The only voice missing from the list to make it the complete but tragic unravelling of the hyped Middle Belt Moment in recent years was that of Professor Jerry Gana. If Gana, either at Lafia or afterwards, had joined David Mark and Ahmadu Ali in cursing Labaran Maku, APGA gubernatorial candidate for Nasarawa State, it would have been a geo-political earthquake. How would it not have been when Mark, Ali and Gana are the three most key figures in the Jonathan regime under which the Middle Belt has been held out as the winner? If, for whatever reasons, these same geopolitical leaders would concentrate their utmost verbal fire power on someone who musters very much less than each of them in material and political terms and in age too, then something is certainly wrong.
Although we are in that moment in Nigerian history when the difference between right and wrong, good and bad and all such binaries have temporarily disappeared under the weight of power, the incident under reference cannot be ignored because of the very unique way it speaks about leadership and power, particularly in the Middle Belt. For, the question is: assuming that Labaran Maku made strategic and tactical mistakes in ditching the PDP after eating from the bowel of cabalistic politics, would that make Ahmadu Ali and David Mark, the political leaders from his own geo-political zone, the right persons to mount the podium to say that he will be miserable for the rest of his life? Is this the leadership? Is leadership always about punishment, reprimand and no training? Why didn’t the remarks of Ali and Mark contain any hints about the number of times they have called Maku and warned him against whatever wrong moves they thought he was in danger of making? Would they truly be happy if Labaran were to really be miserable for the rest of his life? And this after having been the spokesperson for a government in which they have been the greatest beneficiaries? It would amount to callousness if were to be so.
It is hard to imagine David Mark who, probably by training or nature, is rarely ever a soapbox actor rather than the inscrutable fellow he is now being so vexed as to say what he said against Maku last week at the PDP Presidential campaign in Nasarawa State. Ahmadu Ali aka Project Manager, (his nickname as PDP National Chairman) does not cut a same image. When he once visited Jigawa State and addressed a cross-section of political leaders, he spoke in the best traditions of a balanced and informed right wing, generally cutting the image of the sort of person to consult on a hard choice decision and get valuable insights. What might have angered him to descend so viciously and publicly on Maku?
By making such statements, they are subtracting from the ‘credibility’ each of them has gained by not decamping from the PDP in the way many others have done. Some people should stay back and reflect on how PDP messed up Nigeria in the past five or so years. Somebody or some people should also be sponsored to go back to school like the late Alhaji Uba Ahmed did in respect of the defunct NPN. He went to the University of Birmingham in the UK and did a thesis on how it all went. His rendition of NPN government’s struggles against devaluation will remain very instructive in respect of class, state and the IFIs. Please, note that I referred to a dissertation, not a hagiography written by some self-satisfied propagandists.
There is something tragic in someone who came up through the radical trajectory that Labaran Maku did only to find himself in his situation today in which he has to appeal to ethno-regional sentiments in the struggle for power. But stuff happen. Such is life. Some of us would have to keep our frustration with such ideological turn until we understand what might have been happening to a comrade in government.
In other words, no one can cheaply or conveniently read me off as doing PR for Maku. In any case, I am not readable that way, having spent all my life working in other states of the federation, from the South-South to the South-West and in the far North and, therefore, a non-combatant of any ethno-regional chauvinistic camp. That though does not imply closing my eyes to a signal that goes against the unchallenged wisdom that elders are like the open space dustbin on which sometimes over-excited but less wise younger ones throw all sorts of rubbish into. The elders we are seeing in David Mark and Ahmadu Ali are too prickly, easily irritated and ready to take hostage or declare war.
That is strange because it is in the name of the geo-political unit called the Middle-Belt that every political leader from the zone owes his or her power. How is the power refracted back to the area if open reprimand is commoner than the province of group healing, reconciliation and purposive good offices? Why the persistence of the element of irritation instead of counselling, calming and correcting? This goes against the spirit in some other regions given what we see in the on-going re-absorption of Bamidele Opeyemi into the Tinubu political establishment after challenging that establishment by contesting Ekiti governorship. Me thinks that’s how it should be. More so in the Middle Belt, the area that has suffered most in the past few years because of fussy ideas about politics and power as well as the politics of the powerful. Power as persuasion and mobilisation has been totally absent in the region. Rather, the old fashioned idea of power as control holds sway, producing negative trends both internally and in our extra-regional relations.
But there is a quick lesson to learn. If the global trend is not instructive, then the major lesson that no one can miss is unfolding in Nigeria right now. I am referring to the way Bola Tinubu and his political group have also completely re-territorialized ethnicity in Nigeria by crumpling the North-West/South-West space and bringing same under a new electoral geopolitics that will be shaking Nigeria in a few weeks, if the agitators for postponement do not succeed in stopping the elections from holding, one way or the other. The message here is that the insularity that has dominated Middle Belt regionalism of late is not helpful to the region in any ways and the spectre of the elders descending on Maku is an implosive manifestation of that, something we must watch against. This is because the implosion is beyond Maku and his traducers. Today, it may be Maku but tomorrow, it could be someone else.
The Yorubas, the Hausa-Fulanis and the Igbos are, by population, in a position to afford any amount of splits and internal rumblings because, under a functional Nigeria, they have locational, linguistic and developmental advantages which a culturally and even economically hemmed-in Middle Belt doesn’t have. More than that, those are more coherent entities in which many of the cultural mechanisms for managing conflicts and regulating interaction have survived the CNN-isation of modernity well into post modernity. The diversity in the Middle Belt is such that a pan-regional referent corresponding to the geography doesn’t exist. But that does not have to be a problem if we have got leaders that can ‘read’ the diversity progressively, with particular reference to the attainment of a certain level of internal coherence and good neighbourliness as the definitive categories of Middle Belt politics.
The descent on Maku in addition to other developments such as the violence that went on for years around Jos, Plateau State and the strong perception that it is in places like Nasarawa and Plateau states that the worst post election violence might be taking place after February 14th, 2015 if care is not taken are the evidence that leadership in the Middle Belt is problematic. In fact, the religious divide in Nasarawa today is understood to be on knife-edge and only God might now be the refugee of many ordinary citizens there as the country staggers towards February 14th, 2005. It is still morning yet on creation day as far as a classic leadership banner of hope from people like David Mark and Ahmadu Ali for this axis of multiple afflictions. Some reconciliation with Maku at some point, for whatever it might be worth, should be part of such a banner. Politics in an extraordinarily underdeveloped country like Nigeria can be like war but it is not war. Or it shouldn’t be war because wars are not winnable nowadays.