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Evangelist Elliot Ugochukwu Uko is the Founder/President, Igbo Youth Movement (IYM), and the Secretary-General, Eastern Consultative Assembly (ECA). In this interview with DAILY POST, he traces the roots of major issues in Nigeria, and speaks on the way forward. EXCERPTS:
How would you describe the present state of the nation?
Well, the country is in dire straits, and everybody is pretending that all is well. All is not well. The South-East where I come from, where I reside, is tensed up. There’s a lot of tension. The leadership pretends that they are in control, but they are not in control. The masses are standing on one bank of the river, while the leadership is standing on the other bank, and the Red Sea is in between. That’s the situation in the south east today.
The just-concluded election in Anambra State was a farce. That election was boycotted by more people than those who came out to vote. If you add that to the brazen buying of votes at polling units openly, and you’ll see that Nigeria is heading the wrong way. When you add, on top of that, the false pretence, the jubilation and celebration of the election by the authorities, you begin to wonder, where are we going? The authorities are so excited that a governor was elected, in spite of the IPOB boycott, so they are willing to accept anything, including a situation where people came with bags and cartons of money and paid voters openly. Nigeria is in dire straits.
The south east is troubled. There is the peace of the graveyard. The federal government and the international community are misled by the silence. They mistake the silence of the people for acquiescence. Nobody is happy in Igboland. The problem with the south east has always been imposed leadership, either imposed directly or imposed through a manipulated electoral system, but imposed all the same. 50 years ago, 32 year old Yakubu Gowon imposed 33 year old Anthony Ukpabi Asika on Ndigbo. Olusegun Obasanjo took Ukpabi Asika to Dodan Barracks, and Gowon imposed him on Ndigbo, and he led East Central State for 9 years.
That culture of imposing leadership on Ndigbo has persisted up till date. The only difference is that, this time around, the security will vet some people, they will be allowed to run for elections, INEC will conduct elections, the money will exchange hands, and powerful influence-peddlers and carpet-baggers from other zones will impose someone here in the east, and INEC will announce him the winner. The results are written, sometimes in Government Houses, sometimes in hotel rooms, and they are announced, but they are all imposed on us. Ana-Igbo has been suffering from imposed leadership.
When they imposed Ukpabi Asika for 9 years, he was replaced by Anthony Ochefu, who was replaced, a few months later, by John Atom Kpera. And ever since then, they have been imposing leaders on Igboland. Later, they brought Datti Sadiq Abubakar for Anambra and then Sunday Adinihun for Imo, before the advent of Mbakwe and Jim Nwobodo. Soon after that, another military-imposed leadership, where young soldiers would seize government by coup, sit down in Lagos or Abuja, as the case may be, appoint military governors and military administrators, and send them as governors to the states. They were all imposed by cabal, whether the cabal calls itself the Supreme Military Council, or Armed Forces Ruling Council, or Provisional Ruling Council, but that cabal of the military are usually of northern extraction, who would sit down in Lagos or Abuja and impose leaders on Ndigbo. So the culture of imposed leadership has been going on in Igboland for 50 years. It has destroyed our values, destroyed our future, and kept Ndigbo in prison, in political prison.
What we have now is a different kind of imposition, where the police play a role, INEC plays a role, security plays a role, political leaders play a role. Do you know that for the past 16 years, leaders in Igboland were decided in a building in Abuja called Wadata House? That Wadata House would decide who would run for Senate in Igboland, who would be governor in Igboland. No matter how popular you may be, if Wadata House does not like you, when your people organize their own primaries to vote for you, Wadata House will send representatives from INEC, they will go to one hotel, and they will elect who Wadata House has chosen. That person will be imposed on INEC, imposed on you as a Senator, whether you like it or not. Ndigbo are a conquered people, political slaves in Nigeria. The culture of imposed leadership has brought us to where we are today, the crying baby of Nigeria. One of the most gifted people in the world cannot find their bearing politically. What we have today is an angry population. They are angry with Operation Python Dance, they are angry with the attack on Mazi Nnamdi Kanu’s residence on 14th and 15th September; they are angry with the silence of the so-called elite, they are angry with the suspected complicity of the political leadership. Our masses are angry with Nigeria.
