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The Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series #23

A Meeting of the Minds
(Dr. Bala Takaya in Conversation with James Chiwo Avre)

The Chinua Achebe Foundation



No equity, no peaceful coexistence

                                              - Bala Takaya


Adamawa State, a “Nigerian melting pot,” is

Chinua Achebe

Prof. Chinua Achebe


Dr. Bala Takaya

Dr. Bala Takaya

home to about 40 ethnic Nigerian nationalities. It is also the home state of Vice President Atiku Abubakar, General Abdullahi Shelleng, Admiral Murtala Nyako, General

Marwa, Professors Iya Abubakar & Jubril Aminu, and Dr. Bala Takaya.


Dr Bala Takaya has earned his reputation as an academic, author, businessman and politician. Born in Maduguva village, near the Cameroon border in Adamawa State, he attended Ahmadu Bello University, and obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration, later attending the London School of Economics for Postgraduate studies. He returned to the Ahmadu Bello University as a lecturer in the department of Public Administration, and later moved to the department of Political Science, University of Jos.


Dr Takaya served his country at the national level in the Ministry of External Affairs, before returning to his home state – the then Gongola State – where he served, during the Second Republic transition,  first as a Special Adviser to the Governor on Internal Affairs and Administration, and then as the Secretary to Government of Gongola State.


Dr Takaya was appointed to serve on the Political Bureau as a member of the 17-man panel that conducted the political debate in 1986-87; thereafter he worked in the Constituent Assembly that produced the 1989 Constitution.


In 1991, during the Transition programme, Takaya re- entered the political arena, under the umbrella of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), to contest the gubernatorial seat of Adamawa State. In the heat of the primaries, the front runners – Atiku Abubakar and Takaya - were both disqualified from contesting by the military junta. Following this unsuccessful venture, Dr Takaya turned his sights on the banking sector where he worked for a brief period with Standard Bank- now First Bank - prior to the mega bank mergers.


In 2003, Dr Takaya again ran for the Adamawa state governor’s office, this time as a candidate of the Alliance for Democracy [AD] political party, but withdrew his candidacy in the midst of what he believed was an “unfair” election. Last year, Dr Takaya took part in the formation of a new political forum called the Movement for the Defense of Democracy (MDD).


Today, Dr Takaya continues to play a prominent role in Nigeria’s political life and as a critic and commentator on public policies. He is well-known for his analytical book, The Kaduna Mafia.





James Chiwo Avre, has worked for over 15 years in many print and electronic media organizations in the country which include the respected Nigerian Economist, the Ngeria Standard Newspapers, Nasarawa State Broadcasting Service (NBS) among numerous others. He also worked as Research Assistant in the Central Zone of Nigeria for the Citizens’ Forum for Constitutional Reform (CFCR) during its Scientific Survey on the 1999 Constitution. He is currently, Public Affairs Director, Media Advocacy Group (MAG).








Corruption, according to most,

Bala Takaya

Dr. Bala Takaya

is second nature to the Nigerian situation. Do you share this belief? Given the scale in the country today, how do you think we can end this problem?


First of all, we should avoid the problem of inter-temporal injustice. In our dark past, corruption seemed to be a normal expectation for people in power, people in leadership; but this is no longer allowed today. If we insist on the standards of yesterday to judge our present situation, we risk creating inter-temporal injustice and selfishness, and will be guilty of judging events and practices out of context. If a person or persons insist on imposing the negative practices of our past on our present, then those who subject themselves to these practices are probably doing so, because it serves their interests better.


Corruption is an aberration, a derailment from what is agreed upon or understood as the norm. Now, in the days when a young man was judged as a strong defender of the community by the number of human skulls he displayed, in certain circumstances, killing, murder, might have been considered an indication of valour and good kinship.


Today, however, murder is clearly criminal, whether the murdered is a foreigner or a

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national. We cannot interpret the standards of yesterday in terms of today. You are certainly breaking the law of the land when you murder somebody, today. In the past, in some communities, it was not an offence to marry within the extended family circle, but today Christianity, Islam or general awareness of society, has deemed incest a criminal offence.


Many people, because of selfish orientation, would prefer to exploit both worlds; to get power and/or positions of power by the standards of today, but operate with the standards of yesterday. This is an aspect of corruption.


