From left, resource person, Mrs Maria Okwor, first republic minister, Chief Mbakwe Amechi, founder Igbo youth movement (IYM), Mr Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko, former governor of Akwa Ibom state, Obong Victor Attah, former secretary general of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief Nduka Eya during the 20th anniversary celebration of IYM in Enugu

By OBINNA EZUGWU

Founder of Igbo Youth Movement (IYM) and secretary, Eastern Consultative Assembly (ECA), Evangelist Elliot Ugochukwu Uko has regretted that those at the helm of affairs in Nigeria are doing everything possible to hold the Igbo down.

Uko who spoke in this interview, noted that there was urgent need to loosen the Nigerian federation to allow the Igbo space otherwise the Igbo would remain slaves in Nigeria.

Excerpts:

You have been very quiet for a while, how is the covid 19 forced holidays treating you people down in the east?

My dear brother, there’s nothing inspiring going on. It’s like we’re all standing still, marking time. Nobody I know is excited, fulfilled, confident or happy with the situation in the country. The east cannot be different, Nobody is sure where exactly we are headed. This is not the best of times. The covid 19 holidays affords all an opportunity for soul searching and self examination. But the plight of the starving less privileged and the vulnerable, one finds disturbing.

The government is distributing food stuff and making cash payments to the very poor around the country to alleviate their suffering. Are you impressed?

So we see on TV and newspapers. Here in the east, there is no such thing as cash payments and free food from the central government. What we have here is commendable efforts to stem the hunger and hardship experienced by daily income earners, by churches, corporate institutions, individuals and a few politicians. But those are clearly inadequate. The hardship is real.The suffering is real. Aide getting to these groups of people is inadequate. We are yet to see any kind of help from the central government.

Government is playing games with Eastern Nigeria as usual. Nothing stops them from distributing the aide or whatever through the 774 local government authorities, if they are sincere. That way, it would get to every region. But they obviously don’t want to do that. They seem to be concentrating in the North, especially the North east and North west. Our people feel sidelined as usual. No town or village in Igboland can claim to feel the impact of the federal government palliative. We only here of that in the news. I challenge the people in charge to come out and show us beneficiaries here in the east. If anything is going on here, it must be very infinitesimal that nobody feels the impact. As always, we are deliberately sidelined.

The same people sidelining our region are wondering why the youths of this region want out of Nigeria like yesterday. The government released billions, wealthy nations, foreign bodies, individuals and organisations donated billions, just yesterday EU gave 50 million euros and Igboland is missing out as the largesse is shared in certain regions to the exclusion of others. They are only aiding the recruitment drive of the seccesion agitators. Sad and disturbing.

Are the governors aware of this lopsided distribution and if so, what are they doing to correct the anomalies?

I expect you journalists to investigate and bring this inequity to the attention of the authorities. This inequity and inequality are stuff revolutions are made of. You don’t need a soothsayer to note that,just a little spark could lead to riots and mayhem. The little aide available is not being fairly shared all across the country. That is unfair. That is wrong. Every discerning person can see that the seeds for a revolution are being sown by the people applying this dichotomy. They are actually saying to some regions ” go to hell, you don’t belong here”.
Our governors should note that the angry people of this region are unhappy with the state of affairs in the land, especially with the one sided style of distribution of the so-called palliative. Our people are clearly disappointed.

Why can’t the governors…?

