In this report, SUNDAY ISUWA, writes on the quest by the middle belt region to rightful place in the politics of Nigeria.
The Middle Belt is an unofficial region that was championed by some elites from the North-central region, including a former governor of Plateau State, late chief Solomon Lar. It’s a transition zone between Northern and Southern Nigeria characterised by a lack of clear majority ethnic group even though it is the location of Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
States generally referred to as belonging to the Middle Belt are: Benue, Plateau, Taraba, Niger, Kogi, Nasarawa, Kwara, Adamawa the Federal Capital Territory, part of southern Kebbi and the Southern part of Kaduna States.
The population of the middle belt is estimated to be over 40 million or more. The region which has been contributing immensely both politically and economically to the growth and development of Nigeria, pundits say with peace and unity, the region will take it’s rightful in Nigeria.
But, in recent years, the region, much like other regions, has had to deal with security crisis. Records of unrest, arising from killer herdsmen to communal clashes has caused so much concern in the region.
On August 18, 2017, Agatu communities in Benue State came under attack with the state government organizing a mass burial. One of the survivor of the attack, Mr Oche Sunday said he lost everything he worked for in his life.
Oche, while recounting his ordeal said he lost his wife, three children, father, mother, brothers, sisters, house, cars, cows and other valuable properties to the attack in one day.
He said it’s pathetic till date, he couldn’t find the remains of his wife and three kids, and haven visited several hospitals and police stations in the area.
Oche, who was a staff of Power Holding Company of Nigeria, Kaduna State, had taken his wife and Children to the village because of the incessant attacks by the Boko Haram terrorists before the incident happened.
However, it would seem like the area has been relatively peaceful after some years of attacks in Benue State. However, piqued by a fresh attack on Mgbrazongo village in Bassa Local Government area of Plateau State which led to the killing of four people, the governor of the state, Simon Bako Lalong, ordered security agencies to go after the killers and fish them out to face justice.
LEADERSHIP Weekend recalls that some communities in Bassa Local government recently came under attack where lives, properties and Livestock were lost.
But there seems to be reconciliation between various groups in the middle belt on the need for peace. The recent reconciliatory meeting between the state governments of Taraba and Benue to end the age-long crises between Tiv and Jukun tribes and return all displaced persons back to their localities was instructive.
The states reached the agreement at a reconciliation meeting organised by the Nasarawa state government in Lafia, the state capital.
The crises between Tiv and Jukun in Benue and Taraba states has gone on for more than five decades. The age-long feud is due to land border disputes between the two tribes.
This has led to the deaths of thousands of persons and destruction of properties worth millions of naira.
The most recent was the death of eleven persons from both states in renewed hostilities about a week ago.
The Nasarawa state government has decided to step in to reconcile the tribes in both states and find a lasting solution to the crises.
The two state governments agreed to pursue a peaceful co-existence between both states and return all displaced persons back to their communities.
Traditional institutions of both states say they are ready to drive the peace process.
However, their Plateau State counterpart, who is also the Chairman of the 19 state Northern Governors Forum, has been working round the clock to ensure that there is peace not only in the middle belt, but the Northern region.
It was gathered that the governor has dispatched a fact finding team led by Commissioner for Commerce Aku Abbey, to some of the communities that were recently attacked.
According to Abbey, the aim is to ensure that there is total peace in Plateau state which will also translates to most of the states in the North Central and the North region in general.
Traditional rulers have been visited including the Bra Ngwe Rigwe, His Royal Highness, Rev Ronku Aka. The fact finding mission has also met with other stakeholders including village Heads, District heads, Ardos and other community leaders.
Even though most of the stakeholders have been calling for the deployment of more security personnel in the communities which include
Rehwenku, Tafigana, Katumai Rekwechongu, and Kpasho which are vulnerable to attacks, others say they don’t want a repeat of the past.
But governor Lalong had directed the Plateau State Peace Building Agency to engage relevant stakeholders to stop such attacks through systematic dialogue as well as enhanced security architecture.
