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‘People defending Nigeria’s present unitary structure are enemies of progress’

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Evangelist Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko is the Secretary General of Eastern Consultative Assembly (ECA). He is also the Founder of Igbo Youth Movement (IYM), which celebrated its 20th anniversary two days ago with a symposium in Enugu themed ‘How to Make Nigeria Work’. In this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO, he reflects on issues in the polity, maintaining that the country will only make progress after a sincere reconstruction of the polity through devolution of powers.

What was in your mind when you founded the Igbo Youth Movement (IYM) 20 years ago?
I had a burden. My people, the Igbo, were disorganised to the point that everybody was afraid to talk about issues affecting us as a people.

People were scared of speaking up. I decided to stand up and inspire the younger generation. It was going to be a dangerous, rough, thankless job, but I believed that if God gives me the grace to remain consistent, then a new conscious and alert Igbo youth will emerge with time.

I presented them with the truth. I was encouraged by large attendance to my seminars. I was thrilled by the fact that they were hungry for information; an angry bunch hungry for justice. So, I compiled all the injustices against my people and began monthly IYM seminars for Igbo youths. I travelled all over the country, wherever Ndigbo resided in large numbers and preached the gospel of a new, just and equitable Nigeria. My target audience was the younger generation. My message was simple and direct — a new Nigeria is possible. A new template, a new format is desirable.

I was quite fortunate that great Igbo leaders accepted my invitation to attend as resource persons, answering the numerous questions these youngsters were asking.

Men like Ojukwu, Ekwueme, Ajuluchukwu, Mbakwe, Achuzia, Ikedife, Onoh, Chukwumerije and Obumselu helped IYM become what it is today. Their presence and attendance at IYM seminars made IYM popular and respected.

We in the IYM believe that pressure must be mounted and sustained to create an egalitarian society where merit counts, where prebendary instinct is vanquished for justice, fair play and level playing field for all. A truly federal Nigeria that has power devolved to her federating units will make better economic and political progress than this unitary structure that encourages sleaze and suffocates everyone.

Would you say the group has achieved its objectives?
Whether the IYM has achieved its aims and objectives, is left for posterity to judge. Our younger generations are the most organised youths in all of Africa today.

Look, everywhere I went then, the story was the same. Ndigbo were frustrated and bitter about their condition in Nigeria. They hated the political arrangements that placed them at such great disadvantage. They want a change like yesterday.

Interestingly, the rest of Nigeria just does not care about how Ndigbo feel. So, I saw clearly a situation of high noon playing out. Whereas Ndigbo remained bitter that everything in post civil Nigeria was deliberately skewed against them, the whole country seemed to be enjoying the oppression of Ndigbo. Nobody gave a damn how Ndigbo felt.

I knew as early as 30 years ago that the younger generation of Ndigbo would reject Nigeria. I knew not because I am so smart, no; but because I noted with surprise that at every IYM seminar held in different cities, Igbo traders who didn’t know each other all wanted out of Nigeria, on account of the grave injustices meted out to Ndigbo in Nigeria. They believe they will never get justice in Nigeria. They dream of a separate nation where they will be treated with dignity and as equals, not as second-class citizens.

IYM was formed as a forerunner to prepare Igbo youths for the task ahead. The older generations are too traumatised to champion the struggle for equality and justice. The younger Ndigbo desire justice today not tomorrow.

Your views appear to align with the argument in some quarters that the alleged marginalisation of the Southeast paved the way for the emergence of secessionist groups like MASSOB and IPOB in Igboland…
(Cuts in) Their agitation reverberates the world over. The oppressor knows that time has changed. Reconstruction of the structure of Nigeria is inevitable. Those pretending otherwise are merely deceiving themselves. The theme we adopted for our anniversary celebration, ‘How to Make Nigeria Work’, is very apt. The country is clearly sick and failing.

I founded my first group, Igbo Youth Council, as a teenager in 1981, 38 years ago, at Delmina restaurant, Adelabu street, Uwani, Enugu. I changed the name to Igbo Youth Congress 10 years later in Lagos in 1991. I changed the name yet again to Igbo Youth Movement in 1999. I have worked intensely with Igbo youths for close to four decades. I have answered your question loudly for decades. The younger generation of Ndigbo will do anything to resist the post civil war servitude designed for Ndigbo by the victors of the war. The younger generation is saying in no uncertain terms that they reject oppression.

