ISHAKU AND THE CRISIS IN SOUTHERN TARABA

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Darius Ishaku

Tiv and Jukun must demonstrate sufficient desire and commitment for peace, writes Sam Adamu

Propaganda has, unfortunately, taken the centre stage in the on-going crisis between the Tiv and Jukun in Taraba State and has thus rendered truth the major casualty. A lot of truths that would have helped the quick resolution of the crisis 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 of the issues involved and the efforts being made by government, especially, the Taraba State government, and other stakeholders to ensure quick resolution of the crisis.

Even after some “very successful” attacks on Jukun communities by the Tiv militia forces, TCSA members come out in their usual style crying the loudest and bandying fake figures of casualties they ostensibly suffered, just to win them public sympathy. True, they’ve got a lot of crocodile tears and are very skilful in the art of shedding them to deceive the public.

The next thing they do is to pick on Gov 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 crisis and Ishaku’s role is not quickly corrected, a lot of people may go away with the wrong notion. This intervention is, therefore, to help state the facts about the crisis and the role of Gov Ishaku in the crisis, most especially, the efforts he is making to achieve enduring peace and the prospects of these efforts in achieving the desired goal.

Since the first day of June this year, the Tiv militia groups have been in the trenches, killing and maiming and burning houses in Jukun communities in Taraba Central Senatorial Zone. This is the very major step to export the crisis beyond Southern Taraba communities. The worst affected communities are Maigoge and Tunga where nine persons were killed. Many houses including those of the traditional ruler and a youth leader were razed.

A week earlier, the same Tiv militia group had sent their killer squad into Mararaba, Southern Taraba, where they killed Pastor Emmanuel Bileya of the CRC-N church and his wife, Juliana. The two were attacked while working on their farm. It is important to note that all the communities attacked and the people killed are Jukun.

The next thing the Tiv groups did after inflicting these injuries on the Jukun was to send their propagandists to Abuja to cry before a national media audience to win sympathy for their false story of a plot by the Jukun to annihilate the Tiv in Taraba State. This has been the familiar style for the Tiv groups. They have consistently shown no interest and support for the peace efforts of the Ishaku administration but would rather blackmail him with false stories of support for the Jukun.

The Tiv/Jukun crisis in Taraba State has a long history. It is more than 40 years, yet when the Tiv speak about it, they create the impression that it is the creation of the Ishaku administration. They do so to deliberately blackmail Gov Ishaku. I have also noticed that they deliberately avoid mentioning, each time they tell the story of their war against the Jukun, the very profound first step Gov Ishaku took on assumption of office to give the Tiv in Taraba a sense of belonging.

Gov Ishaku had ordered that all Tiv people who had been forced to flee their homes as a result of the crisis between them and the Jukun before he took over as governor to return to their homes. Today, they pretend that no such thing happened. Govornor Ishaku whom they praised then for welcoming them home with open hands is the same person they are now accusing of prosecuting genocide against them. How ungrateful!

In the history of the Tiv/Jukun crisis that spans over 40 years, no governor or political leader by whatever name called, has done half as much as what Ishaku has done so far to ensure peace between the two warring groups in Southern Taraba. In the five years that Ishaku has been in the saddle, the administration has organized not less than 10 peace meetings to resolve the issues. Most of the time, it was in collaboration with his Benue Sate counterpart, Samuel Ortom.

Each of those meetings always ended with a peace accord usually very carefully couched to assuage bitter feelings. They were signed by leaders of communities from the two sides as well as other critical stakeholders from Benue and Taraba States. These were meetings in which the two governors – Ishaku and Ortom – attended and personally presided. There were numerous other peace meetings in which they were represented by their deputies.

Sometime last year also, a similar meeting of stakeholders was held in Abuja. It was also at the instance of Gov Ishaku and Gov Ortom. A high-powered federal government delegation led by Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, was in attendance. No sooner did participants at this crucial and highly successful meeting return home than the Tiv launched yet another attack on Jukun locations to show their displeasure and rejection of the outcome of the meeting.

This attitude raises the very important question of how long will the Tiv continue to reject peace efforts in preference for war that everyone, except they, believe is unnecessary? It takes two – Tiv and Jukun – in this case, to end the crisis. The two must, therefore, show an unflinching resolve to support efforts being spearheaded by the Ishaku administration to ensure lasting peace between them. I am aware that prominent Tiv and Jukun leaders are part of this process. Even as an outsider (I’m not a government staff) I know that the governor has demonstrated a lot commitment to this peace project.

Ishaku may not be in the frontline where the fighters on both sides clash and spill blood, but he gets the heat from their actions. This comes to him in the form of the lamentations of those whose bread winners and loved ones get killed in the crossfire and those whose homes are razed and who are suddenly rendered destitute by the action of the fighters on both sides. The pain of their losses, the fears of a bright future that had suddenly become uncertain, all soaked in their tears, always get to Governor Ishaku at the end of every violent clash in the trenches. It is he who carries the burden of drying those tears by rehabilitating and comforting them.

Nobody wants this tragedy to continue, not Governor Ishaku. What he wants is peace among his people. The Tiv and the Jukun in Taraba are all his people equally. He is as much the Governor of the Tiv in Taraba as he is for the Jukun and other ethnic groups in the state. He wants Southern Taraba to thrive and prosper once more and always in peace so that the Tiv and the Jukun, both of them predominantly farmers, can return to the farms to provide food for Taraba and the entire nation.

My conversations with people who are close to Ishaku have revealed that he is greatly troubled by the unending crisis in Southern Taraba. He’s even more worried that the crisis is being exported into the Central Senatorial Zone. He is, however, unshaken in his determined to restore peace to these areas. But the people directly involved –Tiv and Jukun – must play their part with greater level of sincerity. This is crucial. The factions in the conflict must demonstrate sufficient desire and commitment to peace. It is only then that peace efforts being made at various levels can bring forth desirable fruits.

Adamu wrote from Jalingo