Reflection On The Image, Character & Identity Of The Middle-Belt

(Being a Paper delivered by Sam Onimisi, Editor-in-Chief of the “New Vision” magazine, on the occasion of a Grand Reception in honour of Senator Jack Tiley Gyado, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Kaduna Refinery & Petro-Chemicals Ltd., by the Middle-Belt Forum of NNPC Kaduna Zone, on Saturday, 7th July, 2001)

INTRODUCTION

Honour, in normal circumstances and situations, is bestowed only on those, who deserve it. People all over the world give great respect to those, who are distinguished by their achievements or, who are in authority over a group of people or establishment. Therefore, honour means great respect and high public regard.

What is taking place right now is a public acknowledgment of the Chairman and Members of the Board of KPRC by a group of people, who are honourable enough to know how to honour their leaders. This gathering, therefore, consists of men and women of honour, who know and deserve appreciation.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, what is honour if devoid of image? Can there be honour without character? If character is the substance of the person, then, that person must possess an identity, which distinguishes him or her from others.

(A) – Image:  The Middle-Belt Region of Nigeria is akin to a person or the shape of a person, who stands erect and can be seen from the head to the toes. Between the head and toes, there is a mid-way – a centre, which is the middle of the person, an intersection. The waist is generally known to be the middle or centre of an erect person.

That waist where the belt is placed depicts the position of the people of Central Nigeria aptly called the Middle-Belt. No one and nothing can wish away the waist of a person if that person is to remain a living being. In other words, Nigeria as a country is held together by her waist – the Middle-Belt; and Nigeria cannot remain one country without the Middle-Belt.

Traditionally, a load no matter its weight is carried on the head, which relies on the waist, to carry both the head and the feet to its destination. The trunk of a tree is an important part of it and, so, Nigeria cannot be or remain as she is without the Middle-Belt. A people or place with an image must have a character. What is the character or characteristics of the Middle-Belt?

(B) – Character:  The people of Central Nigeria, beginning from the borders of Benin Republic on the west to the boundary of Cameroon and Nigeria to the east, possess the same characteristics, more or less. They share similar climatic condition of tropical Savannah, which is interspersed by uplands, broad valleys and plateaux. They are great farmers, great warriors and generate great harmony around them. They work hard, enjoy well and are proud of the works of their hands and the products of their lands. They built kingdoms and empires such as the old Kwararrafa Empire and developed cultures such as the Nok culture.

The people of the Middle-Belt were never conquered by any invading racial or religious force because they were always in alliance even in spite of their various autonomous kingdoms and chiefdoms – until the British conquest, which overran what is known today as Nigeria.

Over the years, they have been shaped together through shared culture, mental and/or moral qualities and strength and socio-political experience – all of which gave them a distinct character different from other people in Nigeria.

(C) – Identity:  Arbitrary division of Nigeria into two, i.e., North and South, makes no sense and makes nonsense of the various ethnic nationalities, which make up the South or the North. There is no art or science by which one can divide Nigeria vertically or horizontally into equal halves and, yet, do justice to the image and character of the component nationalities. This is because the numerous ethnic groups of the Middle-Belt have grown over the years to be a homogeneous group in image, character and identity.

The Middle-Belt consists of small-group ethnic nationalities whose languages share many similarities deriving from their shared culture, common origin and co-habitation. These factors made the various religious faiths – Animism, Christianity and Islam to be at home and in harmony in the Middle-Belt.

There is a growing awareness in the Region that Nigeria, as it presently constituted, has little or no respect for small ethnic nations. Many such groups have become endangered species by reason of discriminative measures and actions of the powers-that-be. The realization that in the face of political onslaught against any one group, the whole small ethnic groups run the risk of being trampled upon, gives impetus to the people of Central Nigeria to seek, maintain and project a common socio-political and cultural identity in a region of their own.

Why the Middle-Belt?  The Middle-Belt Region as a political concept became inevitable when existing structures and system appeared to be programmed in favour of a section of Nigeria. The region is needed, in order to accelerate the pace of development.

The very purpose of breaking Nigeria into political units is to enable each unit to grow and develop at its own pace without hindrance. Starting with the so-called Southern and Northern Protectorates, the country became one in 1914 by the whims of Britain through Lord Lugard. In 1946, three regions were created and it became four by 1964. Ever since, we have had a twelve-state structure in 1967, nineteen states in 1976, twenty-one states in 1987, thirty states in 1991 and thirty-six states in 1996, respectively.

When the twelve-state structure was created in 1967, the regional structure gave way and, so, there was nothing like Northern, Western or Eastern region again. Only a few individuals want to live in the past by identifying themselves as ‘northerners,’ ‘westerners’ or ‘easterners.’ However, the Constitutional Conference of 1995 gave birth to what is known today as six geo-political zones. The architects of this political engineering committed very grave mistake by their pretension that Central Nigeria does not exist.

