From Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
The timely intervention of the Benue State Government recently averted an ethnic cum religious crisis in Otukpo, the ancestral home of Idoma people. This came in the wake of a public announcement by some members of the Hausa community of their intention to install one Balla Bello Muhammad as Sardauna Otukpo. The installation is slated for February 2021.
However, the development did not go down well with the host Idoma community and majority of the people of the state. They vowed to resist the move. Abah Ona and Inalegwu Moses told Daily Sun, that, “Benue State is a Christian State. The move is nothing but a first step to Islamizing the state and Idoma land.”
National President, Idoma Heritage, Ocheyinu Ogidi, implored the Hausa community to shelve the idea. He said the only Chief known to Otukpo people, apart from the Och’Idoma, Agaba Idu Elias Ikoyi Obekpa is the Ocho’tukpo, John Eyimonye:
“We are stern on this warning. It cannot happen now or in generations to come. All Idoma sons and daughters please note and be on alert.”
In a quick response, government ordered the Sarkin Hausawan Otukpo to put off the installation. Deputy Governor, Benson Abounu, said government reached out to the leader of the Hausa community in Otukpo, Alhaji Dahir Mamuda: “And we have informed him that there is nothing like Sardauna Otukpo in the Benue State Chieftaincy Laws of 2016.”
Mamuda said he was shocked at the turn of event, apologising for the tension the installation generated: “There was no such plan by me to install a Sardauna Otukpo. I was surprised when my attention was drawn to the matter by the Deputy Governor.
He also apologized to the Och’ldoma, Elias Ikoyi Obekpa and the Otukpo Local Government Council Chairman, George Alli and all the people of Idoma land. He said had reached out to the said Bala Muhammad, directing him to halt any such plan. He promised that the Muslims in Idoma land would always live peacefully with their host community and would never cause any trouble.
Professor of History at the Benue State University (BSU), Armstrong Adejoh, told Daily Sun: “Any move within the region that has element of expansionist northern Islamic hegemony is always held in suspect no matter the good intentions that may be behind it.
“It is felt by most of our people that this could be another step towards annexing them or carving out more space within a region that has no cultural and political affinity to Islam or connected to the office of the Sardauna.
“A Sardauna as we know it to be is a very strong cultural and political office. The gathering of force around that name is of monumental importance to the Sokoto Caliphate. It is attributed to the Sokoto Caliphate. The Idoma land was never a part of the Sokoto Caliphate.
“Although, Sokoto Caliphate is only existing in name and reference to its political history, you cannot come to Idoma land and say you want to install somebody as Sardauna of Otukpo.
“By the nature of Idoma political and cultural history, there is no instrument of such type of office within our calculation. And even if it were honorary, the Och’Idoma could not have given anyone a title of the Sardauna of Otukpo because it does not exist in our cultural and political history.
“Also, recent history has made certain offices a little bit suspicious outside some of their regional areas. In recent times, the relationship between parts of the Islamic world in Nigeria and the North Central, particularly Middle Belt, has not been that rosy. Since the days of UMBC, it had been a cock and bull issue.
“If any of them accepts to become Sardauna of Sokoto, installed in Sokoto and comes to live in Otukpo, we have no problems with that. Yes, he can hold his office from wherever but not Sardauna of Otukpo. He can be a Sardauna of Keffi or a Sardauna of any other place.
“If the Och’Idoma finds it appropriate to even give an honorary traditional title to anybody, it will not bear the name Sardauna. It will be bearing an Idoma cultural name. That is when we intend to make new friend outside Idoma land.”