Most importantly, everybody now reveres Nnamdi Kanu.
Why do you say so?
Wherever you go in Igboland, every market, every school, every office, at the Secretariat, at the church, at the bar, in all public places, what they are saying is, God bless Nnamdi Kanu. Since soldiers went to kill him, and he disappeared till date, nobody has seen his corpse, we don’t know his whereabouts, nobody is any longer talking about restructuring. It has died. Nnamdi Kanu remains the eternal hero of the people of the eastern region. Dead or alive, he is revered, he is respected, he is loved by all. He is deeply resented by apostles of the status quo, he is deeply resented by those who love this Nigeria as presently constituted. Nnamdi Kanu is resented by the oppressor, resented by those who have held us in bondage. He remains the hero of 99.9 % of the people of the eastern region, dead or alive. Do you know why they love him? They love him because he has not compromised. They see it clearly. They know, if he had compromised, they would not have wanted to kill him. It is clear for all to see that the only reason why attempts have been made to kill him is because he refused to be bought over. So they love him, unlike others who pretend they are like Kanu but they are loved by the oppressor, because they are con-men. If they were genuinely committed to the freedom of their people, like Kanu, the oppressor will not love them, dine with them, eat with them. They would have tried to kill them as they tried to kill Kanu. So everybody knows that Nnamdi Kanu is the eternal hero of the people of the eastern region. People ask me everyday, they say, why is it that the young people of the eastern region are angry with Nigeria? Well, the answer is simple. The youths of the eastern region, 99 % of them, are angry with Nigeria as presently constituted. Who will not be angry with a country that deliberately schemes you out of things? Deliberately they keep you out. Who will not be angry with a country that denies you necessary infrastructure in your region? Who will not be angry in a country that was built at your expense, where states and local governments were deliberately created to oppress you and enslave you perpetually? Who will not be angry in a country where 90 % of young people who want to gain university admission are deliberately and effectively screened out of a university education by a system that gives them higher cut-off mark, while people from other regions will be getting admission with a very low cut-off mark? The aim is just to keep them off from going to school, and asking them to go and try kidnapping or armed robbery. Who will not be unhappy, who will not be bitter, with a country where the structure is so unwieldy that states can’t pay salaries, and every cry to go back to the regions is resisted by the oppressor, who designed the country fully dependent on oil rent? Who will not be angry with a very, very, very inept leadership? Leaders who have spent trillions of naira, and still we don’t have power today. Leaders who steal day and night. Leaders who care only about themselves. Who will be happy with such a country? But, most importantly, the youths of the eastern region want out because the oppressor refuses to enthrone equity and justice by restructuring Nigeria along the lines of regional autonomy.
The principal reason why millions of youths of eastern region have sworn to leave Nigeria to form a country of their own, where they can be free, is because the country, as presently structured, does not offer them any hope. They can see clearly that they will remain eternal slaves in the country the way it is structured, in the manner states and local governments are created. I stand by them. They are my people, and I stand by them. If you look at the country the way it is, you will see clearly that the only people who are happy with Nigeria are those who are benefiting directly from the ills of the country, who have access to the till, and their surrogates. Those who are politically active enough to enjoy patronage at the expense of the larger population. Those are the people who are happy with Nigeria as presently constituted. The worst enemies of Nigeria are those who are resisting the restructuring of the country. If Nigeria is not restructured, Nigeria will die. All those opposing the restructuring of Nigeria are the worst enemies of Nigeria. So, I stand with the people of the eastern region. I stand fully with them. They are my people, and I feel their pains.”
Where is Mazi Nnamdi Kanu?
You should be asking the army, you should be asking the soldiers. It’s public knowledge he was supposed to come to court a little before they attacked his father’s house. It’s public knowledge that since then he hasn’t been seen. It’s public knowledge that a fortnight before he had a successful meeting with the south east governors, anchored by 86 year old Prof. Ben Nwabueze. It’s public knowledge that the meeting was so successful, and that a subsequent meeting was to hold a fortnight later. It’s public knowledge that those who sent soldiers to go and destroy his house simply wanted to halt that peace process negotiated by Prof. Ben Nwabueze, for reasons best known to them.
