Fresh facts have emerged on why the North Central Peoples Forum (NCPF) was formed as elders from the North have continued to react to its emergence.
Launched on Wednesday in Abuja, the NCPF has on its profile, some chieftains of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), including a former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), retired General Jeremiah Useni.
While Useni is the chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the NCPF, a former Minister of State for Health, Gabriel Aduku, was named the interim chairman.
At the launch, reports filtered in that the forum was a splinter group of the ACF.
Aduku, however, punctured this in an interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, saying they were not rebelling against the ACF.
The ACF is currently being chaired by Chief Audu Ogbe, an indigene of Benue State, one of the six states in the North-central. The ACF which was launched in 2000 has its headquarters in Kaduna.
Before the formation of the new forum, the North East Elders Forum (NEEF) had existed to champion the interests of the North-east.
A former Deputy Governor of Benue State, Chief Stephen Lawani, says the NCPF is not a splinter group of the ACF. Lawani told our correspondent in Makurdi that the new body, contrary to speculations that it broke away from the ACF, was established to find solutions to common problems bedeviling the region.
He said, “Just like the South-east, South-west, South-south and even the North-east have forums, the NCPF is a pressure group and nothing more than that.”
Lawani, a member of the NCPF, explained that even though the North-central is hosting the seat of the federal government, little or no attention is being paid to the geopolitical zone, hence the need to form a formidable voice for positive development of the area.
A former Nigerian ambassador to Switzerland, Yahaya Kwande, said there was a connection between the springing up of new groups, especially from the North, and 2023, and the formation of the NCPF was not against the ACF.
Kwande, a member of ACF’s Northern Elders Forum (NEF) and an indigene of Plateau State, said he had discussed the likely formation of a North-central group with Jeremiah Useni, stressing that he was glad that the NCPF was not going against the identity of the North.
He said, “The North-central is a component of the North, and I am glad to see that the new forum is not going against ACF and NEF. It is those calling for the Middle Belt that are the problem. I have told my colleagues promoting the Middle Belt ideology that we are all from the area, but as a pressure group, we want to get what we can get for the benefit of our people within the northern group.”
The chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Walid Jibrin, an indigene of Nasarawa State, who holds the traditional title of Sarkin Fulani, decried the proliferation of groups in the North, advocating that all the groups should be collapsed under one umbrella to form a united force.
Sen. Jibrin said that having just one umbrella body in the North would strengthen the region and help it overcome some of its challenges.
He said the North should remember the days of the Sardauna of Sokoto and Sir Ahmadu Bello when the region had just one voice.
“I’m not comfortable with the idea of many groups springing up in the North. It is to our disadvantage. We were thinking about one North. But now are we ready to work together as northerners? We have so many groups and we are still talking about a new group in the North-Central. So my advice is that it is better for us to have one North. Having many groups will not do us any good. It is better for us to come together under one umbrella so that we can have one voice, talk better and when we speak, people will listen to us. The ACF is a big umbrella and it is a good combination,” he said.
Senator Mohammed Ahmed, an elder from Kwara North, says the formation of NCPF is a welcome development.
“ACF as we know it is no longer the same thing. It has proliferated into several groupings. We have NEF, and other people who are supposed to be in ACF are gradually breaking apart to form their own groups. And for the creation of NCPF, it is a very welcome development because we need a very strong voice that would be defending the interest of the North- central. We need a voice that will talk for the generality and the general interest of the North-central when it comes to national issues.
“So I support this regional grouping. ACF cannot take care of everything in the North now unlike in those days when the Sardauna and other people were there. So each area has to take care of its own problems in terms of development, security and social activities,” he said. Alhaji Olola Kasum, the president of Afonja Descendants Union in Ilorin, while speaking with our correspondent, also said the break-up from the ACF was a welcome development.
He said, “The issue of aligning Kwara with the core North is a geopolitical misplacement. From Jebba down South are Yoruba settlements. We don’t belong to ACF. Only people from the core Kwara North should be in ACF. We have been agitating for the break-up for a long time. Even with the North Central Peoples Forum (NCPF), we are still being denied union with our people.” In its reaction, the Ilorin Emirate Descendants Union (IEDU) said it was studying the situation.
The Secretary, Abubakar Imam, said, “I just spoke with our national chairman on the issue. I can tell you authoritatively that we are studying the situation and we will make our position known soon.” Another prominent Kwara indigene, Prince Ayo Fagbemi, a retired Permanent Secretary, has a contrary. To him, the NCPF cannot fly because the North remains one.
