The Middle Belt in a hostile Northern Nigeria 1914 – 2023 : The hostility, the fears and the threat of extinction amidst survival strategies

By Emmanuel Gandu


  • Excerpts
  • What constitutes the Middle Belt
  • Chief of Kagoro Mallam Gwamna Awan in the formation of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF)
  • Leadership of the Middle Belt struggle : 1949 – 2024
  • Justification for the creation of the Middle Belt
  • Why Hausa/Fulani North hostile to the Middle Belt
  • Middle Belt and politics of 1946 – 1966
  • Why Middle Belt Region was not created
  • Why it’s difficult to create Middle Belt Region in contemporary Nigeria.
  • The collapse of the first republic
  • Battalion of Middle Belt top military officers in governance of Nigeria : any accrued benefits ?
  • Middle Belt in politics of 2nd and 3rd republic : Southern Kaduna as a case study
  • Blood and tears of Muhammadu Buhari’s policies in the Middle Belt : 2015 – 2023
  • Concluding remarks

[The Middle Belt Movement was formed in 1949, and it was called the ‘Non – Muslim League.’
It was a reflection of the shared perception on the part of the people later to be known as Middle Belt.
What they had in common was a desire to be free of the Muslim North political control that was to be implemented throughout the Northern Region as a prelude to decolonization.

One hundred and ten (110) after amalgamation, seventy five (75) years after the formation of the Middle Belt Movement, sixty four (64) years after independence, sixty (61) years after the botched creation of the so called Middle Belt Region – this hostility, fears of, as well as the circumstances to be free seems to be as elusive as a mirage to the Middle Belt.
Today, this situation is such that it leaves much to be desired.

Regrettably, the arrival of Muhammadu Buhari’s and the likes of Nasir El Rufai’s government policies from 2015 – 2023 unfortunately eroded the little gains that the Middle Belt region especially Benue, Plateau, Southern Kaduna, Southern Borno, Adamawa, and the rest had garnered over the years.
Unfortunately, this development have led to catastrophic consequences. The Middle Belt region had been viscously plundered, deliberately ignored, and mercilessly decimated and abandoned. They have wickedly and arrogantly stripped the Middle Belt nationalities stark naked in the public square arena. ]

The Middle Belt is a loosely defined area between the Muslim and Hausa/Fulani dominated North, the predominantly Christian Igbo Southeast and the Yoruba Southwest.
According to demographic/linguistic data, the Middle Belt has an extremely diverse population. There are well over 250 ethnic groups speaking over 400 languages.

The Middle Belt region refers to Nigeria’s central states of Benue, Kogi, Kwara, Plateau, Taraba, Niger, Nasarawa, Bauchi, Southern Kaduna, Southern Borno, southern Adamawa, southern Kebbi, southern Gombe, southern Yobe, and the Federal Capital Territory.
They have their different languages, their unique culture and tradition that is similar but completely different from the Hausa/Fulani.

The Middle Belt Movement was formed in 1949, and it was initially called the ‘Non – Muslim League.’
It was a reflection of the shared perception on the part of those to be later identified as the Middle Belt.
“What they had in common was a desire to be free of the Muslim North political control that was to be implemented throughout the Northern Region as a prelude to decolonization.” – Turaki (2007)

As a member of the Northern House of Chiefs, the chief of Kagoro Mallam Gwamna Awan intervened on several fronts to position the Middle Belt strategically in the political affairs of Northern Nigeria despite the obvious odds he encountered.
Sadly though, politics in Nigeria at that time witnessed the emergence of political parties on tribal and regional basis.
While the Action Group (AG) was the political party for the Western region, the NCNC was the political party for the Eastern region, with the NPC and NEPU as the political parties for the Northern region.
Unfortunately, these political alignments became a development that left the people from the so called Middle Belt sidelined without a political platform of their own.

