Peace in the offing as Tiv/Jukun warriors agree to cease fire
Activities resume at Takun Junction as Jukun and Tiv embrace truce
At last, the Jukun and Tiv ethnic groups of southern Taraba have agreed to a ceasefire. Fresh moves by key stakeholders to resolve the crisis seem to have bore fruits.
At the end of a two-day peace talks held at Government House, Jalingo, a 30-man committee, set up by Governor Darius Ishaku, succeeded in making the warring communities sign a new peace deal and called for suspension of hostilities. They have directed that all road-blocks in the affected communities should be dismantled and local markets in the areas reopened.
They also called for the release of all victims who were kidnapped during the hostilities. They urged the government to provide relief materials and ensure the return of all displaced people to their ancestral homes.
Jukun and Tiv ethnic groups of Southern Taraba have been at daggers drawn for some time now. Several efforts made in the past to bring peace between these closely tied neighbours had been futile. The latest outbreak of hostilities has been on for over six months.
Many lives were lost on both sides, while properties, including homes and foodstuffs estimated at millions of naira have been destroyed. The Federal University in Wukari was shut down for fear of the crisis spilling to the campus. Thousands have fled their homes, which had come under attack as a result of the crisis, turning the affected areas into ghost towns.
The crisis reached a crescendo when a 42-year-old cleric, Rev. Fr. David Tanko, a peace broker, was killed and his corpse set ablaze. The priest’s murder prompted President Muhammadu Buhari to call for a peace dialogue between Tiv and Jukun from Taraba and Benue states.
During the meeting, which was held at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja, Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom proposed that the Federal Government should set up a commission of enquiry into the crisis. But Taraba State Governor, Darius Ishaku, strongly objected to the idea of bringing ‘strangers’ into the matter. He suggested that “the problem is ours; it’s an internal problem; we shall look into it and resolve it.”
Upon his return to the state, Ishaku set up the new committee and gave the warring groups a seven-day ultimatum to sheathe their swords for the committee to work effectively.
The new peace committee, which has been hailed by all as likely to succeed, is to examine and bring to an end all issues underlying persistent violent clashes between Jukun and Tiv ethnic groups. The committee has 15 representatives each from Tiv and Jukun communities, drawn from the affected areas which include Wukari, Donga and Takum.
The committee held a peace dialogue in the Executive Chamber of the Government House, Jalingo, the Taraba State capital. In their midst were the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Anthony Jellason; representatives of the police, army, Civil Defence Corps and the Department of State Services (DSS).
Others in attendance included representatives of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and other religious bodies as well as representatives of the Jukun, Tiv and Etulo communities from the affected local government areas. All the attending groups made their presentations.
The meeting was chaired by the Taraba State Deputy Governor, Haruna Manu, who, together with the SSG on behalf of the state government, signed the communique that was issued at the end of the meeting. Danjuma Adamu, Markus Ikitsombika and John Mamman signed the communique for the Jukun community, while Jime Yongo, Kurason Kura and Isaac Waakaa signed for the Tiv community.
The communique reads: “Speakers at the meeting condemned the crisis and stressed the need for the cessation of all forms of hostilities between the two communities to pave way for the peace building effort being spearheaded by the Taraba State government.
“The crisis has been hijacked by criminals from both the Jukun and Tiv communities and therefore, the two communities should expose the criminals among them.
“We also resolved to, henceforth, stop reprisal attacks or revenge from both parties, but report all forms of security breaches to security agencies for appropriate action.
“The government should take deliberate steps to encourage the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to return to their homes, since adequate security operatives have been deployed in the affected communities to protect lives and property.”
The committee advised the Jukun and Tiv communities to be wary of rumours that are capable of inciting them and destabilising the peace process.
One of the signatories of the communique, Danjuma Adamu (Jukun), revealed that during the peace meeting, the committee split into Team Tiv and Team Jukun to sketch their submissions.
“We in the Team Jukun were just clapping as the Tiv made their presentation. The issues they raised were exactly the same with ours, as if they spied or copied from us. So, it was not difficult marrying or harmonising the two submissions. We just adopted them.