Prince Fagbemi said, “The North remains one and there is no way you can create an empire within an empire. The North-central cannot stand alone, North-east cannot stand alone and North-west cannot stand alone. I think what is essential is to come together and iron out issues that tend to divide us. I don’t subscribe to it. I don’t support it and I will never support the break-up of the North-central.”
He added: “In terms of educational development, we are better off than either the North-east or the North-west, the geopolitical zone has been fortunate to produce many senate presidents and political bigwigs.
“I don’t think many of us would want to support them. When we had the new PDP, did they really survive it? If the ACF has not performed, those who are making the move, are they not part and parcel of the forum?”
An elder statesman, Tanko Yakasai, in an interview with Daily Trust, said the NCPF, because of the complexities of the zone it aims to represent, might turn out to be “good nuisance value”.
Yakasai said, “We have ACF which has been in existence for some time, but unfortunately, the organisation does not pay attention to spreading its tentacles all over the region.
“Going through the list of the people mentioned in the new organisation, apart from Jeremiah Useini, who was at a time chairman of ACF, none of the rest was very active in ACF.”
He said like Afenifere and Ohanaeze, the new group is a “good nuisance value” in that it would only be making statements, but “life is even more difficult for them because they are a group mainly from the North-central, also called Middle Belt, which has not been properly defined because of the make-up of the zone.”
He agreed that without doubt, the North still lags behind in some developmental indices despite the preponderance of socio-cultural groups because the groups themselves do not define their missions in terms of development but groups that were formed for interaction.
Yakasai, who led some northern elders to form the Northern Elders Council (NEC) in the build-up to the 2015 general elections, said their aim in forming the council was to entrench a two-term rotational presidency in the country.
He said: “All of us were members of the original NEF led by the late Abdulrahman Okene. After his death, that group disappeared, and when the 2015 elections were about to take place, Ango Abdullahi and others revived NEF and we formed NEC.
“The main difference is that NEF was formed to assist Buhari to win the election, while we formed NEC in order to assist Jonathan to achieve a second term so that the idea of second term with rotation will have more meaning.”
He added that they believed that if the two-term rotational presidency was allowed to go round the country, it would have institutionalised stability in the polity, “but unfortunately, we did not win, Buhari won the election, so NEF became the victor, so to speak.”
With the outcome of the 2015 elections, the NEC, he said, died a natural death because their principle was to institutionalise rotation on two-term basis.
“But even the NEF is in disarray because there is no agenda from NEF for Buhari to execute. So they too died a natural death,” he said.
The Executive Director of YIAGA Africa, a non-governmental organization, Samson Itodo, told Daily Trust on Sunday that the surge in ethnic and regional formations led by elders is not a new trend in the Nigerian polity.
According to him, these groups are established to negotiate political sentiments and build elite consensus.
Itodo said, “They (elders) feel that they are exclusive to certain categories of persons and are entitled to always negotiate for political power and relevance.
“Conduct a scan of these groups and all you will find is that they are composed of old men who ought to be retired and providing mentoring and support to younger people and women,” he added.
A political strategist and communication expert at the International Political Resource Centre (IPRC) Nigeria, Dr. Abbati Bako, described the formation of lawful groups and forums as one of the fundamental elements in any democratic setting.
Bako told Daily Trust: “But the problem with such kind of groups like the ACF is that each member has personal ambitions to achieve, and ACF has no serialised strategic planning-based calendar timeframe to develop the North.
“For example, the South-west, despite their political and religious differences, has a 50-year serialised strategic agenda to achieve for the benefit of the current generation, and indeed future generations,” he said.
He recalled that nine years after he was invited by the ACF to speak on global agenda and globalism or global order as related to the North, his recommendations had not been implemented.
Dr. Bako who said the ACF invited him in 2011 from the University of Kent in the UK, further said, “We spent several hours and I shed light on how global order strategic agenda will assist to develop the North and avoid insecurity, economic aridity, poverty, diseases, illiteracy, freedom of want, unemployment and unproductive population.
“They promised to invite me again in two weeks to discuss more on how to set up serialised strategic planning for future generations to benefit. Today it has been nine years, nobody talks to me anymore.”
He noted that the solution is for patriotic, knowledgeable, experienced and sincere members of the region to come together with strategies to tackle the challenges.
