The desire of governors Darius Dickson Ishaku of Taraba State and his Benue State counterpart, Samuel Ortom to end the age-long killings among the people of Tiv and Jukun ethnic groups has continued to suffer setbacks, even as both prepare to begin their second terms in office.
Relations between the two ethnic groups, which has stretched for centuries has suffered as a result of politics, land ownership issues, indigene/settler syndrome, suspicion, and lack of political will to tackle emerging contemporary challenges, and unnecessary muscle flexing have continued to ensure that carnage is never far away, while peaceful co-habitation constantly eludes them.
Shortly after the general elections the hydra-headed monster, again reared its ugly head in Kente Village, in Wukari Local Council of Taraba State, leading to the spilling of blood. The violence also spilled over to other neighbouring villages and also to Ukum in Benue State.
Apart from the deaths recorded, several were injured while houses, farmlands, markets, vehicles valued at millions of naira were either razed or vandalised.
In the wake of the latest incident, residents of most affected communities have deserted their ancestral homestead to nearby communities in different parts of the two states. Commercial activities have also been brought to an abrupt end, while transporters that ferried passengers into the state from the southern part of the country have had to seek alternative routes for the time being.
According to the President General of the Tiv Cultural and Social Association Chief Goodman D. Dahida, politics is one of the causes of the rift, and it remains at the very base of the age-long discord.
So, for the much-desired peace to be achieved, various tribes living in the southern part of the state must be summoned for a roundtable dialogue, instead of the government continuing to engage top government officials from both sides in peace talks, while ordinary people from the affected communities, who know where the shoe pinches are ignored.
The former President of the Wukari/Jukun Youth of Vision, Luka Agbu, who shares Dahida’s views, maintains that the lukewarm attitude of the government has been one of the major factors affecting the resolution of the lingering feud.
Agbu, a legal practitioner who alleged that invisible hands have been stirring the crises over the years, expressed sadness that the state government has not been able to find a permanent solution to the lingering problem, which has been claiming lives and destroying property.
While the duo of Dahida and Agbu say elements of politics and the lukewarm attitude of governments constitute major factors affecting the resolution of the long-drawn feud, the former Deputy Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Jos, Professor Akkarren Samuel Shaakaa, says only a clear understanding of the nature of the present crisis, would help in fashioning out a long-lasting solution.
Shaakaa, who said some elders have tried their best in seeing the killings come to an end , lamented that overtime, the crisis degenerated, turned the people from who were hitherto good neighbours to those who are “now constantly at war with ourselves. In the past, the crisis was political, but these days you cannot say the crisis is political in character. This is simply because Tiv/Jukun crisis is like every crisis in Nigeria now, and is borne out of the criminal activities of miscreants on both sides. Unfortunately, we have refused to call a spade a spade.
“Each time criminals engage themselves, confront themselves, or have skirmishes among themselves, we now adopt those crises as our crises and then we begin to kill, maim and destroy property, which is very sad.
So, right now, dousing this situation might be very difficult because of the nature of the calibre of persons involved. I will give you one example.
“In Lafia sometime ago, the Tiv in Taraba were chased away from their settlement by the Fulani and took refuge in a Jukun settlement, and I can tell you that they were there for up to five months. Personally, I had to go to my immediate junior brother’s burial, who died as a result of panic created by the arrival of Fulani fighters, but he was not killed by the Fulani fighters. This is a similar situation that took the life of Senator Gyang Dantong, who died in Jos, as a result of panic when Fulani herdsmen were coming. The man just collapsed and died,” he said.”
Speaking specifically on the nature of the present crisis, the university teacher said, “The nature of the present crisis is criminal in nature; it is borne out of criminality; an attempt to loot, or an attempt to create a crisis situation in order to loot property. It is not borne out of any cogent or identifiable difference between the Tiv man and the Jukun person because both have been neighbours over time. There are Tiv in Taraba State, and there are Jukun in Benue State.
“However, like in every border tribe, the crisis between the Tiv and Jukun continues to linger because each time there is a crisis between the Tiv and the Jukun in Taraba State, the Tiv who are not really part of Taraba State will always come to the aid of their kinsmen. This further escalates the crisis. But it is important to note the criminal activities that are happening in Taraba State now. In fact, we have never seen this kind of thing before. And it has made Southern Taraba a very dangerous and hazardous terrain.”
He continued: “This crisis is a direct fallout of the criminal activities of miscreants from both sides because the disagreement that caused the present face-off was said to have started from a disagreement between criminal elements from both tribes. So, very serious-minded persons should not make comments that will aggravate, or try to widen the divides between the two ethnic groups. The Tiv and the Jukun in Taraba State right now do not have a very serious political disagreement. No. They don’t have because we have a governor who is very understanding; who has, for a better period of his tenure, been able to
curtail incessant crises. In the past, maybe we would have attributed it to economic or political reasons, but this crisis now cannot be attributed to any difference between the tribes, it is simply a supremacy fight by the miscreants.”
