* Bemoans killings, destruction of property under APC
By Shola Oyeyipo in Abuja
Less than five days to the much anticipated 2019 presidential election, the leadership of the people of the Middle Belt has reiterated its earlier position that the region is backing the candidacy of the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, for the February 16 election.
Making the clarification Tuesday at a press briefing in Abuja and urging voters in the North-central states to massively vote for Atiku, the President, Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Dr. Bitrus Pogu, said President Muhammadu Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) were unable to fulfill their campaign promises and should therefore be voted out.
The Middle Belt Forum, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) had jointly adopted Atiku on February 3, after a meeting held at Sheraton Hotel, Abuja.
According to Pogu, middle belters in Benue, Plateau and Nasarawa States were victims of unimaginable hardships that emanated from insecurity leading to loss of lives and destruction of properties due to the failure of the Buhari administration.
He said: “One major consideration for us in this election is the security of lives and property of the peoples of the Middle Belt region. It is no secret that in the close to four years of the Buhari-led administration, the entire Middle Belt was turned into a vast killing field.
“According to Amnesty International (AI), a human rights group, 1,814 people were killed across 17 states in Nigeria within six months in 2018. In 2017, 894 deaths via killings, was recorded. Within the first four months of the year 2018, 801 persons had been murdered in the Middle Belt alone.
“The property lost has not been properly quantified in pecuniary terms but the world knows that the attacks are characterised by burning of houses, farms, vehicles and any property within sight. The primary responsibility of government as enshrined in Section 14 (2) of the Nigerian Constitution, 1999 (as amended) is the protection of lives and property.
“The Buhari-led administration has failed woefully in that duty and endangered the entire Middle Belt region. We therefore had no hesitation in rejecting him as a candidate deserving of our support in the forthcoming presidential election.”
He said it is in the interest of the well-being of their people that the MBF opted to throw its weight behind the PDP candidate having extracted commitment on the protection of lives and property of the people in the region.
“For us in the Middle Belt, therefore, the forthcoming presidential election on February 16, 2019 is crucial and very critical to the survival of the peoples of the Middle Belt. It will determine whether the onslaught on the region will continue for the next four years or whether the people will receive succour from the Federal Government of Nigeria.
“After discussing with Atiku Abubakar and observed his campaigns, we believe he has the intellectual and mental capacity as well as the vitality to attend to the security challenges in the Middle Belt, in particular and the entire nation, in general. This was our primary consideration in our endorsement of the candidate,” Pogu stated.
He added that: “Another major consideration for our endorsement was the candidate’s stand on the issue of restructuring of the Nigerian federation. As presently constituted, the Nigerian federation is unwieldy and a contraption for the annihilation of the peoples of the Middle Belt, our cultures and aspirations.
“The position of the Middle Belt over the years has been that a restructured Nigeria will work best for the development of the region.
“Aiku’s stand when we discussed with him and subsequently throughout his campaigns, has been an unwavering commitment to restructuring. He has a plan and has committed himself to doing by undertaking to present a bill on restructuring to the National Assembly within the first six months.
“This is music to our ears. We also noted his pan- Nigerian acceptability as a detribalised Nigerian and we are convinced that his tenure will not be characterised by nepotism in his appointments, clannish in his dealings nor bigoted in his relationship with the peoples of the Middle Belt.
“It is on the basis of the foregoing that we call on all our people in the Middle Belt region to turn out en mass on this coming Saturday and vote for Atiku Abubakar, the candidate of the PDP, as it is only under him that peace and security of lives and property can return to the entire Middle Belt region.”