Alhaji Isyaku Ibrahim, an elder statesman from Wamba Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, said, “I am a nationalist, a Nigerian to the core, as Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe and Malam Aminu Kano were my political mentors. It is better to support the ACF than the so-called NCPF. What has General JT Useni done to his people in Langtang? He has not won an election, he has been losing elections in Langtang, and if he was rejected by his people in Plateau State, how could he attempt to form NCPF?
“The North and Nigeria need unity, peace, progress, schools, water, among others from the elite and not poverty, hunger and division.
Many elder statesmen, youths and North Central/Middle Belt groups in Plateau State are yet to understand the essence of the NCPF.
Many people representing different interests and groups said they were yet to fully understand what the NCPF actually stands for, and others said the motive of the initiators of the group might not be overtly sincere and did not represent the interests of the generality of people of the region.
To others, there was no wide consultation, the youths are not represented and most of the members are politicians who easily change political parties, associations and other leanings, depending on their interests and benefits.
The Secretary of the Middle Belt Congress (MBC), Rev. James Pam, said the confusion is that people thought the North-central is synonymous with the Middle Belt.
He said for proper understanding and to put everything in order, it should be a Middle Belt group because the Middle Belt had a movement since the 1960s which was formidable.
A lawyer and spokesperson of the Middle Belt Youths Arise (MBYA), John Eche Okpe, said the Middle Belt had been the uniting force of the country, whether by being the geographic centre or because it had the most patriotic citizens, but that it got nothing in return other than relegation, maltreatment and crises.
He said some of the people claiming to be fighting for the cause of the Middle Belt had at one time or the other said there was nothing like Middle Belt.
A youth activist, Comrade Lagan Wakat Debest, said the fact that most people in the group were politicians was questionable and technocrats and other members of the society would not take them serious.
Debest said the problem with politicians is that they agitate whenever they are not in power, adding that worse still is that most members of the NCPF are above 70 years and the youths, said to be the future leaders, are not included.
A former chairman of the ACF, retired General IBM Haruna, said: “My reaction to the establishment of NCPF is that the leaders that got together to establish it have done so in celebration of their fundamental constitutional right under the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria.
“I believe that the two organizations; ACF and NCPF, or even other Middle Belt groups, are or can be regarded as coordinates and they can cooperate, coexist, interface and reconcile and reach consensus in events of conflicts of interests. All the zones have common interests- social harmony, peace, security, good governance, a growing economy, infrastructure, a dynamic culture in diversity and universal justice and equity.
“Therefore, my advice to the ACF is that it should realise that circumstances have in some ways diluted its socio-cultural and non-governmental stance, and so it should re-organise and re-establish a suitable organisational structure that will suit its delivery of services or interactions with the Arewa people or organisations with similar objectives. ACF is due for re-modeling.”
He further said, “My advice to the NCPF is for them to work towards attaining their declared goal of uniting the people of the zone and cooperate with other zones to bring about peace, security and justice in the service of humanity.”
A former chairman of the ACF, Alhaji Musa Liman Kwande, said: “The history of the ACF is that many groups like the Turaki Committee of former President Shehu Shagari, Northern Union of late Olusola Saraki, those of Abdurrahman Okene, Sule Katagum, among others, met and merged to form the ACF in Kaduna.
“So, there is nothing to worry about, Gen. JT Useni, Sen. Ibrahim Mantu and Gabriel Aduku held big posts in the ACF. Useni was chairman of BoT for six years, while Mantu and Aduku are present members of the BoT.
“The Emir of Ilorin drafted the constitution of the ACF, Sunday Abdurrahman Okene, Sunday Awoniyi, Musa Liman Kwande, Sen. Otti, Audu Ogbe, Anthony Sani, myself and many others, were and are from the North-central and held or are holding posts in the ACF and have ruled the ACF more than other parts of the North.”
Anthony Sani, a former publicity secretary of the ACF, said: “The North-central has not withdrawn from the ACF. The relationship between the newly formed NCPF is akin to the existence of zonal governors’ fora and the parent Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF). The existence of such zonal platforms is to complement the effort of the umbrella forum.”
Reacting to the formation of the NCPF, the ACF told Daily Trust that the North is vast enough to accommodate other groups with northern interests.
The National Publicity Secretary, Emmanuel Yawe, said while the ACF would continue to set a very high bar for the North so that anyone coming in would have to measure up, it was not worried about the new group.