Shaakaa, an indigene of Taraba, while shedding light on why the crisis keeps on escalating, especially around the border communities said, “you know of course that like every Nigerian state boundary, there are border tribes and then there those who are indigenous. You have Tiv people who are indigenes of Taraba State by way of boundary demarcation, and you also have Tiv people who are settlers. You have to make that clear distinction.
There are Tiv people who are indigenous to Taraba State and then there are Tiv people who are also settlers in Taraba State.”
On how to urgently address the incessant killings, he said elders on both sides must always be prepared to stand for the truth because, “if we stand for the truth, identify criminal elements within our domains and hand them over to appropriate authorities for prosecution, I think this crisis will abate. But if we keep on taking sides with them on the basis of tribe or religion, we are going to have problems because in Nigeria when things happen, even though they are criminal in nature, people always take different stands either arising from religion, tribe or such base consideration as ethnicity instead of the truth. If a Tiv man kills a Jukun extra-judicially, he should not be defended because the life of a Jukun, Tiv Fulani, Yoruba or an Ibo person should matter. We should not say because the person who was killed was Jukun, then we will come to the defence of the Tiv murderer. The Jukun too should not say that because a Tiv man was killed, so whatever was done by our brother was correct.
“Except we begin to tell ourselves the hard truth, identify criminal elements among us, and make them available for arrest and for prosecution, this crisis is going to continue not only in Taraba State or Benue State, but in several other flashpoints across the country. Crises we hear in Kaduna about Fulani elements and indigenous elements, and the crises in Plateau State
are not actually crises that should have been allowed to escalate and become very big crises. We should be able to tell the truth and respect human lives no matter the tribe,” the scholar admonished.
As news of devastation continue to ring out of troubled locations in Taraba State, the Special Adviser to Governor Ortom on Security, Col. Paul Hemba (rtd), on Thursday April 11, said over 10 persons were feared dead earlier in the day in Vaase, Ukum Local Council, while more than 100 houses were destroyed.
Hemba, who spoke at a news conference in Makurdi said that over 3, 000 persons have so far been displaced and were taking refuge in Jootar, Ukum, adding that due to the gravity of the fresh clashes, there may be more casualties by the time security agencies were through with combing the area to recover dead bodies.
“Efforts have been made by the state government to stop the crisis, which started from Kente, a border town between Benue and Taraba, which is largely occupied by Jukun and Tiv population. I have travelled to the area three times this week.
“I held meetings with the Aku Uka of Wukari, Tor Sankera from the Benue area, Chief Abu Shuluwa, and the Special Adviser to Governor Darius Ishaku on Security. It was resolved that there should be cessation of hostilities to pave the way for peace. But it is so sad to note that after the meeting, killings are still going on.
Apart from defying all security measures so far put in place, the feud has succeeded in pitching the chairman of Wukari Local Council in Taraba, against that of Ukum Local Council in Benue. Both are now busy trading words.
According to the Wukari Council boss, Adi Daniel, his Ukum counterpart, Iber Logo, and the traditional ruler of the council are fully aware of the boys that are behind the crisis, but are shielding them from arrest.
The chairman of Ukum and the monarch, “know the boys that are perpetrating this violence, but they don’t want to fish them out. Tiv youths in the early hours of last Saturday (penultimate Saturday) came and burnt down Chonku Village. So, we want to appeal to the Chairman of Ukum, Mr. Iber Logo, and the Ter Ukum to fish out these youths, and disciplinary actions taken against them in the interest of peace.”
Daniel added that Jukun people have since realised that there is no need fighting the Tiv people hence they try their best to maintain the peace, but the Tiv people, he alleged, have continued their onslaught on Jukun villages.
But as far as Logo is concerned, Daniel’s allegations against him are simply laughable, even as he expressed disappointment over the latter’s outburst.
He said during the recent peace meeting “at the palace of the Aku Uka in Wukari, the chairman said to the hearing of everybody that they had a problem with the Tiv people in Ikyaior and Gbor-Gbor all in Wukari local government area of Taraba State.
He held that the only point where the people of Benue State came in was when Jukun youths from Kente invaded Tse-Atsenga in Benue State started burning the entire village, and in the process burnt an aged woman in the house.
According to him: “It was after the attack on Tse-Atsenga that I called the chairman of Wukari and we met at Kente. Unfortunately, the chairman came with armed Jukun youths and dropped them at Igbogom Village. While we were holding the peace meeting at Kente, the Jukun youths started shooting and I made efforts to leave, but he pleaded.”
“After the meeting, a Jukun girl was caught in the bush and I prevented the girl from being harmed. I personally handed over the girl to the Aku Uka of Wukari during the peace meeting at his palace. If I did not want peace, would I have been making all these efforts?”
