Evangelist Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko, founder of the Igbo Youth Movement (IYM)
Evangelist Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko is the founder of the Igbo Youth Movement (IYM) and deputy secretary of the Professor Ben Nwabueze-led Igbo Leaders of Thought (ILT), as well the Eastern Consultative Assembly (ECA).
In this interview with journalists in Enugu, he speaks on the fallouts of the coronavirus pandemic and other burning issues. JUDE OSSAI brings the excerpts:
YOU have been very quiet lately. Does it have to do with the COVID-19 pandemic spreading across the country?
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 South-East cannot be different. Nobody is sure where exactly we are headed. This is not the best of times. The COVID-19 holidays afford all the opportunity for soul-searching and self-examination. But one finds the plight of the starving less privileged and the vulnerable disturbing.
But the government is distributing food items and making cash payments to the very poor around the country to alleviate their suffering…
That’s what we see on the television and in the newspapers. Here in the East, there is no such thing as cash payments and free food from the Federal Government. What we have are commendable efforts to stem the hunger and hardship being experienced by daily income earners, churches, corporate institutions, individuals and a few politicians. But those are clearly inadequate. The hardship is real. The suffering is real. The aid getting to these groups of people is inadequate. We are yet to see any kind of help from the Federal Government. Government is playing games with the South-East as usual. Nothing stops them from distributing the aid or whatever through the 774 local government authorities in the country, if they are sincere. That way, it will get to every region. But, they obviously don’t want to do that. They seem to be concentrating in the North, especially the North-East and the North-West. 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 the beneficiaries in the East. If anything is going on in the East, it must be very infinitesimal that nobody feels the impact. As always, we are deliberately sidelined. The government released billions of naira; wealthy nations, foreign bodies, individuals and organisations donated billions. Just recently, the European Union (EU) gave 50 million euros and the Igboland is missing out as the largesse is shared in certain regions, to the exclusion of others. It is sad and disturbing.
Are the governors from the South-East aware of the lopsided distribution and, if so, what are they doing to correct the anomalies?
and bring this inequity to the attention of the authorities. The inequity and inequality are the stuff revolutions are made of. You don’t need a soothsayer to note that. The little aid available is not being fairly shared across the country. That is unfair; that is wrong. They are actually saying to some regions ‘go to hell, you don’t belong here.’ Our governors should note that the angry people of the East are unhappy with the state of affairs in the land, especially with the one-sided style of distributing the so-called palliative. Our people are clearly disappointed.
Why do you think the governors are not addressing the issue?
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 doing so will distract me. The people know whether the governors are standing up for them or not. When I and Professor Ben Nwabueze (SAN) accompanied Nnamdi Kanu to a meeting with the South-East governors, two and half years ago, I realised that the overbearing influence of the Federal Government makes it difficult for the governors to be their own men. I painfully saw why the Federal Government is interested in whoever emerges as governor in Igboland. Ndigbo are in a big trouble. The governor of Enugu State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi is good at trying to avoid any kind of fight; he struggles to be a nice guy. His Ebonyi State counterpart, David Umahi, even though he is performing wonders in his state, especially on infrastructure development, is totally committed to the politics of pleasing the master and remaining in the good book of the owners of Nigeria. The governor of Anambra State, Willie 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, The Abia State governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, doesn’t have any achievements you can put your finger on; he too is busy battling for survival. In nine months, he will produce the next Ohanaeze leader; you won’t expect him to nominate a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) sympathiser. That will 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 (otinkpu) 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 palliative know that they are not fully carrying the South-East along. They may cleverly organise a roadshow somewhere in Igboland for photoshops or propaganda purposes, but nobody is fooled. The intensely provocative dichotomy, makes it difficult to preach one Nigeria in this region. The reality points to the fact that everything is being done to hold Ndigbo down perpetually as slaves, 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.
Is there any light at the end of the tunnel with the All Progressives Congress (APC) in charge of governance in the centre?
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 are 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 with 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 care, they will not delay the restructuring of the country 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 self-centered. They are like a band of predators terrorising 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 species outsmarts the other, they will come appealing to the poor masses for sympathy.
Any sincere leader should know that without restructuring, Nigeria will remain perpetually troubled. If they are truly committed to the wellbeing of Nigerians, this country should have restructured long before now and set on a proper trajectory towards growth and greatness. But just look at where we are.
So, what should be done?
We have been lying to ourselves for over 50 years. General Yakubu Gowon unilaterally unified the structure by abolishing the regions as he announced the creation of 12 states, that is, 53 years ago. A very bloody 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 jewelry 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’, and ‘Ajalla travelled all over the world.’
We stole our country dry; destroyed the railways, the Nigeria Airways, while our education system and the health care, and indeed everything collapsed. 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 and easy money. We began enjoying the good life, without working for it. And just look at where we are now. We destroyed our educational institutions and now send our children to school in Ghana, Benin, Togo, Cameroon, and so on. The story of Nigeria from my eyes isn’t an inspiring story. (Tribune)