‘Buhari’s policies have made Nigerians suspicious of his government’
Founder of Igbo Youth Movement (IYM) and Secretary, Eastern Consultative Assembly (ECA), Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko, bares his mind on burning national issues in this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO, warning that Nigerians are losing faith in the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari as a result of its seeming anti-people policies.
The amended Companies and Allied Matters Act 2020 recently signed by the President has been generating controversies. What is your take?
Both the CAMA and the National Water Resources Bill now before the National Assembly are part of the very frightening moves by this particular government that keeps suggesting a deadly hidden agenda the rest of Nigeria find very disturbing.
From day one, this government has failed to deliberately show the much needed transparency and fair mindedness required to assure all compatriots that they mean well for the whole nation. Instead, people see a hushed up sectional agenda that would put others at a great disadvantage. Leaders of large, complex and heterogeneous countries like ours usually go out of their way to reassure all sections and all faiths of government’s commitment to fairness to all, but not these guys. They behave as if they enjoy frightening everyone.
Why, for instance, would anyone plan to merge religious studies of different faiths in schools? To achieve what exactly? This government attempted that. They also planned to carve out land for the Fulani all over Nigeria in the name of RUGA, scaring every body. They seem to plot eternal domination of other regions.
The body language of this government suggests hidden agenda of isolationism and oppression of certain sections of the country. Fear and suspicion follow their every move. Nobody trusts the government and here are some of the reasons: One, government failed to rein in the murderous herdsmen, who enjoy ethnic affinity with our President. In fact, he remains their life patron. Victims of their ruthless assaults were openly advised to choose between their land and their lives by Presidential Spokesman, Femi Adesina. Communities were sacked by the heavily armed herdsmen in the Middle Belt region.
Blitzkrieg attacks by these herdsmen on unarmed villagers have consistently continued unabated for the last five years. In Agatu in Benue State, they almost wiped out an entire town. They storm past midnight and leave before first light, leaving behind sorrow, tears and blood. None has ever been arrested and prosecuted.
Two, the Southeast remains deliberately excluded from the railways modernisation project, the same Southeast studiously skipped from projects from any of the foreign loans, which will be repaid by all; the same Southeast carefully excluded from the security council by deliberately and carefully denying the zone headship of any of the military, paramilitary and security agencies and organisations; telling them to their face, ‘you are not part of Nigeria’.
Three, this government has tried to cage free press; introducing new laws to gag the social media they used so effectively and efficiently to chase away former President Goodluck Jonathan. Today, every thing is being done to suppress free speech and instill a state of fear. Right to peaceful protest is being denied citizens; we are slipping into a police state. Nobody bargained for this.
Four, the security agencies now invite musicians and other entertainers; anybody can be tagged a security threat and enemy of government. Nigerians remember clearly that neither Obasanjo, Yar’adua nor Jonathan tried to introduce a police state. That is why nobody trusts this government anymore. That is why there is so much apprehension in the land. Nobody knows their real agenda. They have made everyone suspicious and apprehensive. This is the true position.
When a government creates doubts and fears in the hearts of the citizens, in a country of 200 million people of diverse cultures and religious persuasions, a country with a history of a bloody war, religious riots, an ongoing insurgency and a very deep secessionist agitation without minding how the citizens feel, it means that the government is committed to a hidden agenda to create an unhealthy hegemony. The sectional appointments also seem to suggest that. My take is that the government should immediately retrace her steps from stoking fears.
In developed countries, religious organisations that veer into money yielding ventures like ownership of schools are subjected to government’s regulations. Why is the government’s move to introduce such regulations in Nigeria being misunderstood?
It is a problem because in Nigeria, everyone knows religious bodies are not the problem of Nigeria. Our problem is the economy, poverty, jobs creation, securing lives and property, restructuring the polity, infrastructure, healthcare, housing, industrialization, and the like. How churches run their accounts should be the least of our problems.
Moreover, issues concerning faith are usually very sensitive and personal. Have you imagined the scenario of a Muslim government official dissolving a church and going ahead to appoint trustees for the church? Isn’t it better not to twist the tiger’s tail? That would be playing with fire. Nigerians believe it’s all about domination, suppression, desire to control the future and destiny of 200 million Nigerians. It is not about church finances or church affairs; it is deeper than that. It seeks to regulate every cultural and social organisation. It is frightening.
The Senate has been gearing up for the next phase of amending the 1999 constitution. How far do you think they can go?
Everybody knows constitutional amendment by the National Assembly is a complete waste of time. Nigeria’s structural problems are deeper than piecemeal constitutional amendment.
Reports of the Ekweremadu committee remain unimplemented; our problem is structural and loss of faith in the system. The fallout of the deficient unitary structure affects our economic growth and our political template. The lack of harmony and progress is clearly as a result of our application of a perverted and fake version of federalism. The unwieldy arrangement of 36 state governments wholly dependent on monthly allocation from Abuja cannot grow Nigeria.
We must return to true federalism and power devolution. Only a new people’s constitution affirmed at a referendum will move Nigeria forward. Nigeria needs a constituent assembly of committed Patriots to draft a new people’s constitution. That is the truth.