“That was victory number one. It means the problem is an internal one, and we know it. It means we can solve the problem by ourselves. In doing this, we must be sincere to ourselves. Any criminal element among us must be fished out, punished and treated as a criminal. With this, the committee shall succeed,” he said.
Also in a chat with our correspondent on the telephone, Isaac Waakaa, a Tiv member of the committee, said the committee will achieve the needed result.
Waakaa said: “The committee will succeed because it captured the feelings of the people that are directly affected.
“If there is crisis in Taraba because someone is killed in Taraba, and you bring somebody from outside to resolve the matter, it will be an exercise in futility, because the outsider is not familiar with the terrain, the people and their cultures. In this committee, we know all the people representing the Jukun community and they know us all.
“Secondly, all the issues the committee has raised are genuinely correct. The next step is to look into the issues, which is what we have started.”
Waakaa, however, noted that the Jukun/Tiv crisis is a “recurring feud” and the committee would need time in tackling the issues involved.
“Our work is a peace-building process that is not achievable in a hurry,” he said, adding that they were going to consult other personalities who are not members of the committee whom they are convinced know certain things better than they do.
“So, everyone affected is involved. We are only representing them in tackling the issues. So far, I don’t think there is any shortcoming with the committee, and I am sure it will succeed,” Waakaa said.
What really happened?
It was gathered that the Tiv/Jukun crisis is an offshoot of a protracted feud based on a claim by the Jukun that the Tiv are “settlers,” in Taraba State, and therefore, have no ownership rights to the land they occupy. The conflict, reverberating in intervals of 10 and 20 years, first erupted in 1959. It reoccurred in 1980, 1990, 2001 and 2019, according to records.
The Tiv, on the other hand, use the longevity of their stay in Taraba to repel their settler status by claiming both land ownership and political rights in the area. These seeming claims, passed on to Jukun/Tiv offsprings, generate bloody scenes, as both groups try to prove they are no weaklings.
Thus, this year, like a discarded cigarette’s fire that burns down an entire forest, a misunderstanding between two Tiv and Jukun youths in Kente -a rustic village in Wukari, spiralled into full-blown violence.
On March 31, a Tiv young man went to a local market in Wukari Local Government Area and drove away the Tiv women who displayed fish for sale. His grievance was that Tiv people were denied administrative posts in the said market. He was caught and handed over to the police in Kente, to ensure his action did not incite the people. In retaliation, Tiv youths in Gbeji, Benue State, held 14 Jukun women and a man hostage. The ransome was to trade the Tiv guy in police custody with the Jukuns in their custody. With the intervention of the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in Gbeji and an Army captain in Kente, the Jukun traders and the Tiv lad were all released.
On April 1, the chairman of Wukari (Taraba) and his counterpart in Ukum (Benue) Local Government Areas held a peace dialogue, but the meeting ended in fracas, rebirthing the century feud.
Beneath the misunderstanding in Kente that snowballed 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. 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 intermarried and lived together as a family for over a century,” a worried Agbu queried.
Agitation for Tiv chiefdom in Taraba
The Tiv ethnic group want a 10-point agenda implemented, which include the creation of chiefdoms for Tiv in Taraba State, particularly in Wukari. But Jukuns have asked that, if a chiefdom is created in Wukari and a Tiv person is coronated as a third class or second class chief, will he be answerable to the Aku-Uka in Taraba or the Tor Tiv in Benue, who is the paramount ruler of every Tiv person in the world? Again, all chieftaincy stools the world over are hereditary, except in Tiv where ascension to a traditional throne is through rotational democracy. Will the Tiv in Taraba change this pattern, to fit into the hereditary style? Of course, these require proper interpretation and legal procedures. Nevertheless, Governor Ishaku has promised to “look into the matter,” since it requires a legislative process through the state Assembly.
What is good for the goose is also good for the gander
The Jukun in Abinse have also cried foul in the scheming of soci-opolitical matters in Benue State. They said they have always been neglected when it comes to political appointments and promotions in the state’s civil service. If this is true, then the Benue Jukuns have a case that must be looked into.
The Benue State government should also upgrade the stool of the chief of Jukun in Abinse to a higher status. It was gathered that the Jukun chiefdom in Abinse, which had existed since the 17th century and was recognised by colonial masters as a third-class chieftaincy stool in 1917, has today been relegated, instead of being elevated to a first class status. It had existed before the Tiv traditional council was established in 1946, which threw up Makir Dzakpe as the first Tor Tiv in 1947.
