Evangelist Elliot Ugochukwu Uko is an Igbo leader. He is the Founder of the Igbo Youth Movement; the Secretary, Eastern Consultative Assembly and the Deputy Secretary, Igbo Leaders of Thought.
In this interview which he granted on September 20th, 2017, the outspoken Uko opens up on the momentous occurrences in south-eastern Nigeria in recent times, including the military adventure tagged Operation Python Dance II, its attack on Igbo people, and other pressing national issues.
Q:”You are in the centre of the vortex, in the midst of all these happenings in the south-east in recent weeks.. can you tell us what is going on in the south-east?”
A:”Thank you. My dear brother, I’ve refrained from giving interviews for close to 2 years now. The reason I’m yielding to talk to you is because, if I fail to present the truth, for the record, falsehood may take over the space. What is going on is that the military rolled in tanks in the eastern region in what they call Operation Python Dance, and then the centre could no longer hold. First there were altercations in Abia State, both in Umuahia and in Aba. And then, there were attacks on Mazi Nnamdi Kanu’s residence, and then the talks between Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and the south-east governors was deliberately scuttled by this military attack on Kanu. And then the army spokesman announced that IPOB is a terrorist organization, even though 2 days later the army, Lt. Gen. Buratai himself, said that the army does not have the power to label any group a terrorist organization. Then, that was Friday, the south-east governors said they have proscribed IPOB. That’s where we are at the moment. I do not know of the whereabouts of Nnamdi Kanu, but I hear all kinds of rumours, though I can’t substantiate them. Some say he’s dead, some say he’s still alive. Others say that he was shot, that he bled, he lost a lot of blood, others say that he’s unconscious. I don’t know which one is true and which one is not, so I do not like to comment on issues I do not have facts on. Now, as to your question, what is going on has everything to do with the decision by the federal government to stop the agitation for Biafra, to crush the agitators, and also scuttle the peace meeting Prof. Ben Nwabueze initiated with the governors. What is going on is that the attempt by the military to scuttle the peace process is largely successful. Nnamdi Kanu became afraid and told me that rumours said that he would be killed if he makes his way to the meeting in Enugu. From all indications, I think he was probably right. I do not know why the military will scuttle the meeting between Nnamdi Kanu and the south-east governors. They might have their reasons, but I do not know. Prof. Ben Nwabueze and Nnamdi Kanu and myself met with the south-east governors 20 days ago, Friday, 30th of August, 2017 at the Government House, Enugu, and that meeting was largely successful. At that meeting, the south-east governors made it clear to Nnamdi Kanu that they want him to tone down the agitation, tone down his language, allow the Anambra election to go on, and then look for peaceful ways to express the grievances of his people. Nnamdi Kanu agreed to all they said, but pleaded that they give him a week or two to consult with the leadership of IPOB, and that he would like to bring the leadership of IPOB to the next meeting, so that he would not look as if he has sold out the group, and the governors agreed. Nnamdi Kanu said that if, at this first meeting, he makes any concession, that both his followers and the general public would believe he has been paid off, or that he has accepted some payment and sold away the struggle. That it would be best if he goes back, consults with the IPOB leadership, brings them to the next meeting, and collectively an agreement will be agreed. The governors agreed completely. Prof. Ben Nwabueze who brokered the meeting pleaded with Nnamdi Kanu to, one, allow Anambra election to go on and, two, allow election to hold in the east in 2019, and accept restructuring as solution to the injustices in Nigeria, to which Nnamdi Kanu agreed, but said that he would make that pronouncement at the next meeting, with his leadership flanking him, so that he does not seem to be a dictator and he does not give the impression that he took the decision all by himself, giving room for the speculation that he has been bought over. Everybody agreed. So the governors said that they would read a communiqué that Nnamdi Kanu agreed that his demand for a referendum and his demand for secession are not absolute. Nnamdi Kanu agreed that his demands are not absolute, meaning that he would have a change of mind. So we all dispersed, hoping that at the next meeting on 15th of September, Nnamdi Kanu would come with his leadership and then the governors would accept Nnamdi Kanu’s decision that the elections would go on, both in 2019 and the Anambra election, and that the governors would ask Mr. President to begin the restructuring of Nigeria. Nnamdi Kanu insisted that the restructuring should be along the 1963 constitution, not merely devolving powers to the states. So we dispersed. Within that intervening period of 10 days between the first meeting and the scheduled second meeting, the army now altered all the permutations, now changed everything, by moving into the east with military equipment, by attacking Nnamdi Kanu’s residence, by shooting into his house, and everything changed. So whether this was planned by the government to scuttle the peace meeting, I do not know, but this is what happened. I was in the meeting. I, Prof. Ben Nwabueze and Nnamdi Kanu, met with the South-East governors. In fact, I arranged the meeting. Through the grace of God. The governors called me, and I pleaded with Nnamdi Kanu, to meet with the South-East governors and he agreed, on the condition that either Prof. Ben Nwabueze or Archbishop Anthony Obinna would escort him to the meeting. And Nnamdi Kanu came to the meeting. So what is going on is that there is a desire by certain people in government to use military might to crush the agitation. Whether they will succeed, time will tell.”