So when you are looking for Nnamdi Kanu, you will ask the GOC, 82 Division, you will ask the Commandant at the Military Cantonment in Ohafia, you will ask the officer that led the contingent to storm Kanu’s house, you will ask the Minister of Defence who said publicly on Al-Jazeera that, yes, they invaded his house, but, according to the Minister, they didn’t take him away. You will also ask the marksmen who made 268 bullet holes in his father’s house. Those are the people you will ask, where is Nnamdi Kanu? They are in a better position to tell us where he is.
The reality of the situation is that the folly of trying to kil Nnamdi Kanu and then solve the problem once and for all is a very, very unintelligent strategy. The people who designed that strategy are avoiding the truth. The truth is that only two things will solve the problem, dialogue with the young men who want out of Nigeria, and beginning the process of restructuring Nigeria. These are the two solutions. The oppressor does not want to do that. They are looking for other means to solve the problem. How do you think that 5 gentlemen standing on the staircase of Enugu Government House, to bring out a paper that they have proscribed IPOB, how do they think that will stop the secession? How can any sensible person think that that will stop the secession? It’s impossible.
How do you think that the government of Nigeria telling the world that IPOB is a terrorist organization, while Germany and other countries are giving them licence to open radio stations, solve the problem? They have branches in over 80 countries of the world. People in civilized countries all over the world deal with IPOB. IPOB corresponds with embassies and governments all over the world, and Nigeria is the only country that is calling them a terrorist organization. How do you think that will solve the problem? The only solution to the problem is to engage the young men, to find out why they are angry enough that they don’t want to be a part of Nigeria anymore, and to dialogue with them, and to begin to address those issues that hurt them so much that they want to leave Nigeria. And then you begin the process of restructuring Nigeria. There is no other way out of this. The false narrative that when you kill Nnamdi Kanu, the agitation for Biafra will end is false. It’s not going to solve the problem. It’s unhelpful. It’s not true. It’s a fallacy.
The agitation for Biafra by a large chunk of the young people of the eastern region, is predicated on, anchored on the frustrations and injustices of the way and manner Nigeria is constituted, on the way and manner states and local governments are created, on the way and manner the people of the region are oppressed, on the way and manner the young people feel about the country, not by killing Nnamdi Kanu. Nnamdi Kanu is not the problem of Nigeria.
The problem of Nigeria produced Nnamdi Kanu, threw up Nnamdi Kanu. It’s the injustices in Nigeria that produced the agitation for Biafra. That’s the reality. Our problems, the Igbo, are legion, but the chief of our problem is that we are suffering from imposed leaders, leaders who are imposed by the Nigerian state. Leaders in Igboland are usually imposed on us by others. The electoral system is distorted, perverted, to allow people from other regions to decide on the kind of leaders they want for the east. So what we see happening is the resentment by the younger generation of that culture. What the younger generation want is to develop the eastern region. They don’t see the leadership, for the past 50 years, doing that. All kinds of leadership that have run the region for the last 50 years, whether military or civilian, have fallen short of the aspirations of the masses. Our people are oppressed everywhere. Our youths are marooned. They migrate outside this country, sometimes on foot, by road. They are enslaved in Libya, they are killed in the Sahara Desert as they attempt to cross into Europe, they are in jails all over the world, as they are forced to engage in illegitimate businesses and other criminal activities. They are in jails in China, in
Malaysia, Thailand, the world over. Our youths here are so marooned that they don’t have faith in the nation. And the painful aspect is that all these real problems that afflict the younger generation, the so-called leaders don’t care about these problems. They only care about their re-election, and their own enjoyment, so they don’t give a damn whether your cousin is in jail in China or wherever, it doesn’t concern him.
So there is a disconnect between these imposed leaders, who pretend that they are leaders, and the masses, who have no respect and regard for them. And these imposed leaders have managed to remain relevant for two reasons. First, they have the resources, stolen money, to manipulate the electoral system. The, they also use that stolen money to give handouts to the marooned people who are otimkpu, who follow them about, and campaign for them, and sing their praises. So, as long as they have the resources to hand out to the otimkpu crowd, and to manipulate the electoral system, they remain in power continually. This is the reality of the problems of the eastern region. I am warning Nigeria as a state, this is December 2017, if President Buhari does not begin the process of restructuring this country back to regional autonomy and true fiscal federalism, Nigeria will not survive.
