Too Late To Oppose Middle Belt


A member of the House of Representatives from Benue state, Hon. Kpam Sokpo, recently kicked a storm of controversy when he introduced a bill that sought to rename the North-central zone as the Middle Belt. The bill not only failed to acknowledge the historical antecedents that have underscored dialectics behind agitations to free Northern ethnic minorities from the yoke of oppression, but also exhibited a debilitating incapacity in understanding the ever-changing undercurrents involved in stifling freedom for minorities.
There have been arguments amongst analysts as to whether ethnic minorities in the defunct Northern Region are indeed in the minority. Those opposed to the minority tag are quick to defend their position by contending that since the total population figures of ethnic nationalities in the North are estimated to be over 41 million, it then becomes a misnomer to describe these ethnic nationalities as being minority in status, when compared with the Hausa/Fulani ethnic group that is far less in number but in control of the power pedals.
In the game of power equation, a majority status of an ethnic group does not automatically bestow on it the privilege of determining where the power pendulum swings to within a political system. When a small ethnic nationality is able to evolve a sophisticated system and deploy the same to control levers of power, then such a minor group assumes the majority status in determining the fate of others.
The birth of the Middle Zone League (MZL) in the 1940s by Pastor David Obadiah Lot was to basically emancipate Northern ethnic minorities from the agonizing servitude in the hands of the ruling Northern caliphate as symbolised by the emergence of the scion of the Othman Dan Fodio and Sardaunan Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, as the political leader of the region. Pastor Lot would later team up with Chief Joseph Tarka to form the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC). In a bid to eliminate division and unite for a common cause of defending the North, the then Chief of Kagoro, Chief Gwamna Awan, had pressured Lot to support the Sardauna as “we are their younger brothers, while they are our senior brothers.”
If the First Republic witnessed the laying of a solid foundation for dominance by Northern oligarchs, the military regimes that followed provided rock-hard blocks to enthrone the Northern ruling elite, comprises mainly oligarchs from the caliphate, as the unquestionable political leaders of the region. Nearly 60 years after independence, the many victims of the iniquities of the Nigerian state still insist that the cause for justice cannot be served without unshackling the throttle-holds of oppression ripping across the North.
Since the struggle for the Middle Belt identity is founded on justice and freedom for oppressed people, it may sound too simplistic to swallow hook line, and sinker any thesis that sees the Hausa-Fulani ethnic group as the slave masters and ethnic minorities as victims. Just as there are Hausa-Fulani people committed to the freedom of minorities, there are also ethnic minorities that are too willing to sell their parents in order to gain entrance into the hall of power.
The Middle Belt concept is both geographical and ideological as the areas consist of the core states of Benue, Plateau, Taraba, Kogi, Niger, Nasarawa, Kwara, Adamawa and the Federal capital Territory (FCT). Southern Bauchi, Gombe, Borno, Kaduna, Kebbi and Yobe are also part of the Middle Belt zone. Though the controversy of what areas constitute the Middle Belt may continue to rage for a long time, one thing that is common to the Middle Belt peoples is they were never conquered by the 1804 Jihad, but were forcefully brought under the caliphate rulership by the British colonial powers. The Middle Belt identity draws stimulation from the historical legacies of awe-inspiring civilizations linked to Egypt and Pharaohs. The Nok culture and the Kwararafa Kingdom as presently epitomised by the legendary exploits of Aku Uka of Jukun land whose forebears resisted Fulani invasions and ruled Kano and many parts of Hausa land for more than 200 years before the Jihad of 1804.
Those opposed to efforts championed by Middle belt advocates to create a separate identity for the region have never rested on their oars to cast mud and deploy religion to cause division. Unknown to these worrywarts of the Middle Belt cause, the current National President of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Dr Pogu Bitrus, with the active support of both Muslims and Christians that are members of his executives, has remained inexorably committed to rallying forces to ensure the liberation of ethnic minorities.
The champions of the Middle Belt struggle are in sync with other socio-cultural groups in Southern Nigeria to restructure the country and help enthrone an equitable system for all citizens. Leaders of ethnic minorities are not in the trenches to re-enact the discriminatory practices of the vicious ruling cabal of the North that is hiding under the garb of religion to divide the North, advocates of freedom for ethnic nationalities in the defunct Northern Region are irreversibly dedicated to the enthronement of a new order that is committed to engendering a level-playing ground for all, irrespective of ethnic, religious and political boundary.
Having deployed the subtle use of religion to exploit our fault lines and keep us permanently divided, the Northern ruling class has perfected a gambit of dis-empowering ethnic minorities through divide-and-rule scheme, confiscation of ancestral lands belonging to ethnic nationalities through grazing reserves and reserving juicy government appointments for only those that can serve its interests. From Benue to Taraba, Adamawa to Kogi, the swords of killer herdsmen are on the prowl and leaving behind trails of human carnage and destruction of property.
Indeed, the cabal’s vicious efforts at controlling the levers of power are presently yielding fruits, as no fewer than 44 villages in Plateau state have been conquered and presently being occupied by invaders. In Kaduna state, no fewer than 73,000 hectares of land have been seized in the name of Ladugga Grazing Reserve, with no form of compensation paid to the land owners. The ruling cabal’s bald-faced insolence as shown in its open discriminatory practices of appointing only persons of particular faith in the North is a clear indication of reducing minorities as second class citizens.
For those opposed to the Middle struggle, their opposition is coming too late in the day. Unlike the Northern ruling elite that discriminates on the basis of religion, leaders of the Middle Belt are concerned with inclusiveness and not exclusiveness. In a modern nation building, the cause of justice can best be served when all groups in a federation are treated equitably and justly for development.
Having borne the unity of a nation at great cost to their lives, the peoples of the Middle Belt cannot sit idly and watch Nigeria slog to the precipice. Leaders and the peoples of the Middle Belt will never let go of the opportunity to build a new nation that is dedicated to the protection of human dignity through equality before the law and devoid of discriminatory practices.

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