So, the inability of the powers-that-be to check those aberrations of law is the main crux of the matter. If those in power can rigorously apply corrective sanctions against breaking our laws, to the corrupt, then we have the chance of a better society. Unfortunately, it is those who want power in its modern aspect, but want to live by the rules of yesterday, that are also the watch dogs of our society. And so, they refuse to apply the sanctions of today on the behaviours of our yesteryears.


That is basically the issue of corruption. It is not in our nature. Civilization has defined, for itself, the rules of the game; and any rule of the game that is broken means that someone is an offender. Even in football, there are certain areas where players are allowed to kick the ball, and there are certain ways one can kick the ball without hurting others, etcetera. When the rules are broken, there are penalties to pay.


So, breaking of laws is corruption, and there is nothing innate in this. One cannot disrespect the design of football practice, then go ahead to play football, anyhow. We should not be excused by saying that one’s nature or the nature of the community is to break laws. Certainly, there is nothing like this. So, if we agree to be a modern Nigeria or a modern nation on earth, we also have to agree to abide by the modern provisions of our laws and our new cultural heritage.


 What do you have to say about the large sums of money reportedly taken away from government coffers?


We are looking at corruption based on greed. So, the first question is - where is that money going? And why can’t government go after that money to bring it back? Even if one takes the money abroad, there is a law of National Economic Cooperation where the government can ask for the return of our money. After all, Abacha’s loot is even now being requested. Why can’t we embarrass corrupt people in government into handing over whatever they have taken from our coffers?


I understand the International Security organizations have the most data on Nigerian personalities who have stolen and stashed away money in America, Britain, Switzerland, and so on; but Nigerian leaders are not willing to request for these monies…why? The simple answer is that the guilty cannot prosecute the guilty. Our leaders can only apply justice with clean hands. That basically may be why we are not going after our monies. What business has a civil servant stashing away in his account hundreds of millions when he is a civil servant? He is supposed to count his money, probably, in hundreds of thousands, if at all his salary should be in that bracket. But he is counting in millions, and why is nobody questioning him? Because government or authorities are not playing their roles well.


Then, the community is gradually becoming resigned to corruption, to the extent that in certain churches, pastors are saying -- well, since they are keeping the loot for themselves, we should ask them to come and launch our church development appeal fund; let them bring part of the loot here. Some mosques are doing the same thing. So, even the religious organizations are condoning it. The praise singers make hay out of it. They are praising even armed robbers, pen robbers. And so, it is now beginning to look like when one is in a position to loot, he or she should loot well; in fact, such a person is encouraged to over loot for that matter, because he would be praised for it. So, that is the problem.


Nigeria as a nation state has had its fair share of conflicts, including a civil war. What, in your opinion, are the necessary ingredients for effective nation building?


Simply, social justice with inter-ethnic equity; if these values can be combined, I think you have got it all. There must be solid ground for everyone; we must respect the interests and problems of one another. Once we can accommodate each other’s interests, we are on sound ground. No ethnic nationality should see itself as more superior to the other, no matter how large, and no matter how small the other. No matter how advanced a community might be, and no matter how backward the other, every ethnic nationality must be valued. 


It is necessary to remember that all ethnic nationalities were pristine at one stage. Advancement is an advantage of some while others might seem deficient in it; we have to bear that in mind. Even so, everyone must feel part of the enterprise. Therefore, we must build a Nigerian nation, comprising over 300, some say 400, some even say 500 nationalities, that is welded into a proper nation state. Otherwise, there would only be a state of bedlam with Nigerians at each other’s throat. That is not what we expect for our country, Nigeria.


As a former university lecturer, can you comment on the state of education in the country; and what, in your opinion, can or should be done to improve it?


The standard of education in the country has definitely deteriorated; there is no doubt about. The educational plan, itself, should not be faulted, however; in fact, there was a time when our educational structure was equal to that of any country in the world. The products of our secondary educational institutions, at least, in my time, used to favourably compete for university entries abroad, whereas nationals of other British-influenced countries like India had to spend, may be, two years of further preparation after their A-Levels before they could gain entry into a British university. The higher school certificate in India used to be taken as normal secondary school output, and their first degree used to be taken as normal higher school certificate; but ours, we were neck- to- neck with the British system.