Logo claimed that the attack on Chonku was carried out by criminals, who want to cause confusion in order to continue their looting spree. He added that investigations were on to ascertain where the criminals came from with a view to apprehending them.
The council boss, however, expressed disappointment that instead of finding out what really happened, Jukun youths have continued to attack and burn Tiv villages stretching from the Federal University, Wukari to Chonku.
Also expressing dismay at the way and manner that the crisis has continued to escalate, the Special Adviser to the Taraba State Governor on Students Affairs, Samson Tor-Musa, whose village in Taraba was razed down following the killings, accused Jukun youths of perpetrating the destruction.
According to him: “In the early hours of last Saturday (penultimate Saturday), Jukun youths burnt Tar-Orshi, Ikyaan Gbaki, Orlumun Nege, Tor-Musa, Ioryina and Kashuan Shanu villages,” adding that “Chonku a border village between Taraba and Benue states was also burnt down in the early hours of that same day.”
Interestingly, as communities in both states engage in bloodbath, both governors are holidaying abroad leaving behind their deputies who are now running helter and skelter to contain the carnage.
Wondering why Governor Ishaku decided to jet out of the country while his people are dying, the state chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) described his actions as “a big surprise to the people of our dear state. ”
Spokesperson of the party, Aaron Atmas said: “It’s a big surprise that while his state is on fire, he is no where to be found. Governor Ishaku has never deemed it fit to visit any of the crisis area since he came to power four years ago.”
Citing the Mambilla Plateau, Gassol, Bali Lau killings among others, he said Ishaku’s inability to take a cue from his counterparts, and initiate proactive actions were reasons for the incessant upheavals in the state.
Wondering what has become of the huge security votes allocated to the governor, he alleged that the governor in the last four years has failed to take the issue of security of the lives and property of the people “serious.”
Rather than continue pointing accusing fingers at the Federal Government, he urged the governor to “always do the needful because he is the chief security of this our dear state. ”
Some of the displaced persons said they escaped from their homes without “taking a pin from our houses. Now, most of our houses have not only been looted, but burnt to ashes.”
While calling on the authorities to, as a matter of urgency, reach out to them with relief materials in order to cushion the effects the carnage has on them, they also stressed the need for the government to find a permanent solution “to this daily killings between Tiv and Jukun.
A chieftain of the APC, Chief David Sabo Kente, who hails from Kente Village where the latest unrest started, called on the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and other relevant organisations to urgently come to the aid in Wukari
According to him hundreds of displaced persons, including women and children, who are currently taking refuge in primary schools within Kente and Wukari are in dire condition and without water, food and other basic needs. If there is no urgent intervention, I see the IDPs experiencing serious humanitarian crisis.”
The Chairman, Taraba State Council of Chiefs, the Aku-Uka of Wukari, Shakarau Angyu Masa Ibi, has also expressed serious displeasure at the sufferings of the people hence the stakeholders meeting he summoned between the two ethnic groups in his palace in Wukari.
He expressed dismay over the ongoing bloodletting between the ethnic groups, leading to loss of lives and wanton destruction of valuables.
On his part, Ishaku, through his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Bala Dan-Abu, said he has consistently called on the two ethnic groups to live together in peace and harmony in order to attract government amenities that would make life better for them.
According to him: “Frequent conflicts can only lead to disruption of economic activities and aggravate poverty and hunger. As neighbours, the two groups need each other for economic survival. Therefore, they must co-operate in protecting their communities against any form of threat to peace in the area.”
Citing the Federal Government’s inability to complete the multi-million naira mobile police barrack situated in Akwana Village as another reason for the continuous killings, he added that dreams of stopping the killings would remain a mirage pending the completion of the barrack.
A stakeholder, who preferred anonymity alleged that sophisticated weapons used by youths from both communities “were weapons given to them by the politicians during electioneering campaigns” added that money “used in purchasing those weapons would have gone a long way in taking these youths out of the streets, if such funds were used in creating jobs.”
A Red Cross official, who also spoke to The Guardian in confidence confirmed that no fewer than 35 corpses “have so far been recovered,” adding that “for now, I cannot give you the exact numbers of wounded persons that are receiving treatments in various hospitals.”
Though no arrests have been made as at the time of filing this report, heavily armed security personnel have been deployed to the areas to restore normalcy.
According to the Public Relations Officer (PPRO) of the State Police Command, David Misal, “I can confirm to you that normalcy is gradually returning to the area. In fact, an attempted attack on Wukari Town was repelled last night and with the heavy deployment of our men to the area, we believe that normalcy will return fully.”
Now that several lives have gone, valuables destroyed and several persons displaced, the two states which pride themselves as “Nature’s Gifts to the Nation,” and “Food Basket of the Nation” need to immediately rise up to the challenges by fashioning out ways that would permanently end the incessant killings.