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Who Is Afraid Of The Middle Belt?

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By Obadiah Mailafia

Last week a bill was presented to the House of Representatives, entitled “Geo-political Zones of the Federation Bill 2020”. It was sponsored by Kpam Sokpo (PDP, Benue). It aims essentially to enshrine the Six Geopolitical Zones in our Constitution, with “North Central” being renamed “Middle Belt”.

The Six Geopolitical Zones were first proposed by the late Chief Alex Ekwueme and were accepted by the Abacha junta for the purpose of allocating positions and preferments by the Federal Government. They were an arbitrary creation, in the sense that the area that forms the core Middle Belt was designated as “North Central”. This means that the Old North was left intact for purposes of administrative reference. All sorts of abuses and discriminatory practices have been visited upon us under an Apartheid North.

The Middle Belt is both a geographical expression as well as a political identity. It is also a state of mind. Like the English constitution, the Middle Belt exists in the hearts and minds of the Middle Belt peoples.
Everyone that feels and knows he or she is Middle Belter, such a one belongs to the Middle Belt. A Middle Belter is anyone who was historically never defeated by the Fulani Jihad. We are who we are because we were never defeated by the Fulani Jihad. A Middle Belter is also anyone who does not subscribe to Caliphate ideology and the hegemony of the Fulani-dominated emirate system. Thirdly, a Middle Belter is anyone in the former North who does not wish to live under Sharia.

The Middlebelt region of Nigeria

The Middle Belt geographically encapsulates the area normally referred to as “North Central”. But it is much more than that. It extends from Southern Borno to Southern Adamawa, Southern Bauchi, Southern Gombe, Southern Yobe, Southern Kaduna and Southern Kebbi.
The peoples of the Middle Belt are also defined by history. We had one of the greatest civilisations that ever flourished in ancient Africa, namely: the Nok civilisation that was older than Benin and older than Ile-Ife. From what we know of its artefacts, the people had spiritual and cultural linkages to the Egypt of the Pharaohs. The successor to the ancient Nok culture was the great Kwararafa Kingdom that is today symbolised by the Aku Uka of Jukun land. The Kwararafa ruled Kano and many parts of Hausa land for more than 200 years. The small size of their population did not allow them to impose their hegemony over their conquered subjects. But their historical role is one of the pillars in the construction of modern Middle Belt identity politics.

The area comprising the Middle Belt today has a landmass of 300,000 square km, with an estimated population of 40 million peoples. It is the largest of any region, with the most fertile farmlands and the highest endowments in terms of minerals and natural resources. The Middle Belt is an ethnic federation of over a hundred ethnic communities. We are a tolerant and accommodating people. Our moral conscience is shaped by Christianity and the humane traditions of ancient Africa.

The struggle of the Middle Belt peoples did not start yesterday. As a matter of fact, it goes as far back as the 1900s. The subject of the creation of a Middle Belt region for the non-Muslim populations of the North was heavily debated in the British Parliament. Journalists and intellectuals and experts on colonial administration strongly urged the Colonial Office in London to consider creating an autonomous region for the non-Muslim peoples. Missionaries like Dr. Karl Kumm of the old Sudan United Mission also made strong submissions for that cause. The tribal chiefs from the Kilba, the Lunguda in Adamawa and the Baju and Atyap in Southern Kaduna also made strong representations to the colonial overlords to create a Middle Belt region.

The Willink Minority Commission 1957 advocated creation of an autonomous region for the Middle Belt, but the matter was unfortunately overtaken by geopolitics. The British considered it to be in their long-term strategic interest to ensure that the North would remain the dominant region and would continue to rule in perpetuity. Dame Margery Perham, a leading authority on colonial administration, described it as “tripod”, which was programmed to fail. One of the laws of federalist theory is that none of the federating units should be large enough to threaten the others. The British clearly sowed the seeds of catastrophe which has continued to haunt our country to this day.

