The National President of Middle Belt Forum, Dr. Pogu Bitrus, has said that core North is opposed to restructuring and implementation of 2014 Confab report for fear of losing its domination of the country. Speaking with VINCENT KALU in an interview, Dr. Bitrus stressed that by 2023, political power should rotate to South, and to the zone that has not produced presidency.
What is your assessment the state of the nation?
Nigeria is a failed state and we have told President Buhari over and over that he should change his service chiefs and that the security architecture of the country should also be reviewed to provide proper security to Nigerians, but unfortunately, he has refused. What we should think about this and conclude from what is happening is that it is not the problem of the service chiefs but the president. The president knows things are not moving fine and yet he is retaining them; that is the problem. The country is in a very bad shape and people are killing on daily basis and they are attributing the killings, especially the one in Southern Kaduna to revenge killing. When people are attacked in their homes without cause and this thing is repeated over and over and for the governor and the president to say that it is revenge killing, is unfortunate.
We are running a failed state where anything goes. I don’t know if you read yesterday (Wednesday) that Boko Haram overran Kukawa in Borno State and even hoisted their flag. So, where are we going, whether it is bandits, whether it is herdsmen or killer herdsmen, whether it is Boko Haram, it is one and the same people fighting against the Nigerian state, and Nigeria seems not to have a solution to that. Of course, the establishment of vigilantes here and there, including Amotekun in the Southwest is a clear indicator that Nigerian people have lost faith in the security operatives we have; they don’t believe that they can be protected by the security infrastructure that we have, be it the federal police or the military.
So, it comes back to what we have been saying, let’s have constitutional amendment; let us restructure this country so that we can have state police, even local government police. There is no way local police will see bandits killing their people and they would not defend them; that wouldn’t happen. I don’t understand why the government is against restructuring of this country and the setting up of state police that is applicable in the democracy, which we have copied, that is America. In America, they have county police, even schools have their police. Why are they objecting to it as if they have a hidden agenda?. The state of the nation is so bad that it can be classified as a failed state. It is just that Nigerians are so tolerating and we have people out there who are dishing out propaganda to prop these people up that the system hasn’t failed.
You are talking about restructuring, is it along the old regions or the six geo-political zones that are operating in principle even though not in the constitution?
Every group has their perception of restructuring. Those of us in the Middle Belt don’t want to go back to the regions because we don’t want to belong to those people in the North, who are the architects of our problems. We have come to accept the states as federating units. In some states, the arbitrary creation has lumped some of our people with others who are oppressing them not that they are more than them in number, but because the electoral system is skewed in such a way that it is manipulated. We have argued that Southern Adamawa should become a state; we have argued that Southern Kaduna should become a state. In terms of population they are as many as Plateau State. Our own is that we want our people to be able to perform given the correct environment rather than being stagnated by this kind of skewed structure where people are lumped and lorded over.
We argued for a state police and others, which I have already said. We have argued in support of what the South is saying that every state can be viable and have natural resources that can be developed. It doesn’t mean that when a federating unit is there and doesn’t have economic clout that it cannot survive, we have example in the US, a state like California, which is about the sixth largest economy in the whole world and there are some states in America that cannot support themselves and they are supplemented by the federal. This can also be applied in Nigeria. We have the Southwest talking about regionalism; this can be accommodated through rejigging the political structure so that Yoruba from Kogi and Kwara can be merged with Southwest. We in the Middle Bent, which is a large expanse of area, argue that we should have eight geo-political structure, which is however not constitutional, where we have some of these states where the minorities are in the Northeast and in the Northwest, as a zone; then the core North will still have the Northeast , Northwest. In the South, you can also have a core zone created along some agreeable arrangement. These can be the bigger federating units if we want.
All these are contained in the 2014 Conference Report, where restructuring is fully captured and we are telling this government; let us go back to that. Jonathan didn’t just call that to assist him in promoting his personal agenda or South-South agenda. No, he wanted Nigeria to work better, and that was why he insisted on the confab, and it gave a very good report which can transform Nigeria; let’s go back to that and Nigeria will be better for it.
You are talking about restructuring and implementation of 2014 Confab report, but many Northern leaders or opinion molders are opposed to it. Why?
