The Middle Belt, Glue Of The Nation
Governor of Enugu State
edition of the public lecture series of the
Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) Plateau State Council, in conjunction
Africa Republic Foundation (ARF); Hill Station Hotel, Jos, Nigeria
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
cheating, in history, consists in speaking
for one's self, while feigning to speak of others...
... Alan Browning
(in Nazi Hate Mongering, 1944)
realities of our struggles for acceptable conditions of coexistence and
furtherance of our national dreams compel whatever efforts there should be, to
achieve a high level of coalescence and understanding of the contending
dimensions, of our multi-coloured nation-state.
Over four years ago, when the Correspondents Chapel of this same Plateau State
Council of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), provided me the unique
opportunity to use this podium, we had contended with matters of the state,
the faith and the press.
Then in 2001, it was a challenge to review the reportorial challenges imposed on
our men of the pen in urging the various contending issues of state alongside
that of our various faiths. While we did that, we could not see the reason for
the passion and partisanship sometimes exhibited in forms of indiscretion ,and
disdain for what did not augur well with our individual interests.
in the mean time, we did establish that the greater challenges of husbanding a
nation-state in the making did not stand on the urgency to relate matters
without the necessary discretion attending such matters, which harbour the
tendencies of social disruption.
Today, I must admit to you that much as we have not fully surmounted that urge
to relate it the way we feel, without bothering about whose ox is gored, it has
presented itself more in our viewing our nation-state as made up of ever
registering physical divisions or disuniting factors, for which we elect to
live, on the belief that it has to stay as permanently separated as possible.
Actually, when again, my staff came under the pressure of the NUJ in Jos, to
come back and take a look at how things have fared in the time being, I had the
immediate urge to edge off, due mainly to the necessity of exercising caution in
the prevailing temper of various social and political threats. But as was the
case in 2001, the pressure of Mr. Moses Ezulike of the Champion Newspapers
and his Chairman, Mr. John Tsok, was intense on my staff that it was evident
that they were keen on a forum to table issues, which they prayed for an
exploration of their entire dimensions.
besides fulfilling our own part of the now running relationship, the thought of
Jos, and indeed, Plateau State, were overwhelming. I had thought so sweetly of
the scenic beauty of this State, which has the unique blessing of such natural
breath-taking environments that it was' arguably registered as the most alluring
natural landscape in Nigeria.
had let my mind float on the picture of the rasping Kerang volcanic hills,
the Dashe rocks, the Kiango waterside dam, the hugging and resting rocks in
Dashe and Vom and, of course, the Batura Tash plains. I could not take
my mind from the pictured flutist of the Pankshin victory dance, the
scene of the Lamingo dawn and of course, the other inspiring natural
scenes of which Plateau is known.
have always marveled at the generosity of nature in endowing Plateau with these
natural scenes, as I have also always relished the good fortune of our own Enugu
in its rolling hills, valleys, escarpments, woods, streams, hot and warm
springs, entraps, caves and dead ends, all signifying the age old
challenges in which our forebears had had to contend with nature before the
arrival of our current generations.
Once in a while, I love to take trips to the tick jungles of Enugu where yet the
sound of the lumber man's cutting machine has not been heard and where we are
offered with the rare chances of being in a world so natural and free from the
bustle and restlessness of the modern time.
must tell you this: the significance of my attachment to nature and such
preserved spots rests on the chances of inspiration, side by side a physically
detached appreciation of an exploding world which is further confounded by a
growing inclination to assert self against more popular interests.
that I am in Jos again is, once more, to show solidarity and to join in the
search for that elusive cod on which a once forming nation-state will anchor.
was on that frame of mind that I considered, for a long time, the various topics
suggested by the Plateau Council of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ). In doing
this, I could not have mistaken what appears the commitment and courage of the
Council, what with their boldness in demanding of me to speak on religion,
culture, politics and minority issues in the Middle Belt. They even urged my
taking declarative interest in these issues, some of which verged on outright
confrontation with the sensitivities of the various peoples and the interests.
Having been in state management for over six years, and having been a
participant-observer in searching for the various ways frayed nerves could be
assuaged, I easily deciphered the lack of experience in the prodding, as there
were no clear evidences of outright departure from mere skirmishes.
me, the challenge of reviewing issues in the drive for a Middle Belt identity
does not as yet invite any form of declarative stance as it has not conferred on
any person or group such clout to so claim as acting in full consensus of terms
of operation which are yet undefined and which are yet to build imaginary or
fact, against the backdrop of more sober intellectual attempts at
conceptualizing a Middle Belt, it is clear that fair-minded and forthright
scholars have not concluded on which dimension of the identified characteristics
a Middle Belt should be elevated to, for the political and social gains, against
the common situation of lack or poverty which unsettle peoples, no matter ethnic
or communal origins and affiliations.
therefore; picking on the topic, Central Nigeria, the Middle Belt, Glue of
the Nation, I consider it imperative that the search for harmonious
coexistence must take into account the finality of our national destiny, against
the background of our political history. In other words, the stages we have
traversed, the difficulties we encounter(ed), the feeling of nostalgia and even
the hunger for exclusiveness, will surely have to contend with the various
tendencies of which none will accept to be forcefully subsumed or ignored.
