The saying that uneasy lies the head that wears the crown certainly rings true for Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku of Taraba State. Since he came into office, he has been battling with the issues of insecurity and conflicts between the Tiv and Jukun communities in his state.
Determined to enthrone robust peace in Taraba State, last week, Ishaku inaugurated a commission of inquiry to examine all issues underlying the crises between Tiv and their neighbouring communities in the state and other related matters.
The commission was given the following terms of reference: “To examine the remote and immediate causes of the crises between the Tiv and people living in communities of Wukari, Takum, Donga, Ibi, Ussa, Gassol and Bali local government areas or any other part of or in other locations within Taraba State from 1991 to date;
“To examine and identify cases of banditry, kidnapping and other vices related to or arising from within the border communities and their relationship with the crises, if any;
“To identify basic issues and causes of prolonged and perennial crises between these communities and advice on the strategies for securing lasting peace;
“To identify individuals or groups that might have contributed or instigated the crises and recommend appropriate sanctions where necessary;
“Identify the communities affected and the impact of damage caused including lives and property lost;
“To examine the roles state and local governments and other institutions and or extant instruments or policy placed to abate or facilitate the crises and recommend appropriate measures to be taken by government to forestall future occurrence of the disturbances;
“To assess the efficacy of the existing security arrangements in communities within Taraba State and advice on improvement where necessary;
“To examine any other issue(s), which may secure lasting peace between the Tiv communities and their neighbours, and to recommend ways of effective reconciliation;
“To make any other or further recommendations that will effectively stem the crises in Taraba State.”
The composition of the commission of inquiry are as follows: Justice Kumai Bayang Aka’ahs (retd), Chairman; Justice Emmanuel Garba, member; Justice Ambrose D. Mammadi (retd), member; Barr. Danjuma D. Rindam, member; Prof. Rotgak I. Gofwen, member; Prof. Istifanus Zabadi, member; and Hamidu Audu, secretary.
While Emeka Okoro serves as the commission’s counsel, it has three months (90 days) from the date of inauguration to submit its report.
To be sure, this is not the first time that Ishaku had demonstrated his desire to end the crises so that development in the area could be sustained. Even when the desired result was not the case, he remained resolute, knowing that achieving peace is a continuous journey.
Indeed, the Tiv/Jukun crises are deep-rooted. Over the years, the conflicts had raged, claiming hundreds of lives.
A source said: “Over 600 persons have reportedly been killed, with several others injured and property worth millions of naira destroyed in the past few months as a result of the Tiv/Jukun conflict in Wukari local government in particular. Apart from the deaths recorded, several people were injured, while houses, farmlands, markets and vehicles valued at millions of naira were either razed or vandalised.
“The renewed conflict between Tiv and Jukun began last year in Kente village in Wukari LGA over a minor disagreement arising from sale of yams in a market bordering Taraba and Benue states. Among the buildings set ablaze during the recent conflict was Government Day Secondary School, Kente.”
The situation is, indeed, pathetic. Some communities in Taraba are deserted, desolate and forsaken. It is such that President Muhammadu Buhari ranked the Tiv/Jukun conflict as among “Nigeria’s most persistent and intractable security problems.”
After a Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. David Tanko, was killed and roasted in August 2019, at Kpankufu village, along Wukari road, as he went for a peace meeting of clergymen to discuss the crises between the Tiv and Jukun, President Buhari asked Ishaku and his Benue State counterpart, Samuel Ortom, as well as religious and traditional leaders to intervene.
According to Buhari, the killing of the clergyman “highlights the urgency of addressing this embarrassing and persistent conflict.” He urged Ishaku and Ortom to task “specifically the Tor Tiv and the Aku Uka of Wukari, religious and community leaders in the two states” to convene meetings to find solutions to the conflict.
Warning that the Federal Government could no longer afford to watch the two ethnic groups continue with the mindless killings, Buhari said: “I have watched with trepidation and disbelief how hate and bigotry have inhabited the human soul, resulting in brothers killing brothers.
“On behalf of the Federal Government and the entire people of the country, I offer my condolences to the Catholic community, the government and people of Taraba over the losses arising from recent incidents involving the warring communities.
“The persistent deaths and destruction and the seeming desire by the warring sides to push each other to extinction is embarrassing, and this is against the essence of our ethnic and religious diversity in the country.
“Progress is impossible where violence and destruction are allowed to dominate our daily lives.”
