The Tiv-Jukun War
By Sesugh Akume

There is an ongoing but underreported internecine civil war between the Tiv and Jukun in Taraba and spread to Benue, especially around border communities. Usually, when fatalities in armed conflict are up to a thousand a year it can be rightly defined as a war. Hundreds have been killed in this bloodshed already beginning in April and at this rate, the numbers could exceed a thousand in the next 8 months, and so it isn’t hyperbolic to term it a war.

What started as a conflict in Kente, a rustic, peaceful border community in Taraba under Wukari local government area which could well be regarded as being part of Ukum local government area in Benue, took an entirely different dimension due to the failure of governance, an incompetent and compromised security system, as well as other ethnic cleansing agenda.

There is usually no difference between the Tiv and Jukun in Kente, in part due to the fact of intermarriage, virtually everyone has Tiv and Jukun relations. Only recently, the attacks by the marauding murderers and land grabbers generally referred to as ‘killer Fulani herdsmen’ were countered by both the Tiv and Jukun (as others) fighting together to stave them off, before their attacks abated. At this time, Kente housed the Tiv escaping from other parts of Taraba with David Sabo Kente (DSK) a prince of Kente and governorship aspirant in the last election providing his home as a refugee camp of sorts. The all-out attacks may have ceased but the Tiv noticed that there have been killings of the Tiv individuals on a low scale when they are caught alone or in small groups, but not the Jukun. This led some to believe that the Jukun may be in cahoots with the Fulani in exterminating them. This suspicion was never addressed and laid to rest once. They allowed themselves to be deceived, and thus divided.

Kente is also a commercial hub as fish sellers from Chinkai take fish there and to Gbeji (on the Benue side) and vice verse as there is trade between the 3 communities and others with Kente at the centre. Sometime in March or so, a Jukun was stabbed trying to catch a thief at night suspected to be Tiv, he almost lost his life but was saved and taken to the hospital at Wukari, where he was treated, recuperated and returned to a normal life. Everyone visited the patient in the hospital including a delegation of his Tiv friends and associates. They didn’t approve of one of them a thief stabbing him. The thief and attempted murderer was never apprehended and brought to justice. Weeks on, as a group of friends were socialising the topic came up and one amongst them said the thief wasn’t skillful at stabbing otherwise this individual wouldn’t have survived. The victim heard this and wasn’t pleased. This began the first Tiv-Jukun crisis out of a careless statement, this was on April 1. But it was addressed and prevented from escalating.

Days later, a Tiv at the Kente market attempted stopping Tiv women from trading, which was resisted and almost turned violent. This individual and another were arrested and detained. The next market day across the border 16 Jukun women were arrested. In the truce reached the 2 Tiv and 16 Jukun were released, with signed undertakings to cease hostilities. The hostilities did not stop and there were no consequences. Rather the conflict escalated when it turned to arson, and reprisal attacks including murder, the involvement of armed militia and the crisis spiralled out of control. The record bears that among the first houses burnt to ashes in Kente was that of Ezeuhwe a mechanic, and another in Musa, whose wife is Tiv, as are his numerous relations.

A failure of governance

The primary duty of government is security and welfare. Clearly, this war is manifestation of its gross failure. The police, state security services, and other security agencies have clearly failed in stopping the crises, apprehending offenders, having them prosecuted and brought under the full face of the law. Rather, right under their watch, there has been a total break down of law and order. There have been no consequences for this breach which has caused the deaths of many and loss of property valued at millions of naira, nor of the failure of the security services to live up to expectation. They maintain silence or seldom release usually meaningless sound bites on their being in control. There are also accusations of their collusion which cannot be completely ruled out. The role of the special forces stationed at Gbeji at the onset of the crisis in Kente needs to be interrogated. The security authorities have also not answered who is recruiting, retaining, arming the militia on both sides.

Both royal majesties, the Tor Tiv and Uku Uka, paramount rulers of the Tiv and Jukun have both not been completely honest in their roles (individual and collective) to end the war. In their April meeting, they pretended to frown at the hostilities but there has been nothing to demonstrate commitment to their opposition to it. It is reported that a curse was declared on anyone who continued aggressions after that so-called peace meeting. Things only got worse but there have been no consequences. It is not plausible that both have lost control and are helpless. Imagine for a second that they made all the traditional rulers under them in all the affected areas responsible for the crisis in their domains, and warned that failure to cooperate, prevent hostilities, and enforce peace could lead to their subordinate chiefs’ suspension or even dethronement, wouldn’t this have made a difference? They simply are not committed to pursuing peace.

Among the most irresponsible governors in Nigeria presently must be those of Benue and Taraba. One of them is the self-styled ‘Defender of the Benue Valley’ whose clear stand on this war within the Valley remains unknown save for appearances. Maybe because this has nothing to do with Fulani attacks and take over, it has nothing to do with religion, land grabbing, party politics, and such. It’s not sensational, nor can it get him sympathy to be converted into votes so, so it isn’t a priority. As many as like maybe killed. As this war was on the Benue governor was away in China and later the United States, so was his Taraba counterpart in the United States. On their return they went on to other things they deem important. Takum, the Taraba governor’s hometown suffered grave fatalities, the governor has not as much as paid a condolence visit to his own hometown to commiserate with them. Not that within this time he hasn’t been to other places to pay his condolences. They both simply do not care!

