Evangelist Eliot Ugochukwu Uko, founder, Igbo Youth Movement (IYM) and Secretary-General, Eastern Consultative Assembly (ECA), has disclosed that the late Biafra warlord, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu informed him that he was certain that the younger generation of Ndigbo would never accept subjugation from the Nigerian state.
Uko who spoke in a series of interviews to mark the 20th anniversary of IYM, noted it was high time Nigeria’s leadership agreed that the country is not working and bring everyone to the negotiation table.
It is interesting to know that the IYM is already 20 years. What actually has been driving you these past 20 years?
It’s been God’s grace. The IYM was founded and established by God Almighty for a particular purpose. God has been directing the affairs of the IYM since 1999.
What started out as a youth organisation earlier designed to promote Igbo language and spread good behaviour amongst Igbo youth, through distribution of a leaflet titled “IGBO CODE OF CONDUCT,” gradually began to accomodate questions from umuigbo at the end of each seminar, on the precarious Igbo condition in Nigeria.
Slowly IYM began to enlarge the discussion from the importance of education and other issues, to the need for Nigeria to give Ndigbo justice. Little by little, our resource persons at every seminar drifted into the pathetic political situation of Ndigbo in Nigeria. That is how IYM began to fight the course of justice for Ndigbo.
IYM has continued to defend the Igbo. From promotion of Igbo language, to stressing the need for education, to Igbo code of conduct to fearlessly defending the rights of Ndigbo.
IYM has metamorphosed into the authentic and trusted voice of the oppressed and voiceless Ndigbo. Because the Igbo elite can meander their way to survive in Nigeria, they do not care about the plight of the downtrodden, IYM became the trustee voice of the masses of Ndigbo overtime. That’s what happened.
IYM wasn’t originally created to inspire the younger generation of Ndigbo, to wake them up from slumber, to make them understand that if they do nothing about their condition in Nigeria, they will only be shifting that job and responsibility to their progeny, but that is exactly what IYM became with time.
Nobody seemed to care about the younger generation of Ndigbo. So I took up the gauntlet. My target was purely the younger generation. To prepare them for the task ahead.
I travelled all over the country, preaching to Igbo youths to organise themselves and fight for their rights. I told them nobody would fight for them if they don’t fight for their rights. I showed them glaring instances of clear oppression and subjugation of Ndigbo in Nigeria. I moved from school to school, compiled details of brazen suppression of our rights and denial of our dues as part of Nigeria. It was only a matter of time before they woke up from slumber. I was fortunate, respected elders honoured my invitation to speak to the youths at every of my seminars. We had question and answer sessions. It was those questions and answers sessions that opened my eyes to the depth of the frustration of the Igbo younger generation. I became alarmed.
Dim Odimegwu Ojukwu, who generously and kindly attended dozens of my IYM seminars confided in me that he wasn’t shocked at the bitterness in the hearts of the younger generation. He told me that he knew the younger generation of Ndigbo will be very angry at the treatment they are receiving from Nigeria. He said the rest of Nigeria do not care about the frustration of Igbo youths, because Nigeria is busy, still celebrating the defeat of Biafra. He said the younger generation of Ndigbo will not accept the suppression of Ndigbo much longer. He knew that something was bound to give.
He posited that the envy and fear of Ndigbo was largely responsible for the conspiracy to hold Ndigbo down perpetually, by denying them their rights.
So, by the late 1980s, I had known that the younger generation of Ndigbo will reject and resist the position of servitude designed for Ndigbo by the victors of the civil war. I happened to know this, not because I am a very smart person, No. I found out simply because I organised seminars for Igbo youths and during question and answer sessions, young Igbo men would lament that they are tired of Nigeria and wished for a separate state where they would be treated like human beings.
The student in Owerri, at my event at the Rosy Arts Theatre, would say the same thing the traders at Aba told us. The traders at Idumotta or Alaba market Lagos, would say the same thing the civil servants in Enugu told us, and these people do not know each other.
The Nigerian state was clearly deceived by the “desperate hustling” of the Igbo elite club, who are so desperate for anything, that they are willing to execute a contract through subletting, even crawling from office to office licking boots for crumbs. Nigeria’s leadership erroneously concluded that Ndigbo have finally accepted the humiliating position we designed for them, as their proper place in Nigeria for ever and ever. Accordingly the humiliation of Ndigbo became state policy.
They forgot that Igbo elite represented ony one percent of Ndigbo. They also forgot that Igbo are so republican in nature, that every Igbo reacts according to how the shoe pinches him and the Igbo are never controlled by the announcement from one emir somewhere.