Our agony started with the introduction of the Universal Primary Education (UPE). UPE, in 1976, expanded the entry base to all children, but there were few schools that were available to accommodate the numbers. And even if more classroom space was created, the corresponding increase in teacher training was not commensurate. The teachers training exercise, itself, was more of a crash programme, and so, the resulting quality was mediocre at best. Even then, the number of trained teachers was not enough. So, definitely, that affected secondary school intake which, of course, affected our post-secondary school products.


From the lower base -- the primary school, and then, automatically, the secondary school -- the university began to produce poorer results. At a point, I began to wonder why the quality of my postgraduate students -- their written expression, their logic -- was at a middle secondary school level, in certain cases. By my own assessment, about 25% of our output could be said to be ready for a university degree by the time I left the university system. This, therefore, is a clear statement about the effect of the UPE system.


Now, what added to the dwindling quality of education in Nigeria today is not just the bad base from the UPE output, but also the continuous closures of educational institutions, for whatever reasons. Even when the teachers in the primary and secondary schools are not on strike, ASUU might be calling a strike in the university system. Or the teachers of Polytechnics and Colleges of Education will declare a strike…or there is a combination of all these. And if the staff is not on strike, then students, particularly in the tertiary institutions, also create problems which lead to closures of schools by the activities of NANS or NUNS, or by whatever name they go. All these are due to disputes between government and either students or teachers.


One can, of course, narrow down the whole thing to the poor attention paid by government

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to the education sector. Under normal circumstances, government is supposed to spend, at least, 10% of its budget every year on foundational education alone, because this is the most important level in any economy. With less than 10% of the budget spent on education, naturally one can only expect poor results. So, the only answer is for government to direct greater attention to the education sector and motivate teachers and lecturers. Motivation must run the entire gamut of the teaching industry. It should be borne in mind that a lecturer or a professor in a university earns less than a manager who may have only three years working experience in a bank. And these managers were graduated only recently by these professors. It must be understood that with much lower qualifications, it is certainly easier to become a manager or an administrative officer, and then rise to the position of permanent secretary in the ministry, or become a general manager or managing director in companies, than to become a university professor.


In the first place, the entry base is different; you have to qualify rigorously to become appointed a university assistant lecturer or even graduate assistant before rising to the level of lecturer, senior lecturer, professor, etc. And at the same time, educators don’t control resources; therefore teachers or professors have to rely on mostly meagre salaries, and yet they shop in the same market with permanent secretaries, general managers and what have you, who always have some other perquisites added to their earnings. They may have free accommodation, chauffeur-driven cars, even the patronage of contractors, which the university professor doesn’t have access to. Let’s speak honestly; the “rewards” from a contractor for a permanent secretary or general manager awarding contracts or placing orders for goods from companies is inestimable. These perks are, at times, even greater than salaries. So, workers in the public or private sector might live better than the teacher who is not commensurately remunerated, and who then begins to feel over used, over worked, under appreciated, and under paid?


The term “Cultural Middle-Belt” has been attributed to you. What does “Cultural Middle-Belt” mean, and which areas in Nigeria constitute this region?


The need for distinction

Bala Takaya

Dr. Bala Takaya

between the ordinary nomenclature
Middle-Belt and Cultural Middle-Belt became necessary, particularly during the Abacha administration, when six power sharing zones were created in Nigeria. One of these zones is generally referred to as a “central” zone. Most people would like to think that the power-sharing central zone is known as the Middle-Belt, but this is not correct. The Middle-Belt, from its first conception during the colonial days, comprises people autochthonous to Nigeria’s central zone. It comprises various indigenous nationalities, and thus, the reference is ethno-cultural as well as locational. And these groups are, and have been, the victims of government power play rather than the culprits.


Before the British, the Hausa-Fulani attempted to colonize this area known now as the Middle-Belt; thus, its people were often at the receiving end of this organized power. With the arrival of the British, the Hausa-Fulani power structure was overturned, resulting in some kind of cooperation between the British and the overthrown Hausa-Fulani structure. These two power structures now joined to rule over the native communities. And in that symbiosis, the British provided the over-arching power, subjugating the various native communities under the leadership of the Hausa-Fulani who had not been able to conquer those places before.


