The Nigeria National Conference: Whither Cultural Middle-Belt?

Being text of a Paper delivered by D.I.G. Potter L. Dabup (retd), National Chairman of the Middle-Belt Progressive Movement, at the Middle-Belt Nationalities Conference held at Jos, on Saturday, 9th June, 2001.

There is a Nigerian value-system, which equates acquiescence or subservience with righteousness. When a person either by reason or ignorance or for selfish ends compromises the interest of his religion or ethnic nation for personal gains, he/she is tagged a detribalized Nigerian by the beneficiaries of his/her compromise.

Yet, whenever the same person stands up to demand for the rights of his people or defend them in any way, his erstwhile admirers would be the first to denounce him as a tribalist and/or a trouble-maker. The irony is that most of the Nigerians, who were once hailed as ‘detribalized’ died by the hands of the same people, who are never ashamed to give them posthumous honour. May the souls of J.S. Tarka, Ken Saro-Wiwa and Chief M.K.O. Abiola rest in peace, Amen.

Going by this value-system, the multitude gathered here, today, are here as ‘tribalists’ and ‘trouble-makers’ even if the object of our gathering is the political peace of Nigeria. However, we thank God and the Centre for Constitutional Governance (CCG) for bringing together, the hundreds of ethnic nationalities of the Middle-Belt for the purpose of discussing our common problems with a view to forging a common position and enhance understanding among us.

Whoever is looking for trouble, I am delighted to warn such people that ‘trouble’ is himself here, today, and they will have plenty of him. Permit me to unveil Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti as our Director of ‘Trouble.’ A distinguished medical doctor and a foremost human rights activist and freedom fighter, Dr. Ransome-Kuti is the Director of the Centre for Constitutional Governance, the group that makes this conference possible. Please, let’s give him a round of applause!

The Trouble With Us

Nigeria as a country came into being without Nigerians knowing anything about it. The British colonial administrators coupled the country together as if the land consisted of inanimate objects. We were not asked nor were we allowed to say if we would like to come together as one people in one country to be governed by one law under one system.

Since the amalgamation in 1914, Nigeria cannot be said to have known peace or progress enough to have integrated into one nation. The recurring trouble or question is the inequity in the blocks with which the foundation was laid. The first three Regions were such that one was about twice the size of the other two put together!

In the defunct Northern Region, where the people of central Nigeria were lumped, it was the Hausa/Fulani, who held sway, while the people of the cultural Middle-Belt were subsumed under them. Thus, it came to be wrongly assumed that the North was monolithic where everyone was a Moslem and a Hausa/Fulani.

The people, party and government in power did much to give this impression through various acts of discrimination against non-Muslims and non-Hausa/Fulani. We must here and now puncture a myth designed to give honour to dishonor and turn lie into truth. And this is to assert that by the spirit of regionalism prevalent in pre-Independence Nigeria, and up to the first coup in 1966, appointments and promotions in the then Northern Nigeria were obtained in several ways:

  • The policy of Northernisation ensured that people of the ‘North,” no matter their tribe or religion, were appointed into vacant positions in public service. Naturally, the Middle-Belters benefitted from this policy by right and merit and not by favour of any individual as wrongly imputed to the Sardauna of Sokoto and Premier of defunct Northern Region.
  • ‘Northernisation’ was synonymous with Islamization as Muslims were favoured where found qualified, and this promoted many non-Moslems to convert to Islam, in order to obtain appointments or promotions.
  • Converts to Islam were encouraged to discard their own language and tribe, to adopt Hausa as their language. Even at this, they were rated third-class, coming after the members of the Hausa/Fulani ruling aristocracy, and the ordinary Hausa/Fulani people.

The people of the cultural Middle-Belt Region were forced to go through this system and were discriminated against by reason of their ethnic nationalities, their culture and religion and the land of their birth. Our languages were deemed inferior, and the few that were allowed to broadcast in the First Republic were expunged around 1976 to give way to Hausa and Fulani only.