That’s my warning to them. The federal government-sponsored narrative that they have silenced the agitation for Biafra, that they have killed Nnamdi Kanu, or they don’t know where he is, and that the agitators for Biafra have suddenly been raptured to heaven, they’ve all disappeared, is false, patently false. It’s a false narrative. The boys are angry with Nigeria, they are bitter, they are very, very, very disenchanted, they resent Nigeria deeply. They’ve not raptured into heaven o, they are here o, don’t mistake their silence as acquiescence, or as defeat. They are angry with Nigeria. Now, if you look at the political culture, you will see that the younger people have no way of ever participating in the highly-monetized Nigerian political development, so they remain constantly and perpetually zoned out of it. At best, they could be used as thugs or otimkpus . they are helpless. So, in their agitation for a separate state of theirs, the statement they are making for the whole world to hear is that we do not like Nigeria as presently constituted.
What the federal government should do is to invite these boys and dialogue with them, and also begin the process to restructure Nigeria. I’ve been saying this over, and over, and over, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, because it’s the only way to go. There’s no other way to go. Those who advise the Presidency to shoot the boys, shoot them shoot them and kill them, it is only by shooting them that they will fall in love with Nigeria, they are misleading the government. the issue already is that the boys don’t like Nigeria, they don’t want to be part of Nigeria. How can you shoot them to make them to love Nigeria? That’s impossible. When you shoot them, they are going to hate Nigeria more. If your son is running away from home, and you are told that your son is running away from home, my brother you will leave your office, you will jump into your car, tell your driver to rush to the airport or to the railway station, and you will embrace your son and say, my dear, why do you want to leave home? Come, come and tell daddy what the problem is. Whatever the issues are, everything I have is yours, for you and your brothers. Am I hurting you somewhere, am I offending you? Come let’s sit down. You buy a cup of coffee for your son, you sit down, you pet him, you find out why he wants to run away from home. You don’t send soldiers to go and shoot him! It’s idiotic. Already, he wants to run away from home. That means there are reasons why he doesn’t feel comfortable in the home. You’ll find out what those reasons are, and you’ll address them. Not shooting them. Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gunpowder. People of the eastern region are disenchanted, bitter, angry.
This is a warning. Blocking it in the media, or paying the media to block out their anger, it cannot solve the problem. When the government spends resources to block the truth from coming out, how the people feel, you can’t solve the problem that way. You can’t. you can never solve the problem by blocking them out in the media. You can’t. Then it becomes combustible. It goes underground, and pops with a huge blast, like TNT. It explodes like TNT explosive. The people of the eastern region are angry, bitter with Nigeria. Very angry and bitter with the decision by the military of Nigeria to shoot them and kill them and shut them up by fire by force. They hate the structure of Nigeria. The states created by the military, local governments created by the military, they hate it and they want Nigeria restructured. Anybody who is telling you that you can stop the anger by shooting them and killing them is deceiving himself. I’m saying this. This is the last warning. We are deceiving ourselves if we pretend that the people of the eastern region are happy with Nigeria as presently constituted. I’ve been talking with Igbo youths for more than 30 years. I’ve been organizing seminars, conferences, conventions, meetings for Igbo youths for decades, in schools, universities, everywhere, for decades. I know exactly how they feel. They are bitter with Nigeria, and that’s the truth.
INEC says 75 % of those who collected their PVCs for Anambra State election stayed away. That’s INEC’s figure, officially. Observers who were in Anambra said more than 90 % stayed away. They said that the polls were rigged and that the figures, as usual, were inflated. Now because the Nigerian state is desperate to prove that Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB cannot affect elections in Nigeria, everybody is celebrating the election, praising it to high heavens, as the best-conducted in the universe.