The interest in defining the characteristics of an upsurging political identity,
I understand, has produced its own flurry of pontifications on what a Middle
Belt Nigeria should represent. But at the same time, it has revealed far more
confusing categorizations which scholars and laymen had found themselves
battling an understanding of its tending factors that resemble elements of
distinctive political and cultural clusters, while at the same time repudiating
cultural overlap and, or, contiguity as geographical factors.
cannot mistake the smartness to now fall into a categorization, which spells out
Middle Belt, variously, in terms of political affiliation, geography, cultural
fluidity and interests as well as emergent social practices and even the now
decade-old geopolitical configuration. There are also presentations, which seek
to elevate the various territorial struggles to that of modern conflicts. Here,
those under; "pressure" of producing elite factor players ignore the
possibilities of threat of class deities so long such would spring from their
in the review of class factors and struggles in Nigeria, greater attention has,
erroneously, been paid to elite views which send signals of conflict, underneath
of which is deep seated interest in personal well being, against the yearnings
of the larger community.
Here, in Jos, and right in this Hill Station Hotel, a consensus of a seminar of
the Centre for Peace Research and Conflict Resolution (CPRCR) concluded that the
seeming tension in the Middle Belt arose variously from, competing ethnic
identities, inter /intra-religious differences, disputes over arable/gracing
land and scarce rural resources, contests over chieftaincy/political
representations and access to power. By the same token, it was reasonably
argued that the measure of ascendance of these elements of conflict arise from
political competition, bias, stereotype, prejudices, elite manipulation,
inequity, mass poverty and brash attitude of the noveau riche. It is also
stated to include protracted national economic crisis, excessive centrality
of national administration, long period of military rule, arbitrariness of
rules, unclear citizenship identification and of course, a supra-national
interest in lands and locality matters.
course, we know that the greater body of research on the issue hardly included
these as the precise elements of what should be a Middle Belt Nigeria. At least,
it cannot represent the aspirations of the promoters of political structures
figured as enclaves where ruling classes spring and on which a bargaining
platform can be erected to mount a counterpoise to matters identified as
negating the development of the areas reportedly threatened.
if we consider the fact that what we call today the various negotiating
clusters, viz, the geopolitical zones, arose from a confused demand for a return
to regions, it is clear that such promoters would not have the matter resolved
in the absence of the rise of the kind of political elite assumedly being in
charge over the years and having a full swing of an endless exploitation.
When I had the opportunity of reviewing the necessity or otherwise of those
various demands for a sovereign national conference, in Sokoto, two years ago, I
came face to face with such tendencies of the elite to pamper the surface which,
in full swing, represents their economic well being against a pretension to mass
oriented discourses. Clearly, and as presented in the various tests undertaken,
the larger number of the people, mostly of the poor class, do not possess an
inkling of elite dominant interest hidden in the whole abracadabra.
while I hardly saw the evidence of the variously alleged muffling in the land,
it was noted that Nigeria had indeed had discussions and had pursued repeated
policy and programme formulations and executions, all reflective of emerging and
contending views. Again, I had contended that the opportunity of democracy had,
above all, provided for continuous reviews and reconsideration of views and
factors at play. At least, at the interchange thunder and clap - over issues,
compromises were reached and frayed nerves assuaged.
the effect of that background, I had then viewed the issues of Middle Belt
Nigeria ... with a kind of trepidation. Certainly, not that if a departure from
the aimed definition in terms of geography, politics and class occurs, a kind of
swift response for conceptualization would follow on the basis of the cacophony
already strewn on the plain.
the way, if we talk of a Middle Belt, we must take into account such
definitional preferences of the promoters as well as the historical data made
available by researchers. Historically, it is not so easy to fit the entire
Middle Belt into any zone of original antecedent. According to legends of legend
and legends of origin, what we have on the ground cannot present a definitive
single antecedent or even a composite background. Yet, even against that
background, the Langtang, Birom, Tiv, Chawai, Jaba, Jukun, among the other tens
of such ethnic groups, have one thing in common. They have lived in the
Niger-Benue Confluence over some millennia. And they have, together, claimed the
Nok culture, reportedly originating from Nok Village in Jaba Local Government
Area, Kaduna State.
Besides the varied origins as claimed in the cases of peoples of the Nok
Culture, the Middle Belt areas or the Niger-Benue Confluence region, were to
gravitate to such western economic endeavours, of which the Tin Mining
enterprises in Jos, our present host city, drew into it many of the people who
were to realize their common heritage and political destiny. Such virtually
natural concentric development, expanding in the sucking of peoples from deep
Southern areas as well as far-flung North actually presented the zone as the
glue that draws.
Further to this were the clear marshal qualities of the peoples, as recognized
by the colonial masters, who erected military institutions, which on their own
opened more waves of migrations. In fact, it was in the discharge of the duty
conferred by those marshal qualities that the Middle Belt excelled as the
bastion of national unity and cohesion. One of such, most often repeated, was
the price of human resources reportedly expended in the various wars from 1914.
Political gladiator who had to appear in Jos - a unique center - to seek a
consummation of acceptance across the nation could not have ignored the reality
of this natural pull to the center.