Don’t you think President Muhammadu Buhari has been fair to the Southeast?
Of course the answer is obvious. Even the blind can see that it is not possible to continue to hold Ndigbo down and at the same time, get them to believe in a Nigeria where they have no say.

The man himself announced his 97 per cent to five per cent formula. He makes no pretences by completely excluding Ndigbo from the leadership of the entire security architecture of the country. He does not hide his hatred for Ndigbo. But you know that action and reaction are equal and opposite. Every body knows he has not been fair to Ndigbo. He doesn’t seem to care. We wish him luck though. We are Ndigbo. We worship no man. Our future is in the hands of God, not man.

The Buhari administration is constructing the Second Niger Bridge, which former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) administrations pledged to build but never did. There are also other road reconstructions in the Southeast like the Enugu-Onitsha Highway. Do you prefer appointments, which your people enjoyed under the PDP years but got ‘nothing’ to the infrastructural renewal Buhari is bringing to the Southeast?

Your assertion that Buhari is doing some important things the PDP couldn’t do for the Southeast in 16 years is wrong. Do you have evidence of the roads done? All the roads in Igboland are impassable. The bridge you want people to praise Buhari for, are you sure it will ever be completed. Have you found out under what arrangements? Have you heard that the design has been deliberately altered to foreclose dredging and building seaport in Onitsha? I have never been a fan of the PDP but no PDP president was hostile to any region of Nigeria on account of the region’s vote pattern. I challenge you to go to any market or bus stop in Aba, Nnewi, Onitsha or Enugu and whisper that Buhari has been fair to Ndigbo. What the people will do to you will answer your question. You may have consumed so much government propaganda.

How do you think the country’s governance challenges could be overcome?
It’s only through a sincere reconstruction of the polity through devolution of power via a new constitution. There’s no other way. Anybody who pretends he or she does not know that Nigeria urgently needs a political restructuring that would devolve power back to the regions, like it was in the First Republic is lying to himself. Any one who pretends that he is enjoying this unitary structure is enemy of progress. Things are so bad in Nigeria today that even school children can feel it.The bizarre has become the new normal.

Take for instance a situation where our Mr Integrity approved N10 billion to the worst governor in Nigeria’s history on the eve of a governorship election and the governor is seeking re-election; he suddenly bought over all his political opponents overnight. As they gathered at Lokoja to endorse failure, Nigerians who noted he was given N10 billion the previous week are yet to recover from the shock of the shamelessness. Even a Rolls Royce gift to a traditional ruler, all from the N10 billion is revolting, when you remember that civil servants are starving to death in the same state where they are owed several months backlog of salaries. Releasing 10 billion for vote buying in a failed state is not exactly one of the hallmarks of leaders of integrity. History is recording the acts of this government. Posterity will judge us all.

Ndigbo are divided on whether to insist on restructuring or strategise for Igbo presidency in 2023. Which of the options do you consider best for them at this point?
Ibibio presidency, Kanuri presidency, Tiv presidency etc, will disappear from our political lexicon once we restructure the polity. It will no longer matter where the president is from, as regions will grow at their own pace. Telling Ndigbo they will never get justice until one of their own becomes president means every of the 360 ethnic nationalities will produce a president before they could have a sense of belonging. That’s absurd. Ndigbo want a restructured Nigeria and a level playing field for all. That does not by any means suggest that Ndigbo are not qualified to lead Nigeria.

What is your take on the claim that Ndigbo are the architects of their political woes in Nigeria?
That vicious assertion was designed by the oppressor to deceive and fool naive and gullible members of the public. In what way are Ndigbo architects of the wicked 774 local government areas that leave them with only 95? How are Ndigbo the architects of the bogus census figures or the five states allotted the Southeast? How are Ndigbo the architects of the disparate cut off points for admission into both unity schools and universities? I can go on and on.

Nigeria is unfair and unjust to many sections of the country, especially the Southeast. It is such wicked lies that drives our youth to believe they will never get justice in Nigeria.


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