After a long, stormy relationship between the Hausa/Fulani – and other tribal groupings in the North, the marriage appears critically wounded as both battle ahead of 2015.
The non-Muslims, non-Hausa/Fulani of the 19 northern states, who choose to be identified as Middle Belters, have risen to insist that they are in the majority in the enclave that once boasted as “one monolithic, indivisible North”.
The Middle Belt people say they have been unfairly treated by the Hausa/Fulani, used and dumped as second rate citizens when it comes to matters of national security, welfare, politics, economics even in social relationships such as marriages.
They also sees the unprecedented killings of non-Muslims in places of worship by Islamists in the North, and incessant raids on their communities by alleged Fulani herdsmen as some kind of retaliation against them for voting, almost in one bloc, for President Jonathan Goodluck, in 2011.
The Middle Belt points to the lopsidedness in the number of political appointments, jobs at the state and federal levels, in favour of Hausa-Fulani, despite what they described as their bigger contributions to the development of the region.
For example, the Middle Belt Dialogue (MBD), made up of young academics, technocrats, politicians, business men and women drawn from the 19 northern states, recently, lampooned President Jonathan Goodluck for marginalising the Middle Belt in his appointments, despite the graphic details it gave to show that the area won the election for him in the North in 2011.
Also, the Middle Belt Forum rejected the idea of “one North”, saying it was a ruse used by the Hausa /Fulani to appropriate power and resources to itself, accommodating a few of its apologists from the Middle Belt.
But the core North sees the pronouncements as the whimpering of a spoilt baby. Some thinkers of the Hausa/Fulani, who consider themselves as in a clear majority, see the Muslim North as having conceded too much to its minority, which has chosen to maintain a Middle Belt identity.
They believe that every part of the North has had a fair share of everything, but that its minority misused its quota, refusing to take advantage of the positions it occupied to better its lot, and lack resourcefulness in business and commerce despite its mental and environmental endowments.
They see the violence in the North not as Muslims versus non-Muslims, but a conspiracy by Western powers to destroy Nigeria, taking the advantage of the long distrust among the Hausa/Fulani Muslims and others since the Othman Dan Fodio jihad of the 1800s.
However, the core North, in the past one month, has come up with efforts to re-unite the North, accusing “outsiders” of trying to “put asunder what the late Ahmadu Bello, Premier of the North has put together”.
It cited historical, social and cultural affinities forged by contiguous boundaries. It agreed that there were “mistakes and bad leadership” in the past, but said it did not kill the oneness of the North.
Why Middle Belt is angry, by Hon. Jonathan Asake
Hon. Jonathan Asake is the National Youth Leader of the Middle Belt Forum. He was a member of the House of Representatives (1999 to 2003) representing Zangon Kataf/Jabba Federal Constituency, Kaduna State. He spoke in Kaduna on the problem of the Middle Belt with the core North.
Define the Middle Belt as it stands today.
In those days, the Middle-Belt was perceived to be mainly the North Central that we know today, which constitutes six states. But, by and large, political exigencies compelled the Middle-Belt to grow beyond geographical area of North Central. It has now both a geography and socio-cultural expression of the people and it captures all those people that are found within the areas of geographical landmarks that have similar cultural affinity with one another, which are mainly ethnic nationalities different from Hausa-Fulani core North.
These people would be found in southern Kebbi, southern Kaduna in the North-west zone; southern Borno, southern Yobe and the entire Adamawa, Taraba, southern Gombe and southern Bauchi in the North-east geo-political zone. You have all the states of Nasarawa, Plateau, Benue, Kogi ,Niger and the FCT coming together as the Middle-Belt today.
If you take the map of Nigeria and you map together southern Borno, southern Kebbi, southern Yobe, southern Bauchi, southern Gombe and the other states mentioned earlier, you will discover that they fall in the Middle-Belt area of Nigeria and the land is contiguous.
But the Middle Belt goes even beyond this, because it also has members who are or of core northern origin, but their faith and social values are in sync with that of the majority of the people of Middle Belt. Again, the Middle Belt is not restricted to one religion.