I don’t want to talk about our governors. I don’t agree with their style and I also don’t want to breach my code of conduct, which is: not to attack any governor, as that would distract me. The people know wether the governors are standing up for them or not. When I and Prof Ben Nwabueze escorted Nnamdi Kanu to a meeting with the South east governors, two and half years ago, I realised that the overbearing influence of the central government, makes it difficult for the South east governors to be their own man. I painfully saw why the central government is very interested in whoever emerges as governor in Igboland. Ndigbo are in big trouble my dear brother. Ugwuanyi is good at trying to avoid any kind of fight, struggles to be a nice guy, Umahi, even though he is performing wonders in Ebonyi,very impressive infrastructure development, is totally committed to the politics of pleasing the master and remaining in the good books of the owners of Nigeria, Obiano decided from day one to fight his benefactor, thereby concentrating on survival in office, he has never stood up to identify with Ndigbo aspirations, Ikpeazu doesn’t have any achievements you can put your finger on, he too is busy battling for survival. The Supreme court governor is the one that will split Igboland. Sad but true. Because even though, nobody is thinking about it now. In 9 months, he will produce the next Ohanaeze leader,you won’t expect him to nominate a PDP sympathiser. That would negate why he was forcefully made governor at this time. You also won’t expect Ndigbo to flow with his Ohanaeze nominee, who will definitely be an APC sympathiser.
Nwodo’s last 9 months may actually be the last days of a united Ohanaeze. You may quote me on this. So Ndigbo are going through difficult times and its not over yet. The younger generation are not proud of our governors,they are nobody’s heroes, except of course the (otinkpu) praise singers and cheerleaders. The owners of Nigeria will never, for obvious reasons, allow strong willed, independent minded guys to emerge as governors in Igboland. We are a conquered people, held down in bondage and monitored aggressively. All our political leaders are compliant actors. This subject is a taboo. A no go area. Never to be discussed. But interestingly, the angry youths are discovering a lot of things, which informs their agitation. So back to your question, the people who share and distribute the palliative know that they are not fully carrying the South east along. They may cleverly organise a roadshow somewhere in Igboland for photo ops or propaganda purposes, but nobody is fooled. The intensely provocative dichotomy, makes it difficult to preach one Nigeria in this region. These are clearly some of the reasons the agitation has remained very popular, in fact, reality on ground, points to the fact that every thing is being done to hold Ndigbo down perpetually as slaves in Nigeria, but for the awareness and agitation by the younger generation, who tell me all the time, that they believe, there is a deliberate agenda to hold them down as slaves for a thousand years.

The opposition party says the government is not handling the covid 19 crisis properly, unlike Jonathan’s government that handled the Ebola outbreak in an effective and efficient manner that the world applauded Jonathan?

That could be true, but you see, even though this Buhari regime is a disaster, the 16 years of PDP didn’t actually move Nigeria forward. The PDP brought upon the land, the evil of imposition of candidates, mind boggling rigging, financial malfeasance or sleaze in a scale never before experienced in the land. PDP laid the foundation for the confusion in the land today. Dr Alex Ekwueme told me that Obasanjo assured him that he would restructure Nigeria, but the fellow mischievously preferred a third term to salvaging Nigeria. Igbo political elite surrounded Jonathan for five years, they drank brandy with him into the wee hours, they failed to use the opportunity to address group interest, today Igboland has no international airport, no seaport, no rail services, nothing. The roads until recently were in a horrible condition. The PDP is extremely lucky that Buhari goofed, if not PDP would have been history.

How do you mean sir?

With all due respect, Buhari lacks the political sagacity needed to effectively run a heterogeneous, multi cultural society like Nigeria. Probably angered by the fact that the Igariwey led Ohanaeze rebuffed his plea to meet with him during the 2014/2015, he angrily decided to teach the region a lesson. I suspect that both Garba Shehu and Femi Adeshina, by their professional training, must have tried to get his permission to correct the grave mistake of 97%/5% formula and the import of the faux pas, on the psyche of a very over-sensitive race, he fought against during the war. A race that remembers vividly the role he played at Asaba and other war theatres. They also recall how he distributed the PTF intervention projects under Abacha. His media handlers managing his public image know that the unprovoked 95%/5% dichotomy will irreparably damage both his image and place in history. That no effort was made to clarify the statement and mitigate the damage done by the pronouncement, simply suggests that the man probably said he didn’t care. His image handlers could have easily played with words and said their principal couldn’t possibly say or mean to apply such divisive formula.But the whole world waited in vain. I suspect the man must have told them : “to hell with nyamiri.” So those hurtful words stuck till this day, five years on.He unwittingly placed a wedge between Ndigbo and himself. And of course, PDP benefitted.
Had he been smart enough to reach out to Ndigbo in his first term, he would have won them over. He also chose fear and coercion, as his style of governance, to the end that his close aides seem afraid to tell him any thing they perceive he may not want to hear.

