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Middle Belt Consciousness and the Road to Social Justice in Nigeria

 

BY PROF. IYORWUESE HAGHER

 

The stability and future of Nigeria should no longer lie in the hands of majority tribes alone but in the hands of all who may cherish to transcend their communities, be they minorities or majorities- Aper Aku Governor of Benue State 1999-83; Chairman  Minorities States and Group. 1980-83.

INTRODUCTION

Democracy and nation building are messy affairs without a straight destination. No country in the world today has arrived yet at that destination because democracy is a never ending journey and democracy gets better, the longer the journey and the deeper the process. Nigeria’s democracy today is imperiled with heightened increase in murders, assassinations, lawlessness, and ethnic cleansing going at unimaginable scale! Nigeria is the home of the world’s most deadly terrorist organizations – the Boko Haram and the Herdsmen terror organizations. The Herdsmen terrorists are active in the Middle-Belt region where gruesome and barbaric attacks against the poor peasant farmers have taken the dimension of premeditated ethnic cleansing and genocide. There is considerable apathy by the Nigerian government and in several places the activities of the security institutions give the appearance of collusion in these attacks.  The singular focus of the Nigerian government and the international community seems to be elsewhere. The government and the International Community have concentrated on the Boko Haram and ignored the Fulani Herdsmen militancy and other brigands and thereby giving little consequence to their horrendous and bizarre attacks in the Middle-Belt. These things are being under-reported by both the local and international media. Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigerian President, his institutions of state and his APC government, have been neglectful and appear willfully ignorant of the dynamics that are playing out in this area.

This address is to, help the Government, the International Community, and the Middle-Belters, to understand how we have arrived at this unfortunate destination and how to move forward to a better tomorrow. The moment calls for statecraft, leadership and intellectual responsibility, to avoid the escalation to more bloodshed and the hardening of attitudes that can lead to the total collapse of the nation when different ethnic nationalities take up arms against each other and against the federal government.

A dangerous impression is gaining ground of a vast and grand conspiracy by the Hausa Fulani to overrun the Middle Belt and take over their land. Retired generals, influential politicians, intellectuals and state governments have articulated this position. The spokes-organization for the Fulani Herdsmen, Miyetti Allah Hore, has escalated the killings, and aggravated tempers with blustering rhetoric. Certain Fulani leaders and public office holders, not excluding Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, have displayed blind partisanship and loyalty to the herdsmen, yet it must be emphasized that the majority of peace-loving Hausa-Fulani Muslims, are totally averse at what is happening in the Middle-Belt region. The Middle-Belt is devoid of basic levels of human security needed in a functioning democracy and republic. This is worrisome, because, chaos spreads and without solving the Middle-Belt crises, Nigeria is heading to its debacle.

 

DEFINING THE MIDDLE-BELT

 

The Middle-Belt is a complex idea, a concept, a geographical construction, a demographic expression, and even an ideological formation. The term Middle-Belt evokes passions, and in whatever way and contexts the Middle Belt of Nigeria is mentioned or described it is deeply disconcerting and disrupting.  In his famous book My Life, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, described the agitations for a Middle Belt region as “Embarrassing”. He describes the Middle belt  as:

 

“ A long slice of country running along both sides of river Niger and Benue, with extension to cover Plateau and southern Zaria”.

He found reference to the “so called Middle-Belt” “embarrassing” and described them as “rivers people”, and dismissed the Middle Belt Movement as “nothing” and concluded that:

It must never be forgotten that almost the whole region as it is today and a great deal outside it, was ruled by my great-great grandfather’s family or by the great Shehu’s of Borno; the only important exception is the Tiv area south of the River Benue River.(Sir Ahmadu Bello 215-216)

The Middle-Belt Forum defines itself “as a socio-political group in Nigeria that promotes the interests of the people of the Middle-Belt.”

The late President of the Middle-Belt forum Dr. Bala Takaya defines the Middle-belt as a trapped nation of autochthonous nationalities surreptitiously tucked under the canopy of a North that was controlled by the Hausa- Fulani oligarchy. In his illuminating acceptance speech as the Middle-Belt Forum president, delivered on 30th November 2017, Takaya pointed out that the origin of the pains of the Middle belt were:

“ through subterfuge and illegalities followed by a succession of nefarious statecraft since the advent of the Danfodio dispensation in 1804; and that is the situation to date.”

