Taraba: Why Tiv/Jukun crisis refuses to end

Youth leaders for the Tiv, Timothy Hembaor, left, and for the Jukun, Zando Hoku

 ¤ The Only Conditions That Can Bring Peace – Tiv, Jukun Leaders  

¤ Wukari-Takum Road Deserted   

¤ Security Tightened After Killing of Catholic Priest

¤ Warring Parties Welcome Buhari’s Call For

Peace Peaceful relations between the Tiv and Jukun ethnic groups dates back to centuries, but now, it has hit rock bottom. Daily Trust on Sunday takes a look at the current wave of hostilities and why the bloodbath has refused to abate.

Apparently worried by the lingering conflict between the Tiv and Jukun, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the Governor of Taraba State, Darius Ishaku and his Benue State counterpart, Samuel Ortom, to immediately end the crisis which has claimed hundreds of lives. ADVERTISEMENT The President’s directive is coming in the wake of most recent in the wave of hostilities between the two ethnic groups being the gruesome murder of a Catholic Priest, Rev Fr David Tanko on Wednesday last week. 

By press time Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that although security was beefed up in parts of Wukari and along Takum-Wukari road where Rev David Tanko was killed, motorists had abandoned the road. Unidentified bandits had reportedly ambushed and killed the priest at Kufai Amadu in Takum Local Government Area of Taraba State, setting him and his vehicle ablaze. Ironically, the cleric was said to be on his way to Takum for a peace meeting with his fellow clergymen on how to resolve the enduring Tiv/Jukun crisis when he was attacked and killed. 

The Catholic Diocese of Jalingo, the Most Rev. Charles Hammawa, while confirming the killing, reportedly said: “We received the news of his death with shock. This is sad. The diocese is mourning. We have been preaching peace and making efforts to bring both parties in the crisis in the area to a roundtable discussion. “For a priest who has been preaching peace to be killed in this most gruesome manner is pathetic, to say the least. A priest belongs to all. For now, we are not pointing accusing finger at any group. The police authority in the state has promised me that they are investigating the case, we pray that the perpetrators be brought to justice.” 

Youth leaders for the Tiv, Timothy Hembaor, left, and for the Jukun, Zando Hoku President Buhari in a State House statement by the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, Friday asked royal fathers, specifically the Tor Tiv and the Aku Uka of Wukari, religious and community leaders in the two states to convene meetings to find a lasting solution to the perennial conflict. He said the conflict was unacceptable, adding, 

“I have watched with trepidation and disbelief how hate and bigotry have inhabited the human soul, resulting in brothers killing brothers. “On behalf of the federal government and the entire people of the country, I offer my condolences to the Catholic community, the government and people of Taraba over the losses arising from recent incidents involving the warring communities. “The persistent deaths and destruction and the seeming desire by the warring sides to push each other to extinction is embarrassing, and this is against the essence of our ethnic and religious diversity in the country. Buhari said: “Progress is impossible where violence and destruction are allowed to dominate our daily lives,” adding that the Tiv/Jukun conflict was among “Nigeria’s most persistent and intractable security problems.” In recent times, peace has eluded Taraba State following the activities of armed bandits, kidnappers, headers and farmers conflicts as well as communal conflicts among rival ethnic groups.

 Although the past couple of months have witnessed hundreds of lives reportedly lost in different parts of the state in sporadic attacks that equally left hundreds of houses burnt, the most devastating is the recurrent conflict between the Tiv and Jukun ethnic groups in Wukari, Donga and other neighboring local government areas in Benue State. Relations between the two ethnic groups, dating back to centuries is believed to have suffered as a result of politics, land ownership issues, indigene/settler syndrome, suspicion, and lack of political will to tackle emerging contemporary challenges. Records have shown that the perennial conflict between the Tiv/Jukun has been recurring at intervals with the first incident recorded in 1959. It reoccurred in 1980, 1990, 2001 and this year. Like in the past, the latest resurgence bore a familiar trademark in the theory of balance of terror; Jukun militia descending on Tiv residents at the slightest provocation, maiming, killing while burning their homes and vice versa. At least over 600 persons have been reportedly killed, several others injured and property worth millions of Naira destroyed in the past few months as a result of Tiv/Jukun conflicts in Wukari Local Government. Apart from the deaths recorded, several people were injured while houses, farmlands, markets, vehicles valued at millions of naira were either razed or vandalized.