From 1952, through the various republics, including the national conventions of
the Social Democratic Party (SDP), 1993 and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP),
1998, it has always been, to Jos, for the final decision.
Middle Belt has come a long way in history, it has expanded on the political
fillip of a feeling of system emasculation and oppression. Indeed, such feeling
has drawn more who were not ordinarily, by geography and culture, considered by
Middle Belt. Mid way, it was simply those who considered themselves unfortunate
to be hemmed into the Northern Nigerian political system. That way, even some of
the ethnic groups, evident northeast bound but living on the feeling of
alienation, either by the old Northern system or the evolving Northeastern
patch-up, had to seek succour under the umbrella of Middle Belt.
Further south, the Yoruba of Kwara and Kogi, Kabba, Ebira, Igala, Idoma, etc,
had to be sucked into this emerging political feeling.
is on account of this that it is currently argued that in terms of geopolitical
territory, what may eventually spring up as the Middle Belt would be a behemoth
squeezing apart the North and South of Nigeria, but constituting a seeming
natural intervention between some alleged dominators and usurpists favoured at
the transition of power from colonialism to nation.
course, I have no problems with this kind of feeling, which necessitate the
hunger for such territories whose hopes were built on political emancipation,
economic fortune and group identity. Indeed, I have never had the cause to argue
against such desires to rise in time and be fully identified with bringing in
the individual genre of culture, economy, politics and other expressions as
would be permitted by civilization. More so, the injunction of Article 27 of the
UN declaration on minority rights fortifies the ground: States shall
encourage conditions for the promotion of national or ethnic, cultural,
religious and linguistic identities... and make allowance for the people to
enjoy their culture, to profess and practice their culture, and to use their
language, in private and in public, freely and without interference' or any form
of discrimination ... That is ground swelling. And any such hunger for
distinctiveness, if not fueled by elite greed for territory identity as
bargaining power, would ride home in victory.
course, while this background does not reveal all there is in forming up as a
group possessed of identity, it does not exclude the fact that in the various
fragments of what is seen as Nigeria's multi-ethnically built character, there
has been no representation of any major departure from official acknowledgement
of the rights of groups, be they major or minor.
saying this, I stand the risk of being confronted with evident facts of
attitudes of state, suggestive of responses or favours directed at elements of
one group, usually alleged to be the larger ethnic groups. For instance, the
1976 constitution making process revealed an unfortunate elite slide, into
defining citizens' membership of the various areas or states of Nigeria as
deriving from one's parents being indigenous to a community in the State,
being themselves citizens of Nigeria.
Historian Yusuf Bala Usman of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, was reported
to have effectively challenged this proposition, arguing that it was unhealthy,
divisive and replete with such dangers associated with denied inclusion in one's
place of birth (not his parents'), abode and productivity.
Like other analysts whom I know to have voiced their views on this, I strongly
agree with Usman. In fact, his question on the validity of claims of indigeneity
cannot be ignored against the full weight of evidence that most peoples in
Nigeria had actually come from somewhere Fulani, they said, from Senegal; Jukun,
from Egypt; Bachama, from Gobia; Yoruba, from the East; Igbo, a lost tribe from
the East (?); etc. In other words, if it is stretched, many Nigerians will have
to face strong questions about their indigeneity.
Indeed, it was such elite manipulation, which resulted in the migrant population
of Nigeria never having a feeling of membership of where they lived and worked,
as they had never been accorded such recognition to be more reflective of
oneness with their immediate environments.
course, we must acknowledge that the Edwardian order of colonialism, in earnest,
sought, for its shortcomings, some commensurate ruling groups over the vast
territories they conquered and amassed. They also instituted dubious
anthropological and historical searches, to define our respective pedigrees, so
as to typecast us socially.
strongly remember the hurtful thesis of the likes of Sam Blithe Palmers, who
sought strenuously to ascribe some political sophistication to some ethnic
groups so as to justify their envisaged transfer of power or accommodation, in
Right under our nose, the likes of Palmers and William Crocker could not
tolerate any form of equal foundations for the various ethnic groups in Nigeria
that is to the effect that offhandedly, the Yoruba were the superior race of the
West, just because they constituted the majority. Ndigbo had to lord it in the
East and the Hausa-Fulani in the North. Just by sheer numbers and clear
so acting as managers of an emerging State, their pattern of inferiorisation
consigned the Yoruba, who by accident of colonial administrative creations were
located in Northern Nigeria as not possessing adequate statecraft as their
lord-kith and kin in the West.
was the same case for the Igbo on the western bank of the Niger, who as a fringe
people, were deemed inferior to match the political dexterity of the Yoruba in
the West. In that same vein, those who constitute today the emerging identity of
Middle Belt were out of reckoning in the emerging Northern Nigeria order, where
the majority Hausa-Fulani held sway.
fact, even in the case of the Igbo, this same Palmers sought vehemently to carve
out and establish the Aro as a distinct superior race - what with his awe of the
Aro slave Oracular oligarchy - which the colonial agents confronted on arrival,
but considered for possible alliance in further subjugating of the rest.