So, various ethnic nationalities were now brought under the wider emirate or provincial administrative arrangements of the Hausa-Fulani in Northern Nigeria, supervised by the divisional officers or residents who were British. But the Hausa-Fulani power became over-bearing to these ethnic nationalities. As a result, these people became the most marginalized, the most deprived, culturally, politically, and economically. They were the oppressed of Northern Nigeria, if not Nigeria as a whole. These are the groups that one can say are the nucleus, the autochthonous, pristine native groups that were recipient of negative influence from both domestic colonialism and foreign colonialism.


What connects them are - one, they are pure-type ethnic nationalities; secondly, they have been, and still are the victims of power; thirdly, they are equally, uniformly, marginalized or oppressed across the board. And because they are ethnic nationalities as well, they have a cultural identity in the Middle-Belt. In contrast, the Hausa-Fulani cultural group is a later arrival to the land that managed to subjugate the Hausa native settlement or the Habe, and then intermingled and intermarried to produce the Hausa-Fulani culture.


Geographically, can one say that there is a particular area that is referred to as the Cultural Middle-Belt now?   


 Yes, you can. You can clearly demarcate the Cultural Middle-Belt region by, for instance, drawing an imaginary line from a point of division from Gwoza, in the North-East, for instance, across Northern Nigeria, with or without some adjustments, all the way to the North-West, to hit at a point defined by the ethnic nationality settlements of the Zuru (Dakarkari) community.

Anything below that line -- down to the boundaries that used to exist between Northern Nigeria and Southern Nigeria -- is the Middle-Belt land. The cultural Middle-Belt naturally resides in these areas. But the Hausa-Fulani diasporation also is noticeable in the Middle-Beltan settlements mainly as an urban phenomenon, because they settled in Zango (a Hausa word for colonial settlements or camps) or Wuro in Fulani; peacefully though, either for trade, farming purposes or whatever. So, you can notice these settlements dotted all over and among the Cultural Middle-Belt areas. But at the same time, these settlements recognise the ownership of the land as belonging to the Cultural Middle-Beltan communities that are native to that area.


Added to these, of course, are the diasporations since colonialism, of the Igbo community, who also, following their trade pattern and trade culture, migrated to the Middle-Belt in search of fortune just like the Hausas did. The Yorubas, since colonial days, came also to trade like the Igbo. And so, in virtually every community, particularly, in major urban centres, you find that there is a serious interplay of cultural mixtures, while not actually blending, of the Hausa-Fulani, the Igbo and the Yoruba in each of the cities of the Cultural Middle-Belt, like in any other city in Nigeria. So, this can be a blinding effect such that one may think that there is no specific ownership of a particular area called Cultural Middle-Belt. And even the Hausa-Fulani may claim that they, too, are indigenous to these areas, which really is only a half-truth.


The people from this region complain of marginalisation. Do you think their complaint is genuine given the fact that this region, more than any other, has produced the highest number of heads of state in this country?


Let us not mix two issues together. The economic marginalisation of the Middle-Belt is a very clear and obvious issue due to the fact that Hausa-Fulani merchants monopolized trade in every small market of the Middle-Belt areas, reducing its people to merely peasant farmers forced to sell off their farm products in exchange for manufactured commodities brought only by the Hausa-Fulani. By that time, the Cultural Middle-Belt had been commercially and economically marginalized.


With the advent of the British, the Middle-Beltans were subjugated under the Native Administration system in symbiotic arrangement with the Hausa-Fulani; the British similarly opened opportunities for the Yoruba and Igbo to do likewise—to bring manufactured commodities to trade right to the door steps of the villagers in the Middle-Beltan communities. So, the Middle-Belt communities received a double portion of marginalisation within the economic system. This is true marginalization; today, there are hardly any Middle-Belt nationals who are towering businessmen, because they have been marginalized out of the means of making capital. This is one issue.


Now, when it comes to the political aspect (that is when we talk of who was in power and who was not), we can also clearly make a distinction between being in power on one’s own right, and being in power as a surrogate -- for somebody else. When you talk about heads of state from the Middle-Belt, you are talking about either the Hausa-Fulani extraction in the Diaspora, who happened to attain positions of power as head of state or head of government, or certain Middle-Beltans who managed to achieve this, strictly by virtue of their being heads of  bureaucratic arrangements. Such a bureaucratic arrangement was, in spite of the interests or the wishes of the Middle-Belt; not because of the Middle-Belt, and which the Middle-Beltan had no power over.


