Last year, they fought together against the invasion of killer herdsmen. The Tiv and Jukun were united in defending their lives and agricultural-rich riverine territory from the menace of insurgents. They were being killed by marauding herdsmen in clashes over grazing fields. Their wailings caught the attention of the international community. Today, the herdsmen story has died down. The Jukun and Tiv, who had borne the brunt of herdsmen attacks, are the ones at war.
The exact casualty figures and destructions suffered by both ethnic groups in the ensuing clash have not been ascertained. Apart from the hundreds of lives lost, the properties damaged are estimated in billions of naira.
The State House of Assembly member representing Wukari I Constituency, Pius Sabo, says in Wukari alone, the following Jukun villages: Kente, Chonku, Akwana, Arufu, Chinkai, Fyayi, Ando-Katswen, Kwatan Tsufa, Sondi, Rafinkada and Wapan Nghaku have been destroyed. He accuses Tiv militia groups for the mayhem.
The Tiv are also counting their losses. According to the President of Tiv Cultural Association in Taraba State, Goodman Dahida, all Tiv villages and hamlets in Wukari Local Government Area, including Ikyaior, Gbor Gbor, Lorlumun Nege, Ioryina, Tor-Musa, Tar-Orshi, Tor-Iorshaer and Tse-Tor-Luam have been reduced to rubble by the Jukun militias. Tiv homes in Vaase and Tse-Atsenga settlements of Benue State are also torched.
Guns are still booming and machetes slashing as death tolls rise daily. Homes are still being razed and plundered. The scenes of destruction are gory and scary. Parts of southern Taraba, particularly in Wukari, have become ghost towns. Yet, people are occasionally being fetched from vehicles on the highway and massacred as violence rages on.
A seed of poverty, hunger
Thousands have fled their ancestral homes, which had come under attack as a result of the crisis. Wukari has witnessed mass exodus. Some of the fleeing residents, severely injured, are groaning in pains in hospitals. Some persons are reportedly missing. No official camp has been opened for the internally displaced persons (IDPs), which their condition has been in despair. Some of the IDPs, with their children, have become destitute. They don’t have enough food to eat, no healthcare services, lack clothes and shelter.
An eye-witness of the crisis has said that the warring groups have sown the seed of poverty and hunger in their land. As it is, he explained, business activities in southern Taraba are grinding to a halt. The economic backbone of Wukari particularly has been broken. It is a rainy season but Jukun and Tiv, the suppliers of yam, cassava and other cereal crops for travellers coming from the north to the eastern and southern parts of the country, can no longer go to the farm. Poverty and hunger loom, as the popular Yam market in Wukari and other socio-economically bubbling centres in the area have been deserted.
Pace for terrorism, keg of gunpowder
Residents of the Benue/Taraba axis are worried that the arming of youths in the region to fight ethnic wars is setting the pace for absolute terrorism. When the crisis is subsequently put off, the criminal elements will reunite in their evil trade. Already, the agricultural-rich riverine territory, stretching from Ibi, Wukari/Ukum, to Donga and Takum/Katsina-Ala is a powder keg. It has been taken over by bandits and deadly kidnappers. As crime booms in the area, its lush vegetation, beautiful birds, fish and turtles are no longer a tourist fascination.
What went wrong?
The interaction between Jukun and Tiv, both of them predominantly farmers, predates colonialism. Sources said, around 1923/24, the white men tried to demarcate the area through a policy called “Ring Fence Policy” (RFP), to separate Tiv from Jukun. But the policy could not work, as it affected the economy of the region, especially its revenues.
Thus, Jukun and Tiv continued to co-habit and were known for their hospitality. But at the slightest provocation, the two minority groups were ready to pull down heavens to prove that they were no weaklings. As such, like a cigarette’s light that burns down an entire forest, “a little misunderstanding” between two Tiv and Jukun youths in Kente, in April, reportedly snowballed into a full blown violence. Kente is a rustic settlement in Wukari area of Taraba, sharing boundary with Ukum local government area of Benue State.
Beneath the misunderstanding in Kente that spiralled into bloodbath, like Luka Agbu, a former President of Jukun Youths of Vision in Wukari has observed, there has been an age-long suspicion between Jukun and Tiv.
“Why should two peasant farming tribes, struggling for survival, take up arms against each other? There has been an age-long suspicion in the heart of a Tiv man against his Jukun brother and vice versa. This must be addressed.
“We are told that the stalemate had been in existence before some of us were born, but the elders had always prevailed.
“These are all poor people. The killing of Tiv people by Jukun and the killing of Jukun people by Tiv is uncalled for, unwarranted and disgraceful to both ethnic groups, who have lived together as a family for over a century,” a worried Agbu queried.
READ ALSO: Tiv/Jukun crisis: Ishaku urges warring factions to sheathe their swords
The Tiv-Jukun crisis, The Nation gathered, is one of the protracted inter-ethnic feuds in Nigeria, reverberating in intervals of 10 and 20 years. The conflict first erupted in 1959. It reoccurred in 1980, 1990, 2001 and this year. In the latest resurgence, like those of the past, Jukun militants are hacking down Tiv residents to death and burning their homes. The Tiv militia groups are also balancing the terror -invading Jukun homes, killing them and destroying properties. As hostilities continue, the issue of citizenship pops up.
Are Tiv people indigenes of Taraba?