 The renewed conflict between Tiv/Jukun began on April 1, in Kente village in Wukari Local Government over a minor disagreement, arising from sales of yams in a market bordering Taraba and Benue. The chairman of Wukari Local Government, Mr. Daniel Adi, had disclosed that 10 persons were killed and over 15 settlements were burnt down on that fateful day. Among the buildings set afire during the April 1 conflict was Government Day Secondary School Kente. Like a wildfire, the hostility spreads to Wukari, headquarters of the local government and the neighboring Donga Local Government. As a consequence of the current hostilities, residents of most affected communities had 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 ferrying passengers into the state from the southern part of the country have had to seek alternative routes. Hostilities had spread to Tiv communities in Benue State living on the borderline with their Taraba State counterpart where many lives have been allegedly lost in the process and property destroyed on both sides of the divides. Efforts made by Taraba and Benue state governments to intervene in the current crisis have so far yielded little results. Security operatives including Operation Whirl Stroke headed by Major General Adeyemi Yekini also played reconciliatory roles yet the crisis remained intractable to the extent that schooling activities are paralyzed in areas affected. Criminals making capital out of crisis It is believed that some criminals now contribute to heightened tension among the warring ethnic groups. There are however opinions alleging political masterminds behind the unending ‘war’, even as others have identified traditional/political recognition and land grabbing to the crisis as the main headache. For instance, the Tiv people told Daily Trust on Sunday that they are agitating for traditional and political recognition while the Jukun claimed that their Tiv neighbours were merely out for land grabbing. The President General of the Tiv Youth Organisation (TYO) worldwide, Comrade Timothy Hembaor, hinges on the non-traditional or political recognition of Tiv people in Taraba State. Hembaor told our correspondent in Makurdi that both tribes can coexist peacefully if the major concerns of the Tiv people who are indigenes in Taraba State are addressed. “Tiv people in Taraba State should be given what they desire. Tiv are asking for traditional leadership. They are majority in the area where they coexist with the Jukun. All they want is a recognized cultural identity so they can have a first, second and third class chiefs where some of their grievances could be channeled through to the government,” he said. The youth leader said the negative impact of the crisis had led to desertion of Tiv villages in Taraba and that many of the displaced people have moved to Makurdi as well as other parts of Benue State to take refuge while their Jukun neighbours are allegedly being protected by powerful individuals in government of Taraba State. He alleged that the Tiv people along the Benue borderline with Taraba have consistently been invaded, attacked and killed while their economic activities in those areas have been paralyzed. “As we speak, there are no Tiv at the boundary areas of Benue because they have all deserted their homes. Places such as Jootar, Tomatar and boundary villages in Ukum Local Government area of Benue State have been deserted. “It is sad that no Tiv can be found at the moment along Wukari, Kente and Takum axis. Even these major roads where Tiv people transverse to Taraba have been blocked by the Jukun militia. Until the crisis, those areas used to be peaceful,” he added. The President Tiv Cultural Association in Taraba State,Mr Goodman Dahida, debunked the claims of the Jukun that the Tiv are fighting the Jukun for a set agenda, alleging that the Jukun were fighting to dislodge the entire Tiv population out of Taraba State. Dahida stated that as from 1953, the Tiv had 10 village heads under Wukari traditional council and all the Tiv in Wukari and Taraba State paid allegiance to the Aku Uka and Taraba State and not to Tor Tiv or Benue State government, arguing that it was wrong, therefore, for anyone to say Tiv are not indigenes of Taraba State. He said the Tiv never wanted to go to war with anybody, adding that both Jukun and Tiv are losing in the crisis and therefore the president should bring the warring factions together and address the issue permanently. The President General of  Mdzough u Tiv, the socio-cultural umbrella body of the Tiv people,  Engr. Edward Ujege, said that ordinarily the crisis shouldn’t had taken place, especially as no cogent reason had so far been adduced for the unhealthy development. He blamed the continued crisis on the fact that the Tiv people of Taraba State are not recognized, stressing that even during elections, they were denied the right to vote just as they also do not have a recognized traditional council which in his estimation was uncalled for. “We’re brothers and sisters. There is every need for the Tiv and Jukun to live peacefully side by side but this crisis has continued when it should not happen in the first place. I have severally condemned the killings and destruction of property. “It is worrisome that criminals have now taken advantage and hijacked the entire system. Like Wadume, they (criminals) trade in weapons. There are also professional trouble makers who have also taken advantage of the crisis,” Ujege added. But the National Leader of Jukun Youth Council, Zando Hoku, in a telephone conversation with our correspondent in Makurdi, maintained that peace can only be achieved if their brothers were ready for it. “Until this year’s crisis, the Jukun for long had not fought with Tiv people. Following the fresh disagreement which started with two people, one Tiv and the other Jukun, the Tiv attacked Wukari at least seven times without us (Jukun) responding. “At the moment, if they are ready to lay down their arms, we are ready to stay together peacefully. Let me say that the Tiv people who are indigenous to Taraba would never want this crisis to last beyond two weeks but for the Tiv in Benue. 