His mistakes were avoidable. He didn’t know Ndigbo do not worship man. He erroneously mistook the quite horrible and shameful ass licking and boot licking culture of the Igbo contractor class, as the Igbo way of life, nobody told him that the DNA, the chromosomes and genes of Ndigbo are completely different from those of the other ethnic nationalities that bow down and submit to eternal subjugation. He had to find out himself between 2015 and 2020,that Ndigbo worship no man. So within this period he erroneously assumed that Ndigbo would bow and worship, the PDP smartly latched onto Ndigbo in order to survive. That is the truth. Had Buhari wooed Ndigbo with appointments and projects and maybe set up a committee on restructuring Nigeria, in 2015,he would have swept Igboland and the PDP would have been blown into oblivion. Nobody could tell him, as all the people around him were scared of getting on the wrong side with him, by telling him what he obstinately didn’t want to hear. You see, because he comes from the cultural background where the rulers decide and the masses concur immediately, because they are too impoverished and helpless to argue, the completely egalitarian Igbo society is strange to him. He doesn’t understand egalitarianism, where the masses agree and the leadership simply concur with the wishes of the masses, if they hope to remain relevant.
Nobody explained to him that for over 1800 years Ndigbo were governed by the “ama-ala”, Greek model democracy. Where the town crier goes round the village with his gong sounding an invitation to the village square. Where all males above 18 years old are entitled to speak. The elderly and titled men sit in front, whereas every adult male, who doesn’t have a record of misbehaviour or history of mental illness, is actually entitled to raise his hand at the “ama-ala” meeting and air his opinion. Where every decision is put to the vote and consensus rules. All these hard facts were lost on him. He judged the mighty Igbo nation through his experience as petroleum minister, military governor and military head of state, especially, the hustling ranka dede prostration of the Igbo political class and misjudged.
He thought Ndigbo flow with the behaviour of the political class, who constitute less than 1% of Igbo population. He wrongly assumed that 45 million Ndigbo would bow down and worship. He only succeeded in making them enemies for life and also strengthened the crumbling PDP. That’s the truth my dear, I am on ground here. Ndigbo identified with PDP, because very credible leaders shaped it. Men like Alex Ekwueme and co.Courageous leaders who through the G34,stood up to Abacha. The PDP sidelined these great men and ran amock.I repeat the PDP is still relevant today simply because Buhari mishandled Ndigbo. Period.

Is there any hope with the APC then?

The PDP gave us bad dreams. The APC brought nightmares. More than half of the APC people jumped from the PDP. We are in trouble. They are all the same. The entire political class are a direct product of the military. The military ruled us with their civilian accomplices and collaborators, these guys simply metamorphosed into the Nigerian political class, whose dreams, desires and aspirations are totally different with that of the hapless masses. The citizens crave for jobs, infrastructure, security, a growing economy and justice. The politician is occupied with how to win the next election, acquire property overseas, live the good life and of course, continue to fool the people. None of them worries about the condition of the masses or the future of the country. They only pretend they care, when it’s convenient. If they truly cared, they will not delay the restructuring of Nigeria, a day longer. The country is crumbling and I bet you, they are all busy husbanding resources in preparation for the next elections. They are so self centered. They are like a band of predators terrorizing the land, and we are like grass- eating gazelles at their mercy.

Some are leopards, some are lions, there are also hyenas and cheetahs. When one species outsmarts the other, they will come appealing to the poor masses for sympathy.
Any sincere leader in Nigeria, should know that without restructuring, Nigeria will die. If they were truly committed to the wellbeing of Nigeria and Nigerians, this country should have restructured long before now and set on a proper trajectory towards growth and greatness. But just look at where we are. Pity.

What should be done?

Nigeria is long gone beyond redemption if we don’t restructure immediately. We have been lying to ourselves for over 50 years. General Gowon unilaterally unified the structure by abolishing the regions as he announced his creation of 12 states, 53 years ago. A very bloody intrenicine war, enthroned mediocrity in governance at the end of hostilities in 1970. Corruption was celebrated as we announced to the world that our problem was what to do with too much cash. Nigerians started competing with Arabs on who was the craziest spenders in boutiques, designer stores and jewellery shops all over the world.

While China, Thailand, South Korea, Singapore, South Africa and Malaysia were busy building their economies, we were blocking streets in Lagos, dancing “Board members, board members” and “Ajalla travelled all over the world”.
We stole our country dry. Destroyed the railways, Nigeria Airways, our education system, our health care, every thing.
The feeling that the oil cash will never run out, brought out the animal in us.We simply got used to cheap money, unearned money, easy money. We began enjoying the good life, with out working for it. And just look at where we are now. We destroyed our institutions and now send our children to school in Ghana, Benin, Togo, Cameroon etc.Shame on us. That’s why Igbo youths are ashamed of Nigeria and want out. Nigeria is a sinking boat. And there are no life jackets available. It’s that bad.

