The Middle Belt of Nigeria, often referred to as the “Middle Belt Region,” is a diverse and historically significant part of the country. Encompassing a vast expanse of land. This region has played a crucial role in the socio-cultural and political tapestry of Nigeria.
The history of the Middle Belt is rich and multifaceted, shaped by various ethnic groups, migrations, and interactions. Historically, the Middle Belt has been home to a mosaic of ethnicities, including the Berom, Tiv, Idoma, Nikyob, Ninzom, Nupe, Gbagyi, Atyap,Egede, Igala, Bassange, Siyawa, Afizare, Chawai, Adara, Bajju, Ham, Eggon, Mada, Gwong, Gure, and many others. These groups have distinct languages, traditions, and cultural practices that have contributed to the region’s unique identity.
The geographical location of the Middle Belt, sandwiched between the predominantly Muslim North and the largely Christian South, has further influenced its cultural and religious diversity. The belt cut across Southern Bauchi, Southern Borno, Gombe, Adamawa, Southern Kaduna, Niger, Southern Kebbi and the entire central parts of present-day Nigeria. The people of the Middle Belt practice various religions such as Islam, Christianity and African Traditional religions (ATRs). The region is adjudged one of the most hospitable regions in Nigeria which informed its accommodating nature to all other Nigerians from different parts of the country. One unique feature of the people of the Middle Belt is their way of life. Style of farming, mode of dressing, hair styles, marriage and other traditional ceremonies follow similar pattern across the belt, lending credence to the argument that the people of the area are siblings from one ancestry.
The pre-colonial era saw the emergence of powerful kingdoms and chiefdoms in the Middle Belt. The Nok civilization, one of the earliest Iron Age cultures in West Africa, flourished in what is now Southern Kaduna and Plateau State. The Kororofo Kingdom is another powerful kingdom that reigns in the Middle in the pre-colonial era. These ancient societies engaged in agriculture, iron smelting, and artistic endeavours, leaving behind intricate terracotta sculptures that serve as archaeological treasures.
The arrival of colonial powers in the late 19th century marked a transformative period for the Middle Belt. The British administration, in its quest to establish control and facilitate trade, introduced indirect rule, relying on local chiefs and traditional institutions. This strategy often exacerbated existing tensions between different ethnic groups, as the colonial authorities favoured certain communities over others.
Post-independence, the Middle Belt continued to experience social and political dynamics. The region has witnessed episodes of communal and ethnic tensions, partly fuelled by competition for resources, political power, and religious differences. The quest for autonomy and self-determination has been a recurring theme, with various groups advocating for recognition and representation.
The Middle Belt has also played a significant role in Nigeria’s political landscape. Several prominent political figures have emerged from the region, contributing to the country’s military, governance, and development. However, political instability and challenges persist, reflecting the complex interplay of factors within the region. In recent times, issues such as killings of genocidal proportion blamed on armed Fulani herdsmen, resource competition, and ethno-religious tensions have brought the Middle Belt to the forefront of national discourse. The region’s strategic importance, both geographically and culturally, underscores the need for sustainable solutions to address historical grievances and foster inclusive development.
In conclusion, the history of the Middle Belt of Nigeria is a captivating narrative of diversity, cultural richness, and resilience. Shaped by ancient civilizations, colonial influences, and contemporary challenges, the region continues to evolve, contributing significantly to the mosaic of Nigeria’s identity. Understanding the historical complexities of the Middle Belt is crucial for fostering unity, addressing grievances, and building a more harmonious future for this vital part of the country.
Kingsley Gadani is a public affairs commentator, and researcher. He writes from Kaduna Nigeria