“The Tiv in Benue are interested in what happens here (Taraba) when they are not part of us. They are playing out their 10-point agenda which was earlier projected by the late Tor-Tiv to acquire more land as their population grows so they are fighting neighbours to get more lands. The Tiv in Benue are causing these problems,” Hoku alleged. The Jukun youth leader further posited that the Tiv were requesting for traditional leadership in Taraba for the purpose of acquiring more land to solidify parts of the content of their 10-point expansion of Tiv kingdom agenda, stressing that, the Jukun would not shift grounds.” 

Hoku questioned how many of Jukun communities or persons have been given such recognition in Benue State, whether political or traditional, citing example with Abinsi, a Jukun community in Benue, which he alleged had no such status of any recognition. He however described the intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari on the crisis as welcome development, saying the Jukun were also on the defensive against the aggression of the Tiv on Jukun land. Peter Audu, a Jukun native of troubled Akwana community in Southern part of Wukari, Taraba State bordering Logo Local Government area of Benue State, lamented that the crisis which began in Kente, a distance from his homestead, has forced his family and others away. Audu said that currently people of his community had fled to safety in neighbouring Taraba towns because they were attacked severally by alleged Tiv militia and that his people were killed and their property burnt down. “In the style which the Tiv militia attacked us in their numbers, they killed many Jukun so we have all deserted home. No Jukun man can go to farm in all those border villages, the militia will kill any Jukun person found in the farm. “To make matter worse, the militia vandalized the police station located in the community. Our maize, yam and other crops were also destroyed. We fled to towns. The only people at border areas now are our Muslim brothers who have no stake in the crisis,” Audu alleged. The police in Benue State said its operatives were on routine patrols alongside other security agents at flashpoints to prevent crime Spokesperson of the Benue police command, DSP Catherine Sewuese Anene, told Daily Trust on Sunday that though criminals may have taken advantage of the communal crisis to wreak havoc, the police personnel deployed on the axis were not resting on their oars to secure the areas. Commenting on the President’s directives, the special adviser to Governor Darius Ishaku on Media and Publicity, Bala Dan Abu, said Taraba State government welcomes the president’s intervention into the conflict. He said both Taraba and Benue state governments had done their best towards bringing to an end the crisis but such effort was not successful. He said several meetings were held between Governor Ishaku and stakeholders while similar meetings were equally held by his Benue State counterpart to bring an end to the situation. Taraba Governor Darius Ishaku recently said he was working tirelessly with his Benue counterpart, Samuel Ortom, to end the crisis between the Tiv and Jukun in the border area of the states. This followed allegations by Tiv Youth Council (TYC) that the governor and Gen. Theophilus Danjuma were fueling the crisis. The TYC had at a news conference accused Gov. Ishaku and TY Danjuma of inciting Jukun militia to attack Tiv people in the state. TYC President, Mr Mike Msuaan, had during the conference called on security agencies to investigate the governor and the former Chief of Army Staff for their alleged roles in the crisis. But while refuting the allegation, the spokesman of the governor, exonerated the governor and Gen. Danjuma (rtd) from the crisis, saying that Gov. Ishaku and Gov. Ortom had adopted various methods including meeting with stakeholders from both tribes to ensure peace returned to the area. Although security was said to have been beefed up in parts of Wukari and along Takum -Wukari road where Reverend Tanko was killed, motorists were said to have abandoned the road. Related