Realizing the obvious impending disadvantages this would mean to the people of the Middle Belt region, Mallam Gwamna Awan invited some notable leaders from the region for strategic talks and planning.
Achimugu, Aleidaino, Pastor David Lot, Patrick Dokotry, Rev. Bagaiya Nwaya, Haruna Kwoi, Joseph Tarkar, Godwin Daboh, were among the few invited for the talks on the way forward.
At this talks, Chief Gwamna Awan told them to see the hand writing on the political wall of Nigeria. In his address where he said – “There is the need for us to form a forum through which the Middle Belt region would participate in the politics of the country, otherwise, by the time other regions of Nigeria would be enjoying the benefits of politics, this our area will not have such benefits. This dream can only be realised if we wake up and move along with other areas” – Gandu (2005).

At the end of this consultation, the Middle Belt Forum (NBF) was formed in 1949.
It was this MBF that later gave birth to the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) as a political party for the Middle Belt.
Having achieved his objectives, Chief Gwamna Awan quitted political activism to face his royal duties as Chief of Kagoro as well as his legislative sessions as member of the Northern House of Chiefs.

Since its formation in 1949 to date, the Middle Belt Forum (NBF) assumed the role of a regional socio political group in Nigeria, serving as a voice and promoter of the interest of the people of the Middle Belt region. This, they have continued to do through advocacy, and forming alliances with other regional blocks like PANDEF, the Southern/Niger Delta, Afenifere, and Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo.

In addition to the list of founding fathers of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF) and the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) Party as already highlighted above, other leaders that sustained the struggle for the realisation of a Middle Belt region include Chief Solomon Lar, Pius Atta, Isaac Shaahu, Wilberforce Juta, Cornelius Adebayo, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman, and Dr. Bitrus Pogu, just to mention a few.
From Chief Gwamna Awan to the present (2024) leader Dr. Bitrus Pogu, each of them had sacrificed a great deal to the Middle Belt struggle.

The insistence of the people and her Leadership for the creation of a Middle Belt region had always been hinged on the premise of :
(1) Equity
(2) Justice
(3) Fair play
(4) Freedom
(5) It was glaringly evident that all ethnic groups and nationalities including those in the area identified as the Middle Belt region had settled in their portion of Nigeria before the 1914 amalgamation of Northern and Southern Protectorates by the British Colonial government.
(6) The Middle Belt region is viable, have more land and population than any of the other regions, thus meeting one of the basic criteria for the creation of regions, states, or local governments.
(7) The Middle Belt is the food basket of Nigeria.
(8) It’s the home of solid minerals in Nigeria
(9) There will be fast and even development.

In the words of Dr. Bitrus Pogu to press further for the creation of a Middle Belt region, he had this to say – “The Middle Belt has been the most battered region in this country.
Before independence we suffered from the British Indirect Rule administration where they placed our people under the Caliphate, and Sultanate systems, state creation and local government delineation has never been fair to us.
Most lamentably is the constant religious crisis, the attacks by armed Fulani militia herders, terrorism and banditry/kidnapping from religious and tribal warlords, etc have targeted the Middle Belt people to a disastrous, unimaginable, and catastrophic consequences.” – Bitrus Pogu (2023)

(1) The Colonial legacy was in itself founded upon the principle of social injustice, differential and preferential treatment. This was comfortably adopted by the Northern Hausa Fulani in defining the role of ethnic, economic, religious and political administration for their exclusive dominance of multi ethnic, multi cultural, and multi religious Northern Nigeria.

(2) The Hausa Fulani have a political system that has a centralized authority, administrative machinery, Political machinery, judicial machinery, and a functional military hegemony of succession. This binds them into a formidable entity.
In contrast, the Middle Belt nationalities are a conglomerate of diverse tribes who pay allegiance first to their various tribes and interests before the common good.

(3 This is the catalyst that have sustained the Sardauna legacy by ensuring political dominance, economic security, military control, and a veritable social cohesion for the Hausa Fulani agenda from generation to generation.

(4) The North was hostile to the Middle Belt Region by amongst several other things, denying and alienating them from any active political role or participation within the colonial hierarchical structure of the provincial, regional, and national levels.

(5) Regrettably, the Middle Belt was grossly in lack of these cherished ideals of the Hausa Fulani, hence the bane of developmental projects for the Middle Belt.