Dr. Takaya succeeds to distance Islam and Shehu Usman Danfodio, as the key traducers and authors of Middle-Belt misfortunes. According to him,

 

“ The call to Jihad by Fulani cleric, Usman Danfodio, was however seen and interpreted by the migrant Fulani herdsmen as a call for Fulani insurrection against their native host rulers”

Takaya absolves Usman Danfodio, saying,

“ Thus to be fair to Sheikh Usman Danfodio the action of his emirs within the Middle Belt represented pure rebellion against him and apostasy of the faith”.

 Amb. Dan Suleiman Chairman the Elders Council of the Middle-Belt Forum defines the Middle-Belt as a people of Nigeria who are:

“ Grossly marginalized and have become an endangered species on the brink of extinction and cultural annihilation.”

Another diplomat Ambassador Yahaya Kwande, denies the existence of the Middle Belt and questions the validity of a Middle Belt as a geographical reality and asks “where are the boundaries of the Middle Belt from the rest of the North? ” He prefers the name Central Nigeria, a political nomenclature established under General Sani Abacha, comprising, Plateau, Nassarawa, Benue, Kogi, and Kwara states.

Senator Jonah Jang, former military Governor of Benue and Gongola states and twice elected governor of Plateau State, defines the Middle Belt as the states of:

“ Southern Kebbi, Southern Kaduna, Southern Borno, Southern Bauchi, Southern Gombe, Adamawa, Taraba, Benue, Nassarawa, Kogi, The FCT, Kwara and Niger”

The former Governor of Plateau State, and former Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Solomon Lar, describes the Middle Belt in geographical and political terms and says,

The geographical Middle Belt is distinct from and smaller than the political Middle Belt. The political Middle Belt encompasses all the marginalized minority groups in Northern Nigeria. These are the nationalities that have historically resisted feudalism, political oppression, injustice, religious discrimination and economic emasculation of the suffering masses.”

 We can see the problem of defining the Middle-Belt emerging.  Prof. Yusuf Turaki, states the dilemma of the Middle- Belt identity as:

“ The Hausa, Fulani and Kanuri have their ethnicity and land well defined and they do Nigerian politics based upon their own self-understanding of who they are ethnically, territorially, religiously and culturally”.

We can see the definitional pitfalls that confront us in this Middle –Belt project. The Middle-Belt definition is not explicit in ethnic, geographic, nor religious terms. Within the geographical area of the Middle Belt states, there is a mix of Hausa Fulani and other ethnic groups that have lived together in ages. Many ethnic groups within the geographic Middle –Belt are Hausa like. Their first language is Hausa, they are Muslims, and are costumed in Hausa dresses, yet they are Nupe, Igala, Gbagye, Tangale, Berom, Chamba or Tarok.  In fact certain people even see the Hausa ethnic group as non-existent and merely a linguistic expression. Prof. Mahdi Adamu describes the Hausa ethnic group as “ an assimilating ethnic entity and the Hausa language as a colonizing one”.  The Middle Belt identity is today fluid and contradictory. The Chairman Middle Belt Forum, Dan Suleiman compounds the problem when he calls Atiku Abubakar, a northern hegemonic Fulani, and beneficiary of political Hausa Fulani identity, as Middle –Belter. Abubakar the Vice-president, wallowing in his Middle-Beltness, accepts the identity and in turn warns the Middle-Belters against infiltrators!!  Historically most of those that waged Jihads against Northern minorities were northern minorities themselves. In Tivland, the first imposed Chief of Makurdi, was a Nupe, Audu Dan Afoda, who had assimilated himself as Hausa- Fulani and was considered by the British as a befitting Chief over the republican Tiv, who were administered by Councils of elders, for eleven years!

 

From all the above analysis, the term Middle-Belt means to me, all the diverse, heterogeneous, minority ethnic groups of Nigeria, stretching without defining borders across the country. This definition had always been at the heart of previous and ongoing agitations for the restructuring of a Nigeria that is built on social justice and the celebration of our diversity and our multi-cultural reality. All those who suffer in Nigeria on the basis of religion, ethnicity, class, age, and sex and are profiled and denigrated and made to be hewers of wood and are discriminated against are in my mind the Middle-Belters. The Middle Belter is symbolizing of slavery, exploitation, sacrifice, stigmatization and denigration.

 

HOW THE BRITISH INDIRECT RULE HURT NORTHERN MINORITIES.

