•Constitution review, a waste of time and resources
National President of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Dr. Pogu Bitrus, has said that the Middle Belt will no more allow the core North to use her as cannon fodder. Speaking with VINCENT KALU in an interview, Dr. Pogu stressed that the constitution review embarked by the National Assembly is a waste of resources and would go the same way as the previous ones.
Nigeria is passing through challenging times; insecurity pervades everywhere, what gave rise to this?
The insecurity to a large extent can be attributed to nepotism by the government. President Buhari needs to address some of these imbalances created by his government. This issue of restructuring and return to true federalism is not going down well for those who are dominating and benefiting from the present system. All these are heating up the system. If things were running normally, the outcry wouldn’t be this loud.
You have identified the problems, what are the solutions?
The simple way is for this government to do things right. Secondly, this government should start the process of restructuring. They claimed not to understand what it is all about, and they say people are confused. People are not confused. What we are saying is that if Nigeria is a federation, let us practice true federalism. The whole process can start and evolve to a desired level. We cannot just say today, fiscal federalism has to be implemented, but we can start somewhere. If we are going to practise true federalism, one of its aspects is fiscal federalism, where federating units control their resources and pay royalty to the centre. So, how do we develop those who lack capacity to get to that level? I think that is what we should start, but unfortunately, our leaders don’t see it that way. They think if we go to true federalism, monies will not come to them. We can start a process that will take us to the Promised Land with the desired period. All these things can be achieved. If today, the president says look, this restructuring you people are talking about, which the bottom line is true federalism, let’s sit and discuss how we move to it without hurting anybody, so that the federating units will all be accommodated without problem, I can tell you by tomorrow things will start working. The electoral system we have now is fraudulent, corrupt and allows some people who have not been voted to use their muscles to stay in office or assume victory. So, let’s go to electronic voting; let there be electronic transfer of accreditation and transfer of results, it would douse tension. Even if the government does this now, I can tell you it will douse a lot of tension. And then the next thing, which is insecurity that is troubling everybody will be tackled head on, and Nigerians will hail the government as if nothing wrong has happened before. These are ways of addressing the issues.
President Buhari says those of you talking about restructuring are naïve. What do you say to this?
Initially, I said, maybe the president doesn’t understand the issue, but the truth today is that if somebody says you are naive and you don’t understand, it means the person understands. So, let us give Mr President the benefit of the doubt. Let him invite people talking about restructuring. Let him invite the people talking about true federalism and we sit and explain it to him. Then he will understand that we are not naïve.
I said that true federalism can be achieved through a process and it will not happen one day, but let the process start and we will get there and he will understand that we are not naive. This electoral process we are talking about is part of the restructuring; it is not naïve. If we want things to work right. Now, people change results using returning officers or just arbitrarily cancel results so that somebody else will win. If we say, let’s go electronic, which will capture the results and transfer, are we being naïve? Let him invite these naïve people. We will come and explain it to him.
The National Assembly has embarked on another round of constitutional amendment. Do you see anything coming out of it, especially now that the Senate President has said he doesn’t believe in it?
It is good that people are showing their true colour. People who came in and benefited from the system that is wrong will not allow that system to be changed. We are not changing anybody, but we are trying to make Nigeria work. If today, through the military adjustment / constitution and whatever, things are not done rightly and some sections of the country have been favoured above others and the others who are downtrodden are complaining; don’t they have the right to complain? If we adopted the American system, which is federalism and we have been operating this system rightly or wrongly and we want to do things that can work in our system, is that wrong?
They have started the process of constitutional review. Many Assemblies before them have attempted it twice or more, we didn’t see anything serious coming out of it and we believe too that this will follow the same process. So the better thing is to invite these people making noise about restructuring and find out what they meant and how it can be achieved without creating undue problem for the Nigeria state. We have the National Assembly in place guaranteed by the constitution, how do we accommodate this restructuring within this system. Something can be done. Do we continue to work with this military constitution, which starts with, ‘We the people’? When did ‘we the people’ sit down to decide? All we are saying is that because you feel things are not working the way you want, invite the people taking, sit down with them and let them explain.
Let me give you an example: In my zone, North East, we went to Bauchi and we have been struggling with state creation in the early 80s, and today we went with our submission and our state came out to say that they don’t want any state created out of Borno. Can you imagine that kind of thing? Since the state was created till today, the governor has always comes from one section. We want a state and we meet the criteria, but those oppressing don’t want it. We were even shortlisted during the 2014 Conference and they are saying they don’t want any stated created. This is the kind of situation we are suffering from. With this kind of behaviour, where some people who are dominating want the system to remain the same, do you think people will be happy? The Senate president’s state, Yobe did the same thing. Borno and Yobe, the two states came out and said the same thing, that they don’t want any state created out of them. So, that is the mind set of such people. It is unfortunate and it is good for Nigerians to know that the people who are benefiting from this system don’t want this system to be changed for the betterment of Nigeria. The problem they are going to have on their hands will be too much to handle.
Today, all these agitations for separation and dismemberment of Nigeria are coming because things are not working right. Let these people come on board and listen to the people who are crying out so that we can get Nigeria working. The security situation is disturbing everybody. The NASS should not think that they are safe, when the bubble bursts, it is going to consume everyone; not only the ordinary people.
In the railway system being rehabilitated, only the Eastern corridor from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri line that passes through the Middle Belt region is left with the outdated narrow gauge. But only the South East protested, while the Middle Belt has been silent. Why?
We were so occupied with the things that worry us more, the insecurity. Who will not want a railway system to be seen in their territory? Whether it is Middle Belt, South East, South West, we will love the presidency to do what is needful that will be beneficial to Nigerians for generations to come. We are not quiet, but we were busier on issues that worry us more. This thing is a long-term project; there are going to be some drawings and so many things, it is the funding that is the issue. The Middle Belt prefers the Federal Government to have this railway at standard gauge so that in future we would not spend more money to correct it.
Northern leaders don’t seem to agree with this Middle Belt Forum. They say you guys are seeking attention, that the leader of the Arewa Consultative Forum is usually a person from the Middle Belt. What’s your take?
Right from colonial period, the Colonial government recognised the existence of nationalities who were not part of the caliphate when they came in. That was what informed the constitution of the Willinks Commission that went across the Middle Belt and Northern areas to identify and address issues of ethnic minorities, who were not under the authority of the majority because when they came, they knew the existence of Kanem Borno, they knew the existence of the caliphate, so they realised minority groups who are independent. They introduced the Indirect Rule and subjugated these minority ethnic groups under the caliphate system or the Kanem Borno system for their administrative convenience. Of course, the Willinks Commission, which between 1957 and 1958, even drew a map that indicated where these non Hausa Fulani and non Kanuri nationalities are located. The intention was for these nationalities that are non Hausa Fulani, non Kanuri nationalities also to have a region for themselves just like what obtained in 1962 when the Mid West was created. Unfortunately for the Middle Belt or Middle Belt people who were in Middle Belt of the country, the region was never created because the Northern regional government, the Colonial government, the Northern People Congress (NPC), the party that came up in the North and the Willinks Commission (because they wanted to hand over power to the North) conspired and denied the creation of Middle Belt Region. Thank God that these documents have been declassified and we know what happened.
So, whether they recognise it or not, the Middle Belt people have come of age. Even at that time, people like J.S. Tarka and others felt that they should come out with their identity to the extent that when the NPC was formed for the North, they came out with United Middle Belt Congress, as Middle Belt party.
These people, by taking people from the Middle Belt and making them the leaders of their group is a way of saying, let us be together; let us continue to remain as one united North. But when it comes to appointments and facilities, discrimination is very clear and we have seen this over and over again. So because of that we are saying, we cannot be used as cannon fodders again to your fight and your domination and your assertion and using us just to grab power in Nigeria. We want our own identity and that is why we remain as Middle Belt. If they take somebody who believes in monolith North, which to us doesn’t exist anymore and make him the leader of ACF, it is up to them. In a democracy, you don’t have hundred per cent; there are some persons who would vary in perception, in ideology, but those of us who feel and believe they are Middle Belters will remain so. Our people are getting more and more aware that the deception that we are one is being exposed and people know that we are not one because of the stratification and hierarchical consideration in the North – there are those who are first class, there are those who are second class and maybe, there are even some who are third class. We have come to also understand that we have to assert out rights as Middle Belters and promote the ideal and ideology of Middle Belt irrespective of how Arewa view us.
As a way of arresting the Fulani herders –farmers crisis, the president said he was going to reinvent the grazing routes. Most of the routes crisscross the Middle Belt. What’s your opinion?
All we are saying is, ‘ranch your livestock’, and ranching should be community based because Nigerians know their local Fulani. All of us know our local Fulani, whether it is in Katsina, whether it is in Benue, Plateau or the Mambila Hill of Taraba; whether it is in Kwara or south, all communities know their local Fulani.
We are saying that the ranching has to be community based, and not to go and take over people’s land and say you are constituting a grazing reserve, only to leave it to Fulani from Mali, Niger, Senegal, to come and populate Nigeria and be causing havoc in the country. This is not acceptable, it is detrimental to Nigeria’s existence and we object to it. The issue of cattle route, the constitution of the country is very clear. Lands are in the hands of the governors, not the Federal Government. The Federal Government controls only the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Are they going to open grazing route in FCT? Grazing route is not going to work unless the governors give the land, but they are collectively saying, let’s go ranching, and we are adding our voice to say, let the ranching be community based. To resolve the issue of foreign Fulani running over our land, stopping everybody from going to farm, killing, kidnapping and raping the owners of the land, we are saying let ECOWAS Treaty of free movement be stopped and let Mr President voice out to his colleagues that this thing is causing problem in his country. Let each country accommodate its Fulani.