I was nature’s design that the Tiv and Jukun settled in the trough of Taraba and Benue states. Their ancestors, who were hunter-gatherers and farmers, migrated from different places and quartered there.
In Benue, you will find indigenous Jukuns in Abinse, near the state capital, Makurdi. In southern Taraba, there are indigenous Tiv people in appreciable numbers in Takum, Donga, Wukari and Ibi local government areas living with the Jukun. In Takum, there are also indigenous Kuteb people.
These tribes have intermarried. For instance, Governor Darius Ishaku, a Jukun, is married to a Tiv woman from Benue State. Jukun and Tiv ethnic groups are peace lovers known for their sincerity and hospitality, but at the slightest provocation, they prove they are no weaklings.
Taraba, known as ‘Nature’s Gift,’ and Benue, with its enviable epithet ‘Food Basket,’ have agricultural potentials to feed the nation. But protracted communal skirmishes have hampered development among these tribes and the two states. The fattest yams in Nigeria are produced in southern Taraba and eastern part of Benue. But the fertile land, with its lush vegetation, rather than be a blessing, has become something of a curse, always tearing the people apart.
For instance, in 2001, the Tiv and Jukun at the border clashed in a fierce war that snowballed into Taraba versus Benue crisis. Many Tivs and Jukuns were killed while homes and pricey properties were destroyed. There have been many clashes, but the ghost of the 2001 crisis has always come around.
Since the return of calm in late 2002, although pockets of violence among Jukun, Kuteb and Tiv still exist, governors of Taraba and Benue have always tried to sustain the relative peace for harmonious co-existence at the border. This is because peace is the fundamental ingredient for sustainable development.
Penultimate week, the peace initiative by Governors Ishaku (Taraba) and Samuel Ortom (Benue) culminated in a boundary adjustment conference in Ugba, Logo Local Government Area, Benue State. The meeting, in the form of a town hall meeting, came after a tour of all the border towns of Taraba and Benue, from Jootar to Jandeikyura, Kente, Arufu and Akwana.
Governor Ishaku and his team, including his deputy, Haruna Manu, the Jukun king, Aku Uka, His Royal Highness Dr. Shakarau Angyu Masaibi, welcomed his counterpart at Jootar, a Tiv village translated to mean ‘border territory.’ There, the governors demonstrated love for one another by shaking hands and hugging themselves. Governor Ortom’s team also included his deputy, Benson Abounu and Tiv’s paramount ruler, His Royal Highness, Prof. James Ortese Ayatse. From Jootar, the leaders drove through Wukari with stopovers at the border settlements. The peace and security and boundary adjustment meeting finally took place at the Youth Centre in Logo.
The opinion leaders, who addressed a massive gathering, agreed to demarcate their boundary as a panacea to the lingering skirmishes between the people of the two states. They urged the people to embrace peace and cohabit as brothers, irrespective of tribal and religious differences.
Ortom said the technical committee, headed by the deputy governors of Taraba and Benue, will work with the state and national boundary commission as well as traditional rulers to come up with a transparent and acceptable demarcation. He said he and Ishaku, who were ministers in the last administration, have many things in common such that they would avoid whatever is capable of compromising peace, unity and progress in their states. “He and I came to power by sheer divinity,” he noted.
He added that, just as Ishaku appointed some Tiv people in Taraba in his cabinet, he also has appointed Jukuns in Benue. He expressed optimism that the appointments were a sure way of cementing their relationship. “What the Tiv in Taraba need to do is to respect constituted authorities,” he advised.
Governor Ishaku said, “The demarcation of the boundary is for administrative convenience, which if completed, the exercise will help to end the clashes between Tiv and Jukun brothers. He pointed out that based on an agreement earlier reached, all the Tiv People in Taraba were automatically indigenous to the state with the same condition applying to all Jukuns in Benue. “God designed that Ortom and I should be governors at this time, for the good of our people,” he said.
“Let us not take tribe or religion to be the aim of life, but let love lead us. After this resolution, if you are a Tiv and you find yourself in Taraba, I will be in total care of what concerns you. And if you are a Jukun who ends up on the side of Benue, my brother Governor (Ortom) will henceforth take care of all that concerns you,” Ishaku said.
The Tor Tiv, Prof. Ayatse, called on Tiv people in Taraba and elsewhere to be law abiding citizens. He pledged that the Tiv Area Traditional Council will support the two governors to succeed in their determination to achieve peace in their states.
The Aku Uka, Shakarau Angyu, alluded briefly that Tiv and Jukun share one ancestral origin and are therefore, of one lineage. “There is no need whatsoever for us to be at war with one another,” he said. Aku Uka commended Ortom and Ishaku for the peace initiative.
The joint meeting between the two states, coming after another one earlier this year at Anyiase and Kashimbilla, ended successfully with a communique signed by Ortom and Ishaku. It was agreed that the deputy governors of Taraba and Benue should immediately hold a meeting of the technical committee with the National Boundaries Commission and work out modalities of carrying out a demarcation exercise that every affected person will accept in good faith.
The communique urged communities of the two states to respect constituted authorities where they find themselves as a result of the demarcation. The governors are to ensure the safety and protection of all the citizens who fall within their respective jurisdictions. The federal government, like the states, was urged to provide critical infrastructure, especially to rehabilitate the Kwatan Sule-Wukari Road to ease movement of people, goods and services.