Joseph Sarwuan Tarka
Championed the Middlebelt cause


The fathers of the modern Middle Belt struggle are well known. They include Rev. David Lot, J. S. Tarka, Patrick Dokotri, J. D. Gomwalk, Solomon Daushep Lar, Dan Suleiman and the late Bala Takaya, among several others. The millions of Middle Belt youths today are demanding a separate identity for themselves. They are tired of being lumped together as part of a monstrous behemoth called the North. We do not want to be associated with the Almajiri system, Emirate feudalism, begging, Sharia, poverty, mindless divorce and broken families, Global jihad, child marriage and vaginal Vesico-fistula, VVF; Boko Haram, genocidal herdsmen, oppression and violence.

The Middle Belt sacrificed more than anyone else to keep this country together. We are the bridge that links North and South. Without the Middle Belt, Nigeria would not exist. The greatest regret of our people is that General Yakubu Gowon used our conscripted youths to fight against the fledgling republic of Biafra. Most of them had never seen a rainforest terrain before. They were mowed down like grass. Never again will the Middle Belt ever allow itself to be used in that way.

Over the last decade, the Middle Belt Forum has been engaged in dialogue with Afenifere of Yoruba land, PANDEF of the South-South and Ohaeneze Ndigbo of the East. We have discovered our common destiny. We are working together to build a New Nigeria with a new constitution and a re-engineered federation in which all our communities will have a fair and equal voice.
We are resolved never to be part of the Old North, where our people are daily being killed, maimed and raped. During this lockdown alone, hundreds of innocent people – children, women, the elderly – have been killed by marauding bandits in Southern Kaduna, Plateau and Benue. Boko Haram has targeted Christian communities in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. More than 3,000 churches have been destroyed and more than 400 clergy have been martyred. Their trade mark is beheading, disembowelment of expectant mothers, hacking of infants, rape and forced marriages of under-age girls. There are more than three million internally displaced persons in Nigeria today as a consequence.

We are not hostile to Islam or Muslims. We have our own indigenous Muslims with whom we live in peace and harmony. We want good rapport with the North, but never accept the status of dhimmi second-class citizens in the land of our ancestors. After almost 60 years of feudal injustice, structural violence and oppression, we demand self-determination within a New Nigeria.
In July 2018, the Middle Belt peoples held a Summit in Makurdi, Benue State. The famous Makurdi Declaration that ensued sets out our principles, goals and vision for our people and for the New Nigeria of our dream. That clarion call to freedom rang throughout the world.

Its essence is a rejection of the fraud underpinning the 1999 Constitution. It begins with: “We, the people”. But that is a capital LIE! That fraudulent contraption was designed and handed-over to us by a military dictatorship without the full consent of our people. It is therefore, ipso facto, bereft of moral legitimacy. We demand nothing less than a new constitution with a referendum that ensures that all the peoples of Nigeria decide which region they will belong to, without fear or favour.

We also take strong exception to the gerrymandering of the structure of our federation in such a manner that favours some while short-changing others. We envision a two-tier federation, with federating units of no more than five Regions:North, Middle Belt, West, East and South-South. Each Region will be free to create its own municipal councils as it deems fit. We envisage Regions that shall be economically and financially viable; able to meet their basic obligations in terms of operating elected government, civil service and local police.

Ever since Aristotle, a system of checks and balances exists in constitutional government because men are not angels. The presidential system and our current fraudulent federalism have proven to be a monstrous Leviathan that sucks the blood of our people. The Middle Belt stands for a decentralised parliamentary system that devolves more powers to the people and allows them to participate in the governance process that shapes their lives and the future of their children.
Freedom beckons, and we shall not wait!

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Aviation

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DEFINING A NATIONAL SELF INTEREST-LESSONS FROM A BASA AGREEMENT GONE SOUR

By Tunde Adeniji

The DG NCAA Captain Musa Nuhu recently issued a Press release, conveying the decision of the Honourable Minister of Aviation Sen. Sirika Hadi to replace the operating schedule approval for 21 frequencies/week given to Emirates airlines with 1 weekly Frequency. He had relied on the spirit and letter of the Bilateral Services Agreement (BASA) between the two countries in responding to the single slots weekly offered to Air Peace at Sharjah Airport. The DG’s letter ended with his assurance to members of the public that national interests in all Aviation matters will be jealously protected.