 The British laid the foundation of the myth that has continued to define the Middle-Belt in the minds of the successive administrations as a place for pagans where chaos was inevitable. The British defined the Middle-belt, as the other. This other is neither Hausa nor Fulani. According to Femi Vaughan,

The British colonial structures re-enforced the dominance of a Hausa identity as a ‘‘Northern’’ concept in doing so strengthening the divide between Hausa and Fulani peoples of the North and the non-Muslim peoples of the south and creating the middle-belt as a new political reality”.

Lord Lugard, the Governor General of Nigeria and previous Lt. General of Northern Nigeria was a pure social Darwinist racist! It was from racist lens that he invented a racist contraption called Indirect Rule with which he ruled the North, and then Nigeria and then his political/administrative invention (Indirect Rule) became the popular export to the rest of the British Empire. He cannot escape culpability in establishing racism, tribalism, nepotism and present genocide in the Middle-Belt. The British and other colonialists had an overriding interest which was to boost their economy at the expense of the colonized. Colonialism inflicted on the Middle-Belt, institutions of plunder, cruelty, exploitation, despotism and ethnic subservience, which were given to their colonial and sub-colonial partners, the Hausa Fulani and their agents.

The British instituted tribalism by making cultural difference the metric for administration and public policy. The earlier British explorers and later colonists were influenced by the so-called scientific invention of Social Darwinism, with which they cast the claddings of a Hausa-Fulani-superiority over the ethnic groups of the Middle Belt accentuating their non-personality, as merely pagans. It is this same Social Darwinism that made slavery justifiable by the West.

It was lady Lugard, the infamous Flora Shaw, who gave the name Nigeria, and the name Middle Belt.  She also helped to establish social Darwinist prejudice against the people of the Middle Belt when she stated:

‘‘The ruling class of the Fulani are deserving in everyway of the name of the cultivated gentlemen. We seem to be in the presence of one of the facts of history, that there are races which are born to conquer and others to persists under their conquest.’’

Flora Shaw and Lord Lugard, invented indirect rule in Nigeria and popularized it in the British Empire. They bear responsibility for influencing the Hutu-Tutsi genocide in Rwanda as well as spawning apartheid in South Africa, where Lugard’s intellectual mentees; Louis Botha, Jan Smuts and J.B.M. Hertzog used Northern Nigeria’s indirect rule to invent apartheid. The effects of the British Indirect rule are felt as far as Australia, the Aborigines of Australia’s Adeliade region became objects of insidious racist experiments in the 20thcentury.

Indirect rule favored the Fulani in Nigeria in the colonial Nigeria. Today the colonial policies of the British have been fully resurrected by the APC government of Muhammadu Buhari to hand over land to the Fulani at all costs. The lives of the people of Middle Belters are less important than that of a cow. These right wing ethnic cleansers in government have avidly and tenaciously clung to this absurd racist superiority of the Fulani. The single most impoertant agenda is to provide land for the Fulani at the expense of the people of the Middle Belt. The attempt by Buharis government for the federal government to acquire ranches in the middle Belt and to control corridors of land along the river Benue and Niger is to complete the take over of Middle Belt territories through public deception and propaganda while the Fulani herdsmen are pillaging the Middle Belt areas  invoking the British colonial cattle routes as the Fulani entitlement to the plunder of farms and territories of the Middle-Belt in the 21st century. The present government of Muhammadu Buhari, has exacerbated the Fulani terrorist wars in the Middle Belt into actual ethnic cleansing while selling a dummy to the International Community that there is a clash between farmers and herders. The government security agents look the other way as sustained campaigns of slaughter, torture and barbarism.

As the rest of the world appears engaged elsewhere while evil reigns in the Middle Belt of Nigeria, the Buhari government is manufacturing and internalizing acceptance of Fulani ethnic superiority with massive numbers of dead and tortured bodies, burnt homes, farms and food stores. The Buhari government has succeeded in re-creating in the Middle Belt; societies affected by terror and panic, collectively intimidated and generalized fear. The rest of the nation has become numb robbed of its humanity and ability to be outraged by extreme forms of perversity and barbarity of an internal colonization being perpetrated by an invidious Nazi statecraft.  Nigeria’s internalized acceptance of this perfidy as the new norm is not just a sign of state collapse it is the sign of a people who are willing take on its body any number of lashes because they are brain dead.