Given the political history of Nigeria vis-à-vis the struggles of the people of Central Nigeria to have a region of their own – a struggle, which started over 50 years ago, it is a great harm to the political health of Nigeria to dismember the Middle-Belt and parcel them into a so-called North-West, North Central and North East Zones.

In 1967, Kaduna was the capital of the then North Central State. Today, in the year 2001, the same Kaduna is now in North West Zone. It is either that the town is a mobile one that can shift base at will or that the designation is a product of political greed engineered to cheat a particular people or, better still, that the architects of the zoning formula as it affects Central Nigeria were suffering from schizophrenia!

We in the Middle-Belt, especially in the Progressive Movement, reject the “Jekyll and Hyde” identity foisted on us without our consent and approval. (Jekyll and Hyde is a single person with two personalities). Our objectives and focus are to keep Nigeria united as one country as much as possible. In order to do so, we as people of Central Nigeria must have a base of our own, which we have always identified and called the Middle-Belt Region.

In this vein, we call for the restructuring of Nigeria into eight geo-politicalones, with the Middle-Belt Region having two zones. Thus, instead of the six zones structure, there should be an eight-zone structure. Why? Because Nigeria is made up of about three hundred ethnic nationalities, which were forced together in 1914. Having been together for 87 years, our experience has shown that we remain still, a country of many nationalities. We remain without the character of one nation and, therefore, we continue to suffer war, riots, setbacks and threats of war, arising from our twisted structure and mangled system of administration.

Basis of Peace:  It is a desirable objective to seek peace so as to have stability both in the structure and the system. Nigerians seem to have been working for peace only through empty and deceitful slogans. We have abused those three words: peace, unity and stability. We have not shown by action that we know what peace means. There is no indication that we understand the underlie of unity.

We do not show by conduct, utterances and action that we value stability. Most often than not, the person shouting peace and stability is the one most guilty of subversive activities destabilizing the peace of the country. Those yelling “unity” are the very ones, who are busy sowing the seeds of disunity and fanning the embers of mutiny and disintegration.

If the Middle-Belt must continue to work for the unity of Nigeria, Northerners and Southerners must respect our uniqueness. They must have regard for our image, for our character, and respect our identity. They must acknowledge our contributions, our sacrifice and toils and appreciate our legitimate desire for autonomy and self-determination.

Equity:  When we talk of separate identity, autonomy or self-determination in the Middle-Belt, some people, who are either ignorant or are mischief makers or both often say that we want to divide Nigeria. Let it be known that the people of the Middle-Belt, before and now, do not want Nigeria to break.

After all, the bulk of the millions of soldiers and people, who shed their blood to Keep Nigeria One and united, in 1967 to 1970, were Middle-Belters. Most of the victims of misguided religious riots and wars in Northern Nigeria were Middle-Belters. Many of the victims of the religious-cum ethnic reprisals of the East were Middle-Belters.

In the political chess game as played by the Big Three (Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo) in Nigeria, the Middle-Belt and Southern minorities were the perennial losers. Even in the current political dispensation, bona fide Middle-Belters were cheated out of their electoral victories. The Federal Executive Council has been reshuffled thrice so far. Most of the casualties of the power game are Middle-Belters.

Most of the industries in the Middle-Belt sponsored by the Federal Government are either sabotaged or mismanaged and are now comatose. Examples are, Ajaokuta Steel Company; National Iron Ore Mining Company, Itakpe; Nigerian Mining Corporation, Jos; Federal Phosphate Fertilizer Company, Kaduna; the Benue Cement Company, Gboko, etc. (We are praying that the Kaduna Refinery & Petrochemical Company will not join the list; at least not after this Grand Reception in honor of the Directors). In matters of state creation and local government councils, the Middle-Belt suffered the worst inequity, especially in the 1976, 1987, 1991 and 1996 exercise.

It is recalled (as it shall be recalled, if necessary) that, of the 13 provinces in the defunct Northern Region in 1961, seven were of Middle-Belt region; it dawns on us quite poignantly, that state creation exercises were used to dismember and destroy the potential power and real strength of Central Nigeria in favour of the North.

Today, the North comprises of ten states plus parts of Middle-Belt donated to them as against nine of the MB. The ethno-religious riots as recorded in Plateau, Nasarawa, Bauchi, Kaduna and Taraba States are traceable to the imbalance in state creation and boundary adjustments of the last 25 years.

Demand:  Having suffered so much discrimination in the region into which we were dumped; having paid such a great price for the unity of Nigeria; having made such a huge sacrifice for the peace of the nations of Nigeria, it is time to begin to ask – how much of sacrifice, of price and pain do we have to make to keep Nigeria together? Perhaps, the question to ask is: is it reasonable to expend more energy on the project called Nigerian unity?