You find Christians, Muslims and those that don’t belong to any of the two. One basic thing that binds them together is culture. Though it is true that we are not monolithic, the most important feature of the Middle Belt is this: Take the map of Nigeria and draw all the areas mentioned as Middle-Belt, you will realize that they fall mostly in the middle region of Nigeria. It’s a very massive land. In fact, it’s the largest land mass area in Nigeria. To me, this underscores the importance of the Middle-Belt in the definition of Nigeria, not the North made up of only 19 states.
When did the term Middle Belt come into existence?
The Middle-Belt expression came into existence during the days of the Sardauna of Sokoto, who was the Premier of Northern Nigeria. He left several physical developments and projects for the North to put to shame those who succeeded him.
But even during his time, there must have been issues of identity, history, religion, traditions, etc. That may have informed our forebears like the late Chief Joseph Tarka, Pastor David Lot, the late Chief of Kagoro (in southern Kaduna), Dr. Gwamna Awan, and many others to come with the term Middle Belt. But, even at that, the concept of ‘One North’ versus the rest of Nigeria was very strong.
And before and after the civil war, the North looked like one solid bloc, until the eyes of the Middle Belt started noticing incredible unfairness in the way it was treated by its core-North counterpart, even when, in actual fact, the Middle Belt is in the majority.
In what way is ‘the minority’ now the majority?
I am sorry to say that the media has helped to force the majority status on the Hausa-Fulani when talking about the North. That is only true when you take the two as a single tribal group. Yes they have more numbers if you compare them to say, Tiv, Nupe, or Atayp each standing on its own. But, as an aggregate the Hausa-Fulani is a minority to the rest of the tribal groups of the Middle Belt, the way I have defined the Middle Belt.
The Hausa – Fulani in the 19 northern states is not in the majority in Benue, Kwara, Kogi, Taraba, Nasarawa, Plateau, Niger, FCT, Adamawa. It is hardly even present in Borno State – Boko Haram notwithstanding. The Kanuris are in the majority in Borno and Yobe.
It is only 49% of the population of Kaduna State; the Middle Belt of southern Kaduna is 51% according to the 2006 census. It is just 45% of Gombe State, it is not an overwhelming majority in Kebbi State. The Middle Belt is 30% of Bauchi. The main area of strength of the Hausa – Fulani is: Sokoto, Kano, Zamfara, Katsina, Jigawa, Bauchi and part of Gombe and Kaduna. So, you see, the Hausa-Fulani who, everyone has so made the Lord of the North is actually a minority, unlike what you have in the South-west and South-east with the Yoruba and the Igbo. The Hausa-Fulani, though found everywhere in the 19 northern states, is really a minority if it comes as a bloc. The so-called minorities as an aggregate, are the majority. And that is the Middle Belt. If you doubt this, look at the 2006 census result, and the way votes in the 2011 elections were cast in our areas.
Is it true that the Middle Belt has come up with a new geo-political concept?
Yes. We have six geo-political zones in the country now, they are not in the Constitution but they are used more in the allocation of resources, economic, social and political activities more than even issues that are provided for in the Constitution.
We have proposed that we have North-west zone to comprise Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, Kano, northern Kebbi and northern Kaduna. Then North-east to comprise of Jigawa, northern Yobe, northern Borno, northern Gombe and northern Bauchi.
In the Middle-Belt, we should also have two regions: Middle Best West made up of southern Kebbi, Niger, Kogi, Kwara, Benue and southern Kaduna, while Middle Belt East will comprise of Nasarawa , Plateau, Taraba, Adamawa, southern Gombe, southern Borno and southern Bauchi. With this arrangement, we feel there would be justice and equity in sharing of power and resources.
Professor Ango Abdullahi of the Northern Elders Forum recently came out, saying the North wants back the presidency in 2015. He said the North could retain power as long as it wished. Is the Middle Belt of this thinking?