The Fulani racial superiority which was non-existent before the British came was formalized by Lord Lugard who saw in the lighter skinned Fulani race, a specifically ordained superiority over other ethnic groups and their Islam as a better form of religion than those practiced in the Middle-Belt which were labeled ‘‘pagan’’. Lord Lugard as Governor General of Nigeria, had instructed the colonial political officers:

‘‘To rule indirectly through native chiefs and in the north maintain strengthen and educate the Fulani and Kanuri ruling races so that the regeneration of Nigeria may be through its own governing class and its own indigenous institution’’

The British gave the Sokoto Caliphate a blank check and placed at the disposal of the Fulani theocratic institutions the resources of the British Empire and order to enslave the people of Middle-Belt.  The Fulani were ecstatic with this British blunder and folly; for having routed the Sokoto Caliphate, in 1903 with one hand, the British handed back to it more than they had ever achieved in conquest, the entire Middle-Belt. The Caliphate exultantly embraced the British as partners.  As imperial citizens, Mohammed, Sultan Mohammed Bello Usman Dan Fodios’ son told Hugh Clapperton.

“I will give the king of England a place on the coast to build a town-God has given me all the land of the infidels’’.

Post jihadist Northern Nigeria inherited a process of homogenization and the construction of Hausa-Fulani imperial citizenry and identity. Hausaization process acquired additional valence and cost little in pragmatic considerations. The British set out to enthrone the Fulani as the superior race, and they and the Hausa-Fulani, considered the autochthonous Hausa-Fulani nationalities of the Middle-Belt, the Nupes, Jukuns, Igala, the Sukur, Hoba, Berom, Tangale, Bwate, Tiv, Idoma, Kuteb, Bajju, Gbagyi, Jaba or Lunguda and several hundreds as barbarians and pagans. The racism with which the whites created to enslave Africa was now transferred to the internal colonizers the Fulani. The Caliphate Hausa formation became a hegemon and the Middle-Belt the subordinate other.

 

The Tiv, the largest of the minority ethnic groups in the Middle Belt were not spared the racist profiling. They had organized themselves as a republic that was governed by the council of elders and practiced a democracy that was in many ways comparable to Athenians democracy and had earlier defeated both the British and Fulani Jihadists. Baikie, the British explorer, described them as crude warmongers and rapists.

The British created in their image a “white” ruling class, the Fulani and gave them a false consciousness as a superior ruling race.

The British also pitted one minority ethnic group against the other. Such was the case against the Tiv who had lived at peace with their Jukun neighbours in the Benue valley for millennia, the Tiv as farmers and the Jukun as fishermen. On arrival to the scene, the British began to subjugate the Tiv under the Jukun authority in a social engineering process that had no precedence and which was to lead to years of acrimony, and later ethnic crises that took Tiv and Jukun Leaders in 2001-2002 to finally resolve to end the conflict, even though there is still simmering discontent.

 

THE DEVELOPMENT OF A MIDDLE-BELT CONSCIOUSNESS

 

Having examined the booby traps of defining who is a Middle-Belter without much success I have come to a conclusion that it is less important to describe any body as Middle –Belter, than as having Middle-Belt Consciousness. There is no questioning the present reality of the Middle-Belt as the abode of genocide now. This is how it has been for hundreds of years. The Middle-Belt was referred to in the 19th Century as the abode of war, ( Dar-al-harb) by the Sokoto Caliphate, while the Caliphate referred to itself as the abode of Islam, ( Dar-al Islam).

 

I define Middle-Belt Consciousness, as the awareness of the minorities of northern Nigeria that they belong to a subordinate group; that they have suffered wrong for centuries as a group and still suffer this wrong, which is not natural but politically determined by majority group politics; that they must join with other minorities in Nigeria to eliminate these wrongs, injustices and exclusions; and finally that they must and can provide an alternate vision of re-organizing Nigeria in such a way that the minorities and majorities can all enjoy autonomy, inclusivity, self-determination and participation in sharing in nation building and the benefits of the land

To have a Middle-Belt Consciousness is to have evidentiary and observatory credence about the Middle Belt issues and happenings and then to respond by doing something positive about it.  Many of our Middle-Belt leaders are playing possum dead when it comes to the issues that have affected the region for fear of offending the traducers who hold the power of defining what is a political issue or not. Others are in blissful ignorance enjoying the corrupt spoils of  personal escapes into selfish self-enrichment and corruption while the rest of the society decays and dies. There are two types of Nigerian politicians today: the Middle-Belt Conscious, and the Middle-Belt Unconscious. The Middle Belt Conscious, (MBC) are those who have have an understanding of the great calamities of the Midddle –Belt over the years and are willing to do some thing about the state of man’s inhumanity to man in Nigeria. The conscious fight for; human, economic, distributive, and social rights of Middle Belters. The Middle-Belt Unconscious, (MBU) are those who react as if nothing unusual is happening to the people of the Middle-Belt, and go back to sleep and slumber, or react by blame avoidance, heaping blame on the other- ethnic or religious entities, and then watch escalation while reaping from the chaos. We are all in one of the categories, and the Buhari administration fits neatly in the Middle Belt unconscious category.