They also did not realise that the elite accepted the continuous humiliation in Nigeria because of two reasons. One, they are educated and therefore can always find a way to survive in a Nigeria, known globally as very corrupt playground for Asian and Middle east scammers, masquerading as business men, who boast all over the world, how Nigerian officials are the easiest to compromise their positions to the detriment of their own citizens. Secondly, the Igbo older generation, who were brutally punished by the colonial master (from July 1967 to January 1970) through total blockade and ruthless bombardment of even refugee camps, for daring to forget that the colonial master himself, has great plans over Nigeria’s oil for his home country.
The trauma of the war created two different classes of Ndigbo. One, those who are willing to accept the continuous humiliation of Ndigbo, and those who are willing to do anything to restore their lost dignity.
This fact, sadly, remains lost on the Nigerian state, which regrettably believes that force and intimidation will subdue the angry Igbo younger generation to accept the continuous humiliation Ndigbo have been facing since 1970.
Does that sufficiently explain the growing agitation by MASSOB and IPOB? What is the way out?
Count your teeth with your tongue. I have repeatedly screamed the way out for decades. I have been screaming long before Ralph Uwazurike founded MASSOB. If I had joined my friends and classmates to hustle for political accomodation in Nigeria, I would not have known the shocking discovery I found out during the question and answer sessions during IYM seminars for Igbo youths.
If those my friends parading as successful politicians had found time to organise seminars for Igbo youths like I did in the 1980s and 1990s like I did, they too would have discovered the degree of anger burning in the hearts of Ndigbo younger generation. They also would have known that even their personal aides and otinkpus are not happy with Nigeria. They would have known that the only people happy with Nigeria, are those benefiting from the misery in the land. They would have known, that these agitation was inevitable. It was bound to happen. Nigeria was bound to come to this.
But in the end, way is the way out?
I would only be repeating myself. 25 years ago, Dim Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu, my leader, asked Bob Onyema to bring me to Villaska Lodge, Ikoyi for a meeting. At that time, I was leading a coalition of Ndigbo Youth groups in Lagos. What came out from that very important gathering of very important leaders was actually packaged for the General Abacha constitutional conference of 1994/1995. What some people at that time called Afenifere agenda, simply because the great Senator Abraham Adesanya- led NADECO amplified it at that time. I am yet to see any superior argument till date.
Nigerians have no better choice. Nigeria is not working. There are reports of past conferences, many sections are bitter and angry with the current structure, some even want out of Nigeria.
The system that worked from the mid 1950s to mid 1960 gave everyone a sense of belonging. You see the people lying to themselves, that they can hold Nigeria together under this unitary structure are the problem. Why they choose to deceive themselves, beats me. Nigeria cannot grow under this military constitution. If the political structure is not reconstructed to true federalism by devolving powers to the federating units, Nigeria will die. Going back to the 1963 Republican constitution is the way out, my dear brother.
Former minister, Prof Chinedu Nebo said recently that Igbo political leaders are responsible for the woes of Ndigbo. Do you agree with him?
Prof. Nebo is a highly respected intellectual and leader of men. It depends on what context he spoke. Every body knows the Igbo political leadership has not done well. Just look at the zone. No seaport, no airport, no rail services, no motorable road, that’s not all, no clear political direction.
When you add this to the popular narrative all over the country, that a certain influential politician from the South west drafted Buhari for the top job 6 years ago due to what they termed, the unbridled arrogance of Igbo politicians who encircled Jonathan at the time, fending off,everybody else,so the story goes. This politician from the South west was very bitter with the Igbo politicians who surrounded Jonathan at the time. He lamented how he abandoned his own Presidential candidate, Nuhu Ribadu and entered into a deal to return Jonathan in 2011,only to be dealt a bad card. He is said to be willing to forgive Jonathan, but remains unforgiving to the Igbo politicians who he believed misled Jonathan. Out of anger and frustration, he entered into alliance with Buhari,to get back at Ndigbo. Now if this narrative is true, just in case it’s true, it then throws up the question: What did Ndigbo benefit from Jonathan for which we are presently suffering so much isolation over the conduct of Igbo political class, over which some people do not wish to forgive Ndigbo.
It could only mean, that those Igbo politicians who shepherded Jonathan and allegedly blocked this angry South west leader from receiving any patronage whatsoever from Jonathan, hijacked Jonathan for their personal benefit, as there is nothing to show for Ndigbo’s unalloyed support for Jonathan, absolutely nothing.It is even said that Igbo sons and daughters in that government, mindlessly helped themselves with funds meant for infrastructural development in Igboland. Pathetic. In that case, the venerable Prof Nebo is absolutely correct. He must know what he is talking about as he was an insider, as minister in Jonathan’s government.
Once again congratulations on your 20th anniversary. What challenges have hit IYM hard these past 20 years?
Plenty, but I prefer not to talk about them. I don’t want to talk about shameless agents of the oppressor, sabotaging IYM for crumbs they are usually given. I pray that God grants them long live to witness the 50th anniversary of the IYM 30 years from now. It is well with Ndigbo. IYM believes Nigeria will be restructured by and by.