The National President of Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Dr. Bitrus Pogu, has said that when it comes to political power equation, the North doesn’t see the Middle Belt as part of them. He therefore said as such the area is distinct and not an appendage of the North or any other section of the country. In this interview with VINCENT KALU, he stressed that power should shift to the South, pointing out that it is selfishness for a Northerner to succeed President Buhari.
Another prominent voice from the area and former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Abubakar Tsav, has however disagreed with Porgu over his position that Middle Belt is not part of North. Reacting, Tsav accused Porgu of toeing the line of Major Gideon Orkar’s coup speech by holding that position.
Orkar and other military officers on April 22, 1990, plotted a coup to oust then Military President Ibrahim Babangida, but it was foiled. Tsav said: “Gideon Orka in his coup speech pointed out that Middle Belt was not part of North.
“The first person who started this thing was J. S. Tarka, and along the line, he found that he was pursuing a bad cause, and he came back and identified himself with the North. Anybody who tells you that Middle Belt is a different identity, and is not in the North is lying and doesn’t know what he is talking about. That is Porgu’s personal perception.”
On the formation of a political party, the United Middle Belt Congress by Tarka to advance the cause, Tsav noted that Tarka did a detour when he realised he was fighting a wrong cause.
“When J. S. Tarka started the political party, how did it end? He came back, and that was why he was appointed what he was appointed and he died in that position. You see these people; they want to severe us completely from the North.
“They want a place where they will be relevant, a place where they will have the opportunity to steal, a place where they will have the opportunity to marginalise others, a place where they will have the opportunity to do to others what they felt others did to them.
“They are talking rubbish. Middle Belt is completely part of the North. Have they corrected the ills going on in Benue State; have they questioned the non-payment of workers and pensioners? They are not serious and should not be taken seriously,” Tsav stressed. Below are excerpts of the interview with Porgu.
Are you not worried over the state of insecurity in the country at the moment?
I’m worried, but why should I be afraid? I believe that Nigerians are up to it and they can handle challenges that come their way. Though frightening, I believe there is no problem that is insurmountable. However, as an individual, I feel there isn’t anything that should shake me.
But it is shaking the foundation of the country
Of course, that is why we are speaking out. It is unfortunate that we have people in government who seem not to care about the plight of the people in the country. So, the primary responsibility of government has been defeated, which is the provision of security and welfare for the people. Going by that, all I can say is that it is unfortunate that we are in a kind of situation we are in, but I believe together as Nigerians, where the government fails we can still salvage the situation.
Some analysts say if the situation continues unattended to that it may lead to the break up of the country. If that happens what will be the fate of the Middle Belt?
I don’t believe that the country is going to break up because the government is not living up to its responsibility. I believe that we have passed through difficult times before though they may not be as terrible as this one but we were able to surmount them. However, I believe that Nigerians would put pressure on the system and gradually we will be able to overcome.
Of course, the Middle Belt has identified itself as Middle Belt, not as an appendage of the North or any other section. We will look at the situation as it is. I believe if every one decides to go on its own, we would be the Nigeria that would be left, because we are the one that is gluing the North with the South, and Middle Belt would remain Nigeria.
We are not praying for that to come up, but what we are saying is that this government however unreasonable would be forced to see reason. We cannot be pampering Boko Haram, and keep our soldiers just to guard towns and defend them from attacks from Boko Haram without actually fighting the sect, and we have a government that is all propaganda without telling us the situation, but we believe it is surmountable.
Bishop Mathew Kukah recently painted a gloomy picture of the country and ended up saying that Nigeria is more divided now than even during the civil war. Do you agree with him and what is the cause?
It is true because of the nepotism in government, which our president has continued to display without giving heed to warnings and wise counsels from Nigerians. Then again, there is Boko Haram, which to me is a political game. The presidency has allowed the appointment into key offices of people from one ethnic or religious group over the other. This has created a situation where people are living in suspicion. Since Boko Haram, ISWAP and the herdsmen are virtually of the same religious sect, and the government whose leader is a Muslim has not done anything about it, then of course that division and suspicion will be there.
We have had Muslim leaders in this country – Yar’ Adua was a Muslim, and nobody ever complained. Even during the military era, we had Muslims, as head of state, such accusations of nepotism and division was never there. This government has brought these things to the fore and because of that division has become so pronounced. More so, many a times, Boko Haram attacks Christians and Christian leaders, which compound issues in a time the leadership of Nigeria is predominantly Muslim. These divisions are there and this is why the Catholic priest voiced out that Nigeria is more divided along ethnic and religious lines. Ethnic because many of the things happening are within a government the Fulani dominated; religious because of the issues with regard to the appointment of mostly Muslims into key offices.
You said Middle Belt is not an appendage of the North or any other ethnic group, but some Northern leaders say Middle Belt is part of North, and that what people call Middle Belt is just a geographical area for Christians in the North. What is your position on this?
