The Endless Tiv-Jukun Tribal War

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It is in the national interest that concrete measures are taken to address this grave challenge

The violent disputations between the Tiv and Jukun peoples in Taraba State have continued to highlight the precarious security profile of our country. Considered to be among the most vicious crisis since the civil war, all attempts to resolve whatever the problems are seemed to have failed. In the process, thousands of lives have been wasted with several communities destroyed. If peace must return to the area, more concerted actions involving critical stakeholders are long overdue.

Following the gruesome killing of Rev. Father David Tanko at Kpankufu Village on Wukari Road in Taraba last week, President Muhammadu Buhari enjoined traditional rulers as well as religious and community leaders in the two states to meet urgently in a bid to bring an end to the persistent violent clashes. “I have watched with trepidation and disbelief how hate and bigotry have inhabited the human soul, resulting in brothers killing brothers”, said the president. “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. Progress is impossible where violence and destruction are allowed to dominate our daily lives.”

That this perennial crisis predates our independence and has cut across generations is shameful. While some of the worst of these violent eruptions were recorded in 1959, 1964, 1976, 1990-1992 and 2000-2001, this year’s bitter rivalry began in April in Wukari, regarded as the ancestral headquarters of the Jukuns, and has, predictably, produced devastating consequences. Hundreds of people have been reportedly killed, settlements razed, land travels encumbered, social and economic life disrupted and the communal atmosphere required for societal cohesion and progress savagely shattered. Sadly, this has been the recurring story within the area in the past six decades.

As President Buhari rightly said, the nation cannot afford further wanton provocations and retaliations that would likely result in such terrifying outcomes. The incidents become even more disturbing when viewed against their primordial causes. Many historical and anthropological accounts identify the Jukuns as the oldest inhabitants of Wukari while the Tivs were said to have migrated there much later. With time, however, the population of the latter grew immensely. Today, the Tivs accuse the Jukuns of monopolising both cultural and political power in Taraba, a charge the Jukuns often counter with reference to the alleged belligerence of their neighbours whose native base is in Benue State. Not surprisingly, the same kind of discord in Taraba sometimes finds expressions in Benue with different intensity and reversal of roles among the two warring ethnic groups.

Pragmatic approaches are needed urgently to resolve these bloody contestations and create a development-friendly environment. It is on record that the Taraba and Benue State governments under Darius Ishaku and Samuel Ortom respectively have made moves to arrest the ghastly slide. But the visits of the chief executives and their deputies to the affected communities and the implementation of the resolutions of the various security committees set up for the purpose of mediation have failed to heal the wounds. Fresh initiatives are, therefore, mandatory at this stage.

Working with critical stakeholders, the Taraba State government should institute structures and programmes to galvanise cessation of hostilities, restoration of confidence in the various strata of local leadership, promotion of mutual trust and, ultimately, cordial inter-ethnic integration and relations. For people who have co-existed for decades, those objective should not be impossible, especially if backed by the requisite political will.

Sadly, this persistent deadly imbroglio has become symbolic of the internal strife that threatens the harmonious co-existence of the numerous ethnicities in Nigeria. Indeed, the perennial Tiv-Jukun wars are sad reminders of the sensitivity and volatility of critical elements of nationhood like the indigene-settler syndrome, location of traditional stools, citizenship, land ownership and unfettered access to opportunities irrespective of states of origin. In the long run, necessary constitutional steps would need to be taken to address these challenges in the national interest.

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The perennial Tiv-Jukun wars are sad reminders of the sensitivity and volatility of critical elements of nationhood like the indigene-settler syndrome, location of traditional stools, citizenship, land ownership and unfettered access to opportunities irrespective of states of origin