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The Marginalization of the Middle-Belters: Myth or Reality?

by Dr. Jock Matthew Agai, South Africa

A Middle-Belter is not necessarily a Muslim or a Christian or a pagan, neither is he/she an atheist that originates from the Central region of Nigeria or from what is reluctantly referred to as North-Central by the Middle-Belters.

He or she is not a tribal or a religious bigot or jingoist. Instead, a Middle-Belter is an indigenous person that originates from the geographical domain, which comprises of the entire central region of Nigeria, in addition to ideologically-inheriting the course of the Middle-Belter.

The course of the Middle-Belter is the quest for equality among its people and the desire to resist any form of cultural, economic, political, social and religious exploitation and control by non-Middle-Belters.

The Uthman dan-Fodio jihadic conquest, which started since 1804, was fiercely resisted by the course of the Middle-Belters. During the period of colonialism, in the 1900s, the Middle-Belters resisted the control of the Hausa/Fulani over them by urging the British Parliament to create an autonomous region for the indigenous peoples of the Middle-Belt.

In particular, the traditional leaders of the Baju and the Atyap of Southern Kaduna and those of the Kilba and the Lungudu of Adamawa protested to the colonial masters on the need for them to have autonomy from the Northerners or from Hausa/Fulani dictatorial tendencies.

The Middle-Belt region comprises of Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa, Kwara, Kogi; and it extends towards Southern Gombe, Southern Yobe, Southern Kebbi, Southern Bauchi, Southern Borno, Southern Adamawa, Southern Kaduna and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja.

The dictatorial control of the Middle-Belt had continued from the 1800s through the early and late 1900s. Joseph Saruwuan Tarka and others, tired of Hausa/Fulani dominancy started a political party – the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) – which became the third largest political party in the then Northern Nigeria Assembly until its alliance with the Action Group of Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1958.

Prominent names that stood for the autonomy of the Middle-Belt include Solomon D. Lar, David Lot, Patrick Dokotri, S. Orode, S. Shaagu and many others.

In addition, General Zamani Lekwot said that the Middle-Belt region would have been created in 1963 but was stopped by the Hausa/Fulanis that regarded the Middle-Belt as their political toy. While coups are unconstitutional, General Odumegwu Ojukwu’s coup of 1966 and Major Gideon Orka’s bloodiest takeover of power in April, 1990, are all insinuated to have been motivated by the dictatorial control and the born to rule ideologies propagated by the Northerners.

The North often uses political positions or appointments to lure the Middle-Belters against their quest for autonomy. Various Middle-Belters have been given several appointments in Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and Northern Governors Forum (AGF) as baits.

On this subject, Solomon Lar refused to align with the ACF on the basis of holding-on to the integrity of the Middle-Belters. At the invite of Major General Abdullahi Shelleng asking the Middle-Belters to join the ACF on 9 August, 2001, Joshua Dariye, a former governor of Plateau State, said he would not want to be marginalized; instead, he remained a Middle-Belter. Jonah Jang also noted that, the Middle-Belters should not be forced into a marriage with the Northerners; thus, Middle-Belters should remain Middle-Belters.

In 2002, former president of the Middle-Belt Forum (MBF), Air Commodore Dan Sulaiman, blamed the far northern Nigerian politicians for most of the ethno-religious crisis in the Middle-Belt.

In March, 2005, the leader of the MDF called for the restructuring of Nigeria’s six geo-political zones to eight in which the Middle-Belt will be recognized as the Middle-Belt.

In 2008, the former President of the MDF, Mr. Isaac Shaahu, called on governors of the Middle-Belt to create a regional body called the “Middle Belt Governors Forum” (MDGF) and, in 2009, Pius Attah, the president of MDF, called for a constitutional amendment where each state will control its resources with 75% remittances to the Federal Government, in order to check the parasitic dependence of North on other resources from other parts of Nigeria.

The ‘Geo-political Zones of the Federation Bill 2020’ was sponsored by Honorable Kpam Sokpo, a PDP Federal House of Representative member from Benue, and he called for the constitutional renaming of the ‘North Central’ region to the ‘Middle Belt.’ Unfortunately, his cry went on deaf ears.

The many years of cordial and unfriendly engagements between the Hausa/ Fulani Northerners and the Middle-Belters suggest that the quest for the Middle-Belters to break-way from the Caliphate control is due to total marginalization in-terms of resource control, employment and political appointments opportunities, religious dominancy, land grasp and many more perpetrated by the Hausa/Fulanis against the Middle-Belters.

Historically, the heroes and heroines that continually fought for the autonomy of the Middle-Belt suffered intense marginalization, which prompted their responses for independence from Hausa/Fulani dominancy; thus, to them, marginalization was a reality.  

History reveals that, the antagonistic relationships that exist today between the Middle-Belters and the Northerners that claimed to have ‘conquered’ the Middle-Belt region through the jihadic activities of Uthman dan-Fodio can no more be kept under the carpet.

Since 1804 and 1900s, the Middle-Belters have never been impressed by the domineering control orchestrated by the Northerners and, particularly, the Fulani people. The time to pretend that the North is one entity, which comprises of the Middle-Belt in addition to the North, is over. The marginalization and the struggle for the autonomy of the Middle-Belt is a reality.

Dr. Jock Matthew Agai is former President, Plateau Indigenes in South Africa (PISA).

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