National Publicity Secretary, Middle Belt Leaders Forum, Dr Dogo Isuwa, has given reasons why it appears that the Middle Belt now relates more with the Southern region than the core North. In this interview, he said among others that it is the Middle Belt that is sustaining the country.
The North appears to be pushing for the 2023 presidency; do you think it is fair to the South?
My view about zoning whether in the North, South or any other region is that it is wrong. Zoning is absolutely wrong. What I mean by this is that when people talk of the North, they are talking about the Hausa/Fulani North. If they talk about the South, they are talking about only Yoruba and Igbo. But what we should be talking about as an enlightened people is to have an egalitarian society. What I mean is that whoever is qualified even if his tribe has only two people, should be given the opportunity to lead. There should be no issue of Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba sentiments because it appears that is exactly the game that is playing out in the country. They are certainly not the majority. The only thing is that you have a single tribe that is large. But the other ethnic nationalities put together far exceed the issue of Hausa, Yoruba or Igbo. So, let us have an egaliterian society. Anybody qualified from any place even if his tribe is just a hamlet, so be it. So, if the North is pushing to retain power in 2023, it would be an unwise decision for any other section of the country to sit down and say after all, the North has taken it. They are pushing and not that they have taken it. So, the West, East, South South, Middle Belt, and anybody who is qualified should push for it. It is not going to be by force, neither is it a military coup that you would say the military with the barrel of the gun could just go into power. No, it is the ballot box and the decision of Nigerians that would determine the outcome of the election. So, it cannot stand the test of time; you cannot say that the North cannot push for 2023, neither is it that if they do, they must retain it. In the first place, nobody gives up power voluntarily. Power is taken from people through the ballot box, popular revolt and barrel of the gun. But in this case, we want the ballot box. If the ballot box fails, then you go to popular revolt and not bloodshed. So, any part of the country can mutually aspire to the presidency. No part should be exempted.
In your view, what are actually the root causes of the dichotomy among the various ethnic nationalities in the country? Why is the gulf between the North and South not closing up?
The issues are ethnicity and religion. They are the major problems and also what you may call political exclusiveness. If you have political inclusiveness, you will not have the dichotomy; it was not like that from former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s time and in fact, even from the time of the military up to the time of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. It only started being exactly like this during the time of President Muhammadu Buhari. So, the dichotomy is because of political exclusiveness when almost everything is dominated by a particular section of the country and a particular religion. That is why I earlier talked about religion and ethnicity as the two major causes of dichotomy in the country. It is not going to take us anywhere but to what I would describe as the land of political destruction if the system does not change.
How do you feel about the level of insecurity in the country today?
The level of insecurity is alarming and I find it difficult to understand what is happening. We have seen the very people that could have kidnapped hundreds of thousands of people, (like what we are seeing in Katsina) being released. These are people who have killed several thousands and they are asking for amnesty; they are asking that those who have committed so much havoc and murder should be released and you say you are doing amnesty. Where does it work that way in the world? So, it would only multiply and the very people (who are the killers) that the government is trying to pacify are not going to relent. The probability of them relenting is very slim. Then you look at the very particular aspect of televising some of those things. The boys claimed that they went for training in Libya for six months or one year. Look at them, do they have the ability to go to Libya? The answer is no. So, it must be somebody or people sponsoring and sending them there. What the security agencies need to do is to find out from those boys who are the sponsors? They can always lead them to the place. There is no other miracle a person can perform to stop it but other than tracing the sponsors. No matter how many chains that are used, you can trace the chain to the sponsors. That is the only way you would succeed in stopping it. This is because if you only concentrate on the miscreants that are actually doing the work, you arrest them and lock them up, those people are smart, they will simply move and change location and recruit new people. They will brainwash the new people and make them to believe and feel that they can become billionaires overnight and so, it would continue. I believe the security architecture of Nigeria have the capacity and capability of stopping the horrible security situation if they are given free hands to do what they are supposed to do. But what the government officials say, their action and approach, I doubt if they are given the free hands to operate.
Of late, the Middle Belt seems to be aligning more with the South politically than with the core North; what would you attribute that development to and what do you see as the future of the relationship between the Middle Belt and the South?
I do not know what you mean by the core North.
To an average Nigerian, the core North constitutes mostly of people from the North East and North west.
By location and geographical expression of the colonial people, they say Middle Belt is in the North. Isn’t it? By definition, the ethnic nationalities in the Middle Belt are simply Middle Belt. They are neither North as you would have a monolithic North, nor they belong to the South West, East, South South or any other part. We relate to all sections of the country in equal manner and in reciprocal approach. If the so-called monolithic North which does not exist tries to say the Middle Belt does not exist, they are on their own. The Middle Belt does not need anybody’s approval to be Middle Belt. The Middle Belt did not start existing today. I can show you newspapers’ reports on the Middle Belt for over 30 years. After all, J.F Tarka was one of them and I can remember that he was one of those who formed the United Middle Belt Congress; isn’t that an indication that the Middle Belt has existed since time immemorial just like the South West, South East and South South. We do not need anybody’s approval to be what we are and we will always be what we are. We have stated categorically without mincing words that the Middle Belt is making Nigeria to exist as a country. Without the Middle Belt, there is no Nigeria. We have our identity and we are not afraid or ashamed to be what we are. So, if the South recognizes us, and give us that respect, whether it is South West, South East or South South, we will reciprocate in the same manner. If any part of the North gives us that kind of respect, we will reciprocate in the same manner but we are not averse to relating with any part of the country. Those who distance themselves from the Middle Belt do so at their own peril and we are not bothered whether or not they recognize us because we are not seeking recognition. We are already recognized by Nigeria and by God. Expectedly, it would appear that we relate more with the South west, South East and South South because they give us our due respect and recognize us as such and so we also recognize them. So any other socio-cultural group that recognizes us in Nigeria, we will reciprocate in the same manner.
How do you feel about the recent xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals especially Nigerians by South African citizens? Are you not worried that today, in the comity of nations, Nigerians are treated with so much disrespect?
It is a complex international issue because in what happened in South Africa, it was not only Nigerians that were affected. Remember a couple of years ago, Zimbabweans were the most brutally attacked people. That particular time, all members of the African Union would have come out to condemn it but they left it and kept quiet. Other countries believed that it is not their people and they were not bothered about it. So, it has spread to all other countries in Africa that have their people in South Africa. The truth is that it is barbaric, inhuman and would not help South Africa in any form. If what they allege that Nigerians are doing is true, there is always the legal aspect of stopping it and not by extra-judicial killing of people or mob action. They have had instances where police kill people, which is extrajudicial. There are instances of mob action, which people gather to kill somebody and the police standby and watch. It is barbaric and condemnable at the highest level possible but I think I like the approach that Nigeria has taken by demanding apologies which they have received. They should also take the necessary steps to ensure that miscreants and criminals do not smuggle themselves to any country to perpetrate crime. And if they do, Nigeria should allow for the full weight of the law of such country to apply to them. I am not ready to protect somebody who is criminally inclined simply because he is a member of my family. No, it should not be like that. But I think that South Africa needs to work exceptionally hard to stop it because they have descended to the punitive pre-historic level by going about killing people for whatever the differences they may have with such people.