Consequently, he argued that, if a semblance of order representing the British
imperial caste would be created in the East, it had to be driven by the Aros
a special aristocratic race, not really of the mainstream Igbo nation.
Today, many of us argue that what informed the mindset of the likes of these
colonial agents was the need to pacify the most dominant groups they upturned
their fortune on arrival. Some believe that they were genuinely in need of
organized institutions to further their system of divide and rule. But for me,
what they embarked on has remained a strong divisive factor, causing one to
wonder if actually they sought to build one nation -state.
some extent, we have overcome these incidences and moved on. From regions,
states have since emerged, but against hopes, we have yet to erase the feeling
of alienation, dispossession and oppression.
the case of the Middle Belt, as stated above, what used to be provinces in
Northern Nigeria have evolved into six states, now seeking bloc appearance and
intervention possibilities either as a conglomerate or even an agglomeration. Of
course, we have no problems with that. What bothers me is the possibility of the
dangers of abandoning that, which actually bedevils the over-all society.
Sunday Ochoche, who actually anchored the resolution of the Centre for Peace,
detected the initial threat of authoritarianism as against democracy, as the
major threat to appreciating the tendencies and resultant conflicts in the
region. In the solutions proffered in the communiqué of his organization, he had
properly referred to the long wait for democracy as having exacerbated
poverty, absence of responsive governance, lack of quality education and skewed
interpretation of the laws of the land, which in the estimate of the
non-governmental organization, had created further tension.
Indeed, in one of my lectures on poverty, a fortnight ago, I had pushed this
kind of argument as one, which should be elaborated and anchored, on seeking
popular and participatory governance to ensure the end of the threat to proper
economic order. I will return to that later.
suggesting the class element of what he called the struggle for Middle Belt
identity Sam Egwu of the University of Jos, amplified this, especially on
the trend of distribution of the wealth of the society. He goes further to show
that territorial quest, ethnicity and primordial identities or even
structures of culture could befuddle the real issues of struggle for resource
allocation or reallocation. It was on that note that he regretted the
possibilities of abortion against the struggle whose arrowheads may have
operated wrongly, if not dubiously.
said earlier in this discourse that I subscribe to the full recognition of the
plural elements of Nigeria; that is in line with the Pitman dictionary as
outlined by Bala Takaya to represent, a state of society in which members of
diverse social groups develop their traditional cultures or special interests
within a common civilisation.
actually urge the revival of such which educate on varieties of our
nationalities, if for the purposes of underlining the convergent possibilities
a long time, I had considered many aspects of the tendencies in Nigeria as
running on the wrong track, especially as I view many promoters of new orders as
having ignored the global train on which new values will unavoidably be
anchored. It was on that fillip that I initially considered the topic,
Nigeria's Unity Challenges in a Globalizing World. It was an endeavour in
which I hoped to review the now fashionable structuring of Nigeria's integrity
merely on geophysical considerations, which I am certain, either overshot or
downscaled the relevance of global trends in modern state formations and their
Virtually every person in this hallowed chamber remembers the points of entry of
the colonizers, who, as it were, usurped the gains of internal imperial
adventurers and successfully knocked together Nigeria. It is known to us that as
they came, they rejected if ever they invited the opinion of the people they
met. In doing that, they created their own medium of exchange of which those who
were far removed from the few centers of colonial takeoff began the entire
episode in unspeakable disadvantage.
Indeed, in their search for riches of our soil, they succeeded in creating towns
and cities of which those who were disadvantaged by either distances or
inability to fit into their coming economy came down materially relegated. As
related by historian Adiele Afigbo, what ensued was not just a matter of
creating new administrations but an entire overhaul, of which those who remained
in villages where minerals were not discovered were condemned to inferior media
of exchange and possible pauperization.
was the scamper and bustle for places in the emerging urban centres, as viewed
by Okwudiba Nnoli, that earlier hints of ethnicity were detected. In fact,
taking a trip in history, Nnoli charges that earlier reports of culture and
ethnic contact, which predated colonialism, never suggested any such expression
of ethnocentrism as evidenced in the struggle to share in the scarce
opportunities provided in the new colonial towns. Citing incidences of Igbo/ljaw
contacts prior to colonialism, he reported Kenneth Dike's conclusion that such
interactions negated any such apparent ethnic feeling but were founded on
attributive specializations of which the various interchanges, exchanges and
mutual assistance formed the dominant decimals.
Indeed, some pre-colonial cosmopolitan and, of course, polyglot towns had thus
existed as the likes of Ukwuani, in present day Delta State; Uburu in the
present day Ebonyi State; Iji and Akpugo Eze, in the present day Enugu State;
Ibadan and Oyo, in the present day Oyo State; Iddo, Eko and Obalende in the
present day Lagos State; Kano, in present day Kano State; Sokoto, in today's
Sokoto State; Port Harcourt, in today's Rivers State, as in most other parts of
Nigeria for either military, trade, mining, manufacture or other callings.
According to Prof. Kene Ilozie, Igbo traders were spotted in Bida, just as
agents of the then Etsu had instituted mercantile runs between Bida and Uburu.