Starting from 1946, Politics generated many constitutional changes.
The Richard’s Constitution of 1946 divided Nigeria into three regions of Northern, Western, and Eastern.
Northern Nigeria was given 2 legislative houses – House of Chiefs and the House of Assembly.
The National House of Representatives (Lower Chamber) was created in Lagos, where each of the 3 regions would send its own representative.

Curiously, both the House of Chiefs (Upper Chambers) and the House of Representatives was skewed in favour of the Hausa Fulani.
For example, out of a total of 51members of the Northern House of Chiefs only 9 were Christians representing the entire Middle Belt, with the Chief of Kagoro Mallam Gwamna Awan coming a distant 47 in that list. Top on this list is the Sultan of Sokoto, Followed by the Shehu of Borno, Emir of Gwandu, and Emir of Kano in that order.

Realising that the colonial administration had concentrated political and economic power in the hands of the Emirs, agitations began to emerge from the minority tribes in the Middle Belt for self determination.

Economic and political considerations by the colonial administration led to the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914 by Lord Lugard. This brought together the Northern and Southern protectorates to form One Nigeria.

By 1954, a federal constitution created a Nigeria Federalism with autonomous Regional government of Northern Region, Western Region, and Eastern Region.
This 3 regional structure faced serious problems of : (a) Inequality of representation of many of the minority ethnic groups.
(b) Structural imbalance in favour of the majority tribes.
(c) Revenue allocation.
(d) Regional representation in the federation.
(e) Politics of Population in the distribution of resources, and
(f) Domination by the major ethnic groups.

The political leaders of Southern Zaria (Southern Kaduna), Plateau, Tiv, Idoma, Igala, and the regions of the North were looking for a just and fair participation and distribution of resources and services within the Northern system.
They wanted to see the end of social and religious prejudices, discrimination, and to be treated like equal partners.
But when it became obvious that these dreams would not be realised, then it became justifiable to seek out alternative alliances.

The search for the creation of the Middle Belt died such a political death because of some of the following reasons :
(1) The power and Influence of the colonial administration was opposed to any balkanization of the Northern Region.
(2) The Hausa Fulani North was not in favour of allowing the people of the Middle Belt to be autonomous.
(3) They wanted to have a North that will be bigger in population and land mass than the Western and Eastern regions put together, for the purposes of domination.
(4) There was no cohesion in the struggle among the various tribes of the Middle Belt.
(5) The strength of the UMBC was unfortunately weakened by factions. While the Plateau group led by Pastor David Lot and Patrick Dokotry were on their own, the Southern Zaria group chose to align with the Northern People’s Congress. The other faction of the UMBC was reduced to a tribal party for Tiv. Even among this Tiv faction, sub factions arose. One under the leadership of Joseph Tarkar and the other under the leadership of Godwin Daboh.

Even though the Middle Belt people had resolved they were no longer going to be tools to be used by the so called North to advance Hausa/Fulani agenda, the dream of an autonomous Middle Belt region had continued to remain an endless dream.
These are some of the reasons :
(1) Many prominent past Nigerian leaders are from the Middle Belt yet they failed to create nor support the creation of a Middle Belt region. Why ?
These leaders include Generals Yakubu Gowon, T.Y Danjuma, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, Domkat Bali, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Atiku Abubakar. Other top most military generals from the Middle Belt include Joseph N. Garba, Zamani Lekwot, Y.Y Kure, Joshua Dogonyaro, Atom Kpera, General Sheleng, General Musa Bamaiyi, General Ishaya Bamaiyi, Col. Dangiwa Umar, Col. Yohanna Madaki, Col. Nyan, Col. Tanko Ayuba, General David Ashe, David Mark, and General Martin Luther Agwai, just to mention a few.
(2) Regional or state creation is a constitutional matter that requires the amendment of the constitution, and the participation of the two legislative arms of the national assembly and the 36 state houses of assembly.
(3) The diverse and different tribes of the Middle Belt where every tribal person is primarily loyal to his tribe before thinking of the Middle Belt is not only a major bottle neck but a divisive factor contributing to the failure towards achieving any meaningful and purposeful achievement in realising the creation of a Middle Belt region.
It is also worthy to note that these 400 languages spoken in the Middle Belt have only Hausa language as a common medium of Communication. Research have shown that some of these languages may go into extinction before the next three decades, thereby living Hausa language as the only medium of communication. You can imagine the implications – your guess is as good as mine.
(4) The Middle Belt Movement had assumed a Christian outlook thereby alienating the Muslim Hausa and Fulani some of who incidentally are indigenes of Middle Belt. I imagine how one would expect those of them to support, join, and identifying with the Middle Belt struggle.
As at today (2024), I’m yet to see any Muslim, Hausa, or Fulani indigenous Middle Belter occupy the position of President of the Middle Belt Forum. (I stand to be corrected)
(5) The hangover belief/mentality left behind by the British Colonial Master that they had bequeathed to the Hausa North a political structure that legitimises their supremacy and authority over the whole North for the purposes of total control of the entire Nigeria is still haunting the people.