In search for peace, LEADERSHIP Weekend reports that some groups in the Middle Belt are seeking more collaboration with the Southern states to
form similar security outfits like Amotekun in the South-west.
The Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU) and the Middle Belt Forum said it is collaborating with the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF),
Afenifere and Ohaneze Ndigbo for a better discussion on the restructuring of Nigeria.
According to SOKAPU, security issues must be considered since one of its cardinal objectives is unity of the diverse ethnic groups that constitute the union owing to it nature of multiethnic, multicultural and multireligious.
SOKAPU national president, Comrade Jonathan Asake, said they will pursue the goal of restructuring to the letter for better security adding that every region has its own goal on restructuring.
“We shall pursue this goal to the letter. Our leadership will encourage unity and cohesion amongst the diverse groups of Southern Kaduna and with similar groups in other parts of the state and the nation at large, who share similar ideals and aspirations with us.
“Our leadership will reach out to other sociocultural groups such as the Middle Belt Forum, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Afenifere and Ohaneze Ndigbo with whom we share common ideals and aspirations on the Nigerian Project such as the restructuring of Nigeria including, Resource Control, Power Sharing and Power Rotation, States Creation, Land Tenure and Land Ownership, Devolution of Power, Self Determination, Institutionalized Discrimination, Uncontrolled Immigration, Chieftaincy and Traditional Institutions Matters, to mention but a few,” Asake said.
He said it was obvious that the challenge of insecurity in their communities has become the greatest threat to their common survival adding that most of their communities need peace.
“In view of the incessant invasions, occupation, kidnapping, destruction of farmlands, extortion, rape, banditry and other heinous acts meted on our people, our leadership will partner with relevant security agencies and government to ensure that our communities are safe and secured,” Asake said adding that they will encourage socio-cultural activities between their diverse groups and other groups within and outside the state for the purpose of promoting peace and harmony, which he said is a necessary ingredient for development and progress.
“We shall also ensure comprehensive documentation of our history and contemporary happenings for our posterity. SOKAPU is a sociocultural organization and a pressure group. We are not a government, government department or agency. Ours is to support and encourage our elected representatives at all levels in discharging their responsibilities to our people.
“We will also constructively engaged government at all tiers on policies and programmes that have to do with the wellbeing of our people. Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides amongst other things that Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular they may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of their interests.
“Drawing our strength and legitimacy from the foregoing provisions of the constitution, we will protect and defend the interests of the diverse ethnic nationalities under our Union whatever that interest may be; be it social, cultural, economic or political. Consequent upon this, our leadership will remain relentlessly focused on the protection and defence of the identified interest of our people,” Asake added.
But as more groups are seeking on ways to address the security challenges in the North, a Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) had their request for the registration of ‘Shege-Ka-Fasa’ security outfit rejected by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
The group vowed to explore all legal means until the security outfit is duly registered by CAC, saying that Attorney General of the Federation has been intimated on the development.
Spokesman of the group, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, was quoted as saying that they will head to court in an effort to ensure that their security outfit is established.
Security issues in the country has propelled debate over the legality of regions to establish their own security outs.
While many see community policing as the best way to address insecurity in the country, a Senate report has identify obsolete legislation as one of the reasons behind widespread insecurity in the country.
According to the report, the Police Act, military and other mara-military acts are as old as 1948, making it difficult to meet up with the present realities in the country.
The Senate which is also seeking for the harmonization of all curriculums of military related training institutions recommended that military operations should not be done separately.
“The military should ensure discipline to avoid favouritism,” Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi (Kebbi North) has said. Sen Ishaku Abbo (Adamawa North) said the problem for lack of successes in the fight against insecurity in the country was lack of coordination.
He said the Chief of Defence Staff should be in charge of the join operations adding that the army is doing their own operation, Airforce separate, Navy having their own coordination and the Police also doing it own operation separately. He said it was behind the spread of insecurity in the country which many want tackled by community policing.