The Aviation Policy and Strategic group discussed the fallout from this decision exhaustively, deconstructing the issues involved, even as its erudite members put forward many good suggestions about how to proceed. The engagements have been rich and enlightening and our intention in contributing to this discourse is to focus on the need to define a National Self Interest in a robust policy framework to guide future BASA/external Aviation relations engagements.

This need is justified based on our experience as a Nation which seems to suggest that we may be haunted yet again by the many decision makers who fell into the trap described below by Jon Moen:

“People who are managing a (financial or economic) crisis are not immune from personal motivations…Sometimes the people in charge don’t know at first that their personal motivations and past experiences might not be compatible with what is best for the greater good.”

We view National Self Interest ‘’As the overriding purpose governing the state’s relationship with the outside world, it serves two purposes. It gives policy a general orientation towards the external environment. More importantly, it serves as the controlling criterion of choice in immediate situations. The dominant view of national interest, in other words, dictates the nature of a state’s long-term effort in foreign policy and governs what it does in a short-term context’’.

The concept of Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) is the outcome of the compromise between the Open Skies advocacy of the US and the strong opposition by the UK and European countries, as a protection from their inability to compete with the formidable dominance of the US in post WW2 world. The delegates at the Chicago convention therefore agreed to a regime that allowed every country complete and exclusive sovereignty over its airspace with the provision that permissions were to be negotiated between contracting states on a bilateral basis. There are at least three different models of BASA, with varying levels of liberality, as may be agreed by the parties to it. We may therefore consider is a contract that should be mutually negotiated like any other

Slots on the other hand ‘’is the most emotive subject in civil aviation. It is the approval from an appropriate authority to take off at a particular time at one airport and land at its destination at another time. The difficulty arises in so called coordinated airports i.e., congested airports where there are severe capacity limits at certain times of the day. It subsequently dictates the difference between operating a route or not’’-D.H. Bunker

The Adam Smith model of Self-interest as the motivator of economic activity with competition as regulator to ensure the market runs efficiently without intervention, is situated below:

“It is not from the benevolence (kindness) of the government (of UAE), Its flag carrier (Emirates), or Airport (Sharjah) that we expect access to Air Peace, but from their regard to their own interest.”

It is important to state at the outset that the self-interest we advocate is (in the words of Lauren Hall) consistent with the demands of justice and becomes the germ from which virtuous, fair behaviour grows, to drive the larger economic engine of society.

In clear economic terms slots represents a barrier to entry and airlines awarded slots benefit from an economic rent. A system established to ensure stability has slowly become the property of the airlines. Slots are sold at a remarkable premium or used as a tool to exert unfair competitive pressures. It has been reported that many European countries who oppose the sale of slots, do so on the principle that, a private firm cannot benefit from a public good (Mackay 2008)

The decision to operate slot system or not remain those of the relevant airport and can be considered “its own internal cuisine‘’ just as ‘’A country’s motivation is its own concern, but the righteousness of its actions is the concern of all’’.

Nigeria like other states deliberately follow certain policies in pursuit of their national interest. The current face off with UAE, shows clearly that we have been a bit too eager to give than to receive or at least gave out before we received.

Our BASA is seemingly driven by the needs and ease of other countries. We have offered multiple entry points to countries, even where our own carriers have faced issues with slots for decades. These incongruities have never been convincingly explained to operators and other stakeholders

We have a unique opportunity to review our thinking and position in this area, especially as our slow adoption of Single African Air Transport Market (SSATM) and African Continental Free Trade Areas (AfCFTA) is totally in sharp contrast to our rush to embrace these dominant international brands

Our policies can start by ensuring that the investment by Nigerian carriers is complimented by access to the best of our facilities as no other country will ever offer them same.

A crisis, they say, is a terrible thing to waste, and so we suggest  that the minimum positive outcome from this saga should be a comprehensive policy paper that will spell out in clear terms, how Nigeria will take actions that will reduce to the barest costs and increase to maximum  benefits its engagements to further our National Aviation Interests.