 

The 1960 and 1963 constitution that made Nigeria a federation and a republic, were revolutionary. This is because a republic gives the citizens supreme power and a federation ensures that federal power is devolved to its federating units so that the citizens can rule and be ruled. Nigeria is not a monarchy nor a theocracy but a participatory democracy.

 

The choice of a federation and republic was designed by the founding fathers as a political architecture to contain the pronounced ethnic, cultural and religious diversity. This architecture, according to Sonni Tyoden (2015) was expected to contain:

 

“ the likelihood of conflict arising from ethno regional and religious diversity and provide a critical platform for all groups to develop an adequate sense of inclusion in the mainstream socio-economic and political processes of the country”

 

The Middle Belt Consciousness is the struggle of the people for full citizenship rights within this republic and this federation.  The fate of ethnic minorities in this country and the slave classes of Nigeria: the peasants farmers, herders and fishermen, from Zamfara and Ganye to Bayelsa deserve pity as Nigeria’s economy is widening the gap between the poor and the rich and bringing untold hardship amongst the poor. Middle-Belt Conscious politicians create space even for the Cattle Fulani Bororo class, the Usu of Igboland, and other forms of virulent caste systems and excluded ethnicities from Akwa-Ibom, Osun and Oyo states.  The wealth of this country has been stolen by a small parasitic elite, who are oblivious of the suffering of the masses and if the members of this group shout Middle-Belt a thousand times, they are the enemy-be they Hausa-Fulani, Berom, Jarawa, Bachama, Sura  or Tiv.

 

We shall now see how we have acquired the Middle-Belt Consciousness and the Middle-Belt Unconsciousness. Abuja, Lagos, Kano and Ibadan are flaunting what the ordinary people cannot afford and living lives that are larger than life and gargantuan. The poor rural farmers, herdsmen and fishermen live like animals. If we are awake, aware, and are willing to do some thing then we have a social conscience and consciousness.

 

The idea that you must be a member of the aristocratic Hausa-Fulani oligarchy to matter and that birth and privilege were ethnically and religiously determined, and more important than merit or democracy is to have a negative consciousness. It is this negative consciousness that progressive Hausa-Fulani, and the people of the Middle Belt have been fighting against since independence. In the words of Aminu Kano, “Nigeria is doomed if the pernicious system of bloodthirsty, barbarous, obsolescent Fulani rule is pursued”.Aminu Kano a Fulani himself, was referring to a decadent Fulani aristocracy, that had perpetuated itself as the main centre of power in Northern Nigeria and which seems prepared, going by recent incessant Fulani Militia attacks, to further assert itself by insisting on certain feudal structures of class dominance, clientage, religion, intimidation and now even ethnic cleansing in the Middle Belt. It is the same system that Saad Zungur, Bala Usman, Baralabe Musa, and Haroun Adamu and a host of others have fought against and many Hausa Fulani intellectuals and politicians are fighting against today. These are modern day liberation fighters like William Wilberforce, an English legislator, who advocated for the end of the Trans Atlantic slave trade by his people the British.

THE CONVERGENCE OF MIDDLE CONSCIOUSNESS AND FIGHT FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

Social Injustice exists in a society where individuals and group expect and receive fair treatment and an impartial share and equal distribution of benefits and goods. It exist when there is equality and individuals and groups are not subjected to constraints and prejudices to their welfare on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic circumstances political affiliation or location. The Northern minorities in Nigeria are probably the most abused human groups of the world. Even before colonialism these minorities suffered from slave trade that plundered Africa of its human resources. The Middle-Belt provided slaves for the Hausa-Fulani slave traders who sold them as slaves to Arabs who carried them across the Sahara to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and India. These slaves contributed to harems, royal households and armies of host countries. In 1900, when the British colonized Nigeria, ostensibly to put a stop to the slave trade they outsourced to the Hausa Fulani Sokoto Caliphate, to also rule all minorities of the north. In the British and Hausa Fulani imagination these minorities were pagans, unruly uncivilized and incapable of ruling themselves. The minorities were a colony within a colony.

