National President of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Dr. Bitrus Pogu, has declared that there is a clear difference between the North and the Middle Belt, noting that the minority nationalities in the North which were never under the Sokoto Caliphate or the Borno Sultanate are regarded as Middle Belters. He asserted that the Fulani and the Kanuri had used the people of the Middle Belt in the past to actualise certain objectives but noted that such would no longer work, as the people had become wiser.
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, he lampooned the Muslim-Muslim ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, wondering if there was no competent Christian outside the Southern states. He also insisted that the Federal Government is insincere in its war against terrorists.
What are your expectations from the 2023 general elections?
It’s very clear. First of all, the expectations have to be on the premise of what you perceive will be very good for Nigeria. We have already indicated that by insisting that we wanted the emergence of a Southern president, who would take over from Buhari, a Northerner after eight years of governance of this country. Secondly, we want that Southerner to be somebody of character, who will reunite Nigeria and his behaviour would be devoid of the nepotism that we are seeing now. He will bring development in Nigeria having been dogged and committed to addressing insecurity, and from there, economic revival would come because without security, you cannot have economic push.
These are the main expectations. And given these facts, of course, the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu has written himself off because in a pluralistic Nigeria, where we have seen insurgency of different forms that originated from the North, all of Islamic extraction – whether it is Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen militia, etc. These are all Islamic and we want a president that would be devoid of these.
So, a president that selects his deputy also from the Islamic extraction; he is a Muslim and picks a vice president who is also a Muslim cannot be the kind of president that would address this situation. It can be perceived that such a person is automatically a Muslim bigot. We believe in a plural Nigeria, such should not be allowed. Unfortunately, the APC has written itself off in the equation of the president from the South.
Then we look at who will do this job for us. Of course, you look at somebody who has the pedigree, who has the capacity and by 2023, someone like me as a person and I believe that the majority of the Middle Belters shared this view that someone like Peter Obi is a better candidate to carry us to the next level in Nigeria. I’m not mincing words, I would say the North is not in the equation because we cannot have eight years of Northern misrule under whatever guise or pretence and have another eight years of another Northerner. So, I’m not considering any Northern candidate. We should base our arguments, debates on principle, fair play, and equity and justice.
By 2023, I want a president from Southern extraction to resolve the problems that we are now facing so that we can have a better Nigeria and as things stand, I will not change and I believe Obi will do the job.
But has religion ever developed any country? And Tinubu said he picked his running mate based on competence
It has never. Countries like Turkey and others have jettisoned religious considerations in their development. However, the truth remains that if competence is the issue, then take a trip to Borno State and ask the people what competence that Kashim Shettima has to bring or add to the so-called ‘competence’ to make Nigeria a better place. They use this argument to justify the skewed nature of their reasoning because they are coming with Islamic agenda rather than Nigerian agenda.
They are toeing the line of religious bigotry, which is going to divide this country farther rather than pull it out of the kind of situation it is in. It is also telling on the APC. It is unfortunate that a party that people looked up onto in 2015 to save Nigeria has taken on this lane and everybody is lamenting. They started through propaganda and they are ending up in a mess, and I believe that Nigerians will teach them the right lesson.
But in 1979, Azikiwe the presidential candidate of Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP), a Southern Christian picked Ishaya Audu, a Northern Christian as running mate. Awolowo, a Southerner of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) picked Philip Umeadi, a fellow Southern Christian as deputy. We saw it in 1993; Abiola and Kingibe were both Muslims. Why all this noise this time?
We are now suffering a serious insurgency situation, which we never experienced; it is a hydra headed insurgency situation. Staring from Boko Haram, we now have Fulani militia herdsmen, we have all sort of characters plaguing the whole country. All these characters have Islamic origin. Then, we are in a situation where Christians feel unsafe and where they say this one is Islamic; that one is Islamic. This started in the North-East and has spread across the North and has gone down the South by the same Northern groups of Islamic origin.
