James Ibechi and Ejikeme Omenazu
For the people of the Middle Belt in Lagos and the South West geo-political zone, Saturday May 5, 2018 was indeed a day they cannot easily forget so soon.
That they, they came in their thousands and besieged the National Theatre, in Iganmu, Lagos, to celebrate their tradition and culture, in a very colourful way.
The Middle Belt Traditional Festival, organised by the Middle Belt Traditional Council (MBTC) in the South West, attracted all ethnic nationalities from the region known as either Middle Belt or North Central zone. As a detachment of the Oolice and Civil Defence Corps maintained security all through the event.
The traditional rulers, chiefs and town and community associations’ leaders were not left out as they led their people to the event. Top personalities in public and private sector were also not left out.
There was also a parade of all the ethnic nationalities, who turned up in their different traditional attires and dance troupes to make the day memorable.
The youths from the different ethnic group put up their best performances as they danced to the rhythm of their drum beats. They exhibited powerful dance steps that held the audience spell-bound, even as they cheer to the admiration of everyone.
Chief Ochi Emmanuel Ode, MBTC Chairman, called for Middle Belt unity, stressing that the region has a lot of cultural heritage, which should not be allowed to die.
He said: “What gave rise to this body (MBTC) was the dear need for an umbrella or platform that will accommodate the many and diverse ethnic nationalities in and around the Middle Belt region living and doing business in other parts of the country other than their states of birth, thereby inculcating in them the spirit of love, unity, perseverance, hardwork, integrity and peaceful co-existence among our members and our various host communities in the South West and its environ.”
He called on Federal Government to do all it could to end the killings in the Middle Belt region, stressing that the herdsmen should not be allowed to continue destroying precious lives and properties unchecked.
Dr. Dogo Ishuwa, the National Publicity Secretary of the Middle Belt Forum, who represented the body at the event, applauded the MBTC for its efforts to bring the entire people of the region under one umbrella and for upholding and promoting the culture of the region in the South West.
He expressed joy that the MBTC had been able to revive the Middle Belt story, even as he noted that the region had produced people of integrity, even as the region had helped to keep the nation together.
Ishuwa lamented the current killings going on in the Middle Belt, even as he stressed that the people were being killed like fowls in their homes and land by the herdsmen.
He called on all people of goodwill to prevail on the Federal Government to do everything possible to stop the on-going massacre in the Middle Belt.
Comrade Aluh Moses Odeh, the National Leader, All Middle Belt Youth Forum (AMBYF), expressed joy that the MBTC was able to come up with the idea of such a colourful event to bring the people from the region together.
He stressed that the people had for long been yearning for such an event, noting that though there are several ethnic nationalities in the region, they have similarities in culture, and the people are not restricted by their different languages.
Odeh said that what had been going on in the Middle Belt could only be seen as an ethnic cleansing by people who wish to wipe out the people, saying that such people should be called to order before it became too late.
He said that with the security agencies not doing much to protect the people of the region, saying the killings had left the people with no option than to accept the advice of Lt. Gen. Theophillus Danjuma, former Chief of Army Staff, for them to protect and defend themselves.
He said that with security agencies not protecting the people and not checking the herdsmen, the people have no option to believe that the killings in the region have the Federal Government’s support.
Prof Jerry Gana, the former Minister of Information and National Integration, who was the guest speaker at the event commended the MBTC for its vision and mission of promoting the Middle Belt unity, even in the South West. He stressed that when next the festival would be celebrated, he would personally mobilise several other important people from the region to attend.
In his speech, Gana took a hard look at the state of the nation and warned that the country was drifting to a failed nation.
Gana lamented that the Federal Government had been unable to stop the killings in the North Central region, even as he insisted that only the restructuring of the federation would save the nation from anarchy and disintegration.
The former minister, who said he supported the call for devolution of powers, maintained that the powers in the central government was so much, stressing the while defence should remain with the Federal Government, the states have the duty to protect the lives of the people.
He therefore renewed the call for state police, which he said would give the state governors power to control the police in their jurisdiction, adding that the current set up was not good in a true federation.
Gana called on the Federal Government and the National Assembly to revisit the 2014 National Conference report, saying that it provided solutions to major current problems facing the nation.
Amidst cheers, he also called for the restructuring of the country with the present states under the regions as administrative units, stressing that each region or state had enough resources, which if well exploited and managed, would take care of the areas, while each unit would pay takes to the central government.
He called on the Middle Belt to speak in one voice, even as he supported the recent call by the Lt. Gen. Danjuma, that people should defend themselves, lamenting that the Military and the Police had failed in their duty to protect lives and properties as the herdsmen had been wreaking havoc in the North Central.
Gana also advised Nigerians to ensure that they elect good leaders as the nation prepares for the 2019 general elections, stressing that the crises in the nation was due to poor governance.
The celebration included special awards which were given to eminent Nigerians and some state governors, including Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State, Gov Umaru Tanko Al-Makura of Nasarawa State, Gov Ibikunle Amosun of Ogn State.