Igbo colonies were already springing in various spots in the then Igala country
as the Olukwumi (Yoruba) clan, long on the western banks of the Niger, in the
Igbo Delta areas, had already crossed to the eastern bank and settled in various
spots in Aku, Ogbeikporo, Oguta, Ukwa, etc, all in Igbo land.
cases of such pre-colonial mega-polis as Sokoto, Kano, Zaria, etc, are well
known as standing tall and unfazed by any such sectional chants and hollering.
These and many more we cannot bring up here, had the prevalence of mixture of
ethnic groups, races and cultural colourations to qualify as cosmopolitan and
polyglot towns, but were never reported as having had incidences of any such
ethnocentrism, before the advent of European imperialism and the attendant
economic styles of the colonialist regimes.
contradistinction, the rise of Jos, on account of tin mining activities; Enugu,
on account of coal mining; Kaduna, Ilorin, Lokoja, Owerri, Onitsha, Ado Ekiti,
Kano, etc, for administrative and modern economy, presented some disgusting
competition for resources such that ethnicity feeling and expression became the
entry behaviours for those involved in the neck-to-neck struggles.
has been on the strength of the ensuing historical review that I anchor my
argument that the desire for new identities, or is it the desire to manufacture
them, was made inevitable by the colonial antecedents. This rides the crest of
the argument that such socio-political interplays which attempted to eat up
various identities, if only to make of the natives mere providers of the needs
of the colonial masters, had to undergo self-realization and search for
forgotten identities. Moreover, the ensuing power sharing exercises, especially
arising from the now dominant claim of distinctiveness, if only to carve a
niche, would not have been left with a vacuum of both leadership machinery and
historical standpoints to urge such dissimilarity.
admitted within the present propitious cravings for identifications, not
injuring in the process the challenge of the globalizing world, I would say that
it posed no problems. But if on the other hand it presents an impediment to the
characters of what shall determine our inclusion in the now ensuing global
economy of which we cannot escape, then we say that we have bought the wrong
various forums, I have had causes to raise matters of our inclusion in the
globalization trends, bearing in mind that the major cannons democracy
(stakeholder-driven governance), economic liberalization (privatization) and
information technology - are already registered in our growing democratic
system. In this particular case, I have found the tendencies at play in the
Middle Belt as such that can be extended for the gains of the greater number
rather than the chase for a kind of identity which will certainly be manipulated
for the economic well- being of the elite.
was against this background that I have backed Egwu's identification of the
abortionist threat of the initiative if it should ignore the damage of poverty
on whatever identity sought. I do not consider any member of this audience
lacking in the data of the real poverty situation in Nigeria as at 1996. That
well-publicized data on our general poverty trend gave this horrifying picture
of a down-ward slide in the economic well being of the citizenry as depicting a
track which started much earlier in the life of the independent State in the
1964, less than 26 per cent of Nigerians operated under the poverty zone,
leaving over 84 per cent of the population as living above poverty line. The
level jumped from 28.1 per cent in 1980 to 46.3 per cent in 1995. But in 1996,
the indices of measurement were rattled with jump from that already alarming
level to 65.5 per cent or 67.1 million of the population.
the subsequent distribution, it is indicated that of the national population of
Nigeria's poor, 58.2 per cent of the urban elements is poor while our rural
areas harbour as high as 69.8 per cent.
on the test of the dispositions of the various sexes, it was surprisingly
revealed that the female-headed families present a better picture at 58.5 per
cent as against the male-headed families put at 66.5 per cent. That is to say
that the criteria applied, such as quality food in-take or dietary
combination, family stability, possibilities of entry into higher social ladder,
adult sacrifices for the well-being of the dependents and the rest social
possibilities present better chances of handling in the female-headed families.
Just a fortnight ago, in Lagos, I told my audience, and I still hold the point
today, that much as it is true that the immediate result of the analysis
presents an uglier rural poor situation, the picture of impoverishment in the
urban areas ought to leave a gasp in our breath.
course, someone can argue that we could not have been alone in poverty and so
cannot be compelled to abandon such drives for affirmative action for purposes
of lifting our kind from the deep claws of deprivation. Indeed, I have once
heard the argument that no such escape from poverty would come in the absence of
such affirmative actions, which on forming the necessary political identity
would give room for economic empowerment.
stand has never been in the direction of stamping or halting affirmative actions
as the drives for a Middle Belt identity and the others. Rather, I have argued
that in the event of the full swing of globalization, general as well as
individual inclusion would determine relevance in the emerging order, and that
is irrespective of prevailing identities.
fact, in Apples and Lexus of Arnold Opeinheimer, the issue presented a
good argument of which the characteristics of the baseline poor in Western
countries revealed hints of lack of any form of qualities, such as skills, for
inclusion in the rolling machinery of globalization. The case, as he argues, is
worse for the Third World. In the same vein, Dan Sherman, in his Sovereign
multinationals, depict an entrepreneurial evolution in which the issue will
no longer be so much a matter of the state/communal origin but the right kind of
skill to be included) protected and elevated, in every dimension of life, by the
powerful international business organisations.
