Last week, Mr. Gabriel Suswam, the governor of Benue state, approached President Goodluck Jonathan for military assistance to repel the itinerant Fulani pastoralists who have virtually overrun the whole of Tiv land and other parts of the state. This is a very historic move. Since the Tiv people migrated to the Benue plains, it is the first time they will seek external help to deal with ‘invaders’. The Tiv had always held out, alone.
Before colonial conquest, they held out against the Jukun whose Kwararafa kingdom conquered Zaria, overran Kano and were on their way to capture Katsina before they lost the impetus. Again, the Tiv are one of the few ethnic nationalities- up north- that the Othman dan Fodio Jihad of 1804 did not subdue.
Colonial subjugation eventually came not by conquest but by persuasion. The declaration of amalgamation in 1914 to establish what is today Nigeria had no meaning to the Tiv people who successfully fought and scared away the men whom they said looked like spirits. Tiv society remained self-governing even as Lugard held his amalgamation ceremony in 1914. If the Tiv could hold their own when they came under the superior fire power of Kwararafa, the Sokoto Caliphate and Great Britain, how could they suddenly cave in when challenged by roving cattlemen?
Some of us saw today’s humiliation coming. On several occasions, I have called attention on these pages to the wrong headed policy of the government of Benue state in tackling the Tiv Fulani clashes. Unfortunately, the response of those behind these misguided policies has been to sponsor attacks on my person and discredit my arguments. One respondent to my article on this subject two years ago ordered me to shut up, saying that I was not a Tiv man and that I have no right to comment on Tiv matters. The man wrote anonymously but it was obvious from his tone that he was a great admirer and defender of Tor Tiv, Akawe Torkula. He even advised me to trace my genealogy to whichever ethnic group I come from because the name Yawe is not a Tiv name!
Early this year, I was concerned with the endless clashes and wrote yet another article asking when they would end. This time, I attracted the attention of one Attah Pine. I have since found out that the man has a PhD and has put his knowledge and brains at the disposal of Suswam who uses him as a hack. He hailed all the steps taken by the Suswam administration to end the clashes and concluded that I wrote out of ignorance.
Ever since he published his beautiful defense of the records of the state government on the issue, I have been waiting to see the goody goodies. None has come. On the other hand, the crisis has worsened. When you drive from Lafia in Nassarawa state to Makurdi in Benue, all you see are Tiv refugees on the run from Fulani herdsmen. They are mostly from the Iharev clan of the Tiv tribe – the same clan as Tor Tiv Torkula. In fact, the Tor Tiv’s Local Government Area, Guma, has virtually been overrun by the Fulanis. Finally, his country home was set ablaze last week.
This ugly situation is replicated in Logo Local Government Area where Governor Suswam hails from. The Fulanis have laid siege to the place. The Tiv populace in Logo is in disarray, humbled, humiliated. Makurdi, the state capital, has not fared any better. Last week, the Fulanis attacked a mobile police station in Makurdi with superior fire power and there was great pandemonium in the town. Tiv people were running helter skelter.
The move to get federal help to repel the Fulani attackers is quite understandable. With the Tor Tiv’s house in flames and the cattlemen about taking over the capital, the drumbeats must change the beat. When the ‘slaves’ were being roasted, nobody cared. Now, the heat is on the king and the prince….
Governor Suswam has been given a contingent of 5000 policemen by President Jonathan to restore order in Benue. I hope they do. I wish the governor and his troops good luck. In any case, what happened to the Tiv- Fulani forum where the Tor Tiv and Sultan of Sokoto were co-chairmen?
I am again moving into dangerous territory. The great defender of the Tor Tiv, (that experienced daft) – the coward who could not even reveal his identity – ordered me to stop commenting on the Tor Tiv because I am not a Tiv man. This will be my last comment on the Tiv-Fulani conflict.
But there is a fundamental problem which goes beyond the now frequent, now violent squabbles between the Tiv and the Fulanis. We have to look at the way the Tiv society is being governed today. Gone are the days when elders were respected in Tiv land. Gone are the days the chiefs and the Tor Tiv were held in awe in Tiv land. These people are preoccupied with a mesh of pottage; violent young men have seized the stage.
In 2011, the Tor Tiv, Akawe Torkula, performed the naked dance. He swore by swem (the dreaded Tiv juju) in public, affirming that George Akume would not win elections again in Tiv land. Well, Akume won with a landslide and his opponent lost his deposit.
I am not sure the Tor Tiv has ever sat back to reflect on the consequences of his reckless plunging into partisan politics. His action is at variance with the spirit and letter of the 1999 Constitution. It even contradicts his conviction as stated in his book ‘The Culture of Partisan Politics in Nigeria’, published in 2007. There he wrote; “the traditional ruler who is expected to function as and provide the traditional fatherhood to all his subjects regardless of religious, ethnic and political leanings is much better at home with his subjects if he maintains transparent neutrality in his reign over his kingdom.”
By pulling off his majestic traditional gown and donning the shabby petticoat of partisan politics, Tor Tiv Akawe Torkula has done incalculable harm to the Tiv cosmic world. How could swem defy the wishes of the supreme commander of all Tiv juju, the Tor Tiv? Now that every Tiv man – even small children – knows that the Tor Tiv’s swem is an impotent toy, what other spiritual tool does the traditional institution in Tiv land have to whip renegade Tiv men and women into line?
Today, anarchy is looming all over Tiv land. Thugs are being supplied with abundant arms; not to attack the Fulanis, the Kutebs or the Jukuns. Tiv politicians are arming young unemployed Tiv boys to kill other Tiv men. The Tor Tiv who is expected to be a father to all has joined the fight, not as a referee but as a combatant. It has started even before 2015 is here. I should like to go no further on this.