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Features

Plateau State Impeachment: Justice, not Truce

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By  ADEKUNLE ADE-ADELEYE

ON October 27, the media reported the unexpected impeachment of the Speaker of the Plateau House of Assembly, Ayuba Abok, by eight lawmakers. The state government, it was quietly hinted, saw him as antagonistic and uncooperative.

Hon Abok had been critical of Governor Simon Lalong’s handling of the insecurity crisis in the state, and had in August given the governor a two-week ultimatum to protect the people. Since he had the majority of lawmakers on his side, the harassed Speaker and his supporters reportedly met outside the assembly complex and fought back.

Soon after, however, by a police sleight of hand, his opponents led by Yakubu Sanda, who had been purportedly elected Speaker by 6am, regrouped and entered the assembly complex after Hon Abok had been escorted out by the police.

Even though the media reported that eight lawmakers were behind the impeachment, Hon Abok and his supporters believed six assembly members were involved, whom they proceeded to suspend on the same day.

Up till November 4, the media had tried unsuccessfully to get the governor’s position on the alleged impeachment. They seemed to believe that

They seemed to believe that he was not averse to the impeachment, and had been touchy about criticisms leveled against him for what his opponents termed his inexpert handling of insecurity in Plateau State. In fact, his critics see him as a stooge of the federal government which had been accused of taking sides in the conflict on the Plateau.

Mr Lalong has, however, reiterated that he is tackling insecurity in Plateau State to the best of his ability, and with utmost resolution and impartiality. The state’s lawmakers are not so sure, leading to the testy exchange between the legislature and the state government. The acrimony boiled over on October 27, and has persisted despite moves to reach a truce. But what the state needs is not truce, nor even peace, but justice to start with; for there can be no peace without justice, as Nigeria’s acrimonious national politics exemplifies.

Whether six or eight legislators, it is impossible to defend an impeachment that was inspired and executed by a minority, not to say a minority that was strikingly and flagrantly less than two-thirds. The APC has 15 members; only eight consented to the impeachment.

To support truce is to confer legitimacy on a lie and a behavior that flagrantly violates the constitution. Such violations must never be appeased, nor negotiated. It does not matter whether the governor is right in his seemingly pro-Abuja method of tackling insecurity in Plateau State, or whether he is wrong to nod and wink at the October 27 insurrectionists in the state legislature; what is important is that the law must neither be flouted nor the constitution desecrated. Mr Lalong has an obligation not just to rule the state and build schools, hospitals and bridges; he also has a far weightier and nobler obligation to protect the rule of law in the state, if necessary with his last drop of blood. To keep silent in the face of such violations is to give the impression of complicity, not the quiet and dignified contemplation many associate with leaders. And when he decides to speak out on the issue, he needs to eschew the nugatory and indecisive balance often practiced by dissembling and unprincipled leaders.

Mr Lalong must in addition ask himself whether the measures he had adumbrated to fight insecurity in Plateau State have been effective, or whether in fact the victims of massacres in the state regard him as empathetic enough. Furthermore, he must ask himself whether by his actions and statements he had not given the impression of running a federal outpost rather than a federating state. Then, finally, he must ask himself whether his position as governor does not obligate him, in line with his oaths, to protect, preserve and defend the constitution, regardless of whose ox is gored.

Does he have an idea of what is fair, equitable and just, or has he elevated politics and executive machinations above justice and lawmaking? If he is not too far committed one way or the other to outside and vested interests, as his critics insist, he should reexamine the issues raised by his critics, find ways to mollify them, and give the state he is privileged to administer a great leadership capable of protecting and entrenching his legacy.

The contrived crisis in the House of Assembly may be the governor’s chance to reorient his administration, side with the people, and rethink the principles by which he claims to rule the state. He must recall that in October 2006, under the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency, eight lawmakers issued a notice of impeachment against one of his predecessors, Joshua Dariye, for various infractions, including money laundering. By November, Mr Dariye was impeached, despite the clear illegality of the process. In March 2007 and April of the same year, the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court respectively restored him. The courts faulted the process. Fifteen years later, lightning is striking the same place twice, with eight lawmakers playing mischief and violating the constitution.