cannot pretend that I am not aware that anti-imperialist intellectuals will view
a proposal for the preparation of the national human resources to merely fit
into the operations of Western conglomerates. I must admit that this is not the
forum to take up this matter. Suffice to say that the juncture we have arrived,
electing firmly to stand on the inviolability of the integrity of Nigeria, but
sucking on the resources of the world, compels a readiness to play in the right
court, at the right time, if we will not be relegated.
worry is that if we get drained of our energy in seeking disjointed identities,
which we ought to find in the respective states or even the loose geo-political
zones, abandoning what offers a passage to the reduction of poverty, we would
have been led into further elite deception of which more struggles are
the other way, I have had causes to consider the scenario of the working Nigeria
whose primary concern is not the political texture of the immediate environment
if removed from the desired responsibilities of a responsive government. This is
in agreement with Ochoche who argues that one of the ways out; even if it is to
form a foundation for affirmative action, is to institute a massive and
qualitative education. I completely agree with him, especially if we are both
bound for the effect of developing the right kind of skill to propel the
citizenry to more meaningful enterprises, rather than being mere weapons in
disguised elite struggle for power.
gainful hint on this is that the state or region or geopolitical zone will have
to work a population more enlightened and positioned to dissect elite
interpretations of issues and settle for that which is not mere manipulation.
And in this, we could not have been arriving with a pioneer's view. Way back in
late 1962 when the sage, Obafemi Awolowo declared the principles for founding
the then University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, he affirmed
the primacy of quality education thus: Education is the foundation for progress
... it is the cornerstone of rapid social, economic and political development.
fear in this is that such stake-holder driven governance as sought in that
cannon of globalization leaves the ignorant participant with no knowledge of the
state and economic systems as he would as well be shunted aside by the demands
of the skills to enter the liberalized (privatized) economies whose entry
criteria would hardly consider basic cultural and perhaps political identities.
Moreover, a close comparative study reveals that the terms of poverty can differ
with regions and so what level of poverty separates the African, or a Third
World man from inclusion in possible economic well being may not be the case in
the First World states. For instance, a current analysis of the 1996 American
Bureau of Census report suggests that of the 15 per cent or about 34 million of
the citizens who, by waves of immigration, were understandably poor, it would be
preposterous to put them side by side with the over 65 per cent or 67.1 million
below-baseline poor Nigerians, recorded within the same time zone.
Further to that, neither the 10 15 per cent poor in Australia, Canada, Ireland
and the United Kingdom, could be equaled to our own middle-to-middle class, nor
the 5.8 per cent poor in Belgium, Germany, France, the Scandinavian countries
and Italy, be represented as our upstart working but sufficient class.
Somehow, it may be necessary at this point to remind us of what actually
constitutes poverty. The New Webster Dictionary of English Language defines
poverty very traditionally as unproductiveness/deficiency
or inadequate supply... (that is lack in the face of need) while a secular
concept evolves an ideas section of the subject, as the
monastic renunciation of the right to own ... material possessions (that is
possibly having access to or being close to source but consciously rejecting
Some noted scholars have since pushed up the topic to its high gear. Elizabeth
Wilkins is one. According to her, poverty is termed the income of a
community which in subdivision among families and kindred, is less than 40
percent of the norm (living below one US Dollar, a day) ...and such
manifests more in poor infrastructure, poor health, poor nutrition, poor self
esteem, low hygienic standards, low intellectual development and lack of
capacity to articulate social, economic and political environment and low per
the other way, it amounts to the reduction of the person to the margin below the
so-called poverty line, which, on its own, is defined as the
marginal income line at which an adequate living standard is (not) possible.
I hinted above, I took pains to seek the dimensions of poverty, particularly as
it presents a clear challenge of sectional/regional dilemmas at the moment. In
earlier studies of poverty in Europe, Poverty, a study of town life; Poverty
and the welfare state and Poverty and progress Benjamin Seebohn Rowntree,
1871 1956, shocked his established world in the conceptualization of urban
instability and social upheavals, especially in the cases of the urban poor
rising against their kind in a dog eat dog affair (what is popularly
called the pedagogy of the oppressed), which was snowballing into
larger social confusion.
Aptly, what he situated tends to our repeated ethnic violence, intra-class
rivalry, inexplicable urban violence and emerging citizen-heartlessness as clear
manifestations of poverty. These, in our cases, can also be represented in
ethnic chauvinism, political chicanery, money doubling businesses, swindling,
ritual killing, and the likes, employed by the desperados to further
oppress the poor, ignorant and unwary.
Mind you, if what is at issue is inclusion in the now globalizing world, and we
have fixated our national integrity on various identities to form the
geo-physical unity of our nation state, then it is imperative on us to advance
further on the platform of arguments presented by such scholars who anchor the
entire quagmire on paucity of development of both the people and material
let us return again to Middle Belt. I have argued that the point appears headed
for the wrong direction in the effort to compress the Middle Belt issues to
elite interest in grabbing power over a territory. I have tried to review the
arguments for or against the texture of a Middle Belt, still smarting on whether
its characteristics and eventual definition would be culture dominated or
accommodated in the official gesture of the current geo-political status. I have
then concluded that this cannot be the final issues as such did not include the
right foundation for poverty control, mass education, dispassionate appraisal
and strong economic build up to stand as an intervening unit.
