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Who Is A Middle-Belter?

By our Correspondent.

(1)      In a Paper presented and delivered by Barrister Sebastine Hon (now SAN), at a Conference of Movement for the Emancipation of the Middle-Belt, held in Jos on 31st May, – 1st June, 2001, defined the cultural Middle-Belt as, “Before the advent of British Colonial Administration in this country, there were separate, independent and fiercely antagonistic kingdoms, fiefdoms and empires all scattered in the area known today as Nigeria.

The advent of colonialism saw the British engaging these empires and kingdoms in wars of conquest. Expectedly, the British won in all the battlefronts, annexed all the areas and established itself as the Colonial Master.

By the British colonial government Order-In-Council of 1899, which came into force on January 1, 1900, the British Government created the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria covering a total landmass of about 256,000 square metres, lying between 70 and 10 latitudes!

Expressed in other words, the area was to extend from the south of Idah to the upper boundaries of the Sokoto Caliphate, further extending eastwards to the upper boundaries of Bornu Empire, down to the Cameroon/Jato-Aka hills in the present-day South-East and area of Benue State.”

From this geographical definition, therefore, the area today, known as the Middle-Belt, naturally fell into the Northern Protectorate. There was no agreement, consensus, or even consent from either the Middle-Belters or the core northerners to merge them together into one geographical unity called Northern Nigeria. Even the late Sardauna of Sokoto and former Premier of the Region, Sir Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, KBE, admitted that, “Northern Nigeria came into being through the accident of history; also, after reviewing the territorial boundaries of the Sokoto Caliphate as a fall-out of the Islamic Jihad of the 19th Century.”

To back this up, Professor Robert Collins, a colonial health worker said that the Jihad had no substantial effect on the Middle-Belt area. According to him: “It was the British, however, who later, when establishing the Regions of Nigeria, included officially in the Northern Region both the Plateau and the Middle-Belt, e.g., tribes such as the Nupe, Tivs, Igalas, Idomas, and from the Plateau Angas, Birom and Fura.”

The people realized very soon that, by lumping them together with the imperialists Hausa/Fulani, they were to be worse off; hence there were early struggles against the perceived domination. At the beginning, the struggles for emancipation started along tribal lines, but were soon to metamorphose into cross-tribal and cross-cultural implosions.

Those in the struggle included the Birom Tribal Union, the Burrah Tribal Union, the Northern Non-Muslim League (in 1950); the Birom Progressive Union (in 1938), the revived UMBC (1955) at Kafanchan. The Lafia Conference of June 1957 of the UMBC produced Hon. J.S. Tarka as the President-General, while Hon.

Sir Patrick Dokotri was made the Secretary-General. Since then, many groups have sprung up. They include: the Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU), the Middle-Belt Progressive Movement, the Middle-Belt Youth League, Zuru Ethnic Nationality, Gbagyi Development Union, the Middle-Belt Forum and many others too many to mention.

(2)      In the Nigeria Review: Nigeria Lesson … published in The Times (London), June 15th, 1999, by Sir Peter Smithers, he stated: “Sir, during the negotiations for the Independence of Nigeria, the view of Secretary of State at that time, with which I agreed, was that, in Nigeria, we should attempt to put together a large and powerful State with ample material resources, which would play a leading part in the affairs of the continent and of the world.

This was attractive but involved forcing several different ethnic and cultural groups into a single political structure. The negotiations were complex and very difficult, the chief problem as I remember relating, significantly, to the control of the Police and the Military. In the retrospect of 40 years, it is clear that, this was a grave mistake, which has cost many lives and will probably continue to do so.

It would have been better to establish several smaller States in a free-trade area. In exculpation, it must be said that, we did not then have the example of the collapse of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union before our eyes. It should now be clear for all but the willfully blind to see that, it is extremely dangerous to force diverse racial and social entities into a single rigid, political structure such as that which is being built upon the foundation of the Maastricht Treaty.

Recently, history suggests that it would be best to complete the development of the Common Market and to call a halt to political integration in Europe. I am, Sir, your obedient servant, Peter Smithers, Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of State and the Secretary of State in the Colonial Office, 1952-59.”

Peter Smithers was one of the three-man mission, who visited Africa in 1952, to consider the Federal Structure, which it proposed to establish in Africa. He was also a former Secretary to the European Council.

(3)      The fact remains that, the powerful groups in the Colonial Office had their plan to construct Nigeria in a way that would meet their demands. The plot and plan were unknown to many. Smithers admitted that, Britain made a “grave mistake” in making Nigeria a single entity.

(4)      The jihad started in Nigeria, in 1804; it came to an end in about 1830. During that period, the Fulanis, who were in a minority up to this time, had put themselves in position of power and authority over and above the Hausas and other ethnic nationalities and had become tyrannical, extortionate, extremely corrupt and unbearingly oppressive, much more than the indigenous rulers, who were in power before them. They were, and are still, alien, mainly from Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Chad, etc., and yet, the British gave them complete freehand in the administration of the defunct Northern Region. 

The British Armed Forces brought down the inhuman and bloody practices of some of the emirs and chiefs involved, and were replaced with those Fulanis, who pledged loyalty to the British. The Fulani ruling minority in the country, since the jihad, had made themselves the political majority. Their rulership status has extended to the Hausa-States and most of the Christian-dominated areas. This is completely unacceptable.

(5)      During deliberations in the General Conference on Federalism (19th January, 1950, to Saturday 28th February, 1950), the principles upon which Federalism should be placed, KC Wheane reproduced the principles as:-

“In a Federal Constitution, the powers of government are divided between a government for the whole country and governments for parts of the country in such a way that each government is legally independent within its own sphere.

The government for the whole country has its own area of powers and it exercises them without any control from the governments of the constituent parts of the country, and these latter in their turn exercise their powers without being controlled by the central government. In particular, and the legislature of the whole country has limited powers, and the legislatures of the states or provinces have limited powers. Neither is subordinate to the other; both are coordinate.” It was through Sir Peter Smithers that we came to know how the incongruous structure of Nigeria came into being.

What the Middle-Belters think is realistic and possible in the present circumstance; however, it’s just a CONFERENCE OF ETHNIC NATIONALITIES. This is for the purpose of government’s action. Government should as a matter of necessity shoulder the cost of assembling true representatives of every ethnic nationality in Nigeria under one roof. True representative, here, means that, every ethnic group, no matter how small in population, must have a free opportunity to elect its delegates to that Conference.

The ethnic groups should most sincerely be allowed to vent out and discuss their true feelings about the present set-up, their sense of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the system and their felt deprivation, relative to other communities under the present Nigeria State.

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