Gyang Bere, Jos
For the Berom people of Plateau State, it was an exciting time recently, as they celebrated the 2019 Nzem Berom Cultural Festival.
The event is usually celebrated to appreciate God for the gift of life, knowledge, wealth and prosperity. It also affords the curious, adventurous, leisure-loving tourist the opportunity to experience the scenic beauty and culture of Berom nation located in the heart of Plateau State.
The event usually features several activities, including royal processions, exhibitions, competitions in traditional food processing, hunting expeditions, Berom dances, drama, contemporary and traditional concerts, a beauty pageant, Berom kitchen, prayer and laying of wreaths at monuments, visits to major tourist sites as well as cultural performances by other ethnic groups within and outside the state.
The festival, which was suspended some years back due to insecurity and killings in the land by herdsmen, was resuscitated in 2016 to chart a new course for the unity of the Berom nation and to address issues affecting the development and progress of the people.
At the last event, various cultural dances of the Berom and those of other ethnic groups within and outside the state were showcased.
Notable among the cultural performances was the Tarok cultural dancers, led by the immediate past Minister of Youth and Sports, Mr. Solomon Dalung, who was attired in shorts.
The festival was also a period of sober reflection on the multiple tragedies that befell several Berom communities in Plateau North. Conflicts between herdsmen and farmers had left behind a long list of the dead, widows, orphans and many homeless people.
The event began with a royal procession from the Gbong Gwom’s Palace to the Rwang Pam Township Stadium in Jos, venue of the cultural festival. The Berom warriors who are traditionally saddled with the responsibility of protecting the land from external aggression, danced and performed to the delight of guests.
The Gbong Gwom Jos, Da Jacob Gyang Buba, declared peace upon the land and called on God Almighty to bless the land with Hwei (children), Cun (food) and Nyamo (animals) for fur to cover their nakedness.
The monarch then recalled the sad incident during which over 230 children, women and the aged in Gashish District of Barkin-Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau State perished in June 2018.
The unfortunate incident left several families homeless, with some still languishing at internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps. Some are still taking refuge with relations and other families in the Jos-Bukuru axis.
The Plateau State government, in collaboration with the Operation Safe Haven (OPSH), had relocated some of the IDPs to their ancestral homes in December 2018.
Da Buba expressed dissatisfaction with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), saying the agency did not provide succour to the victims as expected. He appealed to the Federal Government to redirect the agency to do the needful in Plateau.
He alleged that government had neglected the plea made by the people for the establishment of mobile police barracks in Gashish District to curtail the killings and insecurity in the villages of Barkin-Ladi, Riyom and neighbouring communities.
He regretted that the request for the mobile police barracks, which was made by stakeholders at Government House, Jos, and approved by President Muhammadu Buhari and the then Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, was yet to see the light of day.
He recalled that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who visited the state during the protracted crisis, advised that people should not go back to the destroyed villages until security was beefed up, and that President Buhari visited the state two days later and re-echoed the words of the Vice President with a promise that the barracks would soon be established.
“Since the approval of the mobile police barracks in Gashish by the President and the then IGP, the stakeholders have tried and secured 42 rooms from NESCO for the speedy take-off of the barracks. But nothing has happened up till now. No single police officer is found in the area.”
In his comments, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, said no ethnic nationality could be wiped out despite the insecurity that has claimed many lives in rural villages in the country.
He challenged leaders across board to be alive to their constitutional responsibility of protecting life and property, noting that any society that was overcome by violence was bound to lose its cultural heritage.
“Violence has been disturbing this nation and I believe it is not above us. The Berom nation has had its own share of this unfortunate tragedy that has befallen our nation.
“I have said it severally that we can’t afford to lose the fight against violence that has bedevilled us as a nation. It has never happened, it won’t happen and it will never happen. Any nation that has lost the fight against violence will not be stabilised.
“Looking at the North East, there are communities where you can’t find anything. Police stations are burnt and homes have been destroyed. For how long is it going to take us before we can get to the position that we want?
“If we have decided that we must win this fight against violence, it will be because some of us have decided that we will work across board in order to be peace-builders for our people to live in peace.
“I have discovered that most of us dwell on errors, which has prolonged this violence. For instance, there is an error that an ethnic group can be wiped out. I know that it is absolutely impossible to talk about wiping out an ethnic group. It will never happen. Except the God that created the people says he is going to wipe them out, nobody will be able to achieve that.”
The Gbong Gwom Jos used the occasion to react to a circular that emanated from the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, which created two additional traditional councils out of the Jos Traditional Council.
From the circular, there were rumours that the Gbong Gwom had ceased to be addressed as Gbong Gwom Jos but would be known henceforth as Gbong Gwom Berom. It was a development that did not go down well with the Berom nation.
Da Buba, who is the chairman of Plateau State Council of Chiefs, opined that the state governor did not have the authority to redefine traditional boundaries that have been in existence for decades.
“I am not aware of any authority by a governor to redefine traditional boundaries. Government cannot redefine boundaries where there is no problem,” he noted.
The creation of the two traditional councils in Jos North and Riyom LGAs would effectively whittle down the powers of the paramount ruler, who superintendents over traditional rulers in four local government areas that make up the Joint Traditional Council.
With the development, the Gbong Gwom is left with only two local government areas, Jos South and Barkin-Ladi, which demoralised most Berom people during the Nzem Berom.
The circular revealed that the Attah Aten of Ganawuri would preside over the Riyom Traditional Council, while the chiefs of Anaguta and Afizere would be in charge of the two traditional stools in Jos North.
Da Buba said: “There has been government pronouncements and actions to do with the traditional institution even when there was no problem. We have no problem with our neighbours and we have been in peace with one another.
“The traditional boundaries existed even before the existence of Nigeria as a country and every tribe on the Plateau has a defined territory. We want to appeal to politicians to respect these territories.”
The monarch further explained that the country had a Land Use Act with the customary rights of land ownership embedded in it.
“All over Nigeria, land belongs to communities, families and individuals. We want to appeal that government must not take actions that will bring security challenges to Plateau.
“Yesterday night, I had to appeal to the Berom nation and its vibrant youths to please calm down. I told them that as sensitive as the issue is perceived, it has not gone beyond the Berom traditional institution, the elders and the Berom organisations.
“We will sit with government and educate government about what it is; we hope we will have the listening ear of the governor to make amends where they have made errors. There is no human being that is perfect; we all make mistakes.
“We appeal to the Berom nation to please calm down. We will follow due process and we are absolutely sure that God will not forsake us. “All the judicial commissions of inquiry agreed with the position that Jos belongs to the Afizere, Anaguta and the Berom.
“I wrote a letter last year reminding the governor of this and requesting him to allow traditional rulers of these tribes to sit with the state boundary commission to determine everybody’s boundary,” he submitted.
Mr. Jafaru Wuyep, Commissioner for Water Resources and Energy, who represented Lalong at the event, promised to convey the message to the state governor.
Wuyep acknowledged that the cultural festival has been a unifying force, promoting peaceful coexistence. He said it was an avenue to project Berom cultural identity, attract tourists and promote socio-economic activities.
The festival, which also featured exhibitions of Berom technology, gave posthumous award to two Berom personalities that had distinguished themselves and contributed to the development of the people.
The awardees were the late Da Barnabas Dusu, who received a posthumous award for being instrumental to the translation of the Holy Bible into Berom language, and Mrs. Marie Nyam, reputed to be a major contributor to the educational development of many sons and daughters of the Berom nation.