Ladies and Gentlemen, if in 1967 “to Keep Nigeria One is(was) a task that must be done,” in the year of our Lord 2001 and beyond, to Keep Nigeria One, the Middle-Belt must be free! There should be one Middle-Belt Region with two zones!! Then, we can Go On With One Nigeria!!!

If Nigeria remains as it is, there is no hope for equity and justice and, so, peace and stability remains a mirage. No one should expect the people of Middle-Belt to defend a Nigeria where they are dehumanized, deprived and cheated. The people of the Middle-Belt are not willing to fight for/or against any region of Nigeria like in the past. The people can no longer underwrite the cost of keeping Nigeria one. Can you continue to milk a cow without feeding her? The cow will collapse and die, and all you may have is some beef in the pot of soup and no more milk!

Contemporary World:  Is it now time for all Nigerians to WORK for the unity of the country rather than shouting “peace” and “unity” in the abstract? The Nigerian structure, as personified by the National Assembly, is a veritable source and cause of instability and disunity. We are not talking of the persons of the members of the House. We are not even referring to the quality of the members. We are talking about the inequity in the number. We are referring to the basis of the constituencies – the basis of the constituencies being the states and local councils, which are most disproportionate in terms of regional and ethnic equilibrium.

What this means is that, the National Assembly, which ordinarily is expected to reform or restructure Nigeria by constitutional amendments, cannot do so. Why not? Because, as it is presently composed, the Assembly will vote and legislate in favour of the iniquitous status quo. Since members, who represent favoured regions or zones, are not expected to vote against themselves or their interests, restructuring of Nigeria may not be achieved through the National Assembly of 1999 to 2003.

Be that as it may, those, who want to keep Nigeria together by force and without equity, will do well to look backward and see far ahead. No force of arms has been able to keep any country together. It is the power of reciprocal respect and equity that have succeeded in keeping countries together.

  1. The Communist Soviet Union (USSR) collapsed some ten years ago, in spite of the rigid and regimented structure and system they nurtured for about 80 years, and despite their advancement in science and technology!
  2. Denmark was one country, which later broke into three, i.e., Sweden, Norway and Denmark!
  3. Yugoslavia was held together by rigid autocratic system. Old man Josef Tito helped to keep it as one as a father-figure. Today, where is Yugoslavia? It is broken into several independent countries.
  4. Through force of arms, Mengistu Haile Mariam kept Ethiopia under his jackboot. Today, Ethiopia is broken into Eritrea and Ethiopia.
  5. Somalia cannot be described as one country any more, not when you add the Republic of Somaliland and watch the many warring factions in Mogadishu.

Is it not foolish to continue to wish Nigeria to remain indissoluble and indivisible without corresponding efforts to make it so? Is Nigeria more dear to God than these countries that were dissolved?

Anywhere democratic change is resisted, what they get is revolutionary change, and Nigeria cannot be an exception. That, there must be change in political matters, structures and systems, only fools will contend. In fact, it is for the refusal to change, which keeps Nigeria in instability. All the changes that ever took place were retrogressive or half-hearted.

  1. At independence, Gold-Coast changed her colonial name to Ghana in 1958.
  2. Dahomey changed her name to Benin Republic.
  3. Côte d’Ivoire was known as Ivory Coast.
  4. Even Rhodesia, which gained independence in 1980, changed her name to Zimbabwe.
  5. Nigeria, named by Lady Lugard, cleaved to the colonial name as if docility is a virtue.

No one is asking for change for the sake of it. But if a system or structure has proved unprofitable, then, change is imminent and even inevitable.

The peace in docility is only temporary. No one can move a mountain, until when there is a volcanic eruption. The graveyard is very stable because there are no living beings to disturb its stability. The theory that we have too many ethnic groups and, so must be merged, is a failed theory.

  1. In the Middle-East and East Asia, we have very small but independent countries like Kuwait, Qatar, Lebanon, Cyprus, Nepal and Bhutan.
  2. We have Estonia and Latvia near the Baltic Sea.
  3. In our own West Africa, we have Togo, Guinea-Bissau and the Gambia.

Compared to Nigeria, some of these countries are mere dots in the map and may be equal to three or five local councils only. Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, let us remind ourselves of an African proverb, which says that: “everyone reserves the right to be stupid; but some people disabuse the privilege.”

Where there is bad image, it stems from flawed character and which cannot produce fruits worthy of honour. The Middle-Belt region is blessed with distinguished personalities such as the Special Guest of Honour on this occasion. We have many of them in high places. What the Middle-Belt Forum of the NNPC/KRPC Kaduna Zone have said loud and clear by this Grand Reception is that they forfeit their rights to be stupid and express their privileges to be wise. Only the wise give honour to those, who deserve honour.

Thank you.

 

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