Meanwhile, the Mid Western Region was carved out of, and formed from the Benin and Delta provinces of the Western Region in 1963.
This region was the only constitutionally created region in the country and lasted until 1966 when it was renamed a province, and became the Mid – Western State in 1967, then Bendel in 1976, untill 1991 when it was divided into Edo State and Delta State.

According to Turaki (2007), and Eliagwu (2004) the collapse of the first republic on January 15, 1966 was attributed to but not limited to the following :

  1. The multi ethnic and religious composition of the population.
  2. The uneven level of social development.
  3. Poor economic development.
  4. Low educational development.
  5. The constitutional structure of the country under colonial rule.
  6. The lopsided composition of the fist republic.
  7. The absence of truely National political parties.

Military Officers of Middle Belt extraction were obviously prominent in all successive military regimes in Nigeria from 1966. They were led by Generals Yakubu Gowon, T.Y Danjuma, Joseph Nanven Garba, Domkat Bali, Zamani Lekwot, Atom kpera, Jeremiah Useni, Ishaya Shekari, David Ashe, Tanko Ayuba, the Bamaiyi brothers, Yohanna Madaki, John Shagaya, David Mark, Jonah Jang, to mention but a few.
Regrettably, these officers could not bring any meaningful developmental projects to the Middle Belt as compared to the development witnessed in the Hausa Fulani North.

This apathy was regularly displayed during the series of state creation by the military.
Unfortunately, middle belt officers could not support the creation of a Southern Kaduna state, despite the fact that Southern Kaduna had more population and land mass than each of 15 states of Nigeria ( 2006 National population Gazette)
Despite the creation of states in September 1987 by the Ibrahim Gbadamasi Babangida military government which carved out a new Kaduna State letting Katsina to go, the issues of domination, structural imbalance, uneven distribution of resources and development, economic and socio political inequality still persisted.

The politics of the second and third republics ushered in a new dawn for Southern Kaduna :
(1) The NPN had Alhaji Isa Kaita from Katsina province as governorship candidate while PRP had Alhaji Balarabe Musa from Kaya in Zaria province. As usual, Southern Kaduna had a preference for the NPP christian candidate.
But Just two days to the elections, word went round town that every son and daughter of Southern Kaduna should not vote for the NPN, or Azikiwe’s NPP or Awolowo’s UPN, or Alhaji Waziri’s party of politics without bitterness, but to vote for the Aminu Kano’s PRP at the governorship election in 1979.
Funtua is in Katsina province but chose to align with Balarabe Musa’s PRP
It was a master struck when Southern Kaduna and Funtua joined forces in support of the PRP.
Balarabe Musa won the election fair and square.
This was a reawakening for Southern Kaduna because Balarabe Musa brought in sons and daughters of Southern Kaduna close to his administration. They include Mr. Mataimaki Tom Maiyashi, and Mr. Richard Umaru who were appointed Commissioners.
For the first time in history Southern Kaduna got an industry built for them – the Kachia Ginger company.
Unfortunately, the NPN used their majority in the house of assembly to impeach Balarabe Musa before he could do much for the common man (talakawa).

