Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
In this interview, a First Class Traditional Ruler in Benue State, Chief Abu King Shuluwa says the Tiv people are seriously considering changing their settlement pattern as a way of finding lasting solution to the incessant attacks and killings of the people by marauding herdsmen. Shuluwa who is in charge of Sankera axis (Tor Sankera) noted that the attackers had an agenda to take over the land and occupy same. He also spoke on other salient issues affecting the state.
There is this belief in some quarters that the settlement pattern of the Tiv people makes the people vulnerable to attack by herdsmen, how can this be addressed?
If we look at Benue State, particularly, the Tiv people, we are predominantly farmers, even the civil servants, most of them are farmers too because they use these to augment their salaries. The workers have dependants back home in the village that need their attention and the only way to meet these demands is farming. A Tiv man by nature looks for where he can find fertile ground and he is eager to get the fertile ground before his brothers and quickly move in with his wife to occupy it and claim the ownership of the land. It is only in Tiv land that people fight over land whereas in far north they do not care about that. Anywhere in the north, you can easily go and be farming on the land but a Tiv man treasures his land that is why when they (Tiv) came to the Benue valley they discovered that the land is very fertile and the few tribes that were here were driven away that is why you hear Idoma and Igala claiming they were the first settlers.
Like in African setting, an average Tiv man in those days is polygamous. So, in such situation you see the wives getting portions of land for their children. So, in essence, what I am saying is that the struggle for fertile ground caused the scattered settlement you find in Tiv land.
A Tiv man does not mind going as far as to Otukpo where there is fertile ground and occupy, making sure that no one occupies it. He doesn’t mind migrating from one part of Tiv land to another to get fertile land and the reason for this is the type of farming we engage in which requires fertile land like yam, soya bean and all sorts of crops. All these were the reasons for Tiv settlement pattern.
Now, the question is what are we doing to change the pattern of settlement especially in the face of security challenge?
All traditional rulers are now preaching what we call ‘Sortema’ which literally means ‘arrange yourself or sit well.’ We are saying that this scattered settlement pattern is no longer good but let us come and live together and they can now be going to their farms from the big villages. But there is also danger in this, because by the time we have the cluster settlement, there is always an empty land and when the Fulani see that the fertile land is empty, they will want to go in. The Tiv land is very good which do attract the Fulani and what attracted Fulani to Tiv land is the grass and water and Fulani always look for areas where these are available. And they value their cows more than their wives, since they are nomads. For instance, when their wives are pregnant a times they go leaving behind their wives and only leave traces of how they can be located when they give birth.
Fulani were not attacking us in the past. When they come, they go to the chiefs and the chiefs will call the elders of the village and inform them. Fulani come during the dry season and leave as raining season sets in because they do not like muddy area. And when they come and sought for where they could graze, chiefs would show them where they can settle and those days there was no problem because anytime their cows stray to people’s farm, such farmer will report to the chief and the chief would thereafter report to their leader and they would pay and vice versa and there was peace.
But what has come this time is a surprise to everyone and they have taken us unaware. The question is why are the Fulani killing the people, the normal Fulani we knew before will never kill people. The Fulani that come now are different from the old ones. These ones come here for conquest not for grazing. They are here to conquer and settle. In Tiv land, there is no Fulani settlement they only come and go, in Taraba they have settlement and what they want to do now is to annex part of the state for settlement but with the population now, a Tiv man will not allow that. By now everyone in Nigeria should know that the Fulani have an agenda and the agenda is to conquer and not to graze.
They started the new plan of conquest in Tiv land in 2004 when they requested that they should be allowed to have Ardo in Tiv land and should also be allowed to sit in the Tiv Traditional Council. It was then they also started asking for land to build mosques in Tiv land but were resisted because we knew it was another tactical ways of re launching the 1804 Jihad which we stopped in Tiv land here.
Aside from Fulani incursions into Benue, there is also this nagging issue of communal clashes which are rampart in Tiv land. The recent one was in Konshisha where three village heads were suspended. What is the solution to this?
It is true and this is the first time government will be taking such decision. If government continue like that, it will help, sometimes they are part of it and sometimes they are not. If a traditional ruler is found in such an act, he should be suspended. To me, if a traditional ruler has gone to settle land dispute anywhere, he should be fair and do the right thing. He should not be biased because being biased anger the subjects. Though there are some cases where a chief goes to settle land dispute and one of the parties involved wants to prove stubborn. If that happens, what the traditional ruler should do is to report such person or persons to security agencies for trying to cause trouble.
Could the attack on Mbalom where two Catholic priests and some parishioners were killed be linked to communal clash since it was alleged that no herdsman has been cited in the area since 2004?
Let us look at it from this angle, the question you should ask is whether the attackers moved to Mbalon with cows, the answer is no they did not but only came there to attack. That is what I have been emphasising; that those attacking us do not move with cows. In most cases when coming, they come in a bus or on Bajaj motorcycles. If you have been noticing the turn of event in Makurdi, most of those Bajaj motorcycle do not have plate numbers and you would also discover that the owners of these Bajaj are not Tiv people. So, what they do is that they study the environment and wait for the appropriate time to attack. They have informants who tell them what the situation is like. So, the question you should ask is why do they attack in the night or wee hours of the day. All their attacks have been to get the people unaware, which have been the same method of attack on Tiv land. So, people are just trying to change the narrative that indigenes of the area connived with Fulani to attack Mbalom. It is not so.
Since you earlier said that the attack on the state is always during the dry season when the herdsmen come to the state, are we sure we will not have a repeat of the attack in the next dry season?
Fulani man doesn’t forget, they will still come back but that time we will be ready for them. We have been here for hundreds of years and nobody will drive us from this land. Nobody, I repeat, nobody will chase us from here, it will be better we all perish and no Tiv man remain on Benue valley. So, let us see how you want to drive an ethnic group with a population of over six million from their ancestral home. What they are doing is to see how they can conquer the Tiv and have access to extend their agenda to the eastern part of the country. So, if the rest of Nigeria thinks that this fight is against the Tiv nation, then I am sorry to say they are mistaken. Let us assume that Tiv allow them to settle here, their next move is how to attack the eastern part of the country, straight they will go to Ebonyi, Cross River and others. I have been saying this and I repeat again that it is their (Fulani) agenda, to harness those areas they consider are being occupied by infidels and could not conquer in the past.
Some youths are said to be lured with money to give information to these elements. What are the punitive measures to be meted out on anyone found in the act?
There is an angle to this issue you raised, you know that politicians use the youths to win elections in the name of thugs. These politicians empower these youths with weapons which they don’t recover after the elections. It is with these weapons that these thugs go and rob people. These youths are now taking control of the rural areas and are engaged in atrocities. Robbery and other vices have been taken to the rural communities and whenever a traditional ruler raises this issue they become the target of attack. Whereas the politician that armed them is no longer within their reach, they are in Abuja, so they now vent their anger on innocent people in the community.
Your domain, which is Sankera axis, has become notorious for lawlessness and police said that there is conspiracy of silence by the leaders and people who have made it extremely difficult to get these terrorists perpetrating the act arrested. How true?
But the real problem is with the police. You give them information, they leak the information to the criminals and the source of the information and the following day the person is being killed. Are you aware of the people that have been killed in that axis? In fact, more than seven traditional rulers have been killed in my domain because they stood against criminality. People who have information will not give to police again because the same police will leak such information and the informant gets killed. That is why the police can now complain about conspiracy of silence in my area.