Now, what draws my attention is what the Middle Belters seem to
consider an exclusive colonial as well as postcolonial experiences. I do not
think the Middle Belters are alone in their urge for political
affirmation. In fact, as I also hinted earlier, the kind of colonial political
history of Nigeria is the same for every region and it has always been clear to
us that the then surging imperialists never invited any person's opinion at the
institution of their new order.
Right on the bank of the Uriam River, in 1901, chieftain of the arriving
political and military order, Sir Ralph Moor, never minced words about the might
of the imperial order in his threat never to brook any native opinion. He
growled and thundered, the natives must be made to understand that the
government is their master and is determined to establish in and control their
Indeed, prior to 1900, on the suggestion of Miss Flora Shaw, then of Time
Magazine in London and later Lady Luggard, Colonel Fredrick Luggard, strode
so arrogantly, to stop the entire bickering of the natives in carving his super
state, with an acquisitionist mindset rooted in the Colonial London Gazette
of June 5, 1885. He was just implacably unequivocal ... the Niger Districts
... have come under the gracious protection of Her Britannic Majesty, Queen
Elizabeth the First.
these scenes of contact suggest an inclusion of native opinion or even a form of
invitation for one, let alone any form of challenge? The answer is no. The same
kind of colonial masters were to show disdain for the local people when they
arrived for the tin minerals tucked inside the soils of the plateau. They
completely disregarded the norm and formed clusters of the working people, never
minding any need for definitive identity for the native peoples.
Even as its involvement in the World War, 1914 1918, depleted the male human
resources to attend to its urgent need for these tins, imperial Britain in
Nigeria had swiftly transported able-bodied men, in their thousands, from other
regions of Nigeria, particularly in the South, to fill in their need for those
resources. And without bothering about the possible threats to interests of
natives, had pursued their form of economy, which conferred material superiority
to the migrant residents.
his seminal work on Ethnic politics in Nigeria... Prof. Okwudiba Nnoli
reports repeated urban uprisings, majority of which arose from native rejection
of that kind of material privilege, which seemed deliberate in exclusion of the
natives. But in all, the interest of the colonial masters was not quite to
satisfy that interest as might have been craved by the natives but to further
the economy of the home country and brighten the chances of winning the war
against the Axis Forces.
Indeed, the Plateau region was not alone in this. What followed the economic
style of the colonial masters, especially in concentrating approved sectors to
few urban towns, led to an almost a tradition of stampede/scamper to where it
was happening. Remember, the pattern left no option of exchange other than the
approved currency, which could be obtained only in working for the masters.
Naturally, the enviable displays of the then noveau riche, on
visits to their native homes, easily induced torrents of migration to where
it was happening.
People surged to Lagos, Ibadan, Kano, Kaduna, Lokoja, Enugu, Port Harcourt,
Onitsha, Calabar, etc, and it was not long before urban tensions and violence,
began to assume the statuses of weapons against both the colonial masters and
the migrants. Actually for the later, the Igbo, who constituted the biggest
clusters in most of these emerging towns, became major targets and had to pay
painful prices in loss of human and material resources, in virtually every turn.
scenario, has since assumed worse dimensions with the political elite latching
on such opportunities to carve territorial niches to ensure their grips on
political power. And rather than accept the depth of class struggles snowballing
into most of the fracas, they dug in and thunder issues of ethnicity and all
me, the brutality of colonial pattern, the fierceness of competition for
scarce central resources, the ascendance of the Nigeria nation-state and of
course, the reality of the permanence of our contacts, put together, have
compelled dispassionate look, of which any negation would amount to ignoring
such cultivated flows upon which nation-states had been built.
our recent attempts at attending to the complications of such social formations
arising from a kind of precipitate urban creations, the nation state Nigeria -
has tried (though never enough) to reassure, as its venture in tackling minority
questions. These have been especially through repeated constitutional changes,
policy formulations, programmes and actions in response to yearnings, etc and of
course, the creation of states. The last, we have soon discovered, easily spring
up further minorities where it was initially assumed the state creation would
terminate the rancour and bickering of initial agitators.
But, strangely, while the predicament of erstwhile minorities was swept in that
exercise, further challenges have arisen with new majorities seeming hard to
appreciate worries and fears of newer minorities. Strangely again, some
erstwhile minorities sound trite in repeated chants against ex-dominators,
decades after such quasi-affirmative actions conferred by state-statuses, had
been theirs. I am not sure if that is the pointer to the fact that those
ethnic/minority identity gladiators are too far from this level.
What baffles me most is that the urge, in earnest, to transcend such tendencies,
which lead to hurtful parochialism, was sounded out so early, in the life of
Nigeria but was not heeded. In 1936, the Nigerian Youth Movement founded in
1932, took up the gauntlet to seek national character and consensus. As again
reported by Nnoli, it had called for attenuation of such ethnic tendencies, if a
nation-state had to emerge. To that effect, it was reported to have embarked on
a form of national spread of presence and activities with setting up of
branch offices in Ibadan, Ijebu Ode, Warri and Benin City in the West; Aba,
Enugu, Port Harcourt and Calabar, in the East; Jos, Kaduna, Zaria and Kano, in
the North, and had claimed national spread of over 10, 000 membership...in 1938.