(2) The 3rd republic had Olushegun Obasanjo as civilian president.
Southern Kaduna again spoke with one voice to vote for Obasanjo as president and Alhaji Ahmed Makarfi as governor of the PDP.
It is on record that Obasanjo and Makarfi got the highest votes in the whole country from the Southern Kaduna senatorial zone for both his first and second tenure.
As a way to show appreciation, Obasanjo rewarded Southern Kaduna with some of the following appointments :
(a) Chief of Army Staff General Martin Luther Agwai 2003 – 2006
(b) Chief of Army Staff General Martin Luther Agwai 2006 – 2007
(c) Chief of Army Staff General Luka Yusuf 2007 – 2008
(d) UNAMID General Martin Luther Agwai 2008 – 2009
(e) Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral Ishaya Iko Ibrahim 2008 – 2010
(f) Minister of Works (state) – Isaiah Balat
(g) Minister of Works (state) – Garba Ali Madaki
(h) Minister of Finance – Nenadi Esther Usman.

Other benefits that accrued to Southern Kaduna during this period include :
√ The Nigerian Navy school of Armament in Kachia.
√ The reconstruction of the Kaduna Kafanchan road.
√ Building of country roads across the the local governments.
√ Hospitals were bult/renovated.
√ More traditional chiefdoms were created to bring about equal representation with the Hausa Fulani Kaduna North.
√ Extension of the National grid and electrification to Southern Kaduna.
√ Kafanchan campus of the Kaduna State University was built.
All these were achieved because Southern Kaduna had a pool of visionary leadership to guide and direct the people on which political party to give their block votes to.

Interestingly, the Southern Kaduna windfall experience is a replica of the situation across the middle belt due to the foresight and good works of the politicians and leaders of the time.
But we woke up in 2015 to realize that the younger crop of politicians would rather sell their birth right for a pot of porridge.

The people of Southern Kaduna conducted themselves in a rancorous and vissionless campaign leading to the 2015 and 2019 elections like a rudderless ship without a captain on board.
Every citizen went his own way in search of personal selfish interest. Our usual block votes was no longer in sight.
Little wonder, the ruling APC treated Southern Kaduna with disdain and levity, and as deserved :
× No federal appointment came during these 8 years.
× No meaningful state appointment was given.
× They slammed the senatorial zone with a muslim-muslim ticket from 2019 and a repeat for 2023.
× Instead of the promised milk and honey, the APC kept on terrorising the Region with blood and tears.
× El Rufai in a press conference told the world how he went outside the shores of Nigeria to pay compensation to fulanis in identified African countries for the killings of life and cattle by the people of Southern Kaduna.
× Since that introduction of ransom payment by El Rufai Southern Kaduna and indeed other parts of Nigeria are being slaughtered like wild game.

Regrettably, the arrival of Muhammadu Buhari from 2015 – 2023 have unfortunately eroded the little gains that the Middle Belt region especially Benue, Plateau, Southern Kaduna, Southern Borno, Niger, Kebbi, and the rest had garnered over the years.

The region was slammed with different cattle policies by President Muhammadu Buhari. They include cattle colonies, cattle routes, RUGA, Grazing Reserves, Grazing routes, Open Grazing, and others that opened up the Middle Belt as a gateway to every fulani from any part of Africa to Nigeria.
Unfortunately, this have led to a catastrophic rubble.
The Middle Belt region had and still being viscously plundered, deliberately ignored, mercilessly abandoned. The humans have been decimated through supervised genocidal attacks, depopulated, and sacked from their ancestral land.

Muhammadu Buhari superintended over a tribal and religious war of occupation where his war generals have wickedly stripped the Middle Belt nationalities stark naked in the public square arena.

One hundred and ten (110) years after amalgamation, seventy five (75) years after the formation of the Middle Belt Movement, sixty four (64) years after independence, sixty one (61) years after the botched creation of the Middle Belt Region this hostility, the fears, the marginalization, the genocidal attacks have become a permanent feature in the lives of the people of the Middle Belt.
Lamentably, the circumstances to be free seems to be as elusive as a mirage to the Middle Belt.

Today, this situation is such that it leaves much to be desired.
It therefore remains to be seen whether this government, and indeed future administrations will critically look at the plight of the Middle Belt people not only as the largest in land mass, most populated, most viable, the stabilizing/intermediary region, the food basket of Nigeria, but also the home of solid minerals of Nigeria –
And let my people have their Middle Belt Region

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