The Leaders’ Conference and Inauguration of the New Executive Council of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF) was held on Tuesday, 12th December, 2017 at Ajuji Hotel, Abuja, FCT. The Conference was attended by leaders and delegates from the following states of the Middle Belt Forum: Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Southern Borno, FCT, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau, Southern Kebbi, Kaduna, Gombe, Taraba and Southern Yobe.
There was an opening remark by the outgoing President of the MBF, Prof. Jerry Gana; a presentation by Dr. Obadiah Mailafiya, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank and development economist; as well as a lecture by Prof. Yusufu Turaki on the topic: The Political Question of the Middle Belt in Nigerian Politics. The new President of the MBF gave an acceptance speech which was a historical voyage and a projection into the future of the peoples of the Middle Belt in the Federation of Nigeria and in the entire universe.
Conference recognized the strengths of the Middle Belt which include qualitative human resource, arable land and mineral resources in all the states of the Middle Belt and was appreciative of their forebears who created cultures such as the Nok Culture and others, which were amongst the oldest and most civilized in the world of their time. Conference also proudly recognized that the peoples of the Middle Belt were never conquered by any group.
Conference sadly regretted that despite the earlier stated strengths and advantages of the Middle Belt, the region is lagging behind in both the economic and political spheres.
Conference noted the sustained attacks on the entire Middle Belt region by Fulani Herdsmen and expressed grave concern that these sustained attacks have continued for close to a decade and have worsened in the last few years making agricultural activities and travels within the region extremely dangerous with reports of kidnappings, rapes and murders being received on a daily basis.
Conference was extremely unhappy that the responses by security agencies to the cry of communities under attacks have always been largely ignored as recently voiced out by His Excellency, Arc. Darius Ishaku, Governor of Taraba State and His Majesty, the Hamman Bachama, amongst many others.
Conference strongly rejected the “Foreign Fulani Herdsmen” explanation given by leaders in order to evade blame about the nonchalance of Hausa-Fulani leaders for not bringing the mass killers to book and beggars the question: why are these herdsmen attacking only non-Hausa/Fulani communities?
Conference expressed sadness that the Middle Belt autochthonous nations were not part of the negotiations since 1953, leading to Federalism in 1954 and the ones resulting in state creations in 1967, 1976, 1987, 1991 and 1996, saddling Nigeria with 36 gerrymandered “states” and a Federal Capital Territory.
Conference was extremely proud of Professor Jerry Gana, the outgoing President of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF) for his courage, dogged determination and commitment to the struggle for the liberation of all peoples of the Middle Belt and their prosperity irrespective of tongue or religion.
B. After extensive deliberations, Conference resolved as follows:-
1. To alert the world that Northern Nigeria is at war with itself and that this full-scale War was unilaterally imposed against the unsuspecting “minority” ethnic nationalities in Northern Nigeria and that the world should remember that Nigerian autochthons since 1980 have been physically targeted and openly attacked not by Southerners, not by Foreigners but by fellow Nigerians from what used to be the Northern Region. In this respect, Conference further resolved to call on relevant Northern leadership to rise to their responsibilities and stop this tradition now becoming a culture.
2. To remind the world that these attacks have since 2011 heightened gaining in notoriety, planning and execution in well-coordinated massacres of predominantly minority communities, be they Muslims or Christians; the kidnap and forceful marriage of Christian girls with the connivance of traditional Rulers and law enforcement agencies, sadly with a pretentious look of helplessness by Federal and state governments and that these incidents are stoppable if there are no ulterior political motives behind them.
3. To use all resources at the disposal of the MBF to stop the hate appellations and derogatory words in reference to non-Hausa-Fulani of the North, like “arna”, ‘ya’yan arna”, “kafirai”, etc even when referring to Christians (Ahl-ul kitab) or even to native Middle Belters who are Muslims which hate words are sparingly used, if at all, against business partners from the South that are non-Muslims. The MBF has come to the conclusion that the terms are deliberately encouraged to categorize others for easy attacks and killings without conscience or consequences.
4. That the current agitation for restructuring should not be subsumed under the historical trend of NORTH vs. SOUTH games of outwitting each other as what is needed is an organic Nation, not a market place for deal-making bargains by elite participants close to governments of the day and devoid of popular inputs. Conference therefore resolved in this regard to mandate the leadership of the MBF to continue to remind the nation that the Northern and Southern protectorates, as far back as 1914, were married into one country regardless of the feelings, let alone participation of the autochtonous peoples of the Middle Belt.
5. That the next President from the former Northern region must be of Middle Belt extraction and that the Middle Belt Forum will continue to be non-partisan but will remain passionately political with focus on the defence of the interests of the Peoples of the Region.
C. Pursuant to the resolutions above, Conference hereby demand as follows:
1. Government should immediately make changes in the nation’s security architecture that has created a feeling of alienation by the peoples of the Middle Belt as these security agencies have failed, refused or neglected to respond to distress calls of Middle Belt communities when they are under attack by Fulani herdsmen.
2. Government should immediately commence the restructuring of the nation by implementing the report of the 2014 Conference. The implementation of the 2014 National Conference will address some of the serious concerns of the peoples of the Middle Belt who feel that they have been unjustly treated in the Nigerian project.
3. Conference acknowledged and appreciated His Excellency, Governor Samuel Ortom, the Government of Benue state and His Excellency, Governor Darius Ishaku and the Government of Taraba State for the passage of the Anti-open Grazing laws in their various states. Conference encouraged all the states of the Middle Belt to expeditiously prohibit, by law, open grazing and abolish grazing reserves while replacing pastoralism with ranching.
4. Conference calls on government at all levels to maintain and defend in practice, the constitutional provisions on the secular status of Nigeria and insist on the non-establishment of state religion; as well as guaranteeing religious freedom and the right to change one’s religion.
5. Government at all levels should provide clear policies on citizens, residents and indigenes; and clearly delineate their rights and privileges. In addition, state governments should forthwith resuscitate and recognize the independence of all Middle Belt traditional institutions.
6. Adopt measures to protect citizens from gender-based discrimination and abuse, as well as the use of cultural practices to subjugate women and deny them full participation in the affairs of their communities and state. In particular, government and the security agencies must bring to book individuals accused of the kidnapping, forceful conversion and marriage of Christian girls in the Middle Belt, be there traditional rulers or other individuals.
D. INAUGURATION OF NEW LEADERSHIP
The New leadership of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF) was inaugurated in a colourful ceremony by the outgoing President, Prof. Jerry Gana. The new leadership has Dr. Bala Takaya as President, Alh. (Engr) Tanko Abdullahi as Vice President, Chief Ben Dikki as General Secretary, Dr. Shem Zagbayi Nuhu as Deputy General Secretary, Mrs. Pauline Tallen as National Woman Leader, Barr. Mark Jacob as Legal Adviser, Bar. Alex S. Marama, Deputy Legal Adviser, Dr. Isuwa Dogo as Publicity Secretary and Adakole Ijogi as Youth Coordinator, Emma Zopmal as National Youth Leader amongst others.
Conference congratulated Professor Jerry Gana for a very successful tenure and prayed that the Almighty God will continue to protect, prosper and give him long life to continue his service to the Middle Belt and humanity. Conference congratulated the new President and his entire Executive Council and wish them a very successful tenure. Finally, Conference thanked the organisers, paper presenters and delegates who made time to be in attendance.
DR. BALA TAKAYA CHIEF BEN DIKKI
President General Secretary