In the past, all the previous conferences they set up were to establish and dominate and have their views and not Nigerian views. In the 2014 Confab, even nationalities that were hitherto not allowed to represent themselves were there. In previous experiences, they were lumped under North, but in 2014 such people were able to feature and voiced out their concern, which was why 2014 confab was a new representative conference. For example, Karekare people attended, Karekare has been balkanised into three states – Yobe, Gombe and Bauchi, but through the arrangement of 2014, the Karekare man was able to represent Karekare as a nationality. There were some other nationalities that were represented for the first time.
So, they are kicking against it because they didn’t have the dominance that they wanted, so that Hausa man or Fulani man from somewhere would come and represent Karekare man. How can he represent him, does he know the problem of Karekare man? So, 2014 remains the most credible of the conferences because it has the diversity required, and because diversity talks of progressive Nigeria, restructured Nigeria, that is why these people don’t want it or are opposed to it. They want us to continue and remain along this system, which is retrogressive and pulling Nigeria down. We want to move forward; it is high time we moved forward. It is not all of them, but those of them who don’t want Nigeria to move forward should give way and allow the county to move forward so that everybody will be represented and be carried along.
Some Northerners say that your group, the Middle Belt Forum is self-seeking; that it is actually Christian Middle Belt, as Muslims in the area are not involved or carried along. What is your take on this?
That is a big lie; my deputy is a Muslim, the National Women Leader is a Muslim, the Youth Leader in Kogi is also a Muslim, and there are Muslims all over the place. We are setting up state chapters, and there is no issue of religion or political lineage that is given consideration within the Middle Belt movement.
Middle Belt movement was started by people who realised that there was too much dominance of the Northern oligarchy and therefore, they should have a voice and it has metamorphosed into what it is today. The issue of Muslim, Christian doesn’t arise. But they use it because they have been surviving under this falsehood; perpetrating a picture that the whole North is Islamic. We are striving to make sure that whether a Christian, Muslim, minority, everybody will have a voice, that is what the Middle Belt Forum stands for. Our motto is: Our people, our land, our heritage.
On the killings in Southern Kaduna, Governor El-Rufai was quoted to have said that his refusal to give brown envelopes was responsible for the killings. What is your position on this?
He is the funniest creature I have ever seen. Sometimes he talks under some influence other than his intellect, which I know he should have. Somebody who has read up to PhD should do better. Anybody who knows Southern Kaduna should be able to make rational judgment about the population in Southern Kaduna; we have census figures and there is no part of the senatorial zone that can compete with Southern Kaduna in terms of population. In terms of population, it is about the same with the other two senatorial districts put together.
Why should he make such a claim at a time when he ensures that everybody who holds a position of authority in Kaduna, appointed either by the federal or the state is a Muslim, Hausa Fulani; everybody. His deputy, the chief judge; even he ensured that the commissioner of police, head of the military, everybody is a Muslim, Hausa Fulani, to the extent that even in the state House of Assembly, the principal officers, speaker, deputy, etc are Muslims, and he left out a population which is about half of the state, and he is making this kind of statement. It shows that the person is either having an agenda, which he is pursuing or he is deceptive. I’m sorry; he had better changed because Nigeria is bigger than any single person.
What is your view on 2023 election, some argue that presidency should return to South, while others say, it remains in the North
I’m a pragmatic person and a realist too. There is this unwritten section of each party’s constitution, which is not in Nigeria’s constitution that power rotates between the North and the South. Having served for eight years by 2023, power should leave the North and go to the South. It is now up to the South to determine which geo-political zone or area that in the South that has been shortchanged over the years so that the area can have it. Politics has a lot of dynamics; we have two major political parties and so many little parties. If in 1999, because of NADECO and what happened to Abiola, the whole country was able to say, let us give it to the Southwest, to the extent that we had presidential candidates in the two major parties coming from that region and then President Olusegun Obasanjo emerged. Why can’t such a thing happen now too, given the kind of situation we are in? One, it should go to the South; secondly, in the South, it should go to a particular place which has been shortchanged, so that every Nigerian will find a sense of belonging in the country that he belongs to. That is my view and it should be the right thing to do. Some people may have other views; everybody has his view, but the truth should be told and Nigerians are all Nigerians irrespective of whether they are Hausa Fulani, Igbo, Yoruba, Kanuri, Ibibio, Ijaw, Tiv, and even my small Chibok, we are all Nigerians.