Q:”Where is Nnamdi Kanu now?”
A:”I do not know. I have no idea. I do not believe in all those rumours, whether he is dead or alive. I can’t speculate on them until I have confirmation. At the moment I can’t confirm his state, whether he is alive or not, and I can’t confirm his condition. Operation Python Dance came at a time the governors had embarked on the peace meeting with Nnamdi Kanu. Operation Python Dance was probably developed to scuttle that peace meeting. Some people do not want that peace meeting to go on. Maybe some people didn’t like the fact that Prof. Ben Nwabueze was in charge. They believe they are superior to Prof. Ben Nwabueze, more intelligent than him, have more stature than him, and that they ought to have been the ones to lead Nnamdi Kanu to the meeting. But Nnamdi Kanu has implicit confidence in Nwabueze, that Nwabueze would not harm the interest of our people, and Nnamdi Kanu does not have that confidence in those people who are angry that they are not the ones leading Nnamdi Kanu to the meeting. Therefore, they want the army to shoot and scatter everything. Confidence is very important in whatever thing you do in life. Nnamdi Kanu has confidence in Prof. Ben Nwabueze. He does not have that kind of confidence in those other people who are angry that they are not the ones leading the talks, and who will do anything in their power to spoil the talks because they are not the ones in charge. What is going on is a struggle. Some people do not want Nigeria restructured. They believe that if Nigeria is restructured they will lose their pre-eminent position, where they control the polity and determine the fate of 186 million Nigerians. They do not want Nigeria restructured because the unjust unitary structure favours them. Those people see Nnamdi Kanu as the greatest agent for change, as the greatest catalyst for change. They see Nnamdi Kanu as the man who has done more to make restructuring possible. Therefore they want him to pay with his life, they want him dead. Those people were frightened that the restructuring gain has caught on everywhere, from the middle belt, from the oppressed peoples of north-east and north-west, south-west-the Ibadan Declaration, not long ago, the south-south, the south-east. Everywhere the restructuring breeze is sweeping. So the enemies of restructuring believe Nnamdi Kanu is responsible for instigating the restructuring breeze to be blowing everywhere. So they conclude that he has to pay with his life. They will tell you, after all they killed Abiola and nothing happened. They will boast that if they kill Kanu that nothing will happen. But the truth of the matter is that this issue is not about Kanu. The issue is not about an individual. The issue is purely about the unjust structure of Nigeria, and the unhealthy state of affairs in Nigeria. The military constitution of 1999 and the unitary structure created by the military is the problem with Nigeria. They are not working. Every other thing is as a result, a direct fallout, of the unworkable 1999 military constitution and the unitary structure imposed on the country by the military. That is why 31 states cannot pay salaries. 23 states are owing even pensioners as well. About 11 states are owing salaries for months, especially Kogi and Imo. That is why corruption is eating the country to death. That is why impunity, hatred, anger, divisions within the land, because the unitary structure created by the soldiers is not working. Nnamdi Kanu is not the problem of Nigeria. Nnamdi Kanu is a product of the problem of Nigeria. There are millions of angry people who do not want to have anything to do with Nigeria anymore, especially from my eastern region, where I hail from. Nnamdi Kanu only represents leadership they trust. They trust him because they believe he speaks their mind. He is not the problem. If Nnamdi Kanu dies today, another leader will rise up, who could even be more vicious than Kanu. The problem is not Nnamdi Kanu. The problem is the unitary structure, and the military constitution of 1999. These are the problems killing Nigeria. The people who are shooting in Aba and Umuahia in Operation Python Dance know that they are only causing distraction. They are trying to distract the population from the truth. They know that the problem is the military constitution of 1999 and the unitary structure of Nigeria, imposed by the military. The minute President Buhari announces the formation of a committee to advice government on how to restructure Nigeria, a committee of elders that will bring together all the past national conferences, every agitation will die down. But some people do not want to do that. They want to use guns and bullets and armoured cars to hold onto this unitary structure, to hold this military constitution of 1999, for as long as they can. That is why they support Operation Python Dance. Now the matter of Ndigbo and agitations. This is a very historic moment in the life of the Igbo nation. I served my leader for the last 15 years of his life, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. Before he passed on, he told me that Nigeria will be restructured, that the owners of Nigeria will fight, that they will not give up without a fight. The beneficiaries of the unjust structure will not give up without a fight. They would not agree to restructure Nigeria until blood is shed. They will do all they can to resist restructuring. Everything Ojukwu said has come to pass. From the eastern region, where I come from, 95% of the masses are solidly behind Nnamdi Kanu. The only people who don’t like Nnamdi Kanu are the political class who are the direct beneficiaries of the unjust unitary structure and the unworkable military constitution of 1999. The youth of the eastern region are fed up with Nigeria. Every year they sit for JAMB. Over 700,000 of them sit for JAMB. In the 5 south-east states, over 80% of them will score marks over 130, over 120, over 100, but they will not get admission, because the cut-off mark of their region is higher, at 130-plus. They will watch and see some states in the north that have only about 5,000 JAMBites, and they have cut-off mark of 10, 15, 20, and all of them will get admission. So those young men and women, they see IPOB as the only way of escape. They believe Nigeria hates them with passion, and they desire a country of their own. They chose Nnamdi Kanu as their leader, because they agree with what he tells them. If Nnamdi Kanu dies today, millions of his followers will find another leader. The solution to the anger among the youth of the eastern region is not sending soldiers in Operation Python Dance to shoot at them and kill them in cold blood. The solution lies in consensually restructuring Nigeria along the line of true fiscal federalism, anchored on regional autonomy. That, and that alone, will solve the problem. Everybody knows that, but some people believe they can use guns and bullets to avert restructuring of Nigeria, and continue to hold onto the unitary structure for as long as they can. That is the problem. That is what is going on. And those people are emboldened because they believe that the Igbo political class will always play along with them, because for 47 years the Igbo political class has always played a game of individual survival at the expense of group interest. So the owners of Nigeria, the masters of Nigeria believe that the political class of the south-east can be easily blackmailed and intimidated to do their bidding, at the expense of the group interest, and at the expense of the very survival of Nigeria. That is the game. That is what is going on. I was at the meeting with the south-east governors and Nnamdi Kanu told them pointedly that if the process is started today to restructure Nigeria back to the 1963 constitution, they would consider giving up the agitation, and the governors promised that they would take his message to Abuja. I was there. While we were waiting for the feedback, Python Dance invaded the east and started shooting and killing. What I can only take out from there is that, probably, when the governors gave the message to Abuja, Abuja didn’t like that, and decided to solve the problem through guns and bullets. I’m not sure, but that’s the only thing left for me. I think that is the case, even though Governor Umahi told me that it’s not true. Gov. Umahi, who is the Chairman of the South East Governors Forum, has been in touch with me. We’ve spoken twice, from New York. He even told me he’s in the same hotel with President Buhari, and he even pleaded with me to assure Prof. Ben Nwabueze and Nnamdi Kanu that when he comes home he will invite them again to continue with the peace process. But the damage done by Operation Dance has affected the confidence of the easterners. The Operation Python Dance has deepened the hatred in Nigeria. The army attack in the east, the army invasion of the east, has confirmed to easterners that they are hated and despised in Nigeria. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 year old children in primary school, they are now seeing the Nigerian state as the enemy. It will be difficult to convince them to ever love Nigeria. What the army is doing has deepened the hatred, deepened the division, and made it not just difficult but impossible for the children of eastern Nigeria to ever accept Nigeria as a nation. That’s what’s going on. They are branded terrorists, like the terrorists of Catalonia and the terrorists of Scotland who are demanding justice and a state of their own. If the people of Catalonia march in the hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, in demand of a separate Catalonia out from Spain, people of Scotland demand theirs to the extent that they even had a referendum not long ago, they want out from the UK, nobody branded them as terrorists. Now, the Nigerian army spokesman said that the young children of the eastern region, who have been so badly treated in Nigeria, who have been reduced to second-class citizens, who want out of Nigeria because Nigeria refused to give them justice, that they