Middle Belt and Power Devolution: Interesting dynamics
by Tony Agbali

Mine is not a direct response to Bolaji Aluko or Ebere Onwudiwe's. Rather it is on something different but related to the issue of the North vs. South dialogue. It is interesting that these articulations hardly talk on an essential part that lies in the intercept between North and South. This is what some people call Central Nigeria or the Middle Belt. Why is it that any power equation does not take into cognizance the injustice done to this area in terms of leadership opportunity in Nigeria at the Federal level. This area is largely marginalized economically and politically, and at all stages they have been significant in glueing Nigerian together, and have sacrificed themselves at each turn for the survival of the Nigerian project.

Many from this area suffers indignity either in the North or South. Their folks died fighting to keep Nigeria one during the civil war (1966-19600, and its spatial area was crucial in letting in the Federal troops into Biafran territory, especially at the Nsukka and Afikpo fronts. Border towns in these area Okene, Ibaji area of Igala land, Idoma area (around Afikpo and Abakiliki) such as Orokam, Owukpa, Utonkon were terrorized by Biafran renegades, with lives and sources of sustenance undermined.

Therefore, it interesting that while historians reckon the Biafran take over of Midwest, especially Benin, they are mutedly silent about the intrusion of these same forces in the Auchi-Okene area, that sent shock and terror into these populations. Federal troops brought Nsukka into submission using Idah, Adoru, and the Igala areas near Nsukka to ensure their entrance into that flank. Many from central Nigeria were maimed and killed in the process, and it was a given that the Middle Belt was the recruiting ground into the military, at a time that many majority ethnics shurned or looked down on the military, prior to the war, but also became intense during the war. Unfortunately, in spite of such magnanimity of sacrifice and interest in protecting Nigeria, there are few military installations, industries, and economic institutions of note in the area, except for Jos, where most of the industrial complexes are privately owned (NASCO, Jos International Brewery) and its rapid development was undertaken by the late Governor J.D. Gomwalk, and specifically during the Gowon era. Thus, it was an area that rose from its abysmal mining urban definition into a modern town, until the recent spate of religious riots that have defaced its spatial beauty.

In addition to this many from this areas have given their lives for Nigeria in real and imagined and false allegations of coups. Among these are Col. Dimka, Police Commissioner and Governor J.D. Gomwalk, Air Commander Ben Ekele, Col. Gideon Orkar, Gen.Mamman Vatsa, among many others. Others simply eliminated for fear of their ability and influence, or die in mysterious and suspicious circumstances, like the amiable, late Brigadier General Anaja and General Tunde Idiagbon.

Now, when it comes to power devolution this section is eclipsed. Yet, interestingly, this area continues to offer their support for different geo-political regions, through different forms of alliances, such as those with the South-South, the South-East, that replicates the earlier alliances with the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) of Joseph Shaahu Tarka with the NCNC and later with the Action Group of Awolowo, the defender of the Middle Belt's right to self-determination.

Having noted this one consideration of interest is that most middle belt political interests when it comes to power determination often tilts interestingly. During the run-up to the Democratic Party primary in Jos in 1992 many Middle Belt party followers- the Governors of Benue (the late Rev. Fr. Moses Orshio Adasu), Taraba (Rev. Jolly Nyame), and Plateau (Mr. Fidelis Tapgun) vetted the Presidential ambitions of the erstwhile party chair, Baba Gana Kingibe, only Adamawa championed the aspirations of Abubakar Atiku of the Yar'Adua group. Kingibe, in spite of such monumental mega-support lost because Shehu Yar'Adua was embittered about Kingibe's (sai Baba) alleged covet role in ensuring his elimination, after earlier primaries were invalidated by then Military despot, President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida.

However, when it became clear that Kingibe was not going to make the ticket, they gave their rounding support to the eventual winner of the 1993 Presidential election, President-elect, Moshood Kashimawo Abiola the carrier of the party's mandate. Thus, in spite of Kingibe's being a Northern Moslem, when Abiola, a Southern Moslem, picked him as his running mate, these Middle Belt governors helped to dose ill-perceived tension, that was surprising given the recent increase in interactional tensions among adherents of Christianity and Islam, and the not-so-far memory of Nigeria's alleged struggled membership into the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC), under Babangida, which Abiola endorsed, and which ripple effect decimated the fortune of his National Concord newspaper, that until then was Nigeria's primal daily newspaper, when it was sanctioned and boycotted by Nigerian Christians under orders from the Christian Association of Nigeria.

What is easily interesting is that anytime that the power devolution is being discussed Middle Belt politicians are often amenable and shifts depending on where they perceive the scale of power. Tarka did this in 1978 joining the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), a reincarnation of the former Nigerian People's Congress (NPC), his former political enemies in the First Republic (1960-1966). Often they align with either the Northern or Southern political elites and interests, in spite of their frequent talk about forging their own political identity as a self-determining geo-political bloc of reckon.

Thus, Dr. Audu Ogbeh and Sunday Awoniyi (Sardauna Kekere) this week have shown where they stand. In spite of the Kwara Yoruba agitation and political wiring of history to indicate that Ilorin is an OPC state (or NADECO). Or the Okun or Ijumu Yoruba attempts to forge a common linearity with their Yoruba kin in Nigeria's West, which was actually opined during the 1950 Richard's Constitution and the Minority Commission (Willink's Commission).

In the NADECO days, they first aligned with the rhetorics "June 12th is a watershed" until the bespectackled General made aligning with the Northern interest convenient and many switched this time toward validating the One North, One people ideology. Any surprise that Chief Solomon Lar served Abacha deservedly, until he was jailed for tampering with the elections that the Langtang mafia were arranging, as endorsed by the "arrangee Langtang Generals, to suit Abacha's party, the Nigerian Peoples Democratic Congress. Chief Barnabas Gemande, a Tiv from Benue was then busy trying to position himself with Abacha, calling for his self-perpetuation in power. Later, Chief Lar, with the G-18, G-34, as they evolved would find himself, with former political foes like Chief Alex Ekwueme trying to retrieve's Nigeria's soul from Abacha. Strange bed fellows!

Now, the bargain is up and we are seeing the political scale swinging again and we wonder where the Middle Belt politicians would stand this time around, would they stand firm or would they waiver.

It is therefore ironic that the Nigerian middle belt has been sidelined in the power aspirations of the North and South, when in reality Nigerian cannot exist without this geographic and political bloc.