Evangelist Elliot Ugochukwu Uko is the Founder of Igbo Youth Movement, Secretary of Eastern Consultative Assembly and the Deputy Secretary of Igbo Leaders of Thought. He was at the centre of the peace talks on Biafran agitation involving South-East governors, IPOB and Igbo leaders before IPOB was outlawed. In this interview with Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu, Uko reveals some of the agreements reached at the secret peace meetings.
AS a top official of the Prof. Ben Nwabueze-led Igbo Leaders of Thought and a youth leader, you have been at the centre of the current socio-political vortex in Igbo land. May you explain what is going on in the South-East?
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 attacks on Mazi Nnamdi Kanu’s residence and so; the then ongoing talk between Kanu and South-East governors was deliberately scuttled by this military attack on Kanu. And then the army announced that IPOB is a terrorist organisation.
So, 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 he would be killed if he makes his way to the meeting in Enugu. I do not know why the military will scuttle the peace meeting between Nnamdi Kanu and the south-east governors. They might have their reasons, but I do not know. Prof. Ben Nwabueze; Nnamdi Kanu and I met with the South-East governors on 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, bring 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, to which Nnamdi Kanu out of respect for the elder statement 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 they would read a communiqué that Nnamdi Kanu agreed that his demand for a referendum and his demand to restructure Nigeria 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, Kanu would come with his leadership and then the governors would accept 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. 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, 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, and the south-east governors. In fact, I arranged the meeting. Through the grace of God, I arranged the meeting. The governors called me, and I pleaded with Nnamdi Kanu 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.
So, where is Nnamdi Kanu now?
I do not know. I have no idea. He tried to speak to me three days after, either on Monday or so, but the line wasn’t clear, and I’ve tried the number since then, the number isn’t going through. 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 I think the issue is not really about Kanu or any other individual. 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 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 problem is the unitary structure and the military constitution of 1999. These are the problems killing Nigeria.
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.
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. 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.”
So, I think Nnamdi Kanu’s problem is that the federal government has refused to begin the process of restructuring Nigeria. Nnamdi Kanu agreed in principle. I, Prof. Ben Nwabueze and Nnamdi Kanu, in the presence of the South-East governors, 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, who put the proporal to him is witness, and I am witness.