are terrorists, like the terrorists of Catalonia, the terrorists of Quebec, the terrorists of Scotland, and the terrorists of Biafra. The problem began on the 27th of May, 1967, when Gen. Yakubu Gowon proscribed the regions and created 12 states in his Supreme Military Council, but created those 12 states and there was no Igbo man there. The creation of those states was done without any input by Ndigbo, and the Igbo were reduced to a minority. The Igbo were fixed in 1 out of 12 states. Every other state creation has continued on that format, Murtala’s of 1976, Babangida’s of 1987 and 1991, and Abacha’s state creation of 1996, all reduced Ndigbo to a minority. That’s where the problem began. And Gowon is in his 80s. He’s still alive and he knows there’s a lie going on, that it was Ironsi that proscribed the regions. And Gowon is keeping quiet, going around praying. Gowon has refused to tell the younger generation the truth, that it was he, Gen. Gowon, his announcement of 12 states that proscribed the regions. Ironsi did not proscribe the regions. Ironsi merely passed the Unification Decree, that the regions were no longer semi-independent like they were, because Ironsi suspended the 1963 constitution. But then Ironsi left the regions the way they were. In fact, by May 27th, 1967 when Gowon created 12 states, Ironsi was dead! It was Gen. Gowon who proscribed the regions, and the only thing that can save Nigeria now is to go back to the regions, go back to Nigeria the way the regions were before Gowon proscribed the regions on 27th May, 1967. And every effort and attempt to take Nigeria back to that 1963 constitution is being thwarted by the beneficiaries of the current, unjust, unfair unitary structure. That’s the problem of Nigeria. The people who gave the order for soldiers to go and shoot Nnamdi Kanu, they know in their heart that restructuring Nigeria is the only solution to the problem. It’s just that it’s not convenient for them. But Nigerians are no fools. Restructuring Nigeria is inevitable. Everybody knows that Nigeria must be restructured. You see, I was a kid, watching television with my father, in the early 80s, when Margareth Thatcher, UK Prime Minister, called the African National Congress a terrorist organization , and said that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist. I was also alive to see the Nelson Mandela the UK called a terrorist, to see him hosted in London on his 90th birthday, and erect a statue in his honour. And I saw Presidents and Prime Ministers, Kings and Queens, attend the funeral of a man they called a terrorist. And the ANC that Margareth Thatcher called a terrorist organization, it has been the ruling party in South Africa for the past 25 years. You see, my brother, the truth of the matter is that Nnamdi Kanu has done more than any other person to bring Nigeria closer to restructuring than any other being, and the attempt to eliminate him is out of anger of his great achievement. It’s a great achievement. My leader, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, and the late Chief Anthony Enahoro, and the late Chief Rotimi Williams, in the Patriots, they would cry and shout, 2, 3 times a year, they would shout to restructure Nigeria. They would jump and shout, for more than 30 years now, people have been shouting to restructure Nigeria. It was Nnamdi Kanu’s activism in less than 2 years that brought restructuring from the realm of speculation, and brought it into the realm of relity, that made it so imperative that every section of Nigeria has set up a committee on restructuring, including the northern governors, including the APC. Everybody is setting up a committee on restructuring. Nnamdi Kanu has changed Nigeria forever. Nigeria will never be the same again, thanks to Nnamdi Kanu. The anger of those who want him dead is a reality of the great and noble achievement of Nnamdi Kanu. And if you look at it imperatively, you can’t blame Kanu. If the stubborn owners of Nigeria had agreed to restructure Nigeria before, there would never have been an IPOB, there would never have been Nnamdi Kanu. So many attempts have been made to restructure Nigeria, the same cabal will kill it. 12 years ago, 2005 conference in Abuja, everything was agreed, voted and agreed. They even agreed to give the south-east an additional state, and to have rotational presidency, everybody agreed to that, and so on. One person inserted his 3rd term, and when Nigerians rejected his 3rd term bid, he killed the report of that conference. 