Middle Belt, Give Me Mary
I received a fax message from a respected reader, Mal. Abdullahi S. Abubakar, who is working in one of the parastatals in Abuja. It was about the recent assertions by some disgruntled elements that the Middle Belt will disengage from the North. After an introduction he said:
“My aim of writing, Dr., is to query you on your obvious silence over such call and brouhaha. We need to hear your own version of the story in your Friday Discourse column. Why are those people calling for the so-called actualization of the dream of the Middle Belters comprising of only ex-this and ex-that? You must voice out now, Dr.”
Friday Discourse can disregard a query from the Editor, but not from any of its readers. So it was an obligation to publish my answer to the query of Mal Abdullahi.
I actually wrote an article on the Middle Belt on Tuesday April 11, titled ‘The Intolerant Middle Belt.” I did not publish it because I later felt that the language was as severe as it was combative. It was written in complete resonance with the style of Middle Belt Forum to achieve what in the game of power is called ‘mirror effect.’ For example, in the introduction I charged that
“apart from Yoruba politicians, it is difficult to find a persistently disenchanted and ungrateful group like some politicians in the Middle Belt.”
This was a bit brusque, far from being neighborly.
But the greatest difficulty I had in that article was defining what constitutes the Middle Belt. You can see from the following:
“It is difficult to arrive at one thing that defines the Middle Belt. Take geography for instance. The area that immediately comes to our memory when Middle Belt is mentioned is Benue, Plateau and Kogi States. This is in consonance with the classification of the 1950s and early 60s. Added to this was the fact that previous agitation for independence of the region was largely championed by people from Benue and Plateau States.
“The recent agitation has expanded the map of the Middle Belt to include states like Kebbi, Niger, Kwara, Kogi, Benue, Kaduna, Nassarawa, Plateau, Taraba, Adamawa, Bauchi and Borno states. How middle could Borno or Kebbi be? This is a crazy geography. They should show us their GCE geography grade.
“Neither could their claim be valid on the basis of ethnicity. For example, one would like to ask: “Which among the hundreds of tribes and ethnic groups of the Middle Belt considers itself marginalized by the Hausa Fulani of the ‘‘core-North’’? Are they the Gwari in Minna, the Hausa in Suleja, the Igbira in Kogi and Kwara, the Nupe in Bidda, the Kanuri in Lafia, or the Fulani in Adamawa? In other words, did the ‘core-North’ marginalized Babangida and Abdulsalami, Jibril Aminu or Haruna Abubakar?
“One is then forced to have a closer look at the identity of these poor geographers. Suddenly, two things will appear. One, they are all retired this or that. Two, they are all Christians. Nothing then is surprising because for long Christianity has been manipulated by many ethnic chauvinists in the Middle Belt and projected as the vehicle of emancipation from the perceived Hausa-Fulani domination. And this is what the present clamor represents. Be a Christian of any tribe or location in the North, you will automatically be qualified to be a Middle Belter.
“This explains the strenuous effort to include areas in as far North as Kebbi and Borno in the political map of the new Middle Belt. It is for the same reason that my cousins in Plateau State or people like Usman Jibrin, Babangida, Jibril Aminu and Hassan Sani Kwantagora will not be considered as Middle Belters. They were neither consulted in the formation of the forum nor invited to its summit.
“If the agitators will on the other hand argue that these personalities are Middle Belters, then they will have a serious problem at hand, the issue of justification. Is the forum then speaking on behalf of the Lamido of Adamawa, the Etsu of Nupe or the Emirs of Zuru, Ilorin, Biu, Lafia, and many others, when it claims to be fighting against Hausa-Fulani of the core-North? When one of them claimed that the Middle Belt is ready to fight the North, was he speaking on behalf of these personalities?
The Bitter Truth
Then I went further, still in the article that I discarded, to tell these so-called Middle Belters the bitter truth that they may not like to hear. This was what I wrote then:
“I wonder why some people, in their effort to gain cheap popularity, would resort to exploiting sentiments rather than reason. They cry about marginalization by the ‘core-North’. Let’s critically examine their claim.
“In economy, with the exception of Kano, which of the ‘core-Northern’ states is better of than Kogi or Benue State? Is it the Hausa-Fulani that caused over eighty percent of the nation’s industries to be located in the southwest?
“In education, no statistics are in support of marginalization. Last year just about 15,000 candidates applied for the JME from the entire North while Ogun State alone had over 45,000 candidates? Doesn’t this indicate that the ‘core-North’ suffers from the same problem as the Middle Belt? In fact the North has every right to allege that the Middle Belt has been given more than its fare share of the resources in the region. John Paden, in Ahmadu Bello, has shown that more than 50% of the scholarships awarded in the defunct northern region under the Sardauna went to Kabba and Benue provinces alone. Even today, of the few northern students admitted into Nigerian universities, the Middle Belt takes the lion share. Take A.B.U. for example. In 1977, 70% of the admissions from the North went to former Kabba and Benue provinces. How could anybody sane enough claim that the ‘core-North’ is marginalizing the middle Belt?
“When we move to politics, one would like to know whether Tafawa Balewa, Gowon, Babangida and Abdulsalami are Hausa Fulani? To crown it all, Sardauna himself was half a Middle Belter.