At a time like this, somebody will be so insensitive to feel that we can have a Muslim- Muslim ticket to add salt to injury. Such a person or group is totally insensitive or wants to inflame this country; wants to destroy it completely, or use religion to subdue this country. Anybody doing that is not a lover of Nigeria; he is a lover of his section or of his ideology or belief rather than Nigeria. You want to have Muslim- Muslim ticket in Nigeria? It is unthinkable; you think Nigerians are all fools that don’t reason, and you said, you are looking for competence.
Is he saying that it is only Shettima who is competent in the North and there is no Christian that is there to balance up? Then, something is wrong here. The APC and Tinubu himself are on a mission and that mission cannot be saving Nigeria or moving Nigeria forward.
What do you make of the security situation in the country, with the recent spate of attacks?
These things are reaffirming what we continually say. Government through intelligence knows the location of bandits and terrorists. Secondly, the government has continually refused to allow our military free hands, especially the air force to bomb these people out of existence, which implies that the government is complicit. Thirdly, people are continually kidnapped, abducted by terrorists and bandits and they are using this ransom money to fund their programme. Before now, there were lots of speculations as to where their funding was coming from. Maybe, it became difficult for the people funding them to directly use the known channels and therefore to kidnap people for ransom became the norm. But, a government that acquired even some specialised aircraft like the Tuncano, helicopter gunships, etc. that knows the location of these people and wouldn’t want to bomb them out of existence so that Nigeria will have peace, is a government that we believe is a party to this criminality. Whether it is acceptable in terms of debate, arguments, there are indices to show that this government is not interested in rooting out insurgency. Forget about the rhetoric by the president that, ‘I have given the service chiefs order.’ He is the Commander-in-Chief. The service chiefs get instructions from the Commander-in-Chief.
They leave our soldiers out there even though there is a lot of intelligence, air craft; we have drones that can survey whatever area, yet soldiers are left as lame ducks in their locations and these people will come and pounce on them unprepared and kill many of our troops. No wonder, some soldiers are deserting because they know that this system as constituted doesn’t protect them. Let me start from the latest, the Kuje Prison, the attack on the president’s convoy and the killing of the soldiers and other paramilitary forces in Niger. These things are part of plans by forces within the system, which we call government to undermine the territorial integrity of our nation. Kuje Prison is not in far away Maiduguri, Port Harcourt or Abia. It is in the federal capital, where you have all forms of military formations; all forms of police formations, including even in Kuje and these people can come and operate for over two hours and walk away. Any fighter aircraft can traverse the length and breadth of Nigeria in less than 30 minutes because of the speed they move at. We have helicopter gunships and with the air force all over the place, and these people, after their operation, walked away.
This government must be complicit, if not, even when they had operated; they cannot walk away. So, anybody telling me about the attack on the convoy of Mr. President, it could be arranged to make us feel that the president himself is also under attack. We are not a bunch of fools. If Kuje prison in Abuja can be attacked for two hours and then the attackers, including the inmates who were mainly Boko Haram officers can walk way, and not one arrested and nothing happened, it means this government doesn’t deserve to be one.
Then the second one, could these things that are happening be a pointer towards 2023? Nobody knows. They may be planning that if things are not moving their own way, they may truncate the entire process, but that one time will tell, but let all be prepared and watch and then know what to do because these people have clearly shown that they love themselves and what they believe rather than Nigeria. Anybody who loves Nigeria will not allow dangerous criminals to come to the federal capital and walk away. It is even a disgrace to the nation, but they don’t mind whether it is a disgrace provided that their intension is satisfied. It is a pity that we have such ruler-ship at this time.
What should be the campaign issues in 2023?