In Taraba, there are six first class chiefs -the Aku Uka in Wukari, Chief of Mambilla in Sardauna, the Kpanti in Zing, Lamdo Gashaka in Serti, Emir of Muri in Jalingo and the Gara in Donga. There are also more than 50 traditional rulers of second class and third class status as well as village heads. The Aku Uka is the chairman of the traditional council. Benue should upgrade the Jukun chieftaincy stool in Abinse, including those of the Etulo Jukun (Katsina Ala chiefdom), which was stopped in 1985 by the former governor, Rev Father Moses Adasu, and other minority tribes, with the Tor Tiv as chairman of the traditional council, to give a sense of belonging to all. This will also help in the fight against insecurity, while addressing complaints of neglect by some minority tribes in Benue State.
Pace for terrorism, keg of gunpowder
The arming of youths in the Taraba/Benue borderland 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 territory, stretching from Ibi, Wukari/Ukum, to Donga and Takum/Katsina-Ala is a keg of gun powder. As rightly observed by the 30-man peace committee, criminals from both Tiv and Jukun communities, including other tribes, have hijacked the crisis and are stoking the fire of war. They are responsible for all the killings, destruction and plunder. They do not want the crisis to end. With the bandits and deadly kidnappers in charge, business and farming activities have been grounded to a halt, as socio-economic centres are deserted; even to tourists, the lush vegetation, beautiful birds, fish and turtles in the region are no longer a fascination. We have sown a seed of hunger and poverty in southern Taraba.
To resolve this crisis and restore lasting peace, Jukun and Tiv must fish out the criminals among them and treat them as criminals, without tribal sentiments. Observers watched with dismay the slaughter field discovered in Gbatse district of Ushongo council area of Benue State. The leader of the gang, Iorwuese Kpila, popularly known as Dr. Kwagh Akorom Menenge, revealed how he alone hacked down 16 persons in the last few days of his arrest. It was horrific when the dead were exhumed. If he alone can kill 16 in a few days, one can only imagine the number of people his four accomplices would kill within the same number of days. Upon interrogation, Kpila displayed the rope he used to strangle his victims to death before burying them in shallow graves, even when ransoms were paid. Kpila is the Terminator, a cyborg assassin in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s science fiction film. He kills without the boom of a riffle, no slashing of swords. He is Tiv; his victims are all Tiv. If such a person attacks a Jukun, he should be treated as a criminal. Similarly, if a Jukun criminal attacks a Tiv person, he should be apprehended and punished as a criminal. A criminal has no brother or parent.
Tiv’s unsung hero Darius Dickson Ishaku
Governor Darius Ishaku of Taraba is an ebullient leader who wants to work and leave behind a legacy. He is a workaholic. But insecurity and crisis are his enemies. In his first term, clashes between herdsmen and farmers were his major challenge. There was bloodbath on the Mambilla Plateau, as there were killings in the lowlands of the state because of cows, grasses and farm-crops. Against all odds, Ishaku tackled the herders’ menace through the instrumentality of the law, prohibiting open grazing. The law also prohibits cattle rustling. Herders now have to restrict the movement of their cattle so that they don’t stray into farms and munch on crops. He has brought a template of peace, bringing the warring cattle herders and crop farmers together to nurture a symbiotic relationship.
After the herdsmen/farmers challenge comes a resurgence of the lingering conflict between Jukun and Tiv. The crisis between Jukun and Tiv is uncalled for, coming at a time when the governor is Jukun but married to a Tiv woman; when the two ethnic groups are supposed to be enjoying the best of their interaction which predates colonialism. Governor Ishaku has been working round the clock to end the crisis, which has been a source of worry to him. He has solved one aspect of the impasse, by declaring that Tiv in Taraba are indigenes, not settlers. This justifies why the governor, in his first term, appointed many Tivs as advisers and senior aides. He named Rebecca Manasseh, a Tiv woman, as Commissioner for Environment, in defiance to the stand of his kinsmen.