Prof. Eyo Ita had subsequently argued, in 1939, that the challenges facing
Nigeria is to build up the groups to achieve a consensus of which a permanent
state would emerge.
Nigeria: Background to Nationalism, James Coleman had questioned the
1920 divisive declaration of Colonial Governor, Sir Hugh Clifford, which to the
very unfortunate effect meant that his government would give to each
separate people the right to maintain its identity, its individuality and its
nationality, its chosen form of government; and the peculiar political and
social institutions which have been evolved for it by the wisdom and accumulated
experiences of generations of its forebears.
Coleman contends that it is because of such colonial mindset that political
mobilization in Nigeria gravitated towards overwhelming emphasis...upon
greater tribal integration ..., which complicated the task of wielding diverse
elements into a Nigerian nation.
technically considered by historians and political scientists, such disposition
of the ruling masters suggestively gave vent to the indirect rule system which
further alienated peoples as it sought to build ruling elites of the approved
others. Take for instance the attempt by Palmers to seek the creation of a
master of the race in Igbo land.
outright failure in the East, and almost total collapse in the West differed
with what occurred in the North - for evident pre-colonial imperial order. But
as can been seen from these agitations, including the stiff desire for a Middle
Belt identity, the bait simply floundered in the attempt to act on behalf of
alien rulers. This is not suggesting that for the whole imperfection of the old
order, it would not have exhibited better statecraft if it had run its show,
without the exploitative prodding of the colonial overlord.
is against this background that I personally reckon that the unfolding scenario
ought to have been presented to the Middle Belt Nigeria as a historic role in
standing as the melting point of the ensuing national initiative at coalescence.
Settled as we are about the recent political history, which fostered prior
political muzzles hemming in the Middle Belt, it would have been expected that
Nigerians, coming from the extremes of the West, East and North, would gravitate
to the geo-physical center, where cosmopolitan tones and spices of variety had
Usually, such previously somnolent environment, sitting on the fringes of
Northern (Hausa/Fulani) establishment, far removed in physical terms from the
pressures and rivalry in the East, West and Mid West, it was like a natural
delight for migrants, who themselves may not completely ignore the lures for
possessive attachment to the hospitable plains and plateau. Mind you, though
drawn by the necessity of working in the tin mines, they could be fleeing from
newly instituted totalitarians warrant and paramount chiefs, etc.
is a burden of the political leaders to advance it as the birthplace of our
true rainbow coalition possibilities and the signature spot for such
competitive cultures, in which the skill, production and managerial
efficiencies, of the people/s, are built to venture into the globalising world.
While I seek not to diminish the fact not the anguish that this region has
contributed immensely in the size of human resources dispensed for the life and
unity of Nigeria, I argue that the immediate offers, are the great promises
of Middle Belt as the launching pad for the fuller realization of the integrity
of Nigeria - the glue of the nation.
that reality, it should lead in liberalization of education, reduction of
poverty, development of hiteck and high skills as well as the
operations of the tripodal cannons of globalization free enterprise
(privatization), stakeholder participatory governance and information technology
(IT). These, in a democratizing world, offer the right kind of meal tickets
for the greater number.
that way, the contending colourations of peoples would have been prepared for
the next world economies and politics of which our collective readiness would
ensure the evolution of the Nigerian man who can hold his end of the stick
elsewhere, for whom we shall all stand to welcome and declare, as in Enugu
God be the glory.
Coleman, James: Nigeria: Background to Nationalism, University of
California Press; Berkeley, California; 1979 (edition).
2. Awolowo, Obafemi: Path to Nigerian Freedom; Faber and Faber, London;
3. Nnoli, Okwudiba: Ethnic Politics in Nigeria; Fourth Dimension
Publishers; Enugu, 1978.
4. Usman, Yusuf Bala: For the Liberation of Nigeria (essays and
lectures, 1969 1978); New Beacon Books Ltd, London; 1980.
5. Bagudu, Nankin (ed.): Linguistic Minorities and Inequality in Nigeria;
League for Human Rights, Jos; 2003.
6. Preiswerk, Roy and Perrot, Domiique: Ethnocentrism and History, Nok
Publishers Ltd, Lagos; 1978.
7. Bagudu, Nankin (ed.): The Right to be Different: Perspectives on Minority
rights, the Cultural Middle Belt and Constitutionalism in Nigeria; League
for Human Rights, Jos; 2001.
8. Ochoche, Sunday (anchorman): Enhancing Peaceful Coexistence in Nigeria
(communiqué of Middle Belt Zonal Conference, Jos); Centre for Peace
Research & Conflict Resolution, National War College; 1998.
9. Bagudu, Nankin (anchor): Minority Rights: Definitive Manual; League
for Human Rights, Jos; 2003.
10. Anifowose, Remi: Violence and Politics in Nigeria, the Tiv and Yoruba
Experience; Nok International Publishers, Enugu; 1982.
11. Dappa-Biriye, Harold J.R: Minority Politics in Pre-and-post Independence
Nigeria; Choba, University of Port Harcourt Publishing House; 1995.