By Nathaniel Ikyur
The history of the Tiv and Jukun has come a long way. They’ve lived together in harmonious relationship decades ago. When the first states were created in 1967, the two ethnic groups were together in old Benue Plateau state. Then a fresh agitation for the creation of new states began around 1974. This was when the hidden animosity against the Tiv by Jukun became evident.
From the content of the advertisement placed by the Jukun elite in the December 18, 1974 edition of New Nigerian newspaper captioned: “The Stand of the People of Wukari Division of Benue Plateau State on the Creation of More States in Nigeria” and signed by M. Aga Agbujoro, George Usan Maiangwa, J.A. Maigoro, M. Matudi Kaigama, Enoch Abdul Ibrahim as well as Adam Useni, Alhaji Danjuma Ubangari, D.N. Yarima, Mohammed Jonathan Musa, Ezekiel Agyo Audu and Suleman Abima, the group expressed fear of being dominated by the Tiv if they remained under one democratic unit. In that publication, they vowed not to accept the Tiv in the new state because according to them, “the Tiv flooded the Division across the border.”
From then on, the once robust relationship turned sour and the animosity against the Tiv continued to rise dangerously. And one is forced to ask: could this be the fear of political dominance?
As the animosity against the Tiv grew into open conflict, peace initiatives were put in place but has been programmed never to work by key Jukun elites. Now, there’s an opportunity before the Taraba State Governor, Arc. Dairus Ishaku. Will he lead his state to achieve peace between the warring Jukun against their Tiv brothers of the state? I have my doubts.
One, the governor’s action in 2016 showed clearly that he was leading the command structure of the Jukun when he ordered the renaming of Tiv villages to either Jukun or Hausa names. Some Tiv groups had warned that the action was to sow seeds of discord thereby setting a stage for unrest in the state. And now this has been proven right. If his real motives were in doubt, Governor Ishaku again demonstrated his preferences for his ethnic Jukun going by his submission at the peace meeting in Abuja, Wednesday September 5th, 2019 which was facilitated by the federal government. His speech, and expressions relayed the thoughts of the Jukun whose representatives gave him a thunderous ovation.
So I have this hunch that this latest attempt by President Muhammadu Buhari at resolving this crises may be another long road to peace. And this is about the second time that the federal government is initiating steps at resolving the ethnic conflict between the Tiv and Jukun. The first l recall was in 1992 under the administration of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, then military president. Towards the end of 1991, the Tiv and Jukun engaged themselves in a bloody duel that lasted over six months.
When the crises refused to abate, the Federal Government set up a high powered peace committee headed by the then Chief of General Staff, Vice Admiral Augustus Aikhomu. Series of meetings were held with the warring parties. The last was held in February 1992 where a 10-point agenda in resolving the crises was agreed upon. The Jukun have co sistently rejected this and won’t allow it to be implemented. In short the Jukun kicked against the presence of certain Tiv personalities in the committee.
These included Vice Admiral Augustus Aikhomu as chairman, former Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Aliyu Attah, former GOC 2nd Mechanised Division, Ibadan, late Gen John Mark Inienger who represented the federal government, former governor Moses Adasu of Benue and Rev Jolly Nyame of Taraba state. Others were the Secretaries to the government’s of Benue and Taraba States, the State Commisioners of the two states as well former Tor Tiv, HRH Alfred Akawe Torkula the Aku Uka among many others.
At the end of series of meetings, the following Ten-Point Agenda to resolving the Jukun and Tiv conflict:-
1: The two traditional rulers, the Aku Uka and Tor Tiv should do more than they have been doing to bring peace to the area.
2: The Aku Uka should invite the Tor Tiv to Wukari for a crusade to talk to both the Tiv and Jukun in Wukari.
3: The Governor of Taraba state should make sure in reconstituting the Wukari Traditional Council and the representation of the Tiv is well addressed.
4: The Police should disarm everybody in Wukari, Ibi, Donga, and Takum local governments in Taraba state and Katsina-Ala and Ukum local government areas in Benue state. The Police are to make sure there is no roadblocks and if there’s anything like that, it’s should be by the Police itself.
5: The issue of boundary between Benue and Taraba states. The Vice President is to meet with the two Governors (Benue and Taraba) after the National Boundary Commission submits the report on same.
6: Mischievous tendencies by the Taraba Government to discriminate against certain ethnic groups should be discouraged.
7: Regular reports to the Vice President.
8: The two Governors should jointly tour the crises areas as to ascertain the extent of relief measures needed to rehabilitate all those affected. They should forward a report to the vice president.