The military regimes, beginning from Ironsi and, especially Murtala/Obasanjo/Yar’Adua regimes and right up to Abdulsalam’s regime, completed the woes of our people. Whatever good that happened to us as a people between 1967 and 1999 took place by chance and not as a deliberate policy.

With due sense of humility, I make bold to say that the people of the Middle-Belt Region together with the South-West fought the Civil War caused largely by the then ruling Hausa/Fulani clique to Keep Nigeria One. It is regrettable, however, that we as a Middle-Belt people never knew the reason for that war except the propaganda we were fed with. It is more regrettable that the Hausa/Fulani, who caused the war and did not fight in the war, reaped most of the benefits of its outcome.

However, we must give credit to those, who deserve it. For if, in spite of the superior Western Education of the people of the Middle-Belt Region, we could be so subservient as to be used and dumped by the Hausa/Fulani; if they could use our own hands to slap our faces for so long a time, then they must possess some attributes, which we lack. And we must now begin to learn and acquire necessary attributes, which will make it impossible for any group again to use us against ourselves.

While I don’t want to bore you with details of discrimination, deprivation and malpractices from which we suffered and with which we are all familiar, emphasis must be laid on this point: and it is that, the acts of states creation by the various military regimes between 1976 and 1996 dismembered the geo-cultural central Nigeria and destroyed the heterogeneous and contiguous nature of the people of land of the Middle-Belt.

The Obasanjo/Yar’Adua, Babangida and Abacha regimes were the tools used to achieve this balkanization of the cultural Middle-Belt. Looking at today’s civil regime, the sad pictures, which stares one in the face, are the disciplines of the same Obasanjo/Yar’Adua, Babangida and Abacha, who are (s)elected by General Abubakar Abdulsalam in 1999. As it is said, ‘a servant cannot be greater than his master.’ To expect the civil government of Chief Obasanjo to set the Middle-Belt free is to expect a miracle from the wrong source!

The Way Forward

The political structure and system engineered by the military governments are fashioned along the pattern of military High Command structure – which is why they introduced the Presidential system, which as practiced is akin to the military structure.

We now know and must acknowledge the fact that Nigeria cannot continue to operate a Unitary System of government for the benefit of the self-anointed few, while pretending to run a Federal System. No amount of patchwork can make the 1999 Constitution an acceptable document. It has to be thrown away for Nigeria to make progress.

We, in the Middle-Belt Movement, which is a liberation, having studied the political structure put in place by the military in the last 25 years and the 1999 Constitution, believe that there are too many distortions, both in the states and local government councils as presently constituted, and in the Presidential system of government being operated, and we therefore firmly recommend as follows:

  • We reject the 1999 Constitution as anti-people set of laws and believe that it cannot be amended to suit the multi-ethnic, multi-national and multi-religious country such as Nigeria;
  • We recommend a new Constitution to be made by the people of Nigeria with each ethnic nation or group participating on equal basis, regardless of their numerical strength.
  • There should, therefore, be an Ethnic Nationalities Conference at which fundamental restructuring of the country and her Constitution be agreed upon.
  • The present 36 States structure must give way to eight autonomous regions, which may then create their own states or provinces and local councils as may be necessary and desired by the Regions.
  • The Regions as proposed are: South-West Region, Mid-West Region, South-East Region, South-South Region, Upper Middle-Belt Region, Lower Middle-Belt Region, North-East Region and North-West Region.
  • In the case of Central Nigeria known as the Middle-Belt, it shall be based on our map, and will consist of the following existing states and parts of other states as stated hereunder:

THE TWO MIDDLE-BELT REGIONS IN AN 8-REGION STRUCTURE:

Upper Middle-Belt

  1. Niger State
  2. Plateau State
  3. Gombe State
  4. Adamawa State
  5. Southern part of Borno State
  6. Southern part of Yobe State
  7. Eastern part of Bauchi State
  8. Southern part of Kaduna State
  9. Southern part of Kebbi State.