Mr Lalong is at liberty to rally as much support as possible for his legislative agenda, and any other sensible agenda he might cherish; what he does not have the freedom to do is to conspire against the constitution, which his reticence seems to imply. Indeed, the governor’s ominous detachment is matched only by the artful neutrality of the police, with the former claiming that the legislative crisis is strictly the problem of lawmakers, and the latter pretending to be doing everything to prevent a breakdown of law and order

(First published in The Nation)

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Aviation

Airports for Concession, Not Privatisation

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By

John Ojikutu

The Honourable Minister of State for Aviation has recently briefed the public and industry stakeholders of government plans to concede certain airports to private investors as part of larger plans to privatise some public enterprises. Following the Honourable Minister’s briefings, there have been some emotional reactions from the public and more too from aviation stakeholders who ordinarily should be better informed of what has, over the years, been the financial travails of the sector but yet find the government plans of airport concession unacceptable.

The government probably decided on concession and privatisation or outright sale because of the failed commercialisation of most public sector services and enterprises. There were public enterprises that were fully commercialised like the NLG and the refineries which were expected to operate as profit-making commercial ventures without any subsidies from the government. These are expected to raise funds from the capital market for capital projects without a government guarantee and were expected to use private-sector procedures in running their businesses.

There were other enterprises like FAAN and NAMA which were partially commercialised and were expected to cover their operational costs from their internally generated revenues (IGR). This category of enterprises enjoyed grants from the government to finance their capital projects, just as the federal government had done in the past for them with the ₦19.5 billion aviation intervention fund in 2007, the grant of about $200 million from the BASA fund for the refurbishment of some airports, and the $500 million loan from China for the redevelopment of the major international airports.

Using the air traffic and passenger traffic statistics of 2014-15, the expected yearly revenue from FAAN in particular, whose facilities are planned for concession, is reported to be about N65 billion from both aeronautical (N61.5 billion) and non-aeronautical (N4.5 billion) sources. However, the chunks of revenue earnings generated have not substantially impacted on the airport infrastructures and services. For instance MMA alone that is reported to be generating about ₦2 billion monthly is worth more than ₦3 billion monthly or ₦36 billion ($100 million annually) in earnings from passenger service charge aircraft landing and parking, on both international and domestic traffic and various concession on non aeronautical services within and around the airport. Unfortunately, the airport does enjoy up to 5% of the revenue for the periodic maintenance of the airport infrastructure and services. If MMA is given out for concession today in the global market, it could generate conservatively about ₦110 billion ($300 milliom). Today the total IGR earnings on the twenty international airports is less than ₦70 billion ($190 million).

The problems of government enterprises in the sector are largely caused by the incessant huge debts of the domestic airline operators to the public operators and weak accountability of the regulator particularly of the NCAA, which has the critical role to play in checking the excesses of both the airlines’ operators and the public operators FAAN and NAMA.

The Nigerian aviation sector is just one of the three major means of transportation, providing air transport services to less than 10 million Nigerians, compared to the road and rail providing transportation services for over 60 million Nigerians annually. Air services enjoy government patronage the most, with various forms of intervention, grants, and guaranteed loans. All these are in addition to the huge revenues generated that have not significantly developed or improved the airports’ infrastructure and facilities for sustaining safe air operations. There has been no efficient and effective oversight by the responsible authority to ensure that the sector in the last sixteen years complied with a five-year budget plan as required by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations 2006, Part 18.10.5.

What has developed over the years in the industry is a mixed system, one of partial commercialisation, where the government injects subsidies or intervention funds into the public enterprises, and full commercialisation, where the government gives autonomy to some public enterprises in the sector. What the government plans to develop now, and what is developing worldwide, is privatisation and concession, where the government extends partnerships to private enterprises and investors to develop the sector. This is a concept that is being adopted by most developing countries whose aviation infrastructures are expanding fast but whose development funds are limited, as with our own case. Most countries are finding it a positive advantage to adopt the policies of public-private partnership (PPP), full commercialisation, and concession of public enterprises. These options offer government savings for other social sectors of the economy and reduce unnecessary costs and duplication of efforts.

