…amid renewed agitation for restructuring
By Peter Duru, Makurdi
Leaders of the Middle Belt have taken up the mettle of redefining the stake of the people of the zone in a corporate Nigeria.
Rallying on the platform of the Middle Belt Forum, MBF, the leaders and people of the zone also opened channels of conviviality with leaders of the southern part of the country, including the Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo and the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, and by so doing aggregate a common front on burning national issues.
The alignment also availed these socio-cultural groups a united platform through rallies and discussions to canvass solutions to the myriad of problems confronting the nation.
One of these instances was the last outing of the MBF in Makurdi, Benue State capital, tagged 2018 Mega Rally and Conference, held under the theme, Restructuring Nigeria and Reawakening.
The two-day programme, which attracted notable leaders from the Middle Belt, including Governor Darius Ishaku of Taraba State, Prof. Jerry Gana, members of the states and National Assembly from the zone, Gen. Theophilus Danjuam (ret.) who was represented, traditional and religious leaders and people drawn from across the states of the zone.
The rally also had in attendance placard bearing women and youths with such inscriptions as “we say no grazing colony”, “stop the killings in the Middle Belt”, “we demand a restructured federation” and “nobody will chase us away from our ancestral home”.
However the sour point of the gathering was when news filtered into the arena that the air plane intended to convey a delegation of southern Nigeria leaders who were billed to attend the gathering was denied landing permit at the Makurdi airport by the authorities of the Nigerian Air Force.
The development was greeted by loud condemnation by many participants at the gathering who felt it was another untoward display of power by the federal authorities to demean the people of the Middle Belt and leaders who gave their youthful years to build, sustain and develop the country.
The news of awkward treatment meted to the southern leaders was made public by a former National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, chieftain, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman (ret.) while addressing the gathering.
Suleiman cautioned that the leaders of the Middle Belt would not be cowed, promising that the region would continue to work together to ensure safety and victory for its people.
The retired senior air force officer said, “Despite challenges confronting the region, the Middle-Belt will remain united and continue to march forward to greatness.
“There is need for Nigeria to be restructured to give way to fair sharing of resources because justice must be delivered to the people of the regions.
“Middle Belters are no cowards. We shall march to victory. Forward ever, backward never. We all must liberate the Middle Belt from all repressive tendencies.
“This current nonsense must not be allowed to continue. We must strategize for a common front and we will get there”.
While condemning the action of the federal authorities in stopping southern leaders from joining the occasion, he cautioned against wilful infringement on the rights of peaceful and law-abiding Nigerians.
According to him, the gathering was put together to marshal out workable solutions to the challenges facing the country.
Suleiman urged Nigerians to key into it for the greater good and unity of the country.
Also addressing the occasion, Governor Darius Ishaku appreciated the efforts of the National Assembly for initiating a bill to establish state and local government police.
The governor faulted the provisions of the 1999 Constitution which forbid state and local government police, noting that the US Constitution, from which the Nigerian Constitution was largely drawn from, provided for local and state police.
He sued for accelerated attention and passage of the bill, stressing that, if passed and subsequently signed into law, it would go a long way to address incessant killings in the country, particularly in the Middle-Belt.
Ishaku lamented that the Federal Government was busy fighting corruption while innocent citizens were being killed mindlessly by armed herdsmen, stressing that “killing people is another form of corruption and the worst of it all in all ramifications”.
The governor added, “In today’s Nigeria, when one steals one million Naira he is prosecuted and sent to jail but when some persons kill innocent people in their sleep they are allowed to walk free. How can that be justified?
“This must stop. Nigeria is a great country but it is wasting away. Every state in Nigeria is a potential country on its own”.
Ishaku urged the Federal Government to put the machinery in motion to restructure the country in order to address the challenges confronting Nigeria.
Despite their absence at the rally, the southern leaders who were stranded in Abuja made their speech through phone call and contributed to the theme of the conference.
Afenifere leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, said that people would resist any attempt to stop the activities of the MBF and those of other geopolitical zones.
He noted that in Nigeria, no ethnic group was subordinate to another, adding, “We are all one in this struggle, we want a situation where everyone will be equal. Restructuring is long overdue, we are all one, nobody can separate us,”Adebanjo said.
General Danjuma, who was represented by General Zamani Lekwot (ret.), decried the mindless killings in the Middle Belt, saying he would not be silent and watch Nigeria break up.
While throwing his weight behind the restructuring of the country, the former Defence Minister said, “Some of us fought hard to keep the country together, many died while defending their fatherland, we will not allow these sacrifices to be in vain”.
In his speech, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State reiterated his call for the arrest of leaders of Miyeitti Alla Kautal Hore who he alleged openly vowed to unleash terror on the Benue valley and eventually carried out their threat.
He said, “Which hate speech is more than what the Miyeitti Alla Kautal Hore gave and they are not arrested?”
The governor lamented that the people of Benue had incurred over N400billion as damages to property and goods as a result of alleged herdsmen incursions in the state and appealed to the Federal Government to do the needful by apprehending those behind the attacks which, according to estimates, have claimed over 500 lives since the beginning of the year.
“We all need each other, big ethnic groups need small ethnic groups, vice versa, we are all key stakeholders in the Nigeria project”, Ortom said.
He threw his weight behind the restructuring of the country and devolution of powers, charging Nigerians to remain committed to a united nation.
The governor recalled that his administration, in line with the wish of the people of Benue, enacted the open grazing prohibition law to stem the spate of killing in the state arising from herders/farmers crisis, stressing that the law was a win-win for herders and farmer alike.
While commending the personnel of Operation Whirl Stroke, a military spike operation to end killings in the state, he urged the Federal Government to take urgent steps to relocate the persons displaced by the crisis to their ancestral homes to enable them live their normal lives.
Resolutions reached at the end of the meeting, read out by the legal adviser of the forum, Mr. Mark Jack, include the restructuring of Nigeria and the creation of two more states in the eastern and Middle Belt regions of the country.
Others include the endorsement of the recommendation of the 2014 confab to address noticeable imbalances in the country.
The gathering also recommended a presidential system of government that makes provision for three Vice Presidents.
The leaders of the zone vowed to stand united in the face of adversity in line with the ideals of the founding fathers of Nigeria, stressing that any attack on any community in the Middle Belt would invariably amount to an attack on all.