Gen. Gowon, his announcement of 12 states that proscribed the regions. Ironsi did not proscribe the regions. Ironsi merely passed the Unification Decree, that the regions were no longer semi-independent like they were, because Ironsi suspended the 1963 constitution. But then Ironsi left the regions the way they were.
In fact, by May 27th, 1967 when Gowon created 12 states, Ironsi was dead! It was Gen. Gowon who proscribed the regions, and the only thing that can save Nigeria now is to go back to the regions, go back to Nigeria the way the regions were before Gowon proscribed the regions on 27th May, 1967. And every effort and attempt to take Nigeria back to that 1963 constitution is being thwarted by the beneficiaries of the current, unjust, unfair unitary structure. That’s the problem of Nigeria.
You see, I was a kid, watching television with my father, in the early 80s, when Margareth Thatcher, UK Prime Minister, called the African National Congress a terrorist organization, and said that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist. I was also alive to see the Nelson Mandela the UK called a terrorist, to see him hosted in London on his 90th birthday, and erect a statue in his honour. And I saw Presidents and Prime Ministers, Kings and Queens, attend the funeral of a man they called a terrorist.
My leader, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, and the late Chief Anthony Enahoro, and the late Chief Rotimi Williams, in the Patriots, would cry and shout, two, three times a year to restructure Nigeria. So many attempts have been made to restructure Nigeria, the same cabal will kill it. 12 years ago, 2005 conference in Abuja, everything was agreed, voted and agreed. They even agreed to give the south-east an additional state, and to have rotational presidency, everybody agreed to that, and so on. One person inserted his 3rd term, and when Nigerians rejected his 3rd term bid, he killed the report of that conference.
Three years ago, Dr. Jonathan organized a very large conference. Some people, who hired international publicists to help them bulldoze back to power, took the report and kept it in the archives, and said they would use gun and bullets to hold Nigeria through Operation Python Dance. That is the problem of Nigeria.
Calm is gradually returning to the East. But from recent events, would you say the agitation has been dealt a blow?
Today I can tell you that agitation for Biafra would never die down, never. No amount of military attack or invasion will stop it until Nigeria is restructured…The people in Aba would say the same thing the traders in Lawanson told us a week earlier, without meeting each other. They would tell us that they are tired of Nigeria, that everything in Nigeria is skewed against them; that they prefer to be on their own, in a separate state of their own; that Nigeria hates them with passion…Everything is skewed against the Igbo youth, and they want out.
The only way to save Nigeria is to restructure. The people creating crises everywhere are those who resist the restructuring of Nigeria. Operation Python Dance was set up to stop the restructuring of Nigeria. Because they know that Nnamdi Kanu, more than anybody else, has created awareness, has awakened consciousness for the need to restructure Nigeria…I have had the privilege to speak with Nnamdi Kanu and plead with him to tone down his agitation. He would always ask me, what has the federal government conceded? If the federal government conceded something, we have over 172 litany of injustice against us, the federal government has not conceded one. They’ve not agreed to restructure Nigeria, they have not agreed to give us additional state; they have not agreed on Igbo President, they’ve not conceded anything. They are only trying to use money to stop the agitation. Thank you.