We can hardly procrastinate further on the urgency to engage with all Tiv people, irrespective of all artificial boundaries that now make us feel we belong in different states in the Nigerian nation. There is no doubt that politics is a game; real game of numbers which involves intrigues, maneuverings, sagacity, bargains, proper engagement and so forth.
There is also no doubt that President Muhammadu Buhari is of the Fulani stock, an ethnic group closely attached to the Tiv nation. In fact the Tiv man has no better friend than the Fulani man. Apart from the three majors ethnic groups in Nigeria, the Tiv are reckoned to be the fourth largest ethnic group in Nigeria spreading across Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa and Plateau States and also having significant population in Cross River, Enugu and Niger States.
A recourse to history shows that the Tiv and the Fulani have come a long way complementing each other. The earliest contact of the Fulani with the Tiv dates back to the 1804 Islamic revolution of Uthman Dan Fodiyo which failed to subdue the Tiv. The aftermath of this historical encounter is the trans-generational bond between the Tiv and the Fulani. This laid the foundation of the Tiv-Fulani relationship. It is believed that it is the existence of such a bond among ethnic groups which existed within this geographical area that fell under the sphere of the British that encouraged and prompted the British colonial officers to institute the cohesive processes in the South and North that eventually led to the amalgamation and thus the “birth” of Nigeria.
The Tiv and Fulani commenced diplomatic and trade relations with the exchange of gifts and goods. The Tiv gave the Fulanis yam seedlings to commence farming while the Fulani, in turn, gave the Tiv some cows to start a herd. Unfortunately, neither succeeded with what was supposed to be their respective new ventures. The Fulani ate up the yam seedlings while the Tiv, being unapologetic lovers of meat equally consumed the cows. Both ate up what each gave to the other. This was how the Tiv derived the jovial nickname “MUNCHI” meaning “we ate” from the Fulani, a tradition that has existed up till today.
In probable recognition of this traditional relationship, former Governor of Benue State, the Late Aper Aku managed to extract substantial support from former President Shehu Shagari (may his soul rest in peace), a Fulani man, to develop Benue State. Late President Shehu Shagari also gave deserving Tiv sons and daughters various appointments. These include: Wantaregh Paul Unongo, Minister of Steel Development; Isaac Shaahu, Minister of Communications and Elizabeth Ivase, Minister of State, Education. Messrs GbokoYough, Mike Gbasha, Denis Ukume and Douglas Hemba also got appointed as ambassadors to various countries. Also, Dr. Tesemchi Makar was Commissioner, Police Service Commission while Vincent Orjime was the Special Assistant to President Shagari on National Assembly Matters. Further, the Late Shehu Shagari was instrumental and in fact facilitated the emergence of Rt. Hon. Benjamin Chaha as Speaker of the House of Representatives during the second republic after the tenure of Edwin Ume Ezeoke. During the administration of the Late Umaru Musa Yar’adua, Tiv folks also got a lot of deserved appointments. It is indisputable that Mr. Michael Kaase Aondoakaa was a super-minister in that cabinet while Robert Orya was the MD of NEXIM Bank. Farida Waziri, though married to a Gombe man is of the Tiv stock and got appointed as the Chairman of EFCC but later sacked by the Jonathan administration.
The Tiv voted overwhelmingly for President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2015 presidential election. Governor Samuel Ortom was in President Buhari’s party before he defected. How did the Tiv get it wrong in this current dispensation in terms of appointments? Did the Tiv not play their cards properly? What happened? It is suspected that the Tiv did not play their cards well in this area of securing appointments for Tiv sons and daughters which involves high level politicking.
Let it be put straight: President Buhari likes the Tiv people; Tiv farmers can attest to this. Tiv sons and daughters within and outside Benue State who are beneficiaries of his appointments can also confirm this. In this regime we have not less than twenty -two top appointments from the Managing Director, NEPZA, Barr. Emmanuel Jime, Chairman NIMASA, Gen. Jonathan India Garba (Rtd), the Executive Secretary, NCPC, Pastor Uja Tor Uja, Manase Denga, EC PENCOM etc. We may not have a Minister but that is not an indication of losing out as with proper engagement we could gain much more democratic dividends. The enrolles of the N-Power Scheme can as well testify to the effort of Mr. President in alleviating their poverty. President Buhari has deployed more than Three (3) bailout funds to the Government of Benue State to enable the government pay up salaries owed government workers in the state as well as defray gratuities and pensions of all retirees in the state. Today the state has one of the Free Trade Zones, FTZ, a business hub, which, if properly harnessed has the capacity to stimulate economic activities and improve on the fortune of the Tiv men and women.
Most unfortunately, the herders-farmers imbroglio intruded with its devastating effects on the Tiv-Fulani relationship at the early stage of this administration. This ill wind was poorly managed by interests that felt it was an opportunity for them to launder their failing political fortune. In doing this, much ground for lobbying was lost and our collective relevance at the centre was weakened. It thus impacted severely on the Tiv nation as a whole as we lost our loved ones and lost political as well as part of our economic powers.
In any functional society there is bound to be conflict but the ability to resolve such conflict amicably and foster progress is what counts. This should not jeopardize such inter-ethnic relationship with enviable history. The Tiv and Fulani have benefited mutually from each other and still have a lot to benefit from each other now, and ever more.
The Buhari administration offers us a better opportunity to achieve much as probably desired given the evident determination of this administration for the diversification of the economy. We have done well in the area of food production and having the only University of Agriculture in the North and this place us at the centre of the diversification policy of the Buhari administration. This is not a APC/PDP dichotomy Campaign; rather it’s about the interest of all. The gains of all the tribulations and sacrifices made will be frittered away needlessly if at every point of disagreement one jumps to a new friend. We have had whatever misunderstanding that were probably inevitable in cultivating and sustaining relationship. It’s time for us to move to the next level.
The issue of our security demands our collective efforts. It will be absolutely unpatriotic for all Nigerians to begin to assess security on the basis of party affiliation. We will never win the war against terror in Nigeria if we approach it as the responsibility of government alone and not our collective concern. It’s disheartening to note that some people even celebrate attacks seeing it as the failure of a party irrespective of the lives of Nigerians involved. We must team up with government to win the war that is threatening our collective existence.
In view of the above, another opportunity has presented itself for the Tiv and Fulani to properly engage each other responsibly with a view to strengthening their relationship to boost possible benefits to both.
Elder statesman, the Wantaregh Paul Unongo, Prof. Kpamor J. T. Orkar, Gen. John Atom Kpera, and Senator George Akume should willingly take up this task in order to make the Tiv people proud once again.
In order to maintain our longstanding relationship with the Fulani, the Tiv are urged to MASSIVELY VOTE President Muhammadu Buhari in the forthcoming presidential election to enable him continue and conclude the people-oriented programmes in order to usher Nigeria to the NEXT LEVEL. This is the wisest decision to implement in the circumstance.
Fabian Benjamin, Ph.D (Dan Tiv) writes from Abuja