For instance, for certain reasons, Middle-Beltans could find employment only in the army, or in military institutions, because military employment was deemed too risky for those who were politically relevant and were of the ruling class then. It was the children of the Middle-Belt that were found good enough to go and receive the bullets. So, the Middle-Beltan children found employment only in the military.


But, when politically things turned around, the military became more relevant politically, then, naturally, because of the preponderance of Middle-Beltans in the army, they became the stabilizers of the ship of state. But the military bureaucracies (army, air force, navy) were not of Middle-Beltan origin; they were not put there by the Middle-Beltans, they were not even a political arrangement. These bureaucracies were conservative institutions; conservative in the sense that any change was abhorred within them; anything that would bring about change would be opposed. So, if somehow there was a sudden turn of events, and Middle-Beltans became political leaders in the military and were also conservatives, then, there was a contradiction.


This is because the interests of the ruling class managing these bureaucracies had to be protected, and this ruling class which, in a sense, was Hausa-Fulani, was being served by the military. And therefore, the soldier was a soldier of the North, not a soldier of the Middle-Belt. And if any one of them became the head of state, he was a head of state to protect what the British and the Hausa-Fulani put together as the culture of rulership in Nigeria—and that is the interest of the Hausa-Fulani in the North and interest of the majority ethnic nationalities in Nigeria as whole, not that of the Middle-Belt. Ironically, the Middle-belt had no power over its sons, because they had learnt to take instructions from, and to obey the Hausa-Fulani rulers, not their Middle-Beltan fathers or brothers. So, any military man from the Middle-Belt who became head of state was a soldier of the North, and served interests other than that of the Middle-Belt. Anyone can see that their period of rule never resulted in the improved state of the Middle-Belt.


Now, one may wish to refer to Tafawa Balewa who became the head of government through the military system. Tafawa Balewa, a Jarawa fellow, had already become a Hausa-Fulani. He was not a “Middle-Beltan.” He had already imbibed the Hausa culture by conversion and by assimilation, and the Hausa-Fulani found him suitable enough to be used in that position to protect their interest. Remember that Ahmadu Bello was supposed to be the Prime Minister, being the head of the party that produced the government at the federal level. But he felt sufficiently assured that this “convert,” this assimilated Hausa-Fulani man, would protect his interest and the interests of his community well, and so, Tafawa Balewa became Prime Minister.


Down the line, even the ministers that were appointed by the Sardauna’s machinery under Tafawa Balewa naturally had to serve the interest of those who controlled the culture of power at the time. So, they were not there for the Middle-Belt; they were there in spite of the Middle-Belt. And these were the Hausa-Fulani. And remember that the definition of the Hausa-Fulani is a marriage between the Fulani and the indigenous Habe. The Hausas were Habe, who like any other northern ethnic group, were pagan. Habe is plural for kado in Fulani language, and kado is also the same as Arne in Hausa or pagan in English. So, the Hausa were pagan, the maguzawa in particular — there is nothing different between the maguzawas and the Jarawa or Berom or Ngas. They are all ethnic nationalities dotting the Nigerian space.


But, by the spread of the Fulani culture, particularly through the agencies of religion, a mixture resulted when the Hausa or Habe were now overcome by the Fulani machinery. There was then a marriage of cultures which became the Hausa-Fulani. So, this is the truth of the matter.



The Middle-Belt has witnessed a great many crises and conflicts that seem to take on an ethno-religious colouration. What do you think are the factors for these crises and how can such conflicts be avoided?


I disagree that the crises were ethno-religious; they never are. Any crisis that takes place is socio-economic, therefore an aspect of politics. If there were to be ethnic or religious crises, there would be an endless lack of peace in these regions, and in Nigeria as a whole. The Hausa-Fulani have learnt to co-exist with all other ethnic nationalities wherever they diasporate. Even if there are sporadic crises here and there, they are always able to return to the areas involved, because there is no persistent quarrel between the indigenes and the Fulani or the Hausa man; there is no such quarrel.


The quarrel that is going on in the case of the Middle-Belt, however, is of an economic bent. And this quarrel happens as a result of the attempt at marginalization of the indigenous peoples, the major cause of the quarrel being land based. The Middle-Beltans have been marginalized to the extent that they are almost riveted to the land, married to the land; they are land bound. They have no economic opportunities, there is not a commercial class; there is nowhere Middle-Beltans can expect to export their surplus manpower or surplus population in order to be gainfully employed. Even when they travel to the urban areas where the Hausa-Fulani are, the Igbos and the Yorubas have already taken control. They only go there as labourers; they go as menial employees, certainly not as entrepreneurs, certainly not as landlords. And as such, they go back home unfulfilled.