Now the truth of the matter is if we go by INEC’s official figure that 75 % of the electorate boycotted the election, it means that Nigeria already has k-leg. By next election, more people will boycott. It means that by next election, 80 % will boycott. After that, 90 % will boycott, until Nigeria is crippled. That’s the reality, because I know the boys’ mindset. I know they’re not willing to change their position. They’ve told the world that they are going to boycott all elections in Nigeria from henceforth, and they are doing that. And Nigeria will continue that way, until one day governors will be elected with only 1,000 votes in a whole state! Because some very stubborn people refuse to begin the restructuring of Nigeria. They refuse to dialogue with these boys and come to an agreement. They look down on the people of the eastern region, they won’t dialogue with them. They begged people of the north east to dialogue with government, those ones refused. Government then begged people of the south south to come and dialogue with them but, due to the resentment the federal government has for people of the south east, they said, we are not going to dialogue with you. We’ll only give you guns and bullets. You deserve only bullets. We are only going to send you python dancers to go and shoot you. That is very wrong. And then, the so-called Igbo leaders who are pretending that they are in charge of Igboland, my question to them is, what are they now doing? Yes, the army has been sent to go and shoot Nnamdi Kanu, so what are the Igbo leaders doing now? What? They are doing absolutely nothing. All they wanted was for Nnamdi Kanu to be out of the way. They were afraid for themselves, Nnamdi Kanu has come to upturn the whole place, to wake up the people. They were afraid they could lose their leadership positions, so everybody joined hands to crush Nnamdi Kanu, and after that, what? Nothing, absolutely nothing. We are still standing still, with the unemployment, with the misery, with the squalor, with the wrong, 36-state structure that depends on Paris Club refund so they can pay salaries. If there is no Paris Club refund, states cannot pay their civil servants.
That’s the Nigeria we are living in today. It’s a shame. It’s a big shame. I have been waiting to see positive action from Mr. President about restructuring of the country. I’ve not seen any, making me to think that Mr. President has been misled that everywhere is peaceful and quiet and calm. It’s not true o, there’s no calm o. I’m sending a message to President Buhari, the people of the eastern region are very angry. They are very, very angry with Nigeria. There could be an implosion any day. They are angry. They are bitter. The continuing delay in embarking on restructuring Nigeria will not mean well for this country. If some people are telling him that everywhere is calm and good, I am warning him that those people are lying to him. There is anger and bitterness in eastern Nigeria. They are angry with the current structure of Nigeria, they are angry with the status quo, they are angry with the central government of Nigeria, they are angry with the whole system. Our people are angry. The theme of this my message is that our people are angry.
I am talking about the falsehood that is Nigeria. Nigeria is a false entity. It’s a false enterprise, a bogus enterprise, built and anchored on falsehood. Our population figure is false, our revenue sharing formula is false, our glib mouthing of ‘One Nigeria, One Nigeria’ is false. Our mantra that our problem is corruption, corruption is false. Everything about Nigeria is false. Nigeria is false, and the falsehood has become sickening. The younger generation of Nigerians are tired of living a false life. This country was built on falsehood. It is tottering. Nigeria is tottering. And the cabal that always hold Nigeria hostage are pretending that they don’t know that the country is tottering. Our structure is unwieldy. So many states can’t pay salaries. States depend on Paris Club refund to pay salaries. If there is no Paris Club refund, states’ civil services would collapse. We are living a false life, and the oppressors in this country are simply prevaricating, deliberately prevaricating, and pretending that they do not know that they are building Nigeria on prebendalism.
Prebendalism is the bane of Nigeria. This oppressive clique that’s holding Nigeria have been prevaricating, pretending that they don’t know that only a restructuring of the polity will save Nigeria. Instead, they tell you they don’t know what you mean by restructuring, they will tell you that what you need is restructuring of the heart, restructuring of the lungs, restructuring of the kidney, restructuring of the liver. They are just creating problems, prevaricating, and pretending. Our problems began 50 years ago, when a clique of ill-educated, young, unelected soldiers killed Ironsi in Ibadan, took the reins of power, prosecuted the civil war with the help of Britain, and then emerged victorious in 1970, and then ran Nigeria aground. They promptly ran Nigeria aground. All the countries at par with Nigeria in 1970, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, South Korea, Brazil, they are all light years ahead. We are just swimming round in ignorance and poverty.