3 years ago, Dr. Jonathan organized a very large conference. Some people, who hired international publicists to help them bulldoze back to power, took the report and kept it in the archives, and said they would use gun and bullets to hold Nigeria through Operation Python Dance. Every effort to restructure Nigeria, the same cabal have resisted it. They prefer to hold onto this unjust structure, to hold onto this unfair military constitution for as long as they can. That is the problem of Nigeria. Everybody in Nigeria, including primary school children, they know that if President Buhari announces today that he will set up a committee of eminent elders to bring together all the past national conferences, to begin the restructuring of Nigeria, all the agitations you hear here and there will die down immediately. But the oppressors, the owners of Nigeria, do not want to do that. They want to use terror, guns, bullets, army, military, Operation Python Dance, and so on, to hold Nigeria. My name is Elliot Ugochukwu Uko. I formed my first group in 1981, the Igbo Youth Movementm, as a teenager, at D’Elmina Restaurant, number 12 Adelabu Street, Uwani, Enugu. for the past 36 years, I’ve been dealing with Igbo youths. For the past 36 years, I’ve been organizing seminars, conferences, and conventions for Igbo youths, for the past 36 years, unbroken. Some of the youths I addressed 25, 30 years ago, some of them are governors, senators, legislators, ministers. Today I can tell you that agitation for Biafra would never die down, never. No amount of military attack or invasion will stop it until Nigeria is restructured. I have had the great privilege to take Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, my late leader, to my events, to IYM conferences in Abakaliki, in Aba, in Owerri, in Onitsha, in Nnewi, and I would take Ojukwu to the IYM conference at Peoples Club hall, Ajao Road, Surulere this week, and then the following week I would take Ojukwu to another event in Aba. The people in Aba would say the same thing the traders in Lawanson told us a week earlier, without meeting each other. They would tell us that they are tired of Nigeria, that everything in Nigeria is skewed against them, that they prefer to be on their own, in a separate state of their own, that Nigeria hates them with passion. I’ve organized conferences and seminars for Igbo students for over 25 years, in all the tertiary institutions. Some of the people I’ve addressed in IYM conferences in the 1990s, they are today bankers and big managers in society. When I walk into a bank in Lagos I will see a manager telling me, ah, oga Elliot, good afternoon, you came to address us at Oko Polytechnic in 1995. I know that the Igbo younger generation will never accept Nigeria the way it is. It’s impossible. The blood will continue and continue until it gets out of hand, because I know that the way Nigeria is structured is killing everybody. Everything is skewed against the Igbo youth, and they want out. The only way to save Nigeria is to restructure Nigeria. The people creating crises everywhere are those who resist the restructuring of Nigeria. Operation Python Dance was set up to stop the restructuring of Nigeria. Because they know that Nnamdi Kanu, more than anybody else, has created awareness, has awakened consciousness for the need to restructure Nigeria. Nnamdi Kanu’s agitation and activism have made so many people from all the six geopolitical zones, to understand the great need to restructure Nigeria. Nnamdi kanu biggest achievement is that history will remember Kanu as the man who restructured Nigeria. Whether they kill him or not, whether he’s alive or not, Nnamdi Kanu has already changed Nigeria forever. Nigeria will never be the same. I have had the privilege to speak with Nnamdi Kanu and plead with him to tone down his agitation. He would always ask me, what has the federal government conceded? If the federal government conceded something, we have over 172 litany of injustice against us, the federal government has not conceded one. They’ve not agreed to restructure Nigeria, they have not agreed to give us additional state, they have not agreed on Igbo President, they’ve not conceded anything. They are only trying to use money, offer money to stop the agitation. Nnamdi Kanu’s problem is that the federal government has refused to begin the process of restructuring Nigeria.
Nnamdi Kanu agreed in principle, at the prodding of Prof. Nwabueze, who Kanu respects greatly, to step down the agitation, if Nigeria is restructured. I, Prof. Ben Nwabueze and Nnamdi Kanu, in the presence of the south-east governors, concluded to flow with Prof. Nwabueze’s proposal, that if the government begins the process of restructuring Nigeria back to the 1963 constitution, he will stop the agitation today. He said so twice in my presence. Prof. Ben Nwabueze is witness, and I am witness. The next thing we saw is Operation Python Dance. So, the problem really, really, is not Nnamdi Kanu, the problem is those who have made sure that Nigeria will not survive. The unitary structure makes it impossible for Nigeria to grow. 40 million unemployed people, high crime rate, states can’t pay salaries, weak economy, hunger, poverty, division, hatred. The country is crippled and yet every effort to restructure Nigeria, the same cabal that has held Nigeria hostage said they would not restructure Nigeria. Now they are blaming Nnamdi Kanu for the problem of Nigeria, Nnamdi Kanu is not the problem of Nigeria. The problem of Nigeria are those who refuse to restructure Nigeria. Thank you.