Founder of the Igbo Youth Movement (IYM), Elliot Ugochukwu Ukoh has again restated the need for Nigeria to restructure. In this interview with VINCENT KALU, the member of Southern Leaders of Thought, complained that everything is done to hold Ndigbo down in Nigeria.
How are the people in the Southeast reacting to the COVID-19 forced holidays?
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 Southeast cannot be different, nobody is sure where exactly we are headed. This is not the best of times. The COVID-19 holidays affords all opportunity for soul searching and self-examination. But the plight of the starving less privileged and the vulnerable, one finds disturbing.
But the government is distributing foodstuff and making cash payments to the very poor around the country to alleviate their suffering
So we see on television 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. Aids getting to these groups of people are 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 aids 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 Northeast and Northwest. 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 hear 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 to get 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 aids available are not being fairly shared 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 palliatives. Our people are clearly disappointed.
Why can’t the governors …
(cuts in) 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 whether the governors are standing up for them or not. When I and Prof Ben Nwabueze escorted Nnamdi Kanu to a meeting with the Southeast governors, two and half years ago, I realised that the overbearing influence of the central government, makes it difficult for the Southeast 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 nine 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 nine 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 it’s not over yet. The younger generation are not proud of our governors, they are nobody’s heroes, except of course the 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 palliatives know that they are not fully carrying the Southeast 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 the ebola crisis under Jonathan’s government. Do you agree with them?
That could be true, but you see, even though this APC regime is not interesting, 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?
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.
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 is 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 from 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 specie 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 been 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, without 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 to opt out. Nigeria is a sinking boat. And there are no life jackets available. It’s that bad.
Is that why the youths of eastern region are agitating to secede?
The youths of Eastern Nigeria are more dynamic than youths of other regions for three reasons. First, 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.
Secondly, 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.
Finally, the large army of Igbo youths in the diaspora have managed to convince the millions at home that their elders’ 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 three decades. I should know what is going on. I took Ralph Uwazurike to AIT for his very first television interview, when he launched MASSOB. He visited me in my office at Toyin Street, Ikeja, in August or September 1999, in his old red Honda Accord car and informed me he was launching MASSOB the following week at his residence, Ajijedidun Street, Aguluejika, Ijeshatedo. 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, were 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 seems 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. That’s why I am worried.