 

Between 1929-39 during the World’s Great Depression, the Middle Belt, a colony within the colony, was subjected to a second slavery situation. They were expected to bail out the British from the harsh reality of the economic depression. With a decimated population from the scourge of slave trade the Middle Belt was further impoverished. They were torn away from their subsistence farming and incorporated into the mainstream of uncertain and volatile world commodities market to farm cotton, groundnuts and benniseeds and palm products. The products were then sold to British companies who bought them cheaply so that they could pay taxes to the British who used the emirate systems in unprecedented revenue drives that were intrusive, repressive and brutal. These revenue drives caused food shortages and famines that resulted in malnutrition and death that further devastated the people of the Middle-Belt.

 

When the 1st and 2nd World Wars broke up in 1914 -1918 and 1939-1945 the youth of the Middle-Belt were again drafted to fight for the British regiments. The Middle-Belt in addition, provided the British and their allies with manpower to mine tin on the Jos, Plateau for use in armament. Tin was the most strategic product at the time. The unsanitary conditions of the Tin mines and the forced labor that it entailed led to many deaths in the mines.  What was even worse was the cancer related deaths of thousands of Middle-Belt youth in the mines. A large area of Gboko was reserved as cemetery for those Tiv that were returned too sick from the mines. These die and were buried at the “Anpo” cemetery. Apart from the forced productions of cash crops repressive tax drives and hazardous forced mining labor the Middle-Belt were drafted to lay the North-South railway gauges. Several thousands died in constructing the bridges over the River Benue and River Niger that connect the North and Southern Nigeria. These were the burdens borne by the Middle-Belters as they groped for citizenship of the country.

 

While all these were going on, the struggle for social justice was awakened, by public-spirited men of conscience, even among the British colonialists. Sir Lord Lugard’s indirect rule by proxy was challenged by Sir Donald Cameron who became the governor of the North that.

 

“The sacred North a land apart, suspended in place and time which held up development in the region and kept it in an exotic backwater attractive to the British protectors but administratively inefficient corrupt and insensitive to the need if its people especially the non-muslims’’

The early missionaries began to see the plight of the Middle-Belters and even beofre the amalgamation a german missionary Karl Kumm, suggested the creation of Middle-Belt region to give the minorities of the north, a non-Muslim and non-Hausa Fulani leadership. A British journalist Mr. E.D Mirel suggested the creation of a state for pagan minorities of the north!

In 1920, the National Youth Movement merged as the radical centrifuge of anti-colonial agitations and these agitations led to the Lyletton Constitution that laid the foundation of a federation of three regions that divided the country into the Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo power blocks leaving the minorities of the north, the middle-belt as pawns in the power equation of Nigeria. And because the Northern minorities began to express their powerless in the face of the ethicized electoral politics, the Henry Willinck Commission of 1956 was set to establish the genuineness or otherwise of these fears. But the Willinck Commission did not address the issues of the northern minorities. They instead recommended the inclusion of a bill of rights in the constitution and to set up a special commission to address the peculiar problem of the Niger Delta minorities, the minorities of Benin and Calabar. In the North, they merely recommended the establishing of a regional police and the protection of the northern non-Muslim minorities.

 

The fight for social justice in the Middle-Belt was aimed at the rejection of the Caliphate’s system over the Middle-Belt areas. Since the 1940’s the people of the Middle-Belt demanded that their non-Islamic chiefdom’s he separated from control by Fulani rulers, these include the Chank, Bacham, Adama, Lere Southern Bauchi, Zangon Kataf. The struggle for social justice for minorities of the Middle-Belt has taken several dimensions since June1960. The Middle-Belt movement was a political movement and then a party agitating for a separate Middle-Belt region. The heroes of this movement were  spread across the northern minorities. They were Moses Nyam Rwang (Berom) Pastor David Lot (Sura) John Asadugu (Bachama) Azi Anyako (Jarawa) Isaac Kpum. (Tiv) Gayus Gilama (Bachama) Patrick Dokotri (Berom) Secretary of the United Middle-Belt Congress. They were under the leadership of J.S Tarka. Tarka expanded the  Middle-Belt consciousness to include the Borno area, where the Borno Youth movement was also protesting the corrosive effects of the Caliphate system on the socio-political order of the Borno peoples.  In the 1964 election, Alhaji Ibrahim Imam, a non-Tiv, and a Muslim was brought to contest the Northern House of Assembly seat in the Jemgbagh constituency and won overwhelmingly over a Tiv politician Mr. Chia Surma! Tarka by his action had broadened the concept of the Middle-Belt to be any person, or group that is targeted for injustice! Little wonder that Abubakar Rimi refers to Tarka as “ One of the most charismatic leaders Northerners and Nigeria has ever produced’’ (Mnega;39) The struggle for social justice for Middle-Belt did not exclude the Fulanis. Alhaji Aminu, a Fulani and Muslim, fought the Caliphate system till his death.

