Federal Government’s recent stance against the activities of the Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) has brought the activities of the group to public inquiry once again. In this brief chat with Sam Egburonu, the Deputy Secretary of Professor Ben Nwabueze-led Igbo Leaders of Thought (ILT) and Founder/Leader of Igbo Youth Movement (IYM), Evangelist Elliot Uko, in an interview with The Nation explains what must be done to stop the agitation
Why is the Biafran breeze blowing across the South-East many years after the civil war?
It has always been there. Young people all over the world, all through history have always been adventurous and daring. The idea of re-enacting Biafran Republic has always been in the hearts and minds of young people, especially those who seem not to believe that Ndigbo will ever get justice in Nigeria. Igbo youths find Biafra a very attractive option. It is not new, it has always been there. I grew up in Enugu in the 70s; I went to boarding school in Enugu at Nike Grammar School. I know the usual discussions in the dormitory amongst students. They believe Nigeria is pulling Ndigbo backwards, they believe Ndigbo are better off in a separate state. I have been organising seminars and workshops for Igbo youths for decades, I know their mindset. I know that the Biafran option is very attractive to them. It is not new. Nigerians know there is great need to restructure the polity urgently and give all sections a sense of belonging. Nigeria does not want to do that. The feeling of alienation encourages thoughts of secession. Those opposing restructuring Nigeria are the ones fueling the Biafran agitation.
The anger and bitterness of the Igbo condition in Nigeria politics fuels a discontent which Uwazurike, Kanu and co, chose to exploit. Whereas the older Igbo tread cautiously, the younger ones, like young people all over the world, want action, now, now; it could only get worse because the Federal Government chooses to pretend it is not a serious issue. It could also get out of hand because there are Nigerians who are determined never to give Ndigbo justice. So, the Biafran breeze is blowing simply because Nigeria has chosen to pretend that it does not know that the structure of Nigeria is not working.
But why are Igbo leaders silent?
Igbo leaders have been shouting themselves hoarse on the need to create a level playing field for all in Nigeria. Nobody seems to listen. Four out of six zones, want Nigeria restructured urgently. Some people remain adamant. Nigeria, as presently constituted is not working. States cannot pay salaries; 40 million young men remain jobless, mutual suspicion and hatred fill the land. The people, who want Biafra, do not have faith in Nigeria any more. Instead of Nigeria, reaching out to allay their fears and frustration, like legendary Stevie Wonder captures almost 40 years ago in his ever green song, “we are all busy spending our lives, living in past time paradise”. It is a pity.
What’s your advice?
Some people believe Nigeria is their property. They designed the country. They created states and local governments according to their whims. It does not matter to them that the Nigeria they shaped is not working. They want it to remain that way till thy kingdom comes, whether it is working or not. Over two dozen studies by reputable scholars across the world in the last two decades point to the possibility of Nigeria failing. We only abused them without trying to find out why they all predict doom. We are sitting on a keg of gun powder.
Leaders, who know the truth should stop trying to deceive the world. One of them called the pro-Biafran boys fraudsters. He knows he was being hypocritical. Another said Biafra is finished. Probably finished in his own mind, not in the minds of millions of Igbo youths who believe they have no future in Nigeria. An article by one Mathew Page in the Washington post last week advised President Buhari on how to move Nigeria forward. Regrettably, the writer carefully and deliberately avoided the crux of the matter, which is the unresolved national question. The tragedy of the situation is that those who want Nigeria to remain the way they created it have sold a lie to the international community that corruption and Boko Haram are our main problems. That Nigerian leaders chose to shy away from the truth by going round in circle while dodging the real issue, does not in any way mean that solution could be found by cutting corners. There is no other way to move Nigeria forward in peace and unity without addressing the national question. Our political structure, the 1999 militarily inspired constitution are some of the reasons why millions of our country men do not believe in Nigeria. That is the most urgent task facing any government. When we revert to true federalism, all our problems will be reduced including corruption, unemployment, secession, etc. Most of Nigeria’s problem flows from the refusal to address the national question. We are only deceiving ourselves.
Do Igbo leaders sanction secession then?
No, but these angry boys are exploiting the vacuum created by lack of firm respectable leadership in Igbo land. Apart from the Igbo Leaders of Thought (ILT) led by Prof. Ben Nwabueze, no group commands respect in Igboland. The Ohanaeze that should have been the apex and umbrella association of Ndigbo is enmeshed and embroiled in a lot of sordid and not so honourable scandals that makes it difficult for Ndigbo to listen to them anymore. The present leaders are seen as sit tight businessmen who trade with Ndigbo for their personal gain and are better known for endorsing presidential candidates than for anything else. I have not seen or spoken to any of their leaders in three years. They lost credibility in the eyes of the people. The youth do not see in them, leaders they could trust. In fact, the youths believe that those people are the problem we have in Igbo land. Pecuniary pursuits have eroded their legitimacy in the eyes of the people. It has been long since the youths chose to take their destiny into their hands which makes the situation a time bomb.
The Igbo Youth Movement, which you lead, honoured some select leaders a fortnight ago. What is the idea behind it?
The event was the 16th Annual Convention of the IYM, an annual ritual; the Lord has consistently given us the grace to mark each year since 1999. This year, we tried to enlighten our people on the need not to let the Igbo language die. We also honoured the best in Igboland: Prof. Ben Nwabueze for his commitment to the good of the people and visionary leadership; Dr. Alex Ekwueme for his dedication to truth and the good of the land; Prof. Vincent Ike, as a great role model, one of the national leaders of the APC, and Minister designate, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu for decency in politics and being honourable in perseverance. We also honoured veteran actor, John Okafor (Mr. Ibu) for his dedication to the arts and contributions to the industry. We thank God for the grace upon the IYM and pledge to remain steadfast. It is important to highlight to our people who the real heroes are. We are very proud of them.