So, it is only the land that the Middle-Beltans have a title to; and when someone encroaches on that land, naturally, they feel threatened and want to defend it. And so, there is territorial control behind all the ethno-tribal clashes. Either one ethnic group is trespassing on another or a settler, perhaps a Hausa-Fulani, seeing wonderful, agricultural land, might want to settle there and own it, forgetting that someone already owns it. Then the owner who is land bound will now naturally think to himself: ‘look you are now coming here to take the only thing that I have; why would you do a thing like that?’ And a quarrel ensues.


Thus, these crises, conflicts…that we talk about are purely economic. There is nothing religious or tribal about them, because the ethnic groups have learnt to cooperate with one another. The Hausa-Fulani, the Igbo and the Yoruba cannot co-exist in the Middle-Beltan area or Northern Nigeria if the ethnic groups are fighting, because they depend on that inter-relationship among the ethnic groups for trade purposes, and there must be peaceful relationship before trading can take place. So, the ethnic nationalities cooperate.


And there are no religious origins. The religions coexist and are practiced peacefully. The Hausa-Fulani are predominantly Muslims, the Igbo, predominantly Christians. And yet, the most productive business relationship between the Hausa-Fulani and any other group is with the Igbo who are Christians. They operate very well, business-wise. The most productive political relationship is also with the Igbo. The Fulani-Hausa have learnt since NPC days that the far North needs to cooperate with the South-East in order to rule Nigeria; to the extent that the Yoruba was pushed into the position of opposition during the First Republic, while the Middle-Belt communities were also pushed to opposition in the Northern Nigeria set up.


So, the Yoruba were in opposition at the national level, while the Middle-Beltan communities were in opposition at the Northern Nigeria level. At the same time, the Igbo who were Christians were cooperating on a power level with the Hausa-Fulani. So, if it was religious, this cooperation couldn’t have taken place. Besides that, I can tell that the biggest Hausa-Fulani businessmen, internationally, cooperate with Jews. The Jewish traders or businessmen are their greatest business allies. And yet Christianity originates from the Jews and their religion, Judaism. Even though Moslem Hausa-Fulani deprecate the Jews religiously, they cooperate on economic terms. So, they live well together. There is nothing conflicting in religious terms in these relationships, so, I debunk the issue of religion or ethnicism in the Middle-Belt frictions, call it inter-tribal or whatever.


 So, what is the way forward; how do we have peace in this area?


We can only have peace if we learn to respect the interests of one another, and give room at the top to everybody. There should be a level playing field for everyone…if we are citizens we should be citizens with equity, even if not necessarily with equality. There are certain areas one may excel, others may not; there are certain areas I will excel that you may not. Allow me my area of excelling, and I will allow you yours; that is equity. And there should be free inter-play rather than a “lording it” over the other. That is the only basis of peace, and then, the issue of marginalization such as we used to notice between the Hausa-Fulani traders and the Igbos or southerners in general would cease to be a problem. These are just economic fights with one group trying to push the other out of the way. There is enough room or space for cooperation for everybody.


The Hausa-Fulani marginalized the Middle-Belt at the beginning, and then the Igbo and Yoruba traders marginalized the Middle-Belt on their arrival. Now, the Hausa-Fulani traders are beginning to feel that the Igbo and the Yoruba are marginalizing them, as well, and so should be chased back home. If all can understand that there is enough room for everybody, both the Hausa-Fulani and the Southern traders should also make room for opportunities for the Middle-Beltan citizens to find a place in the sun in commercial terms. And when that happens, neither the Hausa man, nor the Igbo or Yoruba man, nor the Middle-Beltan would say: “look go back home.” We are equal partners; the ground should be level for everybody.


The issue of marginalisation has been given as the reason for agitations for the creation of states in this country; currently, there has been a loud call for a Sardauna state, Anioma state and others. What is your assertion?


