Sylvanus Viashima, Jalingo
Six months down, the communal crisis bedevilling Jukun and Tiv in the Southern part of Taraba State has remained largely unabated. It has continued, leaving behind a long trail of blood on the paths of both communities.
From Wukari to Takum and Donga, the conflict’s sharp knives and daring guns have killed many, injured others, shattered hopes and destroyed properties. It is still defiling several initiatives by stakeholders including religious bodies and government actors to restore peace and bring healing to the communities.
But how did the people find themselves in this unending cycle of crisis? Senator Emmanuel Bwacha said the crisis is a product of the wider insecurity rocking the country. He added that some failed politicians hijacked the situation to make themselves ethnically relevant:
“The crisis in Southern Taraba is a product of insecurity we are facing all over the country. One of the security challenges in the country is kidnapping. It is those kidnappers that have created the problem in that part of the state that is affecting everybody.
“And then some failed politicians have taken advantage of the situation. They have turned it into an ethnic crisis so that they can be seen as leaders in their own ethnic groups and they are known. If the two state governments (Taraba and Benue) mean business, they can end the problem. If they are not serious, that is how the problem will continue.”
For Mr Goodman Dahida, President General, Tiv Cultural Association, Taraba State, the crisis is nothing but a desperate drive by the Jukun to eliminate the Tiv man from Taraba at all cost:
“I am afraid the Jukun are the only people who will tell you the cause of this crisis. They started the fight with the senseless attacks and killing of our people in their perpetual desperate drive to make sure that they annihilate the Tiv in the state.
“When people insinuate that this crisis is politically motivated, I find it funny. Despite the fact that Tiv people are by far more than the Jukun in the state, we have always thrown our numerical weight behind them. We vote them for all the political positions you can think of. In the last elections for instance, a Tiv man contested the governorship against a Jukun and he didn’t get even a 10th of the Tiv votes because our people voted for the current governor who is a Jukun.”
Also, Mr Emmanuel Umar who is a Jukun youth leader from Takum is of the opinion that the crisis is in its entirety unnecessary: “As a young person with hope for the future, I feel very frustrated that the two brothers are involved in fiscuff that is absolutely unnecessary.
“Together, we have the Benue valley to protect from intruders who are bent on taking over this rich valley. So it only makes sense if we put our house together, Jukun and Tiv, and work towards our common interests. The land can sufficiently support us all. So, why are we fighting?
“What most people probably don’t even know is that Tiv and Jukun men will always drink Burukutu together. We will go to the same markets. We will continue to inter-marry and do business together. And most importantly, our young people will continue to be friends, go to the same schools and plan their lives together. So, it is actually meaningless that we are fighting each other.”
One thing that stands clear is that the fight is not about land ownership and control as much as it is about status. While most Jukun people believe that Tiv are settlers, Tiv have refused to accept the status of settlers.
For Mr Albert Ulegah, the question of who is an indigene or settler does not even arise here at all: “Taraba State was created out of the then Gongola and Benue Plateau states. At the time the state was created, Tiv people were already staying in those areas. So they are an integral part of the state. The problem now is that some people feel the lands are tribal lands and as such, it is a taboo for non-tribal people to co-exist in the land.
“Unfortunately, when states were being created, no one was thinking about Jukun or Tiv or any other tribe. It was just for administrative convenience. That is why I believe that, today, if the Jukun understand that Taraba State is not a composition of tribes but an area comprising of various groups that are delineated for administrative convenience, all these rubbish will stop.
“It is actually unfair to tell someone whose ancestors have been in this place and are buried here that he is a settler. Most of us that are Tiv from Taraba State have no other home elsewhere. We have no root to Benue. This is our home and that is it. So it is just so unfair when you begin to deny us full rights as indigenes and treat us like second class citizens.”
However, Mr Yakubu Saleh a Jukun elder in Wukari said that the Jukun were settled in the area long before the Tiv: “The Tiv came to our land and we welcomed them and gave them our land to farm. We gave them our daughters in marriage and lived with them peacefully. Now they want to rule over us. They want to take over our land and make us their slaves. Is it fair? Is that how to repay the Jukun generosity?
“We all know that the Tiv people are from Benue State. Now they want take over Taraba State. They want to take over Nassarawa they want to take over Cross River. What kind of greed is that? I will advise them to trade the path of caution. We are warriors and we will fight with out lives to retain our lands and our culture. We cannot adulterate our customs and traditions just to please our ungrateful guests.”
Dahida dwelled on historical records: “If you look at history objectively, you will discover that the Tiv people had settled in that area even before the Jukun. However, they didn’t have an organised leadership. It was just a set of villages scattered all over the place used for farming.
“When the Jukun later came in after losing the fight in Kano, they came with an organised leadership structure that gave them a competitive advantage over the Tiv that were already on ground. That is why it looks as if they are the owners of that land. So how do you wake up and start telling these people that they are settlers? It makes no sense at all.”
Mr Gilbert Nwokere, a businessman has been in the Southern Taraba before the creation of the state: “Back in the days, most of the Jukun people were very lazy.
They could not really farm as much as the Tiv. So they usually rent their lands to the Tiv. In most cases, the Tiv will still pay them to work on their farms and in the end, the Tiv will have bumper harvest while the Jukun will have nothing.
“And so it became clear that the Tiv people were living better than the Jukun who were the first to settle in this place. It became a matter of your guest turning you into his slave literally. I think that is why the Jukun also decided that this must stop. The narrative must change.
“Unfortunately, the way it is being handled is all wrong. Their decision to expunge the people from the state is a wrong approach. Most of them are doing very well now. In fact, when they realised their mistakes and started to pick up, the place became a beehive of activities. As we speak, Takum and Wukari would have been the biggest and most developed areas in Taraba state, if it were not for the crisis. There was competition and businesses were coming in daily.
“If you go to Wukari today, you will still see the relics of a once pejorative town. It is the same as Takum. But the incessant fights between the Jukun and Tiv, Jukun and Hausa, Jukun and Fulani in the area have reduced the place to a shadow of itself and a far cry from the prospects it held.
“At the beginning of the current crisis in Kente village on April 1, 2019, over very trivial issues, most people thought it was only going to be a mere skirmish that won’t last. They were wrong. The war has continued and peace is far away from soon, a situation many say is most unfortunate.”
Governor Darius Ishaku feels that “the Jukun and Tiv living in the border communities have every reason to live together in peace. They are both farmers struggling to make a living mainly from the produce from their farms.
“Peace between the two groups is essential for this to be sustained for their mutual benefit. It is, therefore, crucial for residents of these communities to deliberately seek and promote peace between them.”