The violence unleashed in Benue and Taraba states over several months by elements said to be Tiv and Jukun ethnic militias has defied reason and has so far defied all efforts by government and civil society organisations to halt it. On and off over the last 30 years, hundreds of Tiv and Jukun-speaking people, as well as others living among them, have lost their lives in bloodshed linked to the competition for land in the predominantly agrarian communities.
The bloodshed continues this year. The crisis that intensified in April still rages after three months in spite of interventions by the authorities. Security agencies seem to be overwhelmed by the crisis. As in previous times, houses, schools, health facilities and places of worship have all been targeted by rioters and many persons have been killed. As at April this year, it was reported that 10,000 persons had fled their homes and are trapped in Internally Displaced Persons [IDP] camps at undesignated locations.
It is remarkable that communities that have been living as neighbours in villages, towns and farm settlements since time immemorial and have inter-married, should engage in such hatred and violence. This thing known as Tiv/Jukun crisis has become almost permanent. Usually, the crisis is reignited by an altercation between one Tiv and another Jukun farmer. A dispute between two individuals then escalates due to blind ethnic solidarity which throws all reason, justice and fairness to the dogs.
In April, President Muhammadu Buhari had cause to speak on the killings when he said, “The recent violent clashes between Jukuns and Tivs in Taraba State… are needless and saddening. Violence cannot be the solution to the resolution of misunderstandings among people. Once we abandon reason and good judgement, we‘re giving violence the chance to take over and make a bad situation more complicated and difficult to resolve. The primary initiative for ending violence once and for all must originate from the local actors involved in these clashes.”
In the last few weeks, governors of both Benue and Taraba States have met on several occasions with leaders of the feuding communities and have initiated peace deals. At those meetings, the governors claimed to have reined in stakeholders, among them traditional rulers, influential indigenes and even political leaders. However, the peace deals would be breached as soon as there is a disagreement between two Tiv/Jukun farmers. The people are made poorer by the rounds of violence because their farm produce is destroyed, leaving them at the mercy of hunger and without crops to sell in local markets. Such deprivation sets the stage for more aggression in the future.
We call on traditional rulers in the communities, among them heads of Council of Traditional Rulers in the two states, Tor Tiv in Benue State and Aku Uka in Taraba State, to rise to the challenge of finding a lasting solution to this incessant violence. Both Tiv and Jukun must accept the reality that they must continue to live together, as they have done for generations. None can expel the other from the land. Therefore, a mechanism should be found to deal with the source(s) of the violence and bring about permanent peace. Traditional rulers at all levels should learn to deal with every dispute fairly and dispassionately, and not take positions based on ethnicity of perpetrators and victims. Only fairness and justice can break the strong cycle of ethnic solidarity with wrongdoers.
On their part, security agencies should expand their intelligence gathering mechanisms to ensure that such crises are arrested before they erupt. Since uniformed and plainclothes policemen police the communities, they should put their ears to the ground and should do not discount security information. There are reports that security agencies actually obtain intelligence about impending crises, but would not act of them because they did not receive ‘authority from above’ to do so. The police should rise above such excuses in order to end this avoidable and frequent bloodshed.
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