“But in their quest for emancipation from an imaginary domination, the Middle Belt pressed for the creation of states, which they got in 1967. However, their achievements since then, just like the rest of the North, are nothing to write home about. Babangida even made them governors in states like Bauchi and Katsina. Their performance was woeful. It was a masterpiece in theft and robbery. If they wish we can publish how a state like Bauchi was ravaged by over 15 years of misrule, theft, corruption and so on. One of them even ransacked our local government and robbed some Fulanis of their cattle at gunpoint. In Plateau, the Dangin panel of inquiry only succeeded in revealing that corruption during past regimes was perpetrated by ‘sons of the soil’, not by Hausa-Fulani governors.
“For sometime, the Middle Belt of Benue and Plateau States has tried to extricate itself from the North by going on their own. What has their banks, radio stations and newspapers achieved? Their leaders embezzled funds and mismanaged resources like any other Hausa-Fulani. It is too early to forget that Dan Suleiman was once declared wanted by the Police for failing to settle a huge debt he owes a Middle Belt bank. He run away to UK and claimed to be a democracy activist! We have missed Abacha, a lot. Sai in baka nan ake wata karya..
“What we are saying is that Dan Suleiman and his gang of jobless ex-governors and retired military officers have had enough opportunity to make the Middle Belt and the entire North a better place for all of us. They led independent states and enjoyed absolute power under military dictatorships. Yet, they have little to show. Shifting blame to the Hausa-Fulani that is equally oppressed will not help them.”
The Way Forward
I attempted to discuss a way out of the problem by adding:
“The new clamour for a Middle Belt, separate from the ‘core-North’, is simply an attempt by some people to find a political base for themselves. They feel that calling for a separate region, as they did for states in the late 50s and 60s, will give them an opportunity to capture the presidency, come 2003 or 2007. The Middle Belt is already a zone, the North central Zone, and there is nothing they cannot achieve by that status.
“What they cannot run away from is the fact that the Middle Belt will continue to contend with its acrimony and contradictions – political, ethnic and cultural. No political manipulation of geography even in a new Middle Belt will for example reconcile between the Tiv and the Jukun in Taraba State. It is all déjà vu. We have seen it earlier in the defunct Benue-Plateau and later in the Plateau State before the creation of Nassarawa State. Equally today, we have friction between northern and southern Plateau.”
Despite the above rhapsody, I concluded the discarded article with the following accommodating tone.
“The fact is that God has created us into different nations and tribes. Hatred for others is not enough an ingredient for survival of a people. We all have to stand up and make the world a better place for our children and ourselves. In doing so, our diversity must be seen as an asset, not a liability. We must renounce the few vocalists among us that have nothing to show but sentiments, who would like to once again rise to power not by working for their communities but by exploiting our gullibility and appealing to our primordial sentiments.
“I wish Middle Belters would ask Dan Suleiman to return their money. It is a big fortune. They could also inquire to know what has he done for the poor people of Guyuk and Adamawa State to warrant his leadership of the Middle Belt.
“There is nothing that makes Suleiman and his group run away from the North except their intolerance and greed. But given the contradictions in their new Middle belt, they need tolerance to guarantee them peace, if they are ever interested in one. The North belongs to all of us. If we cannot improve the lives of its people, please let’s not destroy them.”
As I said earlier, I decided to discard the article containing the above belligerence. Many ‘Middle Belters’ may misunderstand me. I also realized that my belligerence in public would only serve the interest of Dan Suleiman and his group. So, I decided that I will isolate them and punch them in an article titled “The Jobless Middle.” I even promised my readers its publication. But before I could do so, I took a leave, impromptu.
Then the visit of a delegation of the Middle Belt Forum led by my in-law (had I married Chaliya) introduced the shariah perspective to the issue. I felt that all the brouhaha about the middle belt was a smokescreen; the actual issue was Sharia. I therefore resolved that whenever I come to write about the matter, I would look at it from this perspective.
Unfortunately, in my absence, the column was bombarded with rejoinders, left right center, on which many readers were eagerly awaiting my reply. I had to declare a cease-fire. I also helped the President celebrate his first year in office.
But before I could take to the keyboard and write on the Middle Belt, an idea came. Something told me to forget about ‘perspectives.’ I should endeavor to reconcile between the core-North and the Middle Belt. I replied, “ah, would there be a better reconciliation than marriage?” Suddenly, the fire of romance engulfed me. And what a nice fire is it!
There is this Idoma girl, Mary, who I have been dating for three years now. To say she is beautiful is to understate her elegance. But she has refused to marry me, complaining that our cultures are poles apart. But the more she rejects me, the more her love grows in my heart, stronger and stronger, like a cedar. But somehow, I feel that with persistence and prayer, she will eventually yield to my yearnings and dreams.
I will build a house for her in Otukpo and visit her weekly. I confess that her love was not the first, but I am ready to promise the Middle Belt that it will be the last, as Hamza Khalaf once put in Ya awwil hobb. I will invite all my readers to the wedding. It will be a crowd, a great fun, and the best avenue for reconciliation – from Tilde’s perspective.
So Malam Abdullahi, do you still want me to voice out? With Mary in my heart, I am now persuasive and conciliatory. I have no voice but her. I am down on my knees, at the doorstep of the Middle belt, begging it, “Middle Belt, though I am a Hausa-Fulani, please, give me Mary!”