 

The Hausa and Fulani saw him as the emancipator of the ordinary citizens from the vicious autocratic rule of the Caliphate where autocracy was promoted as a birthright over meritocracy and democracy. Both Aminu Kano’s NEPU and J.S. Tarka led UMBC were constantly on collusion course with Sardauna, Ahmadu Bello’s NPC. Both the NEPU and UMBC were socialist parties. During the 1964 general elections, the NEPU and UMBC and fused into the Northern Progressive Front to become the first progressive party that was class based and not ethnic based in Nigeria.

Both Tarka and Aminu Kano resisted the Sardauna led NPC party for using intimidation techniques using cultural, traditional and religious forms. Both of them were in separate locations jailed for “verbal abuse” of the Sardauna and thousands of their supporters were arrested and jailed after hasty trials in kangaroo courts! It was this coalition that weakened the control of the NPC at both the Federal and Regional levels that made the coup of 1966 possible and the initial toppling of the NPC government received with overwhelming ovation.

So many have interpreted the counter-coup against the Ironsi regime in ethnic terms and an anti- Igbo coup. This is a mis-reading of the events. Aguiyi Ironsi did not understand the class structure of the coup as a revolutionary counter-measure against an oppressive Caliphate superstructure that was stifling and oppressive. It was when he attempted to hand over controls of his government’s brain-box to the caliphate that he was toppled. Rather than enlist Aminu Kano and J. S. Tarka who were the wind of change in the north, Ironsi had dissipated the tremendous surge of popular united support and created chaotic regional and ethnic relations and his own death, at the hands of radical northern soldiers the night he was consulting with 24 Emirs and Chiefs in Ibadan. The mutinying Middle-Belt soldiers drafted Col. Yakubu Gowon as Head of State. Yakubu Gowon avoided the Ironsi debacle and established a broad-based consultations process. Both Aminu Kano and J. S. Tarka were o-opted by the Northern Regional Governor, General Hassan Katsina, to pacify the North and Middle-belt. It was Yakubu Gowon that finally began to dismantle the unjust Caliphate architecture by abrogating the obnoxious Emirate courts and incorporating the entire legal system of the North into the state structure. Yakubu Gowon must be acknowledged as Nigerian’s first, federalist, nationalist leader. He united the country that was at the brink of breakup! He was charismatic, conciliatory, decisive and firm yet humble and servant like. He not only reformed the judiciary, he transferred prison and police authority from the Emirate system to the Federal government. He dealt a fatal blow to feudalism and hegemonic autocracy.

 

Throughout the military and the post-military Nigeria, the Middle-Belt, has been a recurrent phenomena of the national question. All the constitutional conferences have dwelt significantly on the national question and issues of social justice of who gets what, where and when? The 1979 and 1983 elections that were won by the NPN was largely seen as the victory of the pan-Nigerian and minority politics led by Tarka and Aper Aku who was leader of the Minorities. It was the first time Nigeria’s political parties were not organized on the basis of Hausa Fulani-Yoruba or Igbo parties. In the 1979 election, A northern minority leadership of Alhaji Mahmud Waziri, successfully founded and led the NPP before it was usurped by the Igbo leader, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe even then, Paul Unongo still remained a strong leader and led the NPP to alliance-accord with the NPN. Such has been the struggle to maintain a Middle-Belt consciousness as a pan-Nigerian consciousness, which is needed for national unity. Let us all be conscious and build an inclusive Nigeria devoid of ethnicity, religious and elite class bigotry.

What can be done?

 Restructuring. There is a massive controversy on restructuring Nigeria. There are definitional and conceptual controversies. There is a leadership school that thinks the trouble with Nigeria rests squarely with leadership (apologies to Chinua Achebe) and the third school, the fascist school, that problem with Nigeria is one of corruption (Muhammadu Buhari.)   The South-West, South-East, and the South-South, have continued to make demands for restructuring as the solution to the national question! The Middle Belt leadership has also come out with demands for restructuring that are compelling as well. Various northern groups and politicians have also joined the now politically correct language- agreeing to restructure! Nigerians all seem to have agreed to restructure now, even though there have been different interpretations about the nature of restructuring that need to be harmonized and discussed. There is need to urgently have a national conversation on this matter and to lay it to rest. The when, the how, and the why, of the re-structure exercise will have significant consequences on the future of Nigeria.

