Perhaps Professor Zacharys Anger Gundu’s rejoinder to my stance on Dr. Obadiah Mailafia’s theory of the instability in the North, in the Daily Trust of August 30, was delayed for publication.
He had missed, or so it seemed, the outcome of Mailafia’s lunch dates with the SSS in Jos.
Mailafia had already clarified that the “intelligence” which inspired his imagination of the crises in the region was acquired from the local traders he chanced upon in some market, and agreed he ought to have “corroborated” the claims.
Such acknowledgement of the unverified isn’t a style of the intellectual, and it’s distressing that an academic of Gundu’s standing failed to fault that position.
My disagreement with Mailafia, therefore, wasn’t to question “his intellectual and analytical credentials” as inferred by Gundu.
This Mailafia has already done by his hasty conclusions.
Mine was an emphasis on the obligations upon the intellectual in a society at war with critical thinking.
The first error in Gundu’s thesis is the assumption that I, like fellow northerners, “do not understand the grievances of the Middle Belt.”
Au contraire, I pass as a “Middle Beltan” if membership criteria still recognise minority ethnic groups from Niger state and perception of subjugation by the “Hausa-Fulani”.
But the Middle Belt movement isn’t merely a response to the hegemony of the Hausa-Fulani.
For a little ride with history, this socio-political agitation began in 1949 as Non-Muslim League to demand own region after the creation of the Northern, Eastern and Western regions by the Richards Committee.
This faulty conception undermined the ethnoreligious complexity of the supposed Middle-Belt.
For the Muslims in the proposed sub-region, the movement was a replication of the very cultural hegemony it sought to oppose, with Christianity as the instrument of power.
The Muslim farmers in the region had also been victims of conflicts with Fulani herders, and had also been referred to as kabilu (the subaltern tribes) by the Hausa.
These shared experiences could’ve been the rallying point in pathologizing the Hausa-Fulani.
It’s unsurprising, though, that Northern elites were quick to point out the contradiction, with Abba Habib, as Secretary-General of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), describing the movement as a missionary ideology against the Muslim.
Even if the agitation for the Middle Belt Region had materialised in 1949, it would’ve still been unable to include the ethnic groups across the North.
Unlike Gundu and Mailafia who object to being referred to as northerners, member ethnic groups outside the territorial Middle Belt don’t have such “privilege.”
The group reinforced its “outcast” status when the J. S. Tarka-led United Middle Belt Congress went all down to the Western Region in the 1950s for an alliance with the Action Group.
I’m not unsympathetic to the polarisations that have brought us here, but the alternative handed out as Middle Belt is not less scary.
It evokes the Antonio Gramsci’s portrait of the elite as obsessed with dominating a diverse society by valorizing binary identities to take or hold on to power.
I should know this because I’ve lived in Jos, and witnessed how this Gramscian experiment played out in the friction between the “Hausa-Fulani,” who were resisted as settlers by the “indigenous” Berom, Anaguta and Afizere.
The feuds erupted into riots where “Middle-Beltans” like me were murdered for simply bearing a Muslim identity.
Another error in Gundu’s claims is making Professor Ango Abdullahi and his ilk spokespersons of the “Northern establishment” instead of recognising them as individuals performing for a seat at the table.
Gundu misread the Gramscian portrayal of the elite whose affiliation to a dominant culture is to manipulate the masses for power.
That the Grand Khadi of the Northern Region, Abubakar Gumi, was critical of Yakubu Gowon, as recounted by Gundu, wasn’t the position of the North.
It is no veiled fact that Gowon’s removal from office was masterminded by his kinsman, fellow Christian and Middle-Beltan, Colonel Joseph Nanven Garba. Where was the Middle Belt solidarity between these two soldiers from Plateau state?
Gundu also alleged that Muslim military officers and the “Northern establishment” protested the appointment of Lt-General Ishaya Bamaiyi as Chief of Army Staff by General Sani Abacha, and General Victor Malu as Chief of Army Staff by President Olusegun Obasanjo, respectively.
That Bamaiyi was appointed by a Muslim from the “core North,” and that Obasanjo would go on to appoint another Northern Christian, Martin Luther Agwai, as Chief of Army Staff, tells you Gundu oversimplifies the problem.
The same Abacha had had a Christian from Plateau state, Major General Chris Alli as Chief of Army Staff, before Malu.
President Umaru Yar’adua too, a core Northerner, also appointed a Christian from Kaduna, Luka Nyeh Yusuf, as Chief of Army Staff in 2007.
So, what’s Gundu insinuating?
We must ally to undo the apparitions of our history instead of being held hostage by it.
Mohammed Bello’s Infakul Maisur cited by Gundu was a guidebook for the British colonial agents during their scheming to take control, but Gundu didn’t state that the unsuspecting scholar had no idea that the maps of the Caliphate and its Niger-Benue frontier he drew for Hugh Clapperton were a nail on the coffin of the Caliphate.
It all came crashing in 1903 when a column of soldiers, led by Brigadier George Kemball, surrounded Sokoto and had its glories wrecked in the deafening din of machine guns.
Gundu is also bewildered that, since the Nigerian Civil War lasted for just about three years, it’s impossible for the Boko Haram fight, which began in 2009, to have still been on.
But Nigeria has had a Christian President and service chiefs who “failed” to stop the war.
Between 2010 and 2015, the Nigerian Army was led by Christians Lt-Generals Azubuike Ihejirika and Kenneth Minimah.
When Boko Haram broke out, Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff was a Christian, Air Chief Marshal Paul Dike.
Aside from Rear Admiral Ola Ibrahim (2012 – 2014), all the five Chiefs of Defence Staff Nigeria has had since 2009, including the incumbent, are Christians.
But the tragedy of Gundu’s mirror is its blurry reflection of the elites.
Otherwise, he would’ve known his kinsmen, along with counterparts from other parts of the country, have all played a role in redirecting the insecurity in the North, and turning it into a money-making enterprise.
Gundu perhaps forgot that the late Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh was the highest-ranking head of the Nigerian security, as the Chief of Defence Staff from 2014 to 2015, but his “accomplishment” wasn’t in the battlefield.
He diverted the resources earmarked for the war to personal use while the Boko Haram were killing his people, and even took control of his hometown, Mubi, in Adamawa state.
Until his death, he was standing trial for N3.97 billion theft.
If intellectuals like Gundu and Mailafia prefer to abandon their station to weave conspiracy theories, at least let them produce sources other than random traders.
There’s a “known format for crying when you are down,” and that’s proving your allegations.
Ironically, as a Professor, Gundu is a teacher of this science of inquiry he seeks to discard in pursuit of a sectional agenda.