We need people who can take us out of the woods that we are in. What are the woods? Firstly, it is the security problems. We need somebody who would treat criminals out there as criminals, whether they are religious criminals or whatever type of criminals. Secondly, having addressed that, we need the person to tackle this economy head on. This government started, though with a lot of propaganda at an exchange rate of one dollar to about N198. Today, one dollar is about N612 or more. That is unacceptable. Prices of things from when they took over till now have tripled. I’m not exaggerating. I used to buy one bag of 10kg of Semo for N1, 600, but today, it is selling for N6, 000. Fuel price has gone up. Things are just in a mess, and yet because it serves some interests, they use propaganda all over the place. We need a government that will correct this economic downturn. We need a government that will leave nepotism behind and take every Nigerian for who he is and make Nigerians to feel and have a sense of belonging that this country actually belongs to them, and not have appointments and everything important to the president’s zone, tribes, religion. We need a president that will take off nepotism and take on nationhood and see Nigeria as a nation, not to have several nations within a country. We want a situation where the president will be a listening president, who will listen to wise counsel and wise counsel will direct him in the right direction. We want a president that will truly and seriously fight corruption. Economy cannot grow in a corrupt environment; so the president must be upright and also in the true sense of it, and not as Oshiomhole said one time that once you join APC, your sins are forgiven. We want a president that will say whether you are in my party or not, you are a Nigerian and you will be treated as a Nigerian and not as a sacred cow. With such attributes and others that would make Nigeria a better place, we will then have a government that would bring revival, bring reconstruction, bring renewal, bring sense of belonging, bring out the patriotism in Nigerians so that we can have a better nation, a nation that all of us can be proud of.
You seem to be quite angry today
When some people think that we are a bunch of fools and treat us as such, then we have to speak to them strongly. It is unfortunate that we are in this kind of situation because they feel that we have not been reacting the way we should. They, from stage one, go to stage two and go to stage three and they continue. Otherwise, why would somebody say that he was choosing his deputy based on competence. Are there not competent people from the other sides of the divide to accommodate the plurality of Nigeria?
Northerners will say that there should be no zoning because they have their agenda. Didn’t we support Atiku in 2019? We did. Because we said it was the turn of the North at that time, and Southerners stayed off. Today, they came and said no zoning because they feel that they are the only ones who can be president in Nigeria. All others are incompetent and don’t have brains. They are all first class geniuses and every other person is a moron or imbecile.
But you are a Northerner?
Right from the time of former President Obasanjo, the North was defined. Even before Obasanjo when some Northern Christians from the Middle Belt extraction were appointed to some important positions, they came out and complained that these people appointed were not Northerners. Obasanjo asked them what is North, who is a Northerner? They feel you have to be a Fulani or Kanuri and a Muslim to be a Northerner. The others are accommodated, including minority Muslims, as second-class citizens within the process.
I’m a Middle Belter. When the British came, they met my little tribe and we had to be negotiated into the protectorate and so many other nationalities that now accept that they are Middle Belters. When the British came in 1902, they went to Biu and from there to Chibok, though our people resisted and there they went to Mungonu. They came to my place before they went to the Kanuri. At that time, the Shua Arabs ravaged the Kanuri nation. Our people, because of their resistance, the British had to come back and to fight them between November 1906 and February 1907. The records are there, it was not written by my tribe’s man. There is a book trending where the British even called us the small Chibok tribe of savages because our people resisted the British.
These people in the North, who are neither under the caliphate nor the sultanate of Borno when the British came, are the Middle Belters. The Fulani and Kanuri don’t regard us as Northerners. They used us as Northerners to achieve their objectives, to add to their numbers just as the British did even after the Wilinks Commission was established to carve a region each for the majorities of the North and the minorities. They don’t consider us as Northerners and we thank them for that. They have used our forefathers, but we are now wiser. We know the history and we know what is going on and we stand as proud Middle Belters and we will fight our way through to get our correct position in Nigeria. We will partner with others to pull Nigeria out of the woods because these people for parochial, sectional interests want to deep Nigeria into a situation where nobody would say, ‘Oh, I’m proud of my country.’ We have to pull Nigeria out of the situation. Let them continue, everybody has the right to do whatever he feels like, but they don’t see us as Northerners, but we would continue to fight for the right of our people and will unite with others who want Nigeria to move forward as a united nation.