Are the attacks on Tivs in Benue State informed by the militancy in North-Eastern Nigeria?
Father Shagbaor F. Wegh.
I write this piece with a broken heart, bleeding from the wounds of man’s inhumanity to man. Think of the hundreds of innocent school children murdered recently in the North-East of Nigeria by Boko Haram. With that act, Boko Haram’s assault and devastation on Nigerians has reached Nostradamic proportions.
However, I am now writing about another imminent disaster which has been in the making for some years in Benue State. As I write thousands of Tiv people have been driven out of their homes, and have become refugees in their own land. The Tiv in different parts of Tivland have incessantly been attacked with automatic rifles and bombs scores have been killed, houses and property either looted or destroyed. Farms have also been destroyed, and children have been out of school.
The attacks being carried out against the Tiv if not checked now contain all the ingredients needed to metamorphosize into ethnic cleansing and genocide. Trying to make sense of the rubble of rumours and counter-rumours and the trajectories of what is happening is quite a herculean task. Some questions naturally come to mind. Who is actually attacking the Tiv? Who is sponsoring the attacks? What is the motive for the attacks? Regarding the identity of the attackers it is believed that Fulani nomads are responsible.
It has been alleged that some Tiv chiefs either sold land or gave it out on lease to the Fulani to graze their cattle. According to this view the chiefs reengaged on their agreement with Fulani, and this brought about the current conflict. It is not even clear whether its land that was sold or grass in a particular field.
It is important to distinguish between the sale of land, and the sale of grass because among the Tiv land is not normally sold even to neighbours, not to talk of strangers. Even if some chiefs sold land and later refused the Fulani the use of it should the latter take the law into their hands, and attack everyone they see? Are the Fulani like everyone else not expected to go to court to seek redress? That the Fulani chose to wage war rather than go to the law means that the problem arising from the sale of land may have been used only at a ploy to attack the Tiv. The real motive in Fulani attacks is thus to take over Tivland with the look of arms, overrun Tivland, Islamize, Sharialize, and dhiminize Tiv society.
A little history will show why the Fulani target the Tiv. The Tiv and Fulani are not strangers to each other. The two groups encountered each other in the early past of the 19th century. The Tiv are believed to have migrated from the Central African Republic to the east of the Cameroon. It was while dwelling there that they met the Fulani. The two groups may have developed a short-term friendship. Oral tradition says that the Tiv did not like the domineering attitude of the Fulani. The tense relationship between the two was rationalized through a joking disposition they agreed that if a Tiv saw a Fulani wearing a perforated clothing he should claim it, and vice versa. Whether this was actually been practiced or not is another matter. So the two parted wayas after a frosty relationship. Between 1804 and 1808, Usman Danfodio a Fulani waged a jihad.
He conquered several ethnic groups in a West Africa, and established a Hausa/Fulani empire. It was during this time that Danfodio who came to be identified by Tiv as Damkor also moved against the Tiv. The Tiv defeated his mighty army of horsemen and swords men. The defeat of Danfodio halted his ambition to penetrate the South-East from the Middle Belt and Islamize Nigeria. The Fulani have never forgiven the Tiv for the set-back. About a hundred years later they have returned, more determined that ever to continue Danfodio’s jihad.
This is the context in which attacks on the Tiv must be understood. Meanwhile, from the moment of Danfodio’s defeat the Tiv leave have always championed the cause of the minorities. Their sin is to have resisted Hausa-Fulani hegemony, rejected Islam, and a culture alien to their own.
In the 1950s the Tiv joined the Middle Belt congress founded by their son J.S. Tarka in opposition to the Northern People’s Congress which they regarded as autocratic and oppressive. This again angered the Hausa-Fulani, who have never hidden their belief that they are born to rule. The cost of self-assertiveness has been very high.
Hermed in between the North and South, the Tiv are the fourth most populous ethnic group. In colonial times they were regarded as stubborn and the British eagerly recruited them more than any other group in the North to fight both the First and Second World Wars. During the Nigerian Civil War Tiv recruits were more than fifty percent of the total from Northern Nigeria. The Tiv have no doubt contributed immensely to the survival of Nigeria. Yet today they are treated as a political minority. Since independence the Hausa/Fulani have been influencing articles towards the Tiv both in government and among minorities in order to undermine them. They are systematically being denied proportionate employment, recruitment into the army, police, and other paramilitaries. For several decades the Hausa/Fulani fought to exploit Benue Cement.
The Fulani are by no means the neighbours of the Tiv, and yet come all the way from the far north to wage war against the Tiv. This means that what is going on is deliberate and pre-meditated. In fact it is alleged that in Hausa-Fulani circles they are talking of a “Tiv project” meaning the plan to dislodge the Tiv from their ancestral home. To that end Hausa-Fulani people are being levied to purchase arms and ammunitions. Mercenaries are hired from other African countries and beyond, and sent to execute the Tiv project.
The Fulani have struck at an opportune time when the government at the centre is tackling the mounting security challenges in the country. Otherwise how can the government allow external aggression on a peaceful and friendly state to go on? Within the state we have self-serving leaders who seem to care only about how to grab the next political position available. The consequences of the Fulani destabilizing Tivland are grave.
First of all the fall of the Tiv to the Hausa-Fulani control would mean that the minority ethnic groups are left with no one who can defend them and champion their cause. The Hausa-Fulani will only be too happy to overrun the ethnic minorities and force them into Islam and enslave them. Unfortunately, minority groups do not understand this and so allow themselves to be used as a divisive factor.
Secondly, Benue State nay Nigeria will face hunger. Already hunger is creeping into the state as large farms have been destroyed, and thousands of farmers have fled their farmlands. The Tiv account for over 90% of the yams, over 80% of the rice and benniseed, a 100% of soya beans, and 80% of citrus produced in Nigeria. It is these that have made the state the Food Basket of the Nation. Agricultural production will be endangered and probably come to an end. Both the federal and state governments must wake up and tackle the Fulani menace without delay.