The political class in Nigeria remained relevant because they inflicted poverty, and they exploited the ignorance and poverty of the masses to use the country’s resources to now hold themselves in power. In the south east where I come from, political leaders are only relevant with their tons of money. They inflict poverty on the people then, to remain relevant, they give handouts. They build their own structure of otimkpus, and exploit hunger and poverty in the land, and they remain relevant with their stolen wealth. That is the bane of Nigeria, why Nigeria is going round in circles. The military destroyed this country. They created a false lifestyle. Nigeria is the only country in the world where people spend 300 to 400 million naira for a wedding in Dubai! They buy tickets for all their friends and relations. They fly in droves to Dubai, celebrate a wedding, and they come back home. No other country in the world, you know, can organize such madness. That will show you how sick we are.
Under Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria deteriorated. Yakubu Gowon is a misnomer. He is unfit to run a local government area. At some point, the military governors he appointed didn’t listen to him anymore. Under Yakubu Gowon, Nigerians went crazy. Gowon went to the UK and told the Queen of England that Nigeria’s problem is not money, but how to spend it. Under Yakubu Gowon, Nigerians would troop to Shepherds Bush market in London to enrich Asian traders- the Lebanese, the Pakistanis, the Syrians-traders in lace materials. They had what is called Lagos socialites, who would take 4 or 5 of his wives for a shopping spree in London, who would come back home and organize a birthday party, splashed all over the pages of Lagos Weekend, for his 3rd wife, next week he will organize another birthday party for his 5th wife. Nigerians ran amok. Petro-dollars made us run mad. And Gowon was at the helm of affairs. That’s where our problem began. There were so many hotels, and beautiful, air-conditioned hall in hotels to organize parties but, no, no, no, not Nigerians. They would block the streets, and they invited Ebenezer Obey and Sunny Ade to dance ‘Ajala travelled all over the world’. The whole group would wear uniform. They would be dancing ‘Goard Member, Board Member, ah ah ah ah ah, alleluia’, for years and years. Nigerians went mad. Everybody ran amok under Yakubu Gowon.
The culture Nigerians instituted in the 70s, under Gowon, is the bane of Nigeria. Everything in this country is fake. Now this perverted political culture has thrown up a hangover over recurring political leaders. Our culture is perverted. Our political culture is fake. Our elections are fake. Our campaign culture is fake. Our voting pattern is fake.
Everything in Nigeria is fake. Population is fake. Our structure is fake. Everything in Nigeria is fake and sickening, and the young people where I come from, the eastern region, are tired of Nigeria. They’ve been crying for years that Nigeria should be restructured. Nobody listened to them. At some point they said, okay, alright, odimma. They want out. They no longer want to be part of Nigeria. What did Nigeria do? They sent Python Dance to shoot and kill them, with the active connivance of the so-called leaders. But nobody has solved the problem. The sickening structure is still there. The hunger in the land is still there. Unemployment in the land is still there. The government mistook the silence in the land for acquiescence. I’m informing the government that our people are angry. We are angry with Nigeria. We are very bitter with Nigeria. Nobody is happy with the way things are now. With the way things are now, I doubt if there will ever be any elections in eastern region. The youths of the eastern region will not vote. They say their only hero is Nnamdi Kanu, the man who cannot not be bought, the man who government has voted millions and billions of Nigeria to mount propaganda against. The man who soldiers went to his house to
kill, and he hasn’t been seen till today. The man who millions of people follow and adore, and he doesn’t give them bags of rice, he doesn’t distribute money. He just tells them the truth and people follow him. He remains the eternal hero of the people of eastern Nigeria. We are angry with the country. IPOB is not a terrorist organization.
Yesterday, December 4th, 2017, the list of terrorist organizations all over the world was published, and IPOB was not in it. IPOB has branches in over 80 countries of the world. They have offices. They communicate with governments in Europe, Asia, South America, in other African countries, all over the world, and it is only the Nigerian government that tagged them a terrorist organization, simply because the people who are defending this status quo, who are defending this perverted structure, who are defending this unwieldy, unworkable unitary structure want to crush them. The youth of the eastern region are angry and bitter in Nigeria.
I’m sounding a note of warning. Those who are pretending that the youths who are tired of Nigeria and now want a separate country are suddenly raptured into heaven, they have not been raptured; they are still there o, very active in Nigeria. The only way to save Nigeria is to dialogue with the young people, and start the restructuring of Nigeria.