By Obadiah Mailafia
Last week a bill was presented to the House of Representatives, entitled “Geo-political Zones of the Federation Bill 2020”. It was sponsored by Kpam Sokpo (PDP, Benue). It aims essentially to enshrine the Six Geopolitical Zones in our Constitution, with “North Central” being renamed “Middle Belt”.
The Six Geopolitical Zones were first proposed by the late Chief Alex Ekwueme and were accepted by the Abacha junta for the purpose of allocating positions and preferments by the Federal Government. They were an arbitrary creation, in the sense that the area that forms the core Middle Belt was designated as “North Central”. This means that the Old North was left intact for purposes of administrative reference. All sorts of abuses and discriminatory practices have been visited upon us under an Apartheid North.
The Middle Belt is both a geographical expression as well as a political identity. It is also a state of mind. Like the English constitution, the Middle Belt exists in the hearts and minds of the Middle Belt peoples. Everyone that feels and knows he or she is Middle Belter, such a one belongs to the Middle Belt. A Middle Belter is anyone who was historically never defeated by the Fulani Jihad. We are who we are because we were never defeated by the Fulani Jihad.
A Middle Belter is also anyone who does not subscribe to Caliphate ideology and the hegemony of the Fulani-dominated emirate system. Thirdly, a Middle Belter is anyone in the former North who does not wish to live under Sharia. The Middle Belt geographically encapsulates the area normally referred to as “North Central”. But it is much more than that. It extends from Southern Borno to Southern Adamawa, Southern Bauchi, Southern Gombe, Southern Yobe, Southern Kaduna and Southern Kebbi.
The peoples of the Middle Belt are also defined by history. We had one of the greatest civilisations that ever flourished in ancient Africa, namely: the Nok civilisation that was older than Benin and older than Ile-Ife. From what we know of its artefacts, the people had spiritual and cultural linkages to the Egypt of the Pharaohs. The successor to the ancient Nok culture was the great Kwararafa Kingdom that is today symbolised by the Aku Uka of Jukun land. The Kwararafa ruled Kano and many parts of Hausa land for more than 200 years. The small size of their population did not allow them to impose their hegemony over their conquered subjects. But their historical role is one of the pillars in the construction of modern Middle Belt identity politics.
The area comprising the Middle Belt today has a landmass of 300,000 square km, with an estimated population of 40 million peoples. It is the largest of any region, with the most fertile farmlands and the highest endowments in terms of minerals and natural resources. The Middle Belt is an ethnic federation of over a hundred ethnic communities. We are a tolerant and accommodating people. Our moral conscience is shaped by Christianity and the humane traditions of ancient Africa.
The struggle of the Middle Belt peoples did not start yesterday. As a matter of fact, it goes as far back as the 1900s. The subject of the creation of a Middle Belt region for the non-Muslim populations of the North was heavily debated in the British Parliament. Journalists and intellectuals and experts on colonial administration strongly urged the Colonial Office in London to consider creating an autonomous region for the non-Muslim peoples. Missionaries like Dr. Karl Kumm of the old Sudan United Mission also made strong submissions for that cause. The tribal chiefs from the Kilba, the Lunguda in Adamawa and the Baju and Atyap in Southern Kaduna also made strong representations to the colonial overlords to create a Middle Belt region.
The Willink Minority Commission 1957 advocated creation of an autonomous region for the Middle Belt, but the matter was unfortunately overtaken by geopolitics. The British considered it to be in their long-term strategic interest to ensure that the North would remain the dominant region and would continue to rule in perpetuity. Dame Margery Perham, a leading authority on colonial administration, described it as “tripod”, which was programmed to fail. One of the laws of federalist theory is that none of the federating units should be large enough to threaten the others. The British clearly sowed the seeds of catastrophe which has continued to haunt our country to this day.
The fathers of the modern Middle Belt struggle are well known. They include Rev. David Lot, J. S. Tarka, Patrick Dokotri, J. D. Gomwalk, Solomon Daushep Lar, Dan Suleiman and the late Bala Takaya, among several others. The millions of Middle Belt youths today are demanding a separate identity for themselves. They are tired of being lumped together as part of a monstrous behemoth called the North. We do not want to be associated with the Almajiri system, Emirate feudalism, begging, Sharia, poverty, mindless divorce and broken families, Global jihad, child marriage and vaginal Vesico-fistula, VVF; Boko Haram, genocidal herdsmen, oppression and violence. The Middle Belt sacrificed more than anyone else to keep this country together.
We are the bridge that links North and South. Without the Middle Belt, Nigeria would not exist. The greatest regret of our people is that General Yakubu Gowon used our conscripted youths to fight against the fledgling republic of Biafra. Most of them had never seen a rainforest terrain before. They were mowed down like grass. Never again will the Middle Belt ever allow itself to be used in that way. Over the last decade, the Middle Belt Forum has been engaged in dialogue with Afenifere of Yoruba land, PANDEF of the South-South and Ohaeneze Ndigbo of the East. We have discovered our common destiny.
We are working together to build a New Nigeria with a new constitution and a re-engineered federation in which all our communities will have a fair and equal voice. We are resolved never to be part of the Old North, where our people are daily being killed, maimed and raped. During this lockdown alone, hundreds of innocent people – children, women, the elderly – have been killed by marauding bandits in Southern Kaduna, Plateau and Benue.
Boko Haram has targeted Christian communities in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. More than 3,000 churches have been destroyed and more than 400 clergy have been martyred. Their trade mark is beheading, disembowelment of expectant mothers, hacking of infants, rape and forced marriages of under-age girls. There are more than three million internally displaced persons in Nigeria today as a consequence.
We are not hostile to Islam or Muslims. We have our own indigenous Muslims with whom we live in peace and harmony. We want good rapport with the North, but never accept the status of dhimmi second-class citizens in the land of our ancestors. After almost 60 years of feudal injustice, structural violence and oppression, we demand self-determination within a New Nigeria.
In July 2018, the Middle Belt peoples held a Summit in Makurdi, Benue State. The famous Makurdi Declaration that ensued sets out our principles, goals and vision for our people and for the New Nigeria of our dream. That clarion call to freedom rang throughout the world. Its essence is a rejection of the fraud underpinning the 1999 Constitution. It begins with: “We, the people”.
But that is a capital LIE! That fraudulent contraption was designed and handed-over to us by a military dictatorship without the full consent of our people. It is therefore, ipso facto, bereft of moral legitimacy. We demand nothing less than a new constitution with a referendum that ensures that all the peoples of Nigeria decide which region they will belong to, without fear or favour.
We also take strong exception to the gerrymandering of the structure of our federation in such a manner that favors some while short-changing others. We envision a two-tier federation, with federating units of no more than five Regions :North, Middle Belt, West, East and South-South. Each Region will be free to create its own municipal councils as it deems fit. We envisage Regions that shall be economically and financially viable; able to meet their basic obligations in terms of operating elected government, civil service and local police. Ever since Aristotle, a system of checks and balances exists in constitutional government because men are not angels.
The presidential system and our current fraudulent federalism have proven to be a monstrous Leviathan that sucks the blood of our people. The Middle Belt stands for a decentralized parliamentary system that devolves more powers to the people and allows them to participate in the governance process that shapes their lives and the future of their children. Freedom beckons, and we shall not wait!