North is now terrified after exploiting northern minorities for a long time —Pogu
Dr. Bitrus Pogu is the National President of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF). In this interview by ISAAC SHOBAYO, he bares his mind and gives the position of the group on why the Middle Belt now finds it difficult to align with the far North and the point of departure. Excerpts:
Sir, some prominent northerners posited that there is only one north and North Central is part of it. They hold that the idea of Middle Belt had since fizzled out with the creation of six geo-political zones, what is your reaction to this assertion?
North Central didn’t exist, it was geographically created by the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha. So we have a geo-political zone which is not constitutional. The issue of North Central is a nebulous structure which doesn’t have Constitutional recognition but has political recognition. The Middle Belt was there even before Independence, those in doubt should consult the Willink’s Commission reports. The Willink’s Commission that time visited many minority areas and other places in the North West and North East. These places are in the commission’s report. All minority nationalities of the North were visited and recommendations were made before Independence that they should be recognised as separate entities but the North ensured that it didn’t happen. They ensured that the North remains one because they knew they would not be able to compete with the South if the Middle Belt is removed from the North. Also about the time when preparation for Independence was coming up, those within the Middle Belt realised that they were not part of the caliphate. So they started the movement for the Middle Belt to the extent that a political party called the Middle Belt Congress was established by J.S Tarka and his colleagues. This embraced all non Hausa-Fulani in the North. If the North is now terrified for having exploited the minorities in the North for a long time and pretends to be the big guy that loves us, our eyes are now open. They had better come to the realisation now that Middle Belt exists and also that some people of the North West and the North East are part of the Middle Belt. The Willink’s Commission should give them the idea of what constitutes the Middle Belt.
But the belief of the core North is that issues such as marginalisation of the Middle Belt which led to the struggle is no longer feasible, especially with the creation of states and the North Central zone. How do you react to this?
If that is the case there is no basis for the North to exist. If every state can stand on its own why do they have Arewa Consultative Forum? If that is the case let every state stand on its own but they come as a group trying to lord it over other Nigerians. During the tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, some people in the Middle Belt areas in the North West and North East were appointed into some key positions, this set of people from the far North said those appointed were not northerners. So what they are saying is that you have to be a Muslim before you become a northerner or what? The issue is that they have even been using religion to exploit the minorities but we are saying no, religion has nothing to do with it. You don’t use religion to exploit people. We have different ethnic nationalities and these ethnic nationalities, though they are smaller groups than the Hausa-Fulani, they have the right to come together and fight for their rights and what the Middle Belt represents. We are together to fight for our rights collectively. Remember the killings in Benue and Plateau states and in other Middle Belt states, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association came out boldly to say they are responsible for it; but when the daughter of Afenifere leader was killed recently they couldn›t own up to it because it involved a bigger group and they know the consequences. When we come together we become group as well and fight for our right.
Why does the Middle Belt Forum find it convenient to align itself with pressure groups in the South like Afenifere, Ohaneze and PANDEF instead of working with the likes of Arewa Consultative Forum in the North?
We had been aligning with the North, supporting the North to be great but the North has been discriminating against the Middle Belt. The far North sees the Middle Belt as an appendage, maybe in line with what the late Sardauna of Sokoto said when Nigeria was about to get Independence. He was quoted to have said that “Nigeria is an estate of his great grandfather Usman Danfodio and also to use the northern minority as willing tools and the South as conquered territory, that the north will be the one to determine our future.” But we are partnering with other people to be able to redirect and reengineer Nigeria for better co-existence of everybody. In a country where there is equity, democracy being played out, we should be free to partner with people we want, those who want this country to progress. We share same ideology with the southern groups, like the call for restructuring for example. If this takes place, the police will not allow our people to be killed without defending them as the federal police is being used to do. The federal police has not helped in arresting the situation. People are being attacked; people are being killed and they would be watching. Herdsmen are killing and nobody is arrested. That cannot happen if there is proper restructuring.
What is the position of the Middle Belt Forum concerning governors in the zone that are not inclined to your position?
Some of them have not been librated. For you to be librated you should be able to stand on your own. You don’t have to depend on someone from Sokoto or Kano to stand, those governors or persons from the far north are not better than you. So, that psychological libration has to take place. Some have been librated but some have not, we are praying that they would see the light and identify with the people. If you ask the people on the ground they would tell you where they pitch their tent.
What is the umbrella body of the people in the Middle Belt doing to arrest the state of killings in the zone?
There is a little bit of calm for now but we are hoping all issues will be resolved and there is going to be peace. The fact that our security agencies are being exposed giving what happened in Taraba State and the confession of the arrested kidnapper and other arrests in recent time corroborated what the people have been saying concerning our security agencies. So, gradually the evil people will be exposed.