CommuniquÃ© on Inaugural Meeting of the Middle Belt Alliance (MBA)@ Makurdi, Benue State.
Map of the Middle Belt region: Territories considered as part of the Northern protectorate at the unilateral amalgamation of 1914 that were outside the sphere of authority of the Kanem Borno and Usman Dan Fodio empires at the amalgamation of 1914, which include but are not restricted to:
The present Adamawa, Benue, Kogi, Kwara, Nassarawa, Niger, Taraba, and Plateau states; old Southern Kaduna (including Saminaka, Jamaa, and Kachia areas); FCT; Yauri and Zuru areas in present Kebbi state; the old Tangale-waja, and Yamaltu-deba divisions; local government areas of Tafawa Belewa, Bogoro, Dass,and Toro; Southern part of Alkaleri; Gwoza chiefdom and areas of Southern Borno.
The inaugural meeting of the Middle Belt Alliance (MBA) held in Makurdi, Benue state on Saturday, October 15, 2011. The meeting deliberated on the problems, interests, and future of peoples of the Middle Belt, who are indigenous in the territories described above. Having regard to the strategic position of our people in the evolving new Nigeria, the participants at the meeting resolved as follows:
1. The Middle Belt refuses to play second fiddle to the 'North' or to be regarded as an appendage of that North or referred to as people of the 'North Central', but as people of the Middle Belt of Nigeria. We seek our unique identity as a people. When the amalgamation of 1914 was consummated, how many emirates did we have in the old Northern Protectorate? It is either we were in the old north or there was no north. The divide-and-rule tactic of the Hausa-Fulani, and the mental indoctrination by the Islamic Hausa-Fulani apologists, to project a faÃ§ade of 'Muslim North', which they imply to include most of the territories of the Middle Belt described above, is hereby rejected by us.
2. The Middle Belt presently suffers an identity crisis. The MBA meeting resolves to lead an intellectual campaign to enlighten and instill in our people the consciousness that they are Middle Belters with no common interests with AREWA (or the so-called Muslim North). To that end, the MBA calls on all governors of the Middle Belt to understand the times and foster the Middle Belt Governors Forum, and come out of the present Northern Governors Forum. Furthermore, the meeting agreed that some of the traditional titles borne by certain Middle Belt leaders do not have origins in the Middle Belt. We must be proud of our culture and the pre-dominant religion (Christianity) of our region; no Islamic theocracy shall be accepted in any part of our territory. Any constitutional arrangement that seeks to permit Sharia law implementation in any inch of our territory shall be resisted with all resources at our disposal. Religion is an individual choice to make, and must not be imposed.
3. Although the sons and daughters of the region contributed in fighting on the side of the federal troops during the civil war, we have not seen the benefit of that. We seek that benefit in terms of shared infrastructure that will improve the quality of living of our people. For instance, we want the dredging of the River Niger to reach up to River Benue in order to link us with the Atlantic Ocean in the South for our economic leverage. The betrayal of our cause by a few members of our region does not reflect us-our culture, our consciousness, and our future. The meeting agreed that we must establish both formal and informal structures in the political Nigeria. All public officials from our region are called upon to use their offices to promote the interests of our people, and to speak up by themselves or through the MBA.
4. We have huge arable land, and majority of our people are engaged in farming. Yet, policies of the central government do not encourage agricultural production. For instance, whereas we are the largest producers of oranges in Nigeria (Benue state alone loses more than 390 metric tons a year), because the central government's economic policies encourage beverage makers to import orange concentrates from abroad, our region suffers economic loses, and yet we cannot make certain legislation that shall be in our interest because of the many items on the exclusive legislative list in the current contraption called the 1999 constitution. We are the largest producers of yam, but do not earn the largest amount of revenue from it; we are the largest farmers in pigs, etc. Strategic investment in agriculture and friendly agricultural policies of the central government will usher in a wave of economic prosperity for our people. Fulani herdsmen move their cattle freely on our lands, destroy our crops in the process, and so, violent clashes are rampant, yet, there is no law made that would restrict them. The Land Use Act inhibits us. And while the Hausa-Fulani could settle freely in any of our territories, and even have their 'emirates' created by a process that is so unjust and discriminatory, our citizens cannot get such treatment in the lands they have forcefully appropriately. The time has come for us to stand up to this.
5. We have lost some of our industries, and have little federal presence in terms of location of industries. For instance, we have huge deposits of limestone just like our Niger Delta brethren have huge deposits of crude oil. Yet, we don't benefit from this. For instance, the Benue Cement Company, in which Benue State had 22 percent shares, has been sold out to Dangote. Our shares have gone away, our people have been left empty-handed; protests by our youths have yielded no tangible results. Such injustice must be re-dressed.
6. Our lands are being taken away forcefully by people that have abused our hospitality. The crisis in Plateau State testifies to this. We must be free; we want to be free.
7. Our Southern Zaria (in Southern Kaduna State) people remain subjugated in their state. The Southern Kebbi brethren are second-class citizens in Kebbi State. We seek a constitution that protects our rights on our lands. We want a new arrangement in Nigeria that protects the weak in society. We are a very diverse people in the Middle Belt, who are very vulnerable if we don't stick together, but who are an awesome group if we stick together. We serve as a buffer zone between the South and the North. We are significant in Nigeria. We refuse to be second-class, and are ready to work with other groups in Nigeria on the basis of equality and mutual respect. As a group, we rank among the largest in Nigeria, with diverse agricultural and other possibilities.
8. We demand for a sovereign national conference that will fashion out a constitution for Nigeria, where each federating unit shall have control of their resources, and progress at their pace; a constitution that will convey justice and equity, and exclude waste.
The meeting resolved to call our platform, which shall serve as the mouthpiece for all of our peoples, and which shall relate with all unions, associations, and nationalities of Middle Belt peoples in every part of the world in promotion of our cause, The Middle Belt Alliance (MBA), with national secretariat at Jos, Plateau state. Three committees were created, each with a committee chair as follows:
A. Strategy Committee, with Engr. Nathaniel Apir as chair. Members: 1. Comrade Andrew Butswat 2. Major George Nchok Asake 3. Chief Apine
B. Programs Committee, with Rev. Dr. Abubakar Manzo as chair. Members: 1. Hon. Habila Lumana 2. Mr. Philip Torkuha 3. Dr. Leonard Shilgba 4. Ms Jennifer Gbishe-Ehimore 5. Mr. Andy Ajiir 6. Mr. Sam Agwa
C. Finance Committee, with Rev. James Pam as chair. Members: 1. Comrade Lewis Elaigwu Abah 2. Mr. Chia Titor Addingi 3. Engr. Kemi Shilgba The leadership of the Middle Belt Alliance (MBA) was also unanimously approved as follows:
Chairman of the MBA: Dr. Leonard Shilgba Secretary: Comrade Andrew Ayuba Butswat
All committee chairs shall serve on the leadership council of five. The next meeting holds in Jos later this year.
Dr. Leonard Shilgba Comrade Andrew Ayuba Butswat Chairman of MBA Secretary of MBA