You see, I will be 58 years old this year. The story of Nigeria from my eyes, isn’t an inspiring story. As a kid I recollect the first republic politicians in their flowing agbada and long cars, Opel Capitan, Zephyr, Chevrolet etc.They partied like there would be no tomorrow. They were truly powerful. The crises and the civil war blew them away. Then came the soldiers in their well starched and well ironed green khaki and their landrover convoys, they held sway as they were worshipped for import licence and other favours. They too passed away, then came the second republic, the NPN,UPN PRP, GNPP and NPP days. I was a teenager moving into my early 20s.Those ones ran amock.They lost all sense of responsibility and probity.
Then the army came back. This same Buhari. They flogged people on the streets, they called it war against indiscipline. They broke into warehouses and forcefully sold essential commodities. This same Buhari. His friends removed him and Idiagbon, then we went into a rigmarole with Babangida for eight years. In those 8 years corruption was elevated to a culture and nobody cared. Tai Solarin caved in, was co -opted with People’s Bank. Whole Soyinka explained away why he accepted to join through Federal road safety corps, only Gani Fawehinmi stood with the masses like the rock of Gibraltar. He was our Horatio at the city gates. He couldn’t be bought. We watched, we noted.
Then came June 12 and the drama. Some people went to Abacha, brought him to come and chase away Shonekan, the came, cleaned out the treasury and showed us the meaning of repression. He was on his way to transmuting into a civilian President, when forces greater than him intervened and saved Nigeria.
Abdusallam came, helped himself and took a bow. Now look at where we are 21 years of uninterrupted democracy .
I have seen enough to cry over my country’s missed opportunities. While other countries were busy building their nations, we wasted decades, beating about the bush. Nigeria is a sad story. The painful part of it all,is that the political class don’t want to repent. That’s the problem.

Is that why the youths of eastern region are agitating to secceed?

The youths of eastern Nigeria are more dynamic than youths of other regions for three reasons.

1, They suffer from discrimination every where they turn, every day of their lives. They are afraid and scared to hand over or bequeath this condition of second class citizenship to their children. That is unacceptable to them. Their position is unambiguous: Treat us as equals or let us go. We want to live as freemen, not as slaves.

2, They have never been slaves to anyone for thousands of years, until Frederick Lugard forcefully united Nigeria and forced them into a union they neither understood nor desired. Where other people deliberately make life very uncomfortable for them. Every effort to thrive as equals is consistently thwarted by folks, who claim they are born to rule others. So the agitation will simply continue until something gives.
3, Finally the large army of Igbo youths in the diaspora have managed to convince the millions at home that their elder’s laissez-faire attitude to the precarious political situation of Ndigbo in the last 50 years is largely responsible for their plight. They are all agreed that something must be done about it.

That is exactly what has been going on. The Nigerian state regrettably chooses neither to engage them nor address the structural imbalance that feeds their anger and disenchantment with the system. So the beat goes on. I fear a revolution. All the ingredients are there.I should know. I have been here long enough to know. I formed my first group, the Igbo youth council, as a teenager, at the D’elmina club, Adelabu street, Uwani, Enugu in 1981,39 years ago. I changed the name a decade later to Igbo Youth Congress in Lagos, in 1991. On 28th May 1999,24 hours before Obasanjo was sworn in as President, I disagreed with my friends and associates and went solo,this time, I christened the new group, Igbo youth Movement. I have worked closely with every genuine group in Igboland for more than 3 decades. I should know what is going on. I took Ralph to Ait for his very first television interview, when he launched Massob. He visited me in his old red Honda accord to my office at Toyin street Ikeja around August or September 1999 and informed me he was launching Massob the following week at his residence at,Ajidedidun street, Aguluejika, I pleaded with Jika Attoh to feature him on Kakaki and he graciously agreed and featured him twice and Ralph remains grateful to me. I have been around for too long and I know that the Nigerian government enjoys the agitation, if not, they would have addressed the structural problems of Nigeria.

How can the problem be resolved?

The restructuring of Nigeria remains the only solution. Reverting to 1963 constitution. True federalism, devolution of power. Enthronement of justice and equity. Level playing field for all. Fairplay and equitable distribution of everything. That no man should be oppressed.

Why are Igbo youths angry with their elders

Because they believe the elders have not done much to ameliorate the oppression and discrimination against Ndigbo since 1970.The 80 year olds today, where 30 years old when the war ended in 1970.They were humiliated by Nigeria, their subordinates before the war suddenly became their bosses. They were preoccupied with how to survive and train their kids. I try to rationalise their weakness, because I know they faced challenges their angry grandchildren know nothing about. The angriest segment of the Igbo population, are those born in the 1990s.They are in their 20s and so angry with Nigeria. The danger lies in the fact that the Nigerian state seem unaware of their frustrations with Nigeria. Therein lies the real danger. I work well with the elders, I invite them to my events. These youngsters have no patience for them.Thats why I am worried.