Udenta Udenta was national secretary of Alliance for Democracy, a stalwart of the Eastern Mandate Union and chieftain of NADECO which fought the Abacha military junta. In this interview with MBACHU GODWIN, he shares his experience in the June 12 struggle.
Nigeria is celebrating June 12 as democracy day, as a member of NADECO what are your experience and expectations?
In 1995/96 I was a lecturer and researcher at the centre of Igbo studies at the Abia State University, Uturu. By the year 2000, I was aiming to become a professor. June 12 put paid to all these dreams. Between 1998 and 1999, I suffered six detentions by Abacha government. It was a very difficult situation, but I later became a professor in 2017. My dream as a scholar was realised. Another experience was that I took night bus to Lagos between 1995 and 1998 not to chase money or business but to have conversations with my allies in the west. Arthur Nwankwo who is the chancellor of Eastern Mandate always deployed me to Lagos. As a patriot, I didn’t care for money.
The third experience is how unjust the system was. In 1994 April, NADECO issued an ultimatum for Abacha to vacate office by May 30 so that Abiola will take over goverment. Gen Abacha responded by sending Gen Oladipo Diya his second in command to the West to placate them. We in the Eastern Mandate followed suit to ask Abacha to leave office on June 30, one month later. Gen Diya issued ultimatum asking us to explain, deployed military to Enugu, Arthur Nwankwo, Dubem Onyia and myself were arrested and put in detention. So in this case, the West and East were treated differently, so this separate treatment did not start today.
In general it was a moment of harassment, intimidation and criminalizing pro-democracy activists and human rights activists. It was the depth of courage. Others lost businesses, money. Arthur Nwankwo sold properties to sustain the struggle, Gani Fawehinmi threw caution to the winds, Bola Ige, Ayo Adebanjo amongst others spent all their time, resources and energy and mentored people like us, so this is some of the benefits, even though we did not realise the mandate. But we must appreciate what the Buhari government has done today by recognising June 12 as Democracy Day as well as recognising late Moshood Abiola and his running mate Babagana Kingibe, even though belated.
What’s you take on Nigerian democracy so far, have your expectations been met?
My answer has always been likened to that of a Volkswagen engine and Formula 1 engaging in a race. The body of Nigeria democracy is exotic, but the engine is nothing to right home about. There has not been results, this goverment is very slow and the constitutional constraint of presidential system of government does not help matters. It is very expensive, bourgeois democracy, democracy for the rich that is why all these agitations. The democracy that is chanelled towards religion and ethnicity is default. Obedience to the rule of law. Liberal democracy consist of two elements, it has been in existence since 1999, so this government and previous ones has been fruitful in liberal democracy, but in practical democracy they have failed. This goverment has been authoritative in nature, you find this goverment not different from others. This goverment is irredentist in nature, appointing individuals from a particular section of the country into sensitive positions, this you can’t find it in previous administration.
On whether, I am fulfilled, one can feel fulfilled because Abiola has been recognised, June 12 is recognised, but we have a constitution that is not the product of the people. A society where poverty is high where people earn wage that cannot take them home, a country whose security is flawed and marred with lawlessness, traveling is a night mare, no infrastructure. The sign post of failure may be the power sector, very epileptic , unreliable, many Nigerians are not covered by the national greed, after the billions put in the power sector. This subject aleone can truncate a goverment in power.
What are your thoughts on producing a Nigerian president of South East extraction in 2023?
I think a president of southern extraction, it will be my joy that is shifted to the South East. I think it should be south first before the South East can make a brilliant case or argument why it should come to the south East. I believe that no southerner should vie for the office of vice president in the forth coming election, because the quisling of our time. I believe too that the Northern leaders must commit themselves to power shift to the south. The likes of Atiku Abubakar, Kwankwaso, Tambuwal, Saraki amongst others must commit in writing and work toward it’s realization. The governors of All Progressive Congress (APC) should do the same. I urge the southern governor’s the way they went to Asaba and spoke about anti grazing to also speak about this matter and embrace the position of the Southern and Middle Belt forum supporting this position. I believe power shift to the South in 2023 is becoming the irreducible condition for the stability and deepening of national unity.
The Igbo’s has cried out against marginalization in Nigeria, do you share in this view?
Eastern Mandate Union was born as a tool or agency to demarginalise the East. There was a persistent of structural marginalisation and also actualize the Abiola’s mandate in 1993. The South East occupies five states, while others occupy six and seven states, institutional marginalization in the military. The Igbo’s has been relegated. In 2013 , an Igbo man became Chief of Army staff. Thirdly, the distribution of infrastructure, Aba dry port , Port Harcourt and Calabar were aboundoned This would have improve the economy of the South East. I call for a return to deep thinking and evaluation.
Some ethnic groups in Nigeria are agitating for a referendum and independence, do you think is the way to go?
First thing, who is agitating for secession, secondly, why are you agitating for secession, thirdly, how do you want to achieve the secession. There are other things, the geography of agitations, another thing is coherent blueprint. Why do we want independence in the South East, if you put all these things together you will see that the secession agitation is a huge joke. To me, it is for the sake of agitating. Of course, they have a right to agitate, but if you do it for the sake of agitating then it is meaningless. I can’t see them meet all these criterias. I don’t believe in the agitation. I am an Igbo nationalist, I am a Nigerian patriot in spite of the trajectory of Nigerian state. You can’t replace hegemony with another hegemony, so people have to be careful the way we talk or act, I don’t believe in agitation of secession.
What is your though on the invasion and violence in the South East by unknown gunmen?
The middle Belt and West are more invaded by non state actors than the South East, if you feel that you are set apart and treated differently, so you act. It is a national situation, to appropriate it to a particular ethnic group is tragic. People feel that those who are in charge of the zone are not doing enough to secure the zone. Poor governance, youth unemployment, youth restiveness, alineation and poverty. Those who are destroying the government properties must be condemned and the shoot at sight order of the Inspector General of Police must be condemned. We call an end to the attacks and whoever that is celebrating it in the social media. We must reinstate law and order in the zone. I believe in the unity of Nigeria founded by justice and equity and fair play. We say no to secession and that is the position of the Ohaneze Ndi Igbo.