PROF. ANGO ABDULLAHI
With 2015 still two years away, the craving for power shift by the north appears to be coming under threat as the Middle Belt region has decided to pitch tent with those comfortable with a second term for President Goodluck Jonathan, writes Reuben Buhari
Whether there is still a united north in its true definition is an issue that has both been simmering and agitating the minds of many for years. It again came under closer scrutiny when leaders from the South-south recently visited President Goodluck Jonathan and asked him to consider going for a second term in 2015. That in itself is not surprising considering the fact that the president, who is from the zone, should naturally hold a strong allure for his people – who are desirous of seeing him back again in 2015.
However, what stands out in that visit was the inclusion of leaders from the Middle Belt, who also urged the president to run for a second term. The visit, according to First Republic Minister of Information, Chief Edwin Clark, was under the aegis of Congress for Equity and Change and includes among the Middle Belt leaders, a former Military Governor of Katsina State, Major-General Lawrence Onoja, Senator Ameh Ebute and Senator John Wash Pam.
Onoja and Pam are not just northerners but strong members of the Arewa Consultative Forum - a northern socio-cultural forum that speaks out for the region, and the Northern Elders Forum, which is at the forefront of ensuring that power returns to the north.
Predictably, the visit didn’t go down well with some in the north who considered it a betrayal of those working for the strengthening of the north’s unity, and an indictment on the decades-old slogan of ‘one north, one people’. The visit also influenced the re-surfacing of the term ‘core north’ which includes the North-west and the North-east, and the ‘fringe north’ in the North-central, populated largely by minority ethnic groups.
Even though the decision of the middle belt to aligned themselves with other minority ethnic tribes, as evident in the visit to Mr. President on Monday 18 June 2013, could come as a surprise to others, the northern political establishment is quiet aware that the middle belt romancing of other minority ethnic tribes, or the formation of a separate political progressive alternative to that of the north, has been a recurring decimal in the north’s quest to politically speak and act in unison.
This could be seen early enough during the First Republic with the formation of the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) which was a fusion of two major middle belt organisations, the Middle Zone League and the Middle Belt Peoples' Party, to create a political platform for those in the middle belt and serve as an alternative minority voice in the Northern Nigeria Assembly.
The Assembly then was dominated by the Northern People's Congress; a political party which the central Nigerian leaders felt had the potential to curb the middle belt's political voice. The UMBC in due time, became the largest opposition party in the Northern Nigeria Assembly. In 1958, the UMBC entered into an alliance with the South-west Nigeria dominant Action Group of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. This was an early signal of more searches for ‘mutual friends’ by the middle belt region.
The Major Gideon Orkar coup of 1990 that sought to topple the regime of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida was again another pointer to the relation the middle belt had with the South-south and other minority groups. Major Orkar started his broadcast by saying “on behalf of the patriotic and well-meaning peoples of the Middle Belt and the southern parts of this country, I, Major Gideon Orkar, wish to happily inform you of the successful ousting of the General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida administration.”
He went further to say that: “We wish to emphasis that this is not just another coup but a well conceived, planned and executed revolution for the marginalised, oppressed and enslaved peoples of the Middle Belt and the south with a view to freeing ourselves and children yet unborn from eternal slavery and colonisation by a clique of this country.
“Our history is replete with numerous and uncontrollable instances of callous and insensitive dominatory repressive intrigues by those who think it is their birthright to dominate till eternity, the political and economic privileges of this great country to the exclusion of the people of the Middle Belt and the south. They have almost succeeded in subjugating the Middle Belt and making them voiceless and now extending same to the south,” he said before the coup was discovered to have failed.
However, all these, including events leading to the selection of the North’s consensus presidential candidate in 2011 by the Northern Elders Forum, and the reaction of the middle belt to that arrangement, has for long shown that the phrase ‘one north, one people’ is a relative matter of individual interpretation and acceptance.
Some have written and spoken eloquently to the fact that the north itself, in its true definition of one entity, doesn’t exist anymore. A topical question that has always come to the fore is that, if the northern establishment is sincere in its quest for a presidential candidate and in keeping with the phrase of a united north, would it ever select a minority from the middle belt to fly it consensus presidential flag? Again, a lot of people have projected various opinions on whether that is possible or not.
Analysts have, however, posited that based on the alleged unequal relationship between the core north and the middle belt and the cultural differences that exist, the Middle Belters have always sought for hands of fellowship from other fellow minorities. They assumed that their interest will always be best protected with others across from their region, rather than their ‘kith and kins’ within their own geographical enclave. These acts have always added to the division within the region.
The Northern Elders Forum, through its spokesperson, Professor Ango Abdullahi, in reacting to the members of the Middle Belt who accompanied Chief Edwin Clark to endorse President Jonathan for a second term, and conscious of the north’s desire to have power return to it in 2015, said the alliance between the Middle Belt and others is a thing of concern to the north in view of its attempt to foster unity within the region. He then stated that the interest of the middle belt is best secured within the north.
According to him, part of the reasons Clark and others were asking President Jonathan to re-contest in 2015 is possible because of the alliance that the South-south and the middle belt have entered into, but said “we will wait and see whether the alliance of minorities, whether in the South-south or in the middle belt, when the votes are counted, will be enough to secure victory for the president.”
The north, according to him is trying to achieve this unity, not on the basis of selfishness, but on the basis of right and objectivity, and those who go into alliance with others, will still find out that the north will still be here.
Bouncing off what could be the reason for such division, Prof Ango said “If you look at the reasons they are giving, it can’t go beyond certain sentiment that has to do with religion rather than anything else. And if that sentiment is purely based on religion, then that alliance is bound to fail,” he said.
The ACF on the other hand, was more subtle in its reaction to the visit, when it accused the Middle Belt members that visited Jonathan as trying to give the impression that the north is divided. It however noted that people have the right to associate, hold opinions and change their minds.
“Members of ACF have the right to change their minds, including decamping across political parties. And that is why the change of mind which manifested during the elections into the Nigerian Governors Forum should not be allowed to factionalise both the Nigerian Governors Forum and Northern States Governors Forum the way they have been factionalised,” he said.
This has been the situation for a long time within the north, amongst other factors, the reluctance of the Middle Belt to also agree fully on former vice-president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the north’s consensus presidential candidate in the 2011 presidential primaries aided in no small measure to the final outcome.
Even though the north has been able to dictate to a larger extent, political and socio-economic happening within the region, the Middle Belt has also not relented in its constant sniping at northern unity and with each passing year, the Middle Belt has continued to fine-tune its quest for more and more freedom.
Now, with 2015 presidential elections approaching, the north, more than any other time in its existence, needs to work harder at reducing the widening gap between it and those in the Middle Belt. It should address all perceived and assumed differences; unite all groups so it can fully approach its quest for power shift in 2015 without internal distraction.