It is clear that state creation has performed a salutary function that has helped in stabilizing Nigeria. The misfortune is that state creation in Nigeria has not been wholly satisfactory, because it was not done with pure and honest motives. If motives were honest, may be one or two exercises would have been sufficient. Presumably, the only state creation exercise that was done on a fair basis -- because of the security situation at that time -- was the creation of the twelve-state structure in Nigeria in 1968. But then, the policy makers did not exhaust their minds enough to advice the Gowon administration, at the time, as to which areas ought to be created as states.


Having said this, I believe that there are states that should have been created, which up until today have not yet been created; the states that were created was as a result of selfish motives. For instance, my own part of the Middle-Belt has been yearning for a state ever since it joined Nigeria. You would recall that it joined Nigeria in 1961 as the trust territory of the League of Nations inherited by the United Nations after the Second World War, and then became the property under the trusteeship Council of the United Nations. It was transferred to Nigeria formally in 1961 through a plebiscite as a province of Northern Nigeria; which shouldn’t have happened. It should have joined Nigeria, first and foremost as the 4th region of Nigeria, not as the 13th province of Northern Nigeria.


That was a very serious case of inequity; it was not justice to the people, in spite of the fact that they overwhelmingly expressed interest to come and join their kith and kin in Nigeria; but they shouldn’t have been treated as underdogs for that matter. The Sardauna of Sokoto, who was then Premier of Northern region, was a great statesman. He had to convince my part of the world to join Nigeria. The federal government of Nigeria, itself, did not give sufficient attention or show interest enough to convince the Sardauna that we were welcome to join as a region of Nigeria, for the sake of equity.


As for Sardauna, he did what was within his power. He was only running a state government. The provinces were just like local governments under him, and he could only, on his own power, accommodate that land within Northern Nigeria as a province. He couldn’t force a region on Nigeria. When later on there was agitation for the creation of a region, and Mid-West region was created as a 4th region; that took the inequity a step higher. Instead of creating Mid-West as a 4th region, the Mid-West and Sardauna province should have been considered. And Sardauna province should have been the 4th region, and the Mid-West, the 5th region.


Then, when states were created in 1968 by Gowon, policy advisers should have advised Gowon about this international territory that chose to sacrifice its independence to remain in Nigeria. It should have been created as one of the first states before the states came into being. So, there would have been 13 states rather than just 12 states. But because that pace was peaceful, and Gowon was dealing with a turbulent situation of secession, at the time, he didn’t address his attention to that fact. The policy makers, again, cheated the Sardauna province area. That again, heightened the inequity.


Perhaps, the greatest period of exasperation was during the Murtala Mohammed administration. When Murtala Mohammed, a good man, was head of state, he became convinced that Sardauna state must be created he, in fact, went on record to say that there was no way these people could be treated well enough, except to turn their region into a state, having abandoned the possibility of becoming an independent nation altogether. My people chose to join Nigeria; we could have chosen to join Cameroon with which it was joined, in the first place. So, we should have been given our own state. But the selfish nature of the policy advisers then suggested that Sardauna province is really in two sections, because a thin line joins the southern and northern parts of Sardauna. So, they argued, it would be a situation like east and west Bangladesh; therefore, to avoid that, the two areas were joined to another state, and that is how we became part of Gongola.


But there was a long-standing promise made by the Sardauna himself. He said that whatever happened to the provinces my people might join in Northern Nigeria, and he named Ilorin, Kano, and Katsina -- whatever was given to that province would be given to my people as well. So, if there is such a written promise, let us review the present premise: Katsina has been divided and become a state, Kano is now two states, Kwara (Ilorin) is no longer one state. Some provinces like Sokoto have become three states when you count Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara. And yet, Sardauna province is supposed to be enjoying that same equality. Sardauna province today, is still not a state. So, today, if there is to be any state creation, there is no place that deserves first mention other than Sardauna province. And, even if no other state were to be created, for the sake of justice, this one state should be created.


So, these are the kinds of inter-regional, inter-cultural injustices that have been committed, particularly, to this area. There are other areas of the Middle-Belt that deserve to be carved out as states such as Kainji, which has been demanding for a state, Southern Kaduna has been demanding for a state, and there two or three more places within the middle-belt that deserve, and could easily have been created as states if they were the midwives in power. But, they have been ignored, and that is the kind of marginalisation still visiting the people of the Middle-Belt. For this reason, the demand for the creation of Sardauna state is valid. 