In a statement signed by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Alhaji Garba Shehu, the President further said: “The deployment of security men can only provide a temporary solution.
“The long-term and lasting solution to this deep-seated antagonistic relationship between the warring factions depends on the willingness of those involved to listen to reason and give peace a chance.
“It is time for leaders of the ethnic groups to come together and draw up a road map for lasting peace. The impact of this persistent violence on the social and economic life of the people is incalculable.”
The search for peace between the Tiv and the Jukun took another dimension in April this year, when Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa State hosted a mediation meeting with deputy governors of Taraba and Benue states in Lafia, capital of the state.
Apart from Governor Sule and his deputy, Emmanuel Akabe, the deputy governor of Benue State, Benson Abonu, and his Taraba State counterpart, Haruna Manu, others present were secretaries of the governments of the two states, lawmakers at the federal and state levels, commissioners, traditional rulers and youth leaders, among others.
Governor Sule expressed delight with the governments of Taraba and Benue states for choosing Nasarawa State to host the meeting. Maintaining that the importance of the meeting could not be overemphasised, Sule remarked: “Our children would require from us to know the roles we have played as individuals in Government House to ensure peace in our respective states.”
At the end of the parley, a communique signed by Akabe, Abonu and Manu strongly condemned the wanton destruction of life and property and agreed on nine points.
Among other things, the participants agreed that hostilities should be stopped forthwith to facilitate the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their communities. In addition, the participants were in agreement that all IDPs from the two states be allowed to return to their homes immediately under the supervision of security agencies.
It was also agreed that the governors of Benue and Taraba states should meet with royal fathers of the affected communities and sensitise them on the need to eschew violence and embrace peace.
They further agreed that the Nasarawa State governor should facilitate another meeting within one month to review the compliance level.
It was also agreed that the two states should expose and apprehend militia groups and hand them over to the security agencies for necessary action as well as to ensure deployment of security to the affected communities.
The communiqué also charged the governors of Benue and Taraba states to provide palliatives to the IDPs to cushion the effects of the conflict.
Investigation indicates that propaganda and counter-accusations are some of the reasons that make the crises fester.
For instance, even while the peace meeting was ongoing in Nasarawa, some questioned the composition of the participants even as allegation of manipulation was made.
According to Sam Adamu, “propaganda has, unfortunately, taken the centre stage in the ongoing crises between the Tiv and Jukun in Taraba State and has thus rendered the major casualty. A lot of truths that would have helped the quick resolution of the crises are buried under the fiery propaganda machinery of the Tiv Cultural and Social Association (TCSA) and its several affiliates. This has gravely hindered public understanding the issues involved and the efforts being made by government, especially the Taraba State government and other stakeholders to ensure quick resolution of the crises.”
He alleged that even when the Tiv militia forces are the aggressors, they turn around to accuse the Jukun of attacking them, and shedding crocodile tears thereafter to deceive the public.
Adamu added: “The next thing they do is to pick on Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku, whom they always falsely accuse of sponsoring genocide against the Tiv in Taraba. That has been their style and I believe that if this impression that the TCSA members always deliberately create about the crises and Ishaku’s role is not quickly corrected, a lot of people may go away with the wrong notion.”
But the president-general of TCSA, Goodman Dahida, criticised the Ishaku administration’s stand on the conflict.
In a statement, he said: “The unnecessary delay by Taraba State government in implementing the joint 30-man Jukun/Tiv peace committee harmonised report, which was submitted since December 2019, speaks volumes.
“It is now obvious that the Taraba State government is not willing to solve the Jukun/Tiv crisis, which the government has constantly maintained that it is the internal affairs of the state and the state has the capacity to solve.”
However, the Special Assistant to Ishaku on Media and Publicity, Bala Dan Abu, maintained that it was unfair for anyone to accuse the government of not being committed to resolving the crisis.
He said: “Recently, a meeting was convened in Nasarawa State all to see that this crisis ends. And before this, one was done in Abuja, coupled with numerous ones that had happened in the state.
“And if you observe, the only crisis that has lingered for long is this one, which government is still working to ensure it ends. Those making this allegation against the government are the ones fueling this crisis and we urge them to tell their people to stop attacking the other tribe.
“Our mantra since 2015 is anchored on peace, and peace is all we want.”
Is there hope for Ishaku’s latest commission of inquiry to deliver peace to the troubled state? Time will tell.