Restructuring has been on going in this country since the British Amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates in 1914. Each of the previous constitutional amendments was a restructuring exercise. In post independence Nigeria, Tafawa Balewa restructured by creating the Mid-Western region in 1963. Aguiyi Ironsi in 1966 restructured by abolishing the federating units with his decree 32 and forming a unitary Republic. Yakubu Gowon created 12 States and abolished the judicial power of the Emirate Councils. He introduced the Universal Free Primary Education and gave 50% derivation payment to oil producing states etc. Murtala Mohammed restructured by creating additional states, while Olusegun Obasanjo formalized the local government as the third tier of government. Buhari-Idiagbon, restructured by introducing the death penalty to drug trafficking (Judicial Restructuring). Almost every regime makes a contribution to restructuring. From past experience, we have seen that if restructuring is not well planned, not well thought of and not participatory enough, it can lead to chaos and the aim becomes counter productive. The regime of General Aguiyi Ironsi is a classical example of a failed restructuring that was dead an arrival.

 

For the Middle-Belt, we need an economic restructuring to be adequately, valued for all the labour of slavery and injustices we have suffered. We need a special Marshall plan for our people to combat pervasive poverty. We need greater security, and will benefit from Local government policing under the elected local government councils. We need to have a cultural restructuring with our chieftaincy institutions strengthened to enhance our diversity.

We need to have the British and the Allies pay compensation for the tin they took away and the environmental disaster left in the Jos Plateau and the many youth killed during the mining of tin in unsafe environments, during the First and Second World War. This was a price too much to pay and too much to be passively tolerated nor ignored.

We need to strengthen governance in the Middle-Belt states so that the politicians do not become predators and usurpers of our independence and freedoms enjoyed since Gowon created states from the four regions

We need to develop in our institutions of learning, focus studies about Middle-Belt’s historical contributions towards a better world at the global and local levels. We need to bring greater peace and harmony among Middle-Belters so that the region will no longer be the “abode of war”. We need to preserve our historical monuments that highlight our condition in historical perspectives.

 

The Middle-Belt must guide against ethnic rivalries that make our communities unsafe, crises ridden and insecure. Middle-Belt leaders must not seek to dominate each other but work in harmony to evolve alternative strategies to re-integrate the Middle-Belt into a more equitable socio-economic accommodation in Nigeria.

The Middle-Beltans much deny leadership to greedy and self-centered individuals desiring political leadership in our governments and legislative houses. We must guard against poor managers of our resources who create disenchantment among the citizens and give rise to the rule of warlords, Fulani herdsmen and criminal bandits that hold the citizens captive knowing that government presence was too far away to save them from poverty, destitution and hopelessness. The Middle-Belters must seek for a political concession from Nigeria for the election of a Middle-Belt presidency in 2019 just like the Nigerian collective conscience elected Obasanjo as concession for the cancellation of the June 12thelections and Goodluck Jonathan was elected to appease the resource control injustices meted to the South-South. It is now the time to pay back the Northern minorities, Middle Belt, for all the sacrifices they made to make Nigeria, Nigeria. We need a Middle Beltan, (Northern Minority) as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria now to bind the nations federating units, ethnic and cultural diversities together. Until this is done there will be the inevitability of instability and chaos in   Nigeria.

The Buhari regime has heightened suspicions among the rest of the nation that the Hausa-Fulani is not just an ethnic group but a hegemonic class and entity with a ferocious appetite in competing for scarce resources shared with the people of Middle Belt. The ethnic cleansing that is evident in areas of Middle Belt representing the minorities of the North, is reprehensible odious and condemnable. The people of the Middle Belt, other minorities and the rest of the nation must be awake and alert to forestall the likelihood of another “Rwanda genocide” experience. In doing, this we must be responsible nation builders and must fight for an inclusive democracy where diversity and multiculturalism is promoted against ethnic and religious bigotry. The Buhari regime has earned our just condemnation and disgust. The Hausa Fulani our neighbors, brothers, sisters and cousins must join us to find the best form of government that works best for all Nigerians.

 

Prof. Iyorwuese Hagher, Presidential Aspirant, Social Democratic Party(SDP) delevered this paper at  the  Middle Belt Forum Conference   held recently in Makurdi.

 

 

 

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