Those afraid of a people’s constitution are the ones struggling to patch the 1999 constitution. Their fears are unfounded I must say. Devolution of power will help the federating units grow and free up the centre. We are merely obstinately postponing the restructuring of Nigeria. It is inevitable if Nigeria is to survive.
Clashes between IPOB members and security agencies that result in the loss of lives is getting out of hand. How can the situation be brought under control?
Bringing the situation under control means doing the needful. This government has not sought to address the reason millions of Nigerians want out of Nigeria. The day they do, they will realise that the suffocating unitary structure is largely responsible.
They erroneously believe they will use force to crush the agitation. I have said everything I need to say about the agitation. I will only be repeating myself. Nigeria has so treated Ndigbo so badly since 1967 that the younger generation Ndigbo believes they have no future or hope of fair treatment in Nigeria.
It is up to government to seek ways to reassure them but the government doesn’t seem interested in anything other than application of military might. It is unfortunate.
Ndigbo are agitating for an independent state of Biafra and Nigeria’s presidency in 2023 almost with equal vigour. Are the two ambitions not opposed to each other?
A president from the Southeast isn’t a bad idea; it is just that the people think it’s a scam. They actually laugh at the proposition. The younger generation born after the war that are pained by the humiliating second class status hung on Ndigbo do not believe Ndigbo will ever be treated fairly in Nigeria. The elite club and the political class of course want to try to see if Nigeria will grant the Southeast opportunity to govern Nigeria for a season. There is nothing wrong with that if it will ever happen.
The masses believe it is impossible for Buhari to hand over power to an Igbo man. They just can’t imagine that the same Buhari who has marginalised Ndigbo like no other leader ever will suddenly hand Ndigbo central power.
My attitude is to pray for exponents of a Nigerian president of Southeast extraction. I wish them luck. I tell groups I work with, ‘please don’t oppose or even disagree with them lest they blame you if they fail.’ They will lament how they almost won the position but for Okafor or Okoye who disagreed with them. They are always in search of scapegoats to heap the blame on if they fail. I know in politics anything is possible. I pray for them to succeed.
But the truth is Igbo or Southeast president of Nigeria can only emerge when the whole country agrees to cede the seat to the Southeast like Nigeria did for the Southwest in 1999. Now the question is: Has Nigeria agreed to cede the Presidency to the Southeast? That is why I am not carried away.
In fact, I wonder how they will make Tinubu give up his ambition he has nursed for years. Or do they believe an Igbo presidential candidate on the opposite ticket will defeat Tinubu who is a Muslim? Nobody is sure Tinubu will even get his party’s nomination.
On the other side, I have not seen anything that will stop Atiku from running in 2023. So, I sincerely wonder on what platform the Southeast president will emerge.
What Nigeria needs is reconstruction of the polity, a new people’s constitution and a completely restructured Nigeria that has devolved powers to the federating units. That way, nobody cares about where the president is from. Each federating unit will concentrate on how to develop and grow. There will be healthy competition like we had in the First Republic. The winner takes all spirit we have seen in the land today encourages every section of Nigeria to seek central power, and the desperation for central power under this unitary structure has done more harm than good.
Now back to your question, the younger generation of Ndigbo is not sure the Igbo political class will not make a mess of eating boiled eggs as usual. The younger generation has heard stories spread by other Nigerians about the perceived arrogance of Ndigbo when trusted with power. These tales, whether true or false, remain deeply held to be true by non-Igbo politicians.
They say that the Igbo political class comported themselves in an arrogant and offensive manner under Jonathan. Their access to Jonathan swelled their heads. Other sections have sworn not to forgive Ndigbo; that’s another problem. They say one of the reasons Ndigbo are almost ostracised by this government has to do with the attitude and behaviour of Igbo politicians under Jonathan.
The agitators tell me that they have no faith in the Igbo political class. I advise Igbo political class to endeavour to regain the respect and trust of their children. Distancing from them or calling them names won’t help. It is important in this quest. Ndigbo should try and put our house in order. The governors, elders, leaders and aggrieved younger generation must find a way to work together. It is so important. And the leaders should lead the dialogue.
How would you weigh in on the discourse on the latest hike in fuel pump price and electricity tariff?
The latest hike in electricity tariff from N22.00 to N66.00 and petrol from N145 to N162 at this time is simply killing. Times are so hard for the middle class and lower class. The pandemic lockdown worsened the economic situation of most families.
Add this to the high cost of foodstuff and the fact that most breadwinners are either out of job or on half salary as a result of lockdown of most businesses. Only then can one imagine the situation Nigerians find themselves in at the moment.
Remember the labour unions have been smartly crippled and protest is a crime. It is suffering in silence for us all. It’s quite unfortunate and sad. The land has been thrown into despair and mourning of sorts. The land is on edge. I’m waiting to see how this pans out.
The economic hardship in the land is one of the reasons Nigerians don’t understand how churches and their finances have suddenly become the priority of government, especially when the congregation aren’t complaining. There is a limit to the manipulation of the destiny of the people.
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