Looking at the statement, what they are saying is that the North is for Muslims only. People who reasoned that ethnic nationalities of minority extraction in the North should express themselves created Middle Belt, and to get a fair share of what the North was to have. This movement even started even before we got independence by J. S. Tarka and the rest. It resulted into the formation of a political party, United Middle Belt Congress. Even before independence when the Willinks Commission was constituted, it was mainly for the minorities of the North, but in the end the beneficiaries were the minorities of the South, when Mid West Region was created. All the same, that agitation has always been there and will still remain. If somebody because of political reasons has been emasculating the Northern ethnic nationalities other than the Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri, and tries to lump them together and says there is a monolithic North, he is just deceiving himself.
The outcry all over the place is a pointer to answer that question that Middle Belt is Middle Belt. You can see some of the policies, which they device – when they started this programme, national livestock, it started from Cattle Colony to Ruga and to National Livestock, out of the seven states, they selected six from Middle Belt, so, you can see that there is that discrimination against the Middle Belt people. The Middle Belt has to stand as a unit and continue to fight for the rights of the Middle Belters.
If somebody out there says there is no Middle Belt, it is up to him. You can clearly understand that the Middle Belt is there and it will continue to assert itself as an entity. Yes, we have geopolitical zones, which are political creations, but the Middle Belt covers not only the North Central, but also some parts of the Northwest and some parts of the Northeast, and we identify ourselves as Middle Belters. It is up to the North to stay on Fantasy Island to deceive themselves that there is no Middle Belt, but it is here and it has come to stay.
Every region is laying claims to produce the presidency in 2023, what is the position of Middle Belt?
The Middle Belt Forum is not a political party, it is the political party that zones the presidency depending on the side their party has decided that its presidential candidate should emerge from.
When the time comes, our organisation will look at the person who is going to move Nigeria forward. Certainly, we believe that the arrangement which has been going on, which transfers presidency from North to South and vice versa for national coexistence, should be sustained.
When the parties have selected their candidates we look at them and see the one that will serve Nigeria better. If you remember in 2019, we looked at the situation and we supported a candidate, who we felt was going to be better for Nigeria, but it didn’t happen that way. All the same, before 2023 when the candidates emerge we look at the one that will serve Nigeria better and we will tell our people to support such a person.
You talked about arrangement that should ensure peaceful coexistence, that is rotation, but the North is insisting on continuing after Buhari. What is your view on this?
It is unfortunate and selfish and that is why many of us are saying that electoral process has to be more transparent than it is today. The INEC of today shouldn’t be there in 2023. If these people are still there, before the election even starts you will know what the result is going to be. It is unfortunate; this is the worst electoral commission I have ever seen, results are cancelled arbitrarily just to allow some people to emerge.
The Electoral Bill, which the president refused to sign should now be signed so that electronic voting will come to play, so that votes will count and all the hijacking and changing of results between polling stations and collation centre will stop. Let the result be electronically transmitted, and by the time this is done they can put whoever they want and I believe the voice of the people will determine who will emerge. If the electoral system is put right, the choice of Nigerians will emerge.
A follow up on the Middle Belt and North issue, when they say power remains in the North in 2023, do they include the Middle Belt?
I think they are talking of their core North or far North or whatever the terminology is. I don’t believe that these people consider the Middle Belt as part of them when they come to power equation. The irony of the whole thing is that if the Middle Belt is not considered in your power equation, why are you saying there is a monolithic North? They have already answered themselves that we are separate from them. I don’t believe they will consider a Middle Belter.
However, the truth remains that it is the political party that only determines the presidential candidate, unless if they are saying that the APC is a core North party and therefore for that reason they are going to tell the APC to produce a far North or a core North president, that is up to them because I’m not a member of that party, but the Middle Belt I believe will look at whoever is going to be selected, that person will be considered based on merit with regards to, firstly, solving our security problems; secondly, solving our economic problems and thirdly, ensuring that Nigeria is brought back to the correct track of development through the understanding that we had, not the division that we have now.
Your group alongside Afenifere, Ohanaeze and PANDEF has insisted on restructuring of the country, but up till now nothing is being done about it and from the look of things nothing will come out of it. What is your next action?
We have not stopped. We started by talking and creating avenues for discussion so that the government, especially the National Assembly that is vested with the powers to amend the constitution will do the necessary things.
The NASS is working a bit in that direction, though it may not be a full fledged restructuring, but given that they are willing to revisit the issue of constitutional amendment, we believe some restructuring will come into effect.
We are going to continue pushing, and adding our voice to the discussion to ensure that issues of restructuring come into the constitutional amendment process so that we can have a constitution that is going to be more beneficial to Nigeria and Nigerians. So, we are not sleeping, some of the things we are doing we are not talking about them for strategic reasons.