There are over 80 ethnic groups in Taraba State, so having one Tiv person in the executive cabinet means a lot. It means having an ear and eyes in the state’s developmental agenda. There is no good or evil discussed that will not be known. In spite of all these kind gestures, the Tiv have not shown gratitude to the detribalised governor, hence they have often spuriously accused him of either having a hand in the Jukun/Tiv crisis or not doing enough to end it. Observers believe that Ishaku was right when he stated during the dialogue in Abuja that there is a “conspiracy of silence” on the good things he has done for the Tiv ethnic group in Taraba State. There is no gainsaying that the Tiv elites in Taraba have refused to enlighten their brothers, at home and in the diaspora, on the tremendous role Ishaku has played in their lives in Taraba State since 2015 when he assumed the mantle of power.
For those who do not know, Darius Ishaku’s wife, Anna, hails from Vandeikya Local Government Area of Benue State. Ishaku’s children are naturally Jukun and naturally Tiv. They have a compound blood of Jukun-Tiv in their veins and arteries. If you hate a tribe, you will not marry from them. It is believed that Ishaku wouldn’t have married Anna if he so hates Tiv. It is worthy of note that the governor’s wife, on her part, has done a lot in trying to broker peace between Jukun and Tiv.
In 2014, the Tiv in Taraba State were displaced from their ancestral homes by herdsmen marauders. When Ishaku came on board, he made sure the displaced were all brought back to their homes and rehabilitated. The governor, a peace maker, with his popular “Give me peace, I will give you developments” slogan, went a step further to suspend 10 traditional rulers accused of tampering with lands belonging to Tiv people. Ishaku became the ‘messiah’ and cynosure of praise by Tiv. But that was then. Today, the Tiv are calling him names and blaming him over a communal crisis that had been in existence since 1959 when he was only five years old. It should also be noted that the crisis has a political side.
In his rescue mission in education during his first term, Ishaku rehabilitated schools and provided furniture and writing materials. To deliver quality education, he recruited 3,000 teachers who were trained to update and enhance capacity. Out of the 3,000 employed teachers, Tiv alone got 400 slots.
Before the crisis erupted, Ishaku and his Benue counterpart, Samuel Ortom, had met several times in Wukari, Logo and other border areas to seek peaceful coexistence between Jukun and Tiv. The two governors inherited the border delineation template from their predecessors, the late Danbaba Suntai and Senator Gabriel Suswam.
Observers believe that Ishaku deserves some honour from the Tiv people, for all that he has done (and still doing) for them. A source, who did not wish to be quoted, said it was doubtful if former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has done half of what Ishaku has done in resolving the intractable crisis. But he was bestowed the Zege Mule u Tiv, the highest chieftaincy title in Tivland, which means ‘Great Shelter (protector)’ of the Tiv race. Atiku got the title because he politically groomed his young associates in Benue State. But the source said the former VP did not do anything during the invasion, attacks and killing of our farmers by killer-herdsmen.
Former Governor Jolly Nyame was honoured as the Zege Huror u Tiv, meaning: ‘Great Friend of Tiv people’. The honour was well deserved because during Nyame’s administration, a Tiv man was posted to Government House as Permanent Secretary. He served and was retained by Nyame’s successor, Danbaba Suntai. Nyame also appointed many Tiv as advisers, and embraced Tiv persons as his personal allies. But Ishaku, it is believed, has done much more than that. He had rescued Tiv from killer-herdsmen and returned them to their hitherto destroyed homes. He appointed them as commissioners, advisers and senior special assistants. He employed 400 of them as teachers, out of 3,000 chances for the entire state. He has brokered peace between Tiv and his Jukun kinsmen, and is looking forward to resolving the aged-long conflict to ensure there is lasting peace. He has been disturbed by the crisis so much that he did not celebrate his birthday on Tuesday, July 30, when he clocked 65 years. “How can I celebrate when there is bloodletting of people in my state?,” he had asked when one of his aides approached him with a memo proposing to organise the event big. He is married to a Tiv woman. This is why observers believe that the governor deserves a Tiv chieftaincy title to ‘compensate’ for his role in rallying to end the Tiv- Jukun war. And it is hoped that the attempt at achieving ceasefire stands the test of time.