Privatisation or outright sale of public enterprises to private investors in Nigeria, as articulated by a Social group in 1988 as part of Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), could be emotive and controversial “Privatisation is a means of exposing public enterprises to private investors or bringing private ownership, control and management into public enterprises. The objective is to increase productivity and efficiency, and to improving the financial health of the public enterprises with sufficient savings for the government from the suspended government subsidies.”

Broadly defined, privatisation could include concession and all forms of PPP; but if narrowly defined, it would exclude concession and could mean outright sales. However, whatever definition is being applied, the objective is securing private investors’ management and operational expertise and investment, Similar to the MM2 concession to Bi-Courtney.

It still seems to some stakeholders that the concession of MM2 was shrouded in some kind of executive secrecy. The government, therefore, needs to assure stakeholders that the planned concession is with better intentions. Generally, there are three key features of a concession. Firstly, it does not involve the sale or transfer of ownership of physical assets, only the right to use the assets and operate the enterprise. Secondly, agreements are for a limited period of time, up to or less than thirty years depending on the context, content, and sector. Thirdly, the government, the owner of the assets must retain much involvement on the oversight in the concession through regulatory agencies.

It is expected that whatever the government would give out for concession would be well defined along these three features in order to avoid the pitfalls of past attempts. The government must bear in mind existing agreements or concessions with the Chinese government on the development of the four airports of Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja, and Kano, ditto with similar agreements with Bi-Courtney. The government must also be mindful of the fact that about twelve out of about twenty federal airports are joint users with the military, these include the international airports.

The government should be very clear in its plan as to what assets or infrastructure it would give for concession without disrupting the agreements with existing private operators and joint-users arrangements with the military. The plan for airport concession now should not include those aeronautical infrastructures, facilities, and systems that are necessary and critical for the conduct of flight operations, rescue operations, emergency management services, airport security systems, and national security. These are the state’s responsibility and mandatory obligatory functions to the ICAO as contained in various annexes to the Chicago Convention, essentially on aerodrome standards, air traffic control services, and airport security and so on. All these could be fully commercialized, as they are the practices elsewhere. The concession, on the other hand, should not be different from the one between the government and Bi-Courtney, and essentially for non-aeronautical infrastructural facilities and services which includes operations and management of the passenger, cargo terminal buildings and the handling facilities; aircraft parking areas with handling facilities, car, trucks, parks and toll gates.

All aeronautical facilities that are left in FAAN’s assets after the concession of non-aeronautical facilities could be merged with NAMA assets. Runways, taxiways and their associated lighting, and emergency and rescue management systems could remain part of the universal air traffic services systems. NAMA could, therefore, be fully commercialised like the ATNS of South Africa. FAAN, on the other hand, should function as a commercial holding company to oversee the management of the airports under concession.

The government should ensure that future management of the remaining domestic airports is included in the concession plans. In other words, none of these domestic airports should be left behind; otherwise, the initial reasons for the concession would be defeated. Therefore, for every international airport terminal available for concession to a company, three to four of the domestic airports should be given along with the concession.

The concession of airports, like that of the seaports in 2006, will increase capacity, invariably increasing air, passenger, and cargo traffic. It will reduce budget allocations to airports and increase revenue generation. The ports’ concession increased the capacity by over 300%; the cargo has increased from 7 million tons to about 25 million tons, and it has reduced budget allocations but has increased port revenue generation.

In addition to all these, the government should concern itself with the designing of achievable policies and programmes that would enable it to meet contemporary visions for the industry in this twenty-first century. Such policies should ensure that the responsible aviation authority provides the baseline for implementation of the concession, and the investors provide regular business plans every five years to meet the requirements of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations, 2006, Part 18.10.5. The first-line approach is to ask: has the NCAA been ensuring that Bi-Courtney Airport Services complied regularly with the NCAR provision?

(Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd) is an Aviation Security Consultant and Secretary General of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative)

This opinion article was written in May, 2016.

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