9: The displaced people should be urged to return home and Police should provide security for returnees.
10. The governor of Taraba state will henceforth be held responsible if the crises continues.
The Jukun discountenanced all these. They insisted that it was not only “absurd and illegal but also unworkable.” They even called it “Tiv Programme of Action” and said the inability to implement same was because the resolution was bad and forced on the then governor Rev. Nyame.
This renewed conflict came with harvest of deaths and with a sophosticated war butchery that President Buhari it is difficult to overlook. He convocated the security stakeholders’ meeting with leaders of the two states on Wednesday September 5, 2019.
The president who was represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha promised to end the communal clashes between Jukun and Tiv people of Taraba and Benue states with a pledge to “facilitate peace” and “not triviliase issues” because as he puts it, “we can’t allow this conflict to continue.”
Given the fragile security situation of the country, the president is mindful of the consequences the crises is bound to compound for the nation. And as such, he urged leaders of both ethnic groups who were at the stakeholders meeting to take this message home: “always promote peace in their actions and utterances,” saying the Federal Government would not fold its hands and allow miscreants to take over the country. He however noted that “no peace can be foisted on people that are unwilling to pursue peace” but still assured, “we will fast track the process of peace.”
All leaders who spoke at the meeting encouraged that peace be embraced by all.
Benue state governor Samuel Ortom did not mince words when he said it was the intolerance and the discriminatory attitude of the Taraba state government against the Tiv people that was fuelling the crisis. Ortom also accused the traditional institution in Wukari – a town in Taraba at the border between Benue and Taraba states with a large Tiv population for failing to protect the interest of the Tiv, who are also indigenes of the State. To get to the root of the current crises, the governor asked the Federal Government to set up a commission of inquiry on the lingering crisis and recommend punishment appropriately.
But Governor Ishaku surprisingly disagreed with his Benue state counterpart. Ishaku, said the people could not sacrifice their history for a constitution copied from a foreign country without regards to the ethnic composition and peculiar nature of the country. Hear him: “I can’t disregard history because of the constitution. I’m a Jukun and my wife is a Tiv. You said I should drop my history because of constitution? No! No! No! Not satisfied, he went on: “It is the wrong in the constitution that is causing problems in Nigeria. You copied constitution from America but removed the vital parts like community policing.”
Ishaku’s submission at the meeting may have shocked many. But he definitely spoke the mind of majority Jukun. Like Gen TY Danjuma, Governor Ishaku is acting like a unit commander in the Jukun military hierarchy. He even accused the Tiv of “conspiracy of silence” among the Tiv who he said had benefitted immensely from his government but would rather choose to spread lies against his government. Could this be some kind of fear of domination or what?
One thing has featured prominently among the Jukun elites. They are deliberately working to re-write the history of Wukari Division by accusing the Tiv of exhibiting an “expansionist agenda.” And this has gained currency among the Jukun to the point of hatred.
The plan to exterminate Tiv from Taraba state has the blessings of Lt Gen TY Danjuma. In an interview he granted TheNews magazine in its edition of November 12, 2001 (vol 17. No19) he was asked what he has done as an influential individual to resolve the crises. Hear him: “it is a problem that is beyond any single individual to solve. It is a problem that has to do with the culture of migratory, territorial acquisitive tendencies of the Tivs. There’s nobody that can solve it. Anywhere Tiv man moves, that place becomes Tiv land and Benue,” he said.
Interestingly, Gen. Danjuma’s position against the Tiv then and now may not have changed. This may be why he has found it hard to lend his voice in condemning the violent crises since it broke out with its deadly proportion. And he has not spoken openly against it like he did against the Fulani. And this is what Olusegun Adeniyi in his back page column in ThisDay of November 8th, 2001 described the former minister’s interview as “talking more like a commander of the Jukun forces.”
The only way to peace is for the Jukun to accept the Tiv in Taraba state. Secondly, the president working alongside the two state governor’s address the imbalances that is been entrenched in Taraba state both at the political and traditional levels against the Tiv. Government must therefore revisit the Ten-Point Agenda produced by the Vice Admiral Aikhomu-led presidential peace between the Tiv and Jukun. There was another peace initiative by the Arewa Consultative Forum and the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru. Some recommendations were also made. Let all these be harmonised to accommodate every tribe in Taraba where all are given their rightful place without hindrance of expression, molestation or marginalisation. In doing so, government should also fine-tune some of the recommendations and strike a balance where no one will be shortchanged and treated as a stranger in his country.
Ikyur is a journalist and writes from Abuja