It depends on the North he is talking about that will produce the next president. And if he’s talking about 2015, then it’s different from what we are thinking in the Middle-Belt. And don’t underrate what I am saying. We in the Middle Belt vote in bloc, because our values, challenges and expectations are largely the same. We recognize that there is a sitting president, Goodluck Jonathan, who is entitled to a second term if he wishes just like any president in a democratic setting in the world guaranteed by the Constitution. We are not in contention, if he wishes to contest. However, if he does not wish to contest and the seat of the president is zoned to the North, then it should go to the Middle-Belt region. Either the Middle-Belt West or East can produce the president and not the core North as they might want. This is our position. And the way we voted in 2011 clearly shows that we are in charge when it comes to the 19 northern states.
JACONG to the rescue
Meanwhile, a group that calls itself the Joint Action Committee of Northern Groups (JACONG), last week, emerged. Its Publicity Secretary, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, said it was formed to represent an all inclusive North, aimed at presenting a good presidential candidate for Nigeria in 2015.
Baba-Ahmed, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary from Kaduna State, said the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), “and a number of groups from the Middle Belt, the Code Group, Northern Reawakening Forum and the Arewa Research and Development Project are members of JACONG.
Baba-Ahmed is also a member of the Federal Government Committee on Amnesty for Boko Haram. Excerpts of the interview with him.
What led to the formation of JACONG?
Discussions among leading northern groups resulted in the formation of JACONG.
The committee represents an additional asset for all the collaborating groups towards achieving great impact and harnessing the tremendous endowments of the North.
How will JAGONG operate differently from others?
The groups will devolve some of their responsibilities to the joint committee, but they will continue to exist. The committee was essentially created to reduce waste in energy. This is a collaboration to improve the way the North approaches 2015 via politics generally and all other developmental issues.
There are many other options we are looking at and we will not limit ourselves to the issue of northern presidency, because it is only one of the options available to the North and we are going to work with others all over the place and we are going to be very strategic about the manner in which we work and advise politicians in this regard.
Are you out to produce a northern candidate for 2015?
Our group is to make sure that the best candidate with the best interest of Nigeria emerges president in 2015.
One of our objectives is to take full advantage of the many options and opportunities that are available to the North. We want to see a situation where the North plays a very informed, disciplined and strategic role in the manner politics is played in this country. There are many options available and we want to be sure that we work with those who will take the decisions to make sure that the North takes the best position in the interest of the people.
What is the position of the Middle Belt in this arrangement?
Let me say that this collaboration is unique. It is one of the very few efforts that we have made that involve the genuine participation of all northerners. Our committee does not recognise core or subsidiary North. We recognise fundamental equality of northerners because the problems of the North affect all northerners equally. What happen to the northerner in Benue happens to the northerner in Zamfara.
We see the same level of poverty, insecurity and concerns. Those who use words like core northerners have no idea and we don’t want to operate with that kind of mindset. All northerners are equal and we realised that we have been divided by these kinds of talks. There is no such thing as core North.
We are united by our common heritage, our history, our poverty and our contemporary exposure to the same kind of problem. But it is the only part of the country that is continuously regressing economically and continuously being exposed to more and more insecurity. We are weakened by the day. There is no northerner that will tell you that he is better off because of his tribe or religion.
So, this divide and rule has not worked for any single northerner. We have fought ourselves to a standstill and there is no single northerner that will tell you that he has benefited from it. One of the things we want to do is to capitalise on this new resolve by all northerners that it is time to turn a new leaf for the north.
Divided North is a liability’
This can be done because a divided North is a liability to the North and Nigeria and it is time to build bridges and I believe those bridges can be built. This new collaboration which involves all major groups in the North will heal those wounds that are making northerners to use those kinds of language about being core northerners and non-core northerners.
The North is facing too many challenges. We will build bridges between northerners.
I don’t know about the elitist North. The masses have to be led by somebody because they cannot lead themselves and the Nigerian masses have been let down by the elite for too long.
Many people have claimed to be leading the North and they have let down the people. The elite themselves are rediscovering their potentials to lead and will submit their leadership to the goals and aspirations of the ordinary northerner. The elite cannot work without the masses.
One single cry that everybody hears now is that the poverty in the North is so serious that anyone who wants to continue to render services cannot continue to treat the North as if it is business as usual.