Middle Belt Group Says They Are Not Part of Northern Nigeria
THE United Middle Belt Youth Congress (UMBYC), a group at the forefront of mapping out the North Central geopolitical zone as Middle Belt has lampooned the north for lining up soldiers from the zone against the Igbos during the Nigerian civil war.
They said the core north easily achieved this by exploiting the command structure of the military and manufacturing fear that Biafra is out to overrun them.
“We know the ignorant years that have passed when we went to war. When they mobilised us to war and told us ‘ah they want to terminate you people. The Igbos are majority and in fact they are coming to swallow you people'”
“A lot of us went to the bush to fight. I know how many families of our brothers that we lost in that war. Not to talk about our other brothers, the Igbos who we went to fight ignorantly.”
The president-general, Abuka Omababa disclosed this during a courtesy visit of the group to The Moment in Ogudu, Lagos recently saying that the hackneyed concept of ‘one north’ was also crafted with the connivance of the British to mislead the rest of the country into believing an existence of a gigantic and awesome ‘north’. He added that while it was disheartening enough that they were manipulated into a fratricidal war with the Igbo, the Hausa/Fulani ‘were in Sokoto and Kano relaxing and watching the two of us kill each other.’
The group consequently declared that the days they were play-thing in the hands of ‘the North’ are over for good. They therefore extend a hand of fellowship to other ethnic nationality groups in Nigeria saying that ‘without us there is no north; no Middle Belt, no North. If we remove ourselves they are disconnected from Nigeria. So we are the bridge. We have served as the bridge.’
The group said that serial cases of religious intolerance in the north are championed by the Hausa/Fulani who are moulded to perceive non-Muslim practitioners with distaste. They dissociated the Middle Belt from it saying they see others as members of a single humanity rather than with religious or other colourations.
‘Prior to the coming of the British, we were occupying our land. We are democratic. We are freethinkers in our various nationalities. If you see a Langtang family; they may have one Muslim, one Christian and one pagan; they cohabit and you will not know the difference.’ ‘Whenever there is riot in the north, it affects us. Our people run like any other southerner. If you look at these youth corps members that were killed, they brought two to Kogi. So, if Kogi is north, then why is north burying their children?’
Though they blamed the British for grouping and lumping them together with the north, they were insistent that the Middle Belt is not north. Thus, they ask for the official regrouping of Nigeria where they are recognised as distinct federating unit.
‘We want our identity to be known. We want to bear our name. We don’t want to be covered again…we have the right to determine our own identity…. And we have decided that we are going to do it legitimately. We want to be officially regrouped as Middle Belt region.
‘We have the Niger Delta that has been officially regrouped. They are minorities in the south like we are minorities lumped into the north.’ They maintain that gone are the days when they are used as a buffer to protect and comfort the north. They did not see any reason why they would only be used by the north to gather votes during election, and food during scarcity but discarded just as soon as the ‘hegemonic’ north is satisfied.
‘Our resources and land remain closed under the northern Nigeria. And what they do is; if it is time to make use of numbers, our population, they say yes we are relevant. After that; no we are no more relevant.’ ‘Thanks to the struggle of June 12 which brought President Olusegun Obasanjo to power in 1999. While making appointments he brought General Victor Malu as Chief of Army Staff, Saliu Ibrahim and the rest, then, the north through late Alhaji Wada Nas rose and said that these people do not represent northern interest.
‘It is a clear thing that we do not belong there. We want to be separate people, and so shall it be.’ They went on to reiterate their backing to the evolution of a fiscal federalism where the federating units will control the resources in their geographical sphere.
‘Make the centre less attractive, so that if you are going there, it is for service. We from the Middle Belt, we will pay our taxes. They should leave Ajaokuta for us; they should leave all those gold, columbite, timber and other solid minerals found in the Middle Belt for us to develop our community.
‘What we are saying is that they have concentrated too much power at the centre which is the reason everybody wants to kill others in order to get there. Every region will have to pay tax to the Federal Government.’ Then they upped the ante with some other bold demands. ‘We said we need our own 13 per cent from electricity. We need 13 per cent from Ajaokuta, from solid minerals coming from Middle Belt, even from our food. If you see the level of farm work going on in the Middle Belt, you will see why we agitate for Farming Development Commission to provide modern equipment and health facilities.
‘Give us also HYPODEC – Hydro Power Development Commission – which Jonathan has already granted and signed into law but has not constituted the board.’ While tracing the history of their struggle for identity, they say that at great cost their progenitors like Ameh Oboni, David Lot and JS Tarka had kick-started this resistance which people like Paul Unongo had continued.
They say that while they remain in touch with their parent body – United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) – they are determined to add youthful vigour to it, and facilitate the realisation of their dreams of emancipation from northern hegemony and resource control.
‘The issue of Middle Belt identity started with the late Ameh Oboni and Attah of Igala. At the northern emirs’ meeting, when the Sultan of Sokoto and the rest came, he was told to remove his cap; he said no that the Hausa/Fulani has never been commanders of Igala, and Igalas has never bowed down to them. ‘So they threatened that they will show him where he belongs at the next meeting; he too retorted he will show them where they belong. At the next meeting, they insisted and forcefully removed his cap, from which emanated stinging bees that disrupted the meeting. All the emirs ran away except him. But that is the local way of struggling against the domination of the Hausa/Fulani.
‘Late Dr. JS Tarka and Paul Unongo, because they were educated, brought it to international attention through the UMBC – United Middle Belt Congress of those days. So the struggle for Middle Belt identity has been on. They added that when Usman Dan Fodio came with a jihad in 1804, he conquered Kastina, Sokoto and Kano but could not conquer the Lantang and the Birong peoples of Plateau. He was also said not to have defeated Taraba when the state comprised Igala, Jukuns and Tiv peoples.
‘He could not conquer us. He could not conquer Middle Belt. So when the British were going they said that these people are difficult to conquer in war, so give them indirect rule system. Co-opt them through the Atta of Igala, through the Gbomgbom of Jos. That is how the British played us to the monolithic north’ the group’s president-general explained.
The Moment’s Editor in charge of daily operations, Martin Azuwike who received the group urged them to continue in the part of non-violent struggle. He said that the nation has so much security concerns which if they resort to violence, Nigeria will have more than a mouthful to chew.
He also said the newspaper will always report their activities with a sense of balance and fairness to others.