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The Middle Belt reawakening and the future of Republic

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By Obadiah Mailafia

A HISTORIC Summit of the peoples of the Middle Belt holds this week. The event began yesterday Monday with a rally and will conclude today Tuesday with a conference on security and development in the region. It was the great novelist Chinua Achebe who once said that, “unless the lion learns to tell his own story, his history will always be written by the hunters”.

Handshake Across the Niger summit

The peoples of the Middle are desirous of telling their own story. They will not wait for the hunters to tell it on their behalf.

The Summit has been graced by the presence of leaders of the South – Afenifere of Yoruba land, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Pan-Niger Delta Development Forum (PANDEF). It’s a great show of solidarity. They are firm in their conviction that, together, they can make this country work.

The Middle Belt is not just a mere geographical expression. The Middle Belt is about identity. The Middle Belt is about solidarity of the peoples of central Nigeria. Our history is that  of great heroes. We were never conquered by the invaders. Our forefathers successfully resisted all foreign impostors who wanted to take over the land under the pretext of a religious ideology. We defeated them then; we will defeat them now. The Middle Belt is about solidarity, about freedom, equality and justice.

Let nobody deceive you: We are the true Nigerians. We did not just walk across the border from yesterday. We have been here for centuries, if not millenniums. The great Kwararafa Kingdom was famous throughout history for its military prowess. It embraced a wide expanse of territory and included ethnic communities such as Jukun, Kutep, Igala, Idoma, Igedde, Shendam and many others. The even older Nok civilisation is also part of the heritage of the Middle Belt peoples. The famous Nok Culture goes as far back as the Egypt of the Pharaohs. Without the Middle Belt – without this bridge that links the North to the South, this country could not possibly survive.

The theme of the Summit and Conference is, “Restructuring and Reawakening”.

Some Nigerians have been rather sceptical about the entire gospel of restructuring; believing it to be a mere vehicle used by those who want to unleash the forces of disintegration. But having observed what is happening today, I we have no choice but to join the restructuring bandwagon. Any system that does not adopt or evolve will sooner or later run into crisis.  This is why the dinosaurs disappeared. They could not adapt to the changing eco-system of the planet and had to disappear.

We believe that for Nigeria to survive and flourish in the coming years we need to re-engineer or federation  so that our institutions can deliver the greatest good for the greatest number under an atmosphere of social justice, patriotism, freedom, the rule of law and democracy.

The reawakening of the Middle Belt is a part and parcel of the new transformation of Nigeria. The Middle Belt want to have regional autonomy and self-governance within a more democratic and more prosperous Nigeria. They want to see their lives and those of their children go forward, in conformity with the humane spirit of our people.  The Middle Belt represent the humanist spirit of ancient Africa; a people that are innately generous, humane and God-fearing.

The bitterest evil that has befallen the Middle Belt has been the ongoing genocide and rapine by so-called Fulani “herdsmen” – deadly armed militias that are also merciless and incredibly cruel. They are strangers both to God and to Humanity. It is incredible that the entire world has remained silent in the face of the genocidal massacres that have been ongoing in Benue, Plateau, Taraba, Adamawa and other places in the Middle Belt.

Only a few weeks ago we got some hopeful signs. We are pleased that, for the first time, the international community is expressing concern at the ongoing atrocities. Amnesty International, the global human rights group, has raised serious concerns regarding the atrocities while the United Nations has decried the lack of concern by constituted authorities as our people continue to be killed and hounded on all sides.

The besieged peoples of the Middle Belt have no choice but to defend their communities. International law and global ethics, in addition to the Nigerian constitution, make it abundantly clear that a people who face an existential threat to their very survival have a bounden duty to defend themselves. Only a fool or a murderous conspirator can tell them not to defend themselves in the face of such murderous evil.

Going forward, I would insist that the new governance architecture of the New Nigeria that we yearn for must be premised on the new paradigm of security-based human development. Human security provides an expansive framework beyond the narrow scope of ‘national security’ which is anchored on the defence of the state and its apparatus. By securing the lives, livelihoods and well-being of people against hunger, disease, want, war and natural catastrophes, the state fulfils its primary mandate as the servant of the people rather than their master.

Most often, when governments refer to ‘national security’ they are referring to the survival of the state and the rulers rather than the security of the people. The fragility of multi-ethnic states such as those of Africa heightens the potential for conflict and instability which compounds the challenges of security. This traditional conception of security has to be distinguished from the new paradigm of human security which transcends the narrow reference to the state and its institutions.

Human security has been defined in terms of “the obligation of the state to provide a facilitating environment for equality and individual participation through democracy, adherence to human rights and the participation of civil society”. Human security embraces the responsibility to protect individuals and communities within and across nations from the physical and emotional insecurity from war, violence and conflict as well as natural and man-made disasters.

Conflict is, of course, inherent in human societies. Ever since Aristotle, politics has existed because human beings living in communities cannot always agree on what constitutes the Good Life or on how scarce resources should be distributed – how to decide on who gets what, when and how. This is also part of the reason why the institution of civil government exists and why we have constitutions, laws and the judiciary. In democracies old and new, political parties provide the institutional framework within which political contestations are organised and channelled into electoral processes to decide who has the popular mandate to govern.

In fragile democracies and in transitional societies such as those of Africa, those who lose out in the political process may resort to the pursuit of power by other means, i.e. through recourse to violence and other forms of self-help, including terrorism. Paraphrasing German military strategist Carl von Clausewitz, we could say, therefore, that terrorism amounts to the pursuit of power – and indeed the continuation of politics — by other means.

Ironically, political science scholars have found democracies to have a greater propensity to generate terrorist activities than military dictatorships and other repressive regimes. On the other hand, new democracies that suffer from high levels of corruption and institutional weakness, such as Nigeria, would tend to generate considerably more levels of terrorist activities. At the other extreme are failed states such as Somalia, which provide a fertile ground for terrorism and all manner of terrorist groups.

The mandate of civil government in Nigeria as elsewhere is to safeguard the lives and properties of its citizens and manage conflict within an eco-system that guarantees security, welfare and prosperity for all.

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