MUTA CONVENTION THEME:
The Tiv Yesterday, Today, And Tomorrow
THE MAN TIV, HAS DIED
Wantaregh Paul Unongo
Northern Elders Forum
A Paper Presented to the Annual MUTA Convention, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA
July 31, 2014 – August 3, 2014
My dear Tiv compatriots of Nigeria and all of you in the diaspora, greetings from an aging volunteer trooper still hanging and dangling on his war scarred and war wearied horse.
I am pleasantly surprised and delighted that we are together in these United States of America–you in Mississippi, and me, in the Bay Area of California, engaged even if by proxy, in a serious discourse on the fate of Tiv in Nigeria and the world at large. This is very good and extremely challenging.
There is a lot that can be said on the theme of this MUTA Meeting: The Tiv In Nigeria: Today And Tomorrow, but I will be understandably, very brief and general, in my comments, as an interested elder.
When I returned to Nigeria in the late 1960s, social responsibility dictated that I become actively engaged in two major activities, in addition to my teaching duties at the University of Lagos, then the only Tiv teaching in any university within (& outside) the country!
As far as I was concerned, I felt very strongly, that the Tiv and Benue community, were at the cross-roads.We had been entirely involved in, and in fact, led the struggle and agitation for the creation of more Regions (States) in Nigeria.
Now, by military fiat, we had our Benue – Plateau State (Region), created, and as icing on the cake, our Middle–Belt brother, General Yakubu Gowon, now retired, was at helm of affairs, as the Head of State.
To me, and to my mind it appeared crystal clear, that all that the Tiv needed was to appropriately organize themselves advantageously and exploit the existing Nigerian reality of that time, and simply, develop, modernize and get rid of the stench our community, Tiv land, was knee/neck–deep, in.
Believing in this orientation, and sincerely overwhelmed by the observable, palpable total abject poverty all over our community, I was moved to express these concerns in a publication: “Where Do We Go From Here?” which appeared from my university desk in 1968.
This became published in 1969. Noting further the pulse of the nation of Nigeria then, threatened with secession, and the orientation of the Federal powers that were existent then, bent on stopping secession at all costs, including a hot war, and realizing the centrality of the Tiv, and the criticality of our necessary contributions to the war efforts of the Federalists, to succeed, I pushed for more decentralization, and the opening up of the political space, in the form of a request for the immediate creation of six more local government councils, from the then existent single Tiv Local Government Council.
The logic was simply that if you could justify the creation of states on development grounds, you could also justify more local government communities, on the development grounds.
Some of our Tiv brothers were concerned about my position. Just like in the days of our efforts to float the Community of Tiv Students (CTS), in the fifties, they saw my efforts as an attempt to undermine their political base.
The debate about the contents of this pamphlet and the idea canvassed and portrayed by it, became heated, especially within the same Community of Tiv Students, our baby and forum for public discussion by, and amongst, the Tiv intelligentsia at that time (era).
Mercifully, the idea sailed through and we got the Gboko, Katsina-Ala, and Makurdi local government council areas out of the single Tiv Council Area.
My second public engagement which I accepted voluntarily, at that time, was to explain the circumstances of the Nigerian Civil War which broke out during this period, the late 1960s, to the world/international community.
This was more challenging and more daunting because the Federalists had ignored completely, the propaganda aspect of their war efforts.
It was crystal clear to my mind, as a Tiv from the then Northern Region of Nigeria, that this war was really our war, because we constituted about 70% of the Nigerian Army, which went to war to stop the breakup of my country, Nigeria.
Biafran propaganda told the world repeatedly that the war was a religious war against Christian Igbos by Northern Muslims. Of course this was a monumental lie, a big Josef Goebbels’ type of lie, which the world, particularly, the Western World, uncritically believed or chose to believe! Nigeria almost lost the war by default.
Armed with my training in Experimental Psychology and solid facts and arguments which could easily be marshalled in Nigeria’s favour our and our theoretical vision and conceptualization of a federal nation–state, for our plural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, diverse new country, a thing repeated all over the African continent, I had no difficulty acceding to the invitation of the then Head of State, to bring my training to assist the cause of our Federal Nigeria, which I saw, correctly, as the cause of all the mini, multi-tribal principalities, carved out by Europe, in their immoral scramble for Africa, of the Eighteenth Century.
Then back home, and at that time, the Head of State and Commander–In-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces of Nigeria, was our gentle, humble Christian brother, General Yakubu Gowon, who was wrongly and aggressively portrayed as a “Muslim Butcher” from the North, committing genocide against Christian Igbos, with no response from Federal Nigeria!
Perhaps, it is also instructive and the fact needed to be articulated, that the head of the Nigerian Airforce, during the critical war period, was a Christian, an Idoma man, Brigadier–General Emmanuel Ikwue, the head of the Nigerian Navy then was a Yoruba Christian, Admiral Akinwale Wey. Crowning it all, it was a Tiv officer, Joe Ronnie Ityowua Akaahan, a Christian Tiv, who led the Nigerian Army to start the Nigerian Civil War as Chief of Staff, Nigerian Army. Well, “Ityo i MUTA,” do you subscribe to the notion that, “ityo,” probably killed him as his name suggested, because he was also the first most significant casualty of the Nigerian Civil war! He died in a helicopter crash, after visiting his troops on the Eastern front of the war, on his way back from Gboko to Makurdi!
I am providing this “brief” but essential history, to buttress my participant observer status/experience of our community, and the man Tiv, a very important and strategic man, I dare say, in the Nigerian Project, to help me properly contextualize my observations on the topic of MUTA 2014: The Tiv People Today and Tomorrow!
Today in Tiv land, my brothers and sisters of this man Tiv, gathered here for MUTA, (we) have inflicted severe damage on ourselves, and on the man Tiv, in the following crippling, tragic ways, that MUTA should do something creative and constructive about:
1. Primitive inter–party conflicts and hatred – primitive rudimentary political parties which have no ideological orientation or differentiation to warrant the internecine wars, destructions, killings and pains we inflict on the man Tiv, our evolving society, our basal economy and primordial capacities – we do these things mindlessly without a vision of the development goal of the man Tiv, and the Tiv society.
2. Complacency over leadership recruitment and leadership negligence/leadership failure, concerning matters affecting Nigeria, this same Nigeria, which we contributed disproportionately,our blood and our humanness to found, to establish and consolidate! We are now overwhelmed and in a state of stupor, incapable of comprehending Nigeria!
3. Weakness of our traditional institutions, particularly our so called traditional rulers, who could make up for the failure of our political leadership.
4. Low economic capacity leading to horrible and palpable alarming poverty!
5. Total disregard for history and experience and an insidious and insipient crippling lack of respect for Elders, gravitating rapidly to blatant abuse of our institutional memory!
6. Physical destruction and abuse of our valued human resources, human assets and the concomitant ascendancy of mediocrity, pschophancy and buffoonery.
There are many more examples I could give distinguished MUTA compatriots. But I will stop here because these debilitating disabilities enumerated here are enough to destroy a community entirely. My MUTA brothers and sisters, the empirical evidence about this development is palpable, everywhere in our society.
This has made me to submit, humbly, that The Man – Tiv, Has Died! Is