The Nigerian Constitution (1999) seems to have played down the issue of indigeneship and indigeneity, the position of the federal government appearing to be that every Nigerian is an indigene of any or every place he/she finds himself. But, this issue, we know, has been at the root of the many conflicts witnessed in this country. Who is, or should be, an indigene of a particular place?


Indigeneity must not be confused with citizenship. I am a citizen of Nigeria. As a citizen, I am entitled to settle down and do business and build houses and own property in any part of Nigeria. But I can’t claim the land territorially as I can do in my home village from where I originate. Likewise, I don’t expect someone from a different part of the country to come and claim ownership of my own village.


The problem is a lack of sincerity and the selfish interest of the midwives of power. You cannot go against nature. Nature is very clear about indigeneity. Indigeneity does not mean that, like grass, one must grow out of the ground. No. Indigeneity is an aspect of natural territorial control, which is an instinct in-borne in every living thing. Even animals are territorial animals. Dogs make sure that they mark out their own area, their territory, and other dogs cannot trespass carelessly; they respect it, even if they are bigger than the owner. Birds, when they build their nests, make a lot of noise, telling other birds not to come here, I am already in possession; my nest is here...


The beautiful songs birds sing on trees are not necessarily love songs; they are also war songs, to warn off trespassers. Even snakes, as vicious and as wicked as we think of them, bite trespassers on their territory or on their hunting ground when they are hunting. It means that territorial control is an aspect of political economy. It also means that even though nobody grew out of the ground, and no bird grew on top of branches, we are all comers and settlers, so to speak, but there is someone who settles first. When the first settler arrives, he marks out that area as his native territory, and then other natives, personalities, must respect that he has precedence there.


Otherwise, today, we should also jettison the idea of giving anybody the right of

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occupancy over a piece of land in urban areas. There is nothing that is more natural about any body claiming a right of occupancy and a certificate of occupancy over a piece of land, whether in Jos, or Abuja or Lagos, than a community that is saying that a particular place is their native piece of land. So, that is what we have to bear in mind. And even the United Nations recognises it very clearly; even nations that make the mistake of trying to subjugate smaller native communities like the Australians who had to revert their stand and make new policies in favour of the aborigines they met on heir arrival. Or the New Zealanders who now have to enter into a treaty of
Waitangie which grants indigeneity rights to the Maori who were there when the white settlers came; or the Americans who chased away the American Indians and hunted them down like game. Now, they have to come back and create American Indians Reserves as an exclusive territory for this community.


Nigeria should not wait until events reach such a ridiculous level to begin to recognize the indigeneity of certain people. Of course, if the President made the mistake of saying that everybody should see himself an indigene of anywhere he finds himself, I believe, he made the mistake under the heat of a situation. It was a statement that was made off the cuff, I believe because his government certainly never sat down to consider as policy, settlers in communities they find themselves in, so long as they are Nigerian, being treated and accorded the right of indigeneity. That is wrong. Even his own community may find themselves chasing away the Hausa people from Shagamu, when the going gets rough, or when the settlers in Shagamu begin to behave as if they are owners of Shagamu land. That, definitely, I can assure you...


And all these clashes among ethnic nationalities, like we said earlier, are socio-economic in nature; in fact, it is an aspect of political economy. And, it is territorial control when someone impinges on someone else’s land.


There is a place of privacy for every community where they can call their own. And we have not, in any case, arrived at the level of civilisation or awareness where everybody can feel confident anywhere they are because our level of competence is not the same across the ethnic and cultural nationalities, and as such one cannot say that the ground is level for every body. Some people are more competitive than others by virtue of their proximity to the centre of where things happen or where things started, and so, you cannot equate them with less exposed people who do not even know yet what is happening in the rest of the country, let alone in the rest of the world.


So, those people in the hinterlands must be protected, and their indigeneity must be protected. Those of them who can afford to, can leave their native homes and go to other parts of Nigeria to seek fortunes and settle down as citizens; but not as indigenes of those areas. Not as indigenes… So, this is my own view about it.



Thank you Dr. Takaya


You are welcome.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the interview are not necessarily those of the Chinua Achebe Foundation. The Chinua Achebe Foundation, an intellectual and cultural organization, believes in the right of every Nigerian to express their opinion.

Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series: Dr. Bala Takaya in Conversation with James Chiwo Avre