Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
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Military President Ibrahim Babangida made history in many ways. One of them is that he remains the only Head of Government in Nigeria who created states on two different occasions during his reign.
Round one: he created Katsina and Akwa Ibom in 1987. Round two in 1991 saw the creation of more states – Osun, Kogi, Enugu, Delta, Abia, Jigawa, Kebbi, Yobe. Our immediate concern here is that he disemboweled the jaw breaking state by name Gongola and brought out Taraba and Adamawa.
While Adamawa has remained relatively peaceful since creation – except for the Boko Haram insurgency – Taraba has seen a cauldron of ethnic/religious wars since creation.
Immediately on creation, Taraba broke into a series of serious ethnic conflicts, pitching the Tiv, the Jukun, the Fulani, the Kutebs against each other at different times. These wars raged up to the return of democracy in 1999. Takum, the hometown of Nigeria’s famous general, TY Danjuma was completely burnt down; it only stopped burning when those who set it ablaze discovered that there was nothing more to burn.
On the return of democracy in 1999 and with a prominent ‘shon of the shoil’, General TY Danjuma as Defense Minister, the tribal warriors observed a brief truce. Soon, they again returned to the trenches. The resumed hostilities spilled over to Benue and culminated in the infamous military invasion of Zaki Biam with its tragic human waste and international dent on Nigeria’s image in 2001. At the time of that carnage, the Reverend Jolly Nyame was Governor of Taraba.
By the time Jolly Nyame’s second term expired in 2007, Taraba was still smarting under an impending ethnic and religious catastrophe. Then came Danbaba Danfulani Suntai as Governor. I had a fairly good knowledge of him. A trained pharmacist, he returned from his NYSC stint when I was a senior operative of the Military Governor’s office in Yola, Gongola State. He opened a pharmacy shop in Bali but soon abandoned it and took a plunge in the more rewarding enterprise of politics. He soon took charge of Bali Local Government either by election or appointment. We used to call those appointed Local Government Sole Administrators “Kantoma,” in Hausa.
His emergence as the PDP gubernatorial candidate for Taraba in the 2007 election was a product of contradictions and controversies because he was not even an aspirant at the party primaries. Rev Jolly Nyame simply handpicked him and when Obasanjo endorsed his name, he coasted to victory. Those were the days Obasanjo was the law in Nigeria.
I became more closely involved with Danbaba when his godfather, Jolly Nyame and other ex-governors were herded to Kuje prison immediately their tenure and immunity expired in 2007. Somehow, I linked up with Nyame and became the link between him and his successor, Danbaba. Eventually Nyame was released on bail.
Then the unexpected happened. A violent political disagreement erupted between godfather and godson with Danbaba the godson and the man in power threatening to crush and destroy whoever had sympathies for Jolly Nyame. I chickened out to give the men of power enough space to flex their muscles. One thing was clear to me at that point: Danbaba was a very temperamental man.
Still, I dare say that Danbaba Suntai remains the best governor Taraba has ever seen. I followed events in Taraba since his assumption of office until his ill-advised decision to fly a Cessna jet which he was not qualified to pilot. Not only did he crash the jet near the Yola airport, he plunged the state into near anarchy and never recovered from the injuries he sustained until he died in 2017.
The beautiful side of Danbaba Suntai was that he had the answer to the antics of the ethnic bigots who caused so much bloodshed in Taraba since its creation in 1991. With his firm grip on the security situation in Tarba from 2007 to the time of his crash in 2012, there was no drop of blood in Taraba in the name of ethnic or religious war.
Things changed immediately he was incapacitated as a result of the air crash. Wukari erupted in violence, not once but twice. The clashes between herdsmen and sedentary farmers followed. It was back to the state of blood for which Taraba gained fame.
By 2015 when Dickson Darius Ishaku was elected, Taraba was already singing her old song of ‘blood and fire.’ Worse still, the man came to office without a single idea of his role as the “Chief Security Officer” of the state. Often he is found yelling at public meetings that since he neither controls the police, the State Security Services and the Army, he is incapacitated and residents of the state should not expect him to take care of their security. He is a relentless advocate of state police.
I can now see the wisdom of not having state police in a country like Nigeria. State police in the hands of a bigoted Governor like Ishaku will herald the end of Nigeria. I am persuaded that Ishaku will not hesitate to use his Taraba state police to wage a ferocious war against the Tiv, Fulani and Muslims of Taraba.
For sure, all security agencies are constitutionally controlled by the Federal Government. Yet it was under the same constitutional arrangement that Danbaba Suntai ensured security for all in Taraba state. The fact is that while Danbaba came to office with a broad mind and a political will to secure the people of Taraba, Ishaku’s idea of security is too ethnocentric, narrow and limited for a cosmopolitan state like Taraba.
It is therefore no surprise that the Tiv Jukun crises that plagued the state for decades and was brought under control by Danbaba exploded again when he came into office. With all the economic and social problems facing Taraba as one of the poorest states in Nigeria, the man decided that his number one priority as governor was towns and villages with Tiv names. With a stroke of his gubernatorial pen, he renamed all towns and villages bearing Tiv names with select names from his ethnic group -Jukun.
He did not stop there. When he decided to create chiefdoms in the state, he did not find any Tiv man worthy enough to be made a village and or district head, the heavy Tiv indigenous population in Taraba regardless. The signal was thus given to his fellow Jukun ethnic jingoist that he did not recognize the Tiv as indigenes of the state. By his utterances and actions he prepared the ground for a small spark like the one that took place in Kente on 1st April 2019 to blow into the full scale ethnic war that is raging between the Tiv and Jukun in Taraba today.
He recently constituted a ‘peace committee’ to investigate and find a solution to the Tiv Jukun crisis. Amazingly, there is no Tiv man on that panel. We are waiting to see how he will clap with one hand.
I spent last week in Taraba and almost everybody I spoke to was of the opinion that Darius Ishaku is profoundly incompetent and lacks the capacity to handle the current security mess in Taraba. The Tiv are tired of the war and so are the Jukun. Indeed the whole of Taraba is missing the good old peaceful days of Danbaba Suntai.