Lower Middle-Belt

  1. Kwara State
  2. Kogi State
  3. FCT Abuja
  4. Nasawara State
  5. Benue State
  6. Taraba State.
  • The Presidential system is too pro-military, too costly and too corrupt and over-monetized and, therefore, a drain on the economy, apart from being a winner-takes-all system. It should be replaced with the Parliamentary System such as presently practiced in India and some other countries.
  • Along with the eight regional structures, the boundary between the North and the Middle-Belt must be adjusted such that the people of the cultural Middle-Belt now in states such as Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Kaduna and Kebbi States are reintegrated with the Upper Middle-Belt Region with which they are both contiguous and also heterogeneous.
  • A true Federal System of government, both in letters and in spirit, must be put in place of the current Unitary System. This is to say that each ethnic nationality in any region is deemed autonomous to the extent of being a local council, a province or state within her own region and depending on its numerical strength and territorial spread; the relationship between each tier of government being that of co-ordinate rather than a subordinate one.
  • Resource control and physical security are the pillars on which the true Federal System of government must be constructed. Each region must control its resources and police its territory in line with the principles of democracy as expressed through self-determination and fundamental human rights. The Union, or Central Government, may be paid a 40% tax on mineral resources and maintain a compact Police Force to enforce Union laws.

Our Heritage

The Middle-Belt Progressive Movement recognizes the fact that we have hundreds of ethnic nationalities in the Middle-Belt and, therefore, there will be divergent views and approaches to the question of future of the region.

The opportunity offered by this Conference of Middle-Belt Nationalities must be used to forge common goals, one voice and united actions to achieve our objectives. We know that the Middle-Belt Region consists of small groups of ethnic nationalities whose common heritage is the land of central Nigeria. We regard other ethnic groups in the region as fellow Nigerians and settlers for who we have high regards.

However, we are no longer ready to trade away our rights or are we interested in colluding with anyone to cheat others of their rights.

We are interested in dialogue, such as this conference offered, to exchange views with the Federal Government of Nigeria on the ways and means of enthroning equity and justice out of which peace may emanate. In the same vein, we abhor and reject monologue and would not listen to empty preachment from any quarters again. We have had enough of the beneficiaries of the present decadent system talking down on us.

In the Middle-Belt Region, we are multi-religious and do not subscribe to one religion only. We are determined to maintain the healthy relationship obtained among the faiths practiced in the Region. We have been victims of insensitive and ungodly religious hegemony in the defunct Northern Region, and we are determined not to repeat it in the federal structure of our dream.

Those whose industry is religious piety and rituals with bitterness towards others may continue in their evil practice. In our own Middle-Belt Region, we recognize Christianity, Islam and Animism, and we leave the judgment to God as to which is the right religion. We have appointed no one to judge as to the right path to God or heaven. Any intruder in the religious affairs of our great region will regret it eternally.

If the powers-that-be fail to heed our demand for the restructure of Nigeria through an Ethnic Nationalities Conference, they should be blamed if their selfishness turns into a Somalia, a Rwanda or Czechoslovakia, etc.

We are resolved to achieve our goals through means, which may be fair and/or unfair, which may be palatable or unpalatable, which may be peaceful or otherwise. We are ready to take appropriate cue from the Federal Government.

My fellow Middle-Belters and our friends in the Centre for Constitutional Governance, I thank you for the privilege granted me to speak. We in the Middle-Belt Progressive Movement believe the sage, who said that “education makes people easy to lead but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.” We have been enslaved for too long by the oblique political structure and dubious administrative system of Nigeria.

We shall, from now, not only make it impossible but suicidal for anyone to attempt to enslave us. We believe Margaret Mead and urge our oppressors and whoever constitute their internal collaborators in the Middle-Belt Region to believe her to ‘never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Thank you for listening.

 

 

 

 

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