The question, which begs for clarity of purpose is, are the Tiv in Taraba indigenes of Taraba? According to Moses Aluaiga, part of the Jukun/Tiv conflict is the claim by Jukuns that the Tiv are “settlers,” not indigenes, in the present Taraba, and ipso facto, have no ownership right to the land they occupy. The Tiv, on the other hand, use the longevity of their stay in Taraba to repel their settler status to claim both land ownership and and political rights in the state, particularly in Wukari. These seeming claims, passed on to Jukun/Tiv offsprings, generate bloody scenes.
Tivs in Taraba have argued that, like all ethnic groups in the world migrated from somewhere, for greener pastures, and settled in their present dwellings, they migrated from Congo, through the Mambilla hills, and settled in the Benue trough, spreading to parts of today’s Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba and Plateau states. In Taraba, the Tiv are found in Ibi, Wukari, Donga, Takum, Gassol and Bali.
To justify they are indigenes of Taraba, Julius Kwaghkar, from Wukari, said the Tiv had won several electoral offices in the defunct Gongola, before it was split into Taraba and Adamawa states in 1991.
Kwaghkar said: “In 1956 federal elections, a Tiv man, Charles Tangur Gaza, contested the House of Representatives seat in Wukari with a Jukun man, Ibrahim Usman Sangari, and won the poll.
“In the Second Republic, 1979 to 1983, the Governor of Gongola State, Abubakar Barde, appointed a Tiv man, Iortyer Musa, as caretaker chairman of Wukari local government council. At that time, John Kwaghngu was chairman of the National Republican Convention (NRC) and I (Julius Kwaghkar) was the party’s secretary. We (Tiv) had two councillors: Ormaa Ihaambe from Bantaje and Anor Samuel, representing Akwana Ward.
“In 1976, David Mtuem and Simon Awua contested and won two out of four state House of Assembly seats in Wukari in the old Gongola. Both men are still alive. The other two seats were won by Habu Gurama and Bawa Isa, both of them Hausa. Bawa’s son, Isiyaka Bawa, later became a member of the House of Representatives in Wukari/Ibi Federal Constituency from 2011 to 2015.
“In the same 1976, Hitler Gbaaondo, another Tiv man, was elected as a member, House of Representatives from Takum/Donga Federal Constituency. The same year, a Jukun man, Andrew Tsokwa, was elected chairman of Wukari, while Tivs had two councillors, Msuega Aondovenda and Stephen Ikyaa, who became the NPN secretary in Wukari in 1979. Stephen Ikyaa is still alive.”
“In 1986/87, a Hausa man, Danladi Shehu, and a Tiv man, Shinja Abako, were elected as local government council chairman and vice chairman in Wukari respectively. But Shehu was beaten and sent out of office by Jukuns for giving the position of deputy to a Tiv man.
“Apart from the position of vice chairman, Tiv, in 1987, had three councillors: David Ayua, representing Tsokundi/Gidan Idi, Tsavdoo Kertyo, representing Chonku and David Aulugh from Bantaje Ward.”
The Nation gathered that the electoral victories of Tiv from Wukari in the past, due to their numerical strength, had dawned on the Jukun that the Tiv they considered as immigrants and aliens will eventually dominate them politically in the future.
Kwaghkar said: “The Jukun people do not want to live peacefully with us. They blocked most of our polling units, as they occupied positions of authority, and rendered us politically irrelevant in the state, especially in Wukari. As if that is not enough, they now want us to leave Wukari. As we speak, for several years, they have denied our people the Certificate of Local Government Origin.”
State House of Assembly member representing Wukari I Constituency, Pius Sabo, is one of those Jukuns who habour the fear that the Tiv may one day take over lands belonging to them in Wukari, given their burgeoning population in the ancient town. He says:“The Tiv have an aim of decimating and liquidating the Jukun people in Wukari in order to take over our God-given ancestral lands and natural resources.”
Apart from land and politics that remain the predisposing factors, the agitation by the Tiv community to also have their own chiefdoms in Taraba State has aggravated the Jukun/Tiv squabbles, particularly in Wukari. Sabo and other Jukuns in Wukari are against the idea that the Tiv in Taraba be given their chiefdoms and appointed traditional rulers.
In July last year, Governor Darius Ishaku upgraded traditional rulers in Taraba State. He also created new chiefdoms and appointed new chiefs. In all, over 50 monarchs were inaugurated to man their domains and “help tackle insecurity.” The Tiv, one of the major ethnic groups of the over 80 tribes in Taraba, were not given a chiefdom. The Tiv wrote the governor, Darius Ishaku, and with the intervention of the Tor Tiv, James Ayatse, and Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, Ishaku promised to grant their request if he would be returned for a second time. The Tiv in Taraba believe creating for them their chiefdoms as done to other ethnic groups will accord them the assurance to feel free and independently grow according to their cultural and traditional norms as indigenes of Taraba Statetate. But denying them the chiefdoms justifies their alien status. It was gathered that Ishaku, whose wife is Tiv, is willing to grant their request, but some prominent Jukuns, especially those from Wukari, are kicking against it.
In his press conference on the ongoing crisis, the lawmaker from Wukari, Pius Sabo, unequivocally stated: “ The Tiv nation should disregard the idea that a 10-point agenda be implemented, to particularly reconstitute the Wukari Traditional Council to accommodate Tiv or Tiv to be considered as members of the Wukari Traditional Council.
“No Emirate or Traditional Council in Nigeria has given membership to ethnic groups residing in its domain because of their population.
But Tom Garba said the crisis in Wukari has nothing to do with land but purely “the fear of domination and political power.” He argues: “The Jukun in Benue have never been asked to leave Benue State at any time, even though their number in Benue is insignificant .
“There are Yandang in Adamawa State, but the ones in Taraba have their own king. We have Wurkum in Benue, Gombe and Taraba.
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