Even though the war is under-reported, some sections of the media have not been entirely honest and professional in its reportage. There is partisanship and outright lies peddled, depending on whom one is listening to. For instance, some sections reported that Federal University, Wukari was invaded by Jukun militia, resulting in the deaths of Tiv students and staff. This is simply not accurate.

Shame on the leadership at the Federal University, Includuing

Everywhere, including federal highways in the area have been unsafe for both sides of the war in spite of the numerous security checkpoints on them. Innocent travellers are stopped, identified, abducted, and gruesomely murdered. Innocent citizens are being annihilated for simply belonging to any one of the ethnic groups. On 30 July, 2 students and a staff of Federal Univerisity, Wukari were murdered, the next day there was a protest by the Tiv community, and thus was the school closed for a short break. In the cold, insensitive evacuation order issued by the registrar, Magaji Thomas Gangumi, the school said they had to go on a ‘mid-semester break’ following protests by some students of what he termed an ‘alleged abduction’ of 2 students along Wukari – Katsina-Ala federal highway. I have never seen such coldhearted callousness by a university community against their very own and community. Can the Federal University, Wukari deny that Emmanuel Msughter Vihior, a 100 level microbiology student (matriculation number: PAS/SOC/18/025), Felix Fater Ayatse, a 100 level sociology student (matriculation number: HMA/SOC/18/112), and Mark Tsav (staff identification number: JP 00104) of the students’ affairs division, who have been murdered and confirmed dead are not of their university community? The university uses cold impersonal language referring to them as ‘allegedly abducted’ and has not acknowledged their deaths, shared their identities, much less expressed any condolences. Even in death the university has denied these one their dignity. The officials are more fixated on denying that their abduction happened on campus. This is all Abubakar Kundiri, the vice-chancellor has been in the media doing, spreading falsehood and doubt. So has David Misal, the police spokesman for the Taraba state command. All he knows to do is to deny, feign ignorance or claim the police is ‘on top of the situation’ as more and more keep dying daily.

The university in its announcement said the school reopens today Wednesday 14 August as exams commence soon. How this is workable, seeing the grave danger in travelling to Wukari which is becoming a shadow of itself, or generally along the Wukari – Katsina-Ala federal highway remains to be seen. How can a university not mind that some among its own community may never be able to return due to the security situation and not mind? There is also the post-UTME exams for intending new students. Clearly, the university is intent on excluding others who will not feel safe to make it the entrance exam.

A political dimension to the war

The crisis in Kente alone could not have degenerated into an full-blown war as is. Some hardliners led by the likes of Pius Sabo insist that the Tiv are not indigenous to Taraba and must be excluded, ostracised, and made to leave. The regime of Darius Ishaku, the Taraba governor has also implemented policies to underscore this point. The Tiv in Taraba don’t have a chiefdom, traditional rulers, or any elected officials, for instance. This is a cause of a brewing fear of domination, suppression, and ostracisation. There is a 10-point agreement earlier reached to end this uneasy calm. Sabo, a serving Taraba assemblyman for Wukari I in the Taraba State House of Assembly says the Tiv should forget the 10-point agreement, that it’s not happening. He and others lead the charge for extremists who say the Tiv in Taraba are ‘settlers’ and should be made to leave Taraba. ‘The Tiv have an aim of decimating and liquidating the Jukun people in Wukari in order to take over our God-given ancestral lands and natural resources’, he said at a recent press conference. Recall that the conflict in Kente had nothing to do with land or ‘decimating and liquidating the Jukun.’ No one in Kente thought so, they couldn’t have. Is is this trye anout the Tiv agenda against the Jukun? Also, are there Tiv who are aboriginal to Taraba, which is the most multiethnic state in Nigeria?

Julius Kwaghkar says, ‘The Jukun people do not want to live peacefully with us. They blocked most of our polling units, as they occupied positions of authority, and rendered us politically irrelevant in the state, especially in Wukari. As if that is not enough, they now want us to leave Wukari. As we speak, for several years, they have denied our people the Certificate of Local Government of Origin.’ Without minimising the main point in his lamentation, the generalisation about the Jukun is neither true nor fair. I’ve also seen misguided Tiv youth bragging about destroying Wukari, and wondering where the Tiv militia in Sankera killing each other and innocent Tiv are, and not decimating the Jukun and reducing Wukari to rubble! Such extremist positions are what is defined as hate speech. Speech that elicits hatred towards the other capable of exposing them to harm and danger.

Amidst this all, there are however level-headed, urbane, sophisticated people who see through all of this mess and have the courage to stand for what is true, right, and objective. Mathias Agbu , a former president of the Jukun Youths of Vision, who recently ran unsuccessfully for the Taraba South South position is embarrassed. ‘Why should two peasant farming tribes, struggling for survival, take up arms against each other? This must be addressed. These are all poor people. The killing of Tiv people by Jukun and the killing of Jukun people by Tiv is uncalled for, unwarranted and disgraceful to both ethnic groups, who have lived together as a family for over a century’, he said. His Luka Agbu Foundation has been carrying out deliberate unifying and peace-building programmes among the Tiv and Jukun. Josiah Sabo Kente, a former speaker of the Taraba State House of Assembly is of the same mind and opinion. So are others like Umaru Emma, Tanko Kyen-Emoh Danjuma . This tribe of genuine patriots with humanity and love in their hearts is small but needs to increase. More people of like mind need to reach out to each other and appeal to the others to tone down their rhetoric, as those in authority are prevailed upon to play the roles they are in office for. As long as there is no justice there can never be peace. In the absence of peace, there can be no winner.