Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

Middlebelters Are Distinct Communities In Northern Nigeria That Existed Long Before Colonial Rule And Were Never Conquered By The Caliphate, Or Sultanate – Dr. Pogu Bitrus

Speech by Dr. Pogu Bitrus, President, Middle Belt Forum at the launch of the book “Life and Times of Mai (Dr.) Abdu Buba Maisheru II The 15th Mai Tangle: The Glorious Scepter of a Monarch, November 4, 2023, Agura Hotel, Area 10, Abuja.

It is self-evident that before a people are properly accepted as one, they must be seen as distinct. For them to be seen as a people by others, they must, first, know who they are and be in a position to iterate what makes them who they are. Those of us who call ourselves Middlebelters are from distinct communities in the demised Northern Region that have existed long before colonial rule and that were never conquered or ruled by the extinct Sokoto Caliphate or the equally extinct Kanuri Sultanate.

The distinct communities and peoples referred to above were forced under the rule of either the Sokoto Caliphate or the Kanuri Sultanate by the British colonial rulers in furtherance of the Indirect Rule system with which Nigeria was governed throughout colonial rule. It was the need of the British to establish a hierarchical administrative structure that spurred it to coral formerly independent communities and peoples under the Caliphate and Sultanate for the major reason of using the Caliphate and Sultanate to exact taxes and forced labour from everyone in the defunct Northern Region. Those peoples were not conquered by them (Sokoto Caliphate and Kanuri Sultanate.) At the end of colonial rule, the British did not undo what they did. The structure that placed formerly independent peoples under the administrative overlordship of the Caliphate and Sultanate was left in place as if they were natural.

The struggle of the peoples of the Middle Belt, alongside the struggles of minorities of Southern Nigeria, led to the establishment of the Willinks Commission of Inquiry that sought to understand the grievances of the minority elements from both sides of Nigeria, and how those grievances could be ameliorated. The Commission refused to grant new regions to the minorities in both North and South of Nigeria, although they had asked for same. This refusal to grant new regions resulted in perpetuating the master/servant relationship between the Caliphate and peoples that the British brought under it, and the Sultanate and peoples that the British brought under it. The Middle Belt Forum grew out of this initial struggle to liberate peoples who were never conquered by either the Caliphate or Sultanate.

During his life and times, was the late Dr. Abdu Buba Maisheru II aware of himself and the Tangale people as distinct? Throughout his life, and from a very young age, the late 15th Mai Tangle was self-aware. He was not only aware of himself as a Tangale man, he was aware of his royal lineage. He is remembered, according to the book being launched today, for his “profound stewardship and sacrifice” (p.59). He became a Christian early in life and never wavered, but was a consummate practitioner of tolerance, cordiality and harmony. He did not discriminate against the practitioners of other faiths, particularly the traditional religions that had existed before Christianity and Islam were introduced to our peoples.

Dr. Abdu Buba Maisheru II is credited with birthing the Pissi-Tangle festival, which elevated Tangle culture so much that the festival became an international tourist destination. It grew to become so popular that “local schools began incorporating elements of Tangle’s cultural heritage into their curriculum, ensuring that younger generations would grow up with a deep appreciation for their ancestral traditions.”

Knowing that one’s people are distinct should go alongside identifying others whose interests and aspirations cohere with one’s. It is natural that all communities and peoples who were subjugated by the British under the Sokoto Caliphate and Borno Sultanate should bond and cooperate on the way out of the bind that the British left them. Not only are their links historical. In the past eight years, particularly under the administration of General Muhammadu Buhari, Fulani militias have executed a war against the peoples of Nigeria, particularly those from the Middle Belt. From Zuru and Southern Kaduna, in the North West, to Niger, Nasarawa, Benue and Plateau in the North Central, to Taraba and Adamawa in the North East, Fulani militias have made life nasty, brutish and short. When you add to the above the ravages that Boko Haram has caused in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa the picture becomes clearer. The Middle Belt needs to band together to collectively secure our communities. Traditional rulers, community development associations, youth, women, the guilds of hunters, and practitioners of the different faiths must seek out and collaborate with communities that are contiguous with theirs in the overall interest of everyone.

Collaboration with others is key to progress in history. When communities stand alone, it is easier for adversaries to defeat them one after the other whether in a military sense or in a policy sense. It is shocking to find out that the Mai Tangle is only a 2nd Class traditional ruler and that it was the late 15th Mai Tangle that even caused it to be elevated from 3rd Class. This ought not be. The natural class of the paramount ruler of the entire Tangle people is 1st.

One thing the Tangle can be proud of, and which other people need to emulate is the efficient Conflict Resolution Committee that the late Dr. Abdu Buba Maisheru II bequeathed to his people. The system, which dealt primarily with contending claims on land became so efficient it led to a thoroughgoing relationship between the Committee and the courts and birthed an environment that saw to efficient delivery of justice. Shedding of blood in pursuit of claims of land ownership has become a thing of the past. Other traditional rulers need to send in researchers to learn how the Tangle achieved what they achieved.

In conclusion, self-awareness and cooperation, solidarity and practical bonding with kindreds are the way to go for the Middle Belt. What is our strategic interest? Once we are able to answer that question with clarity, we will make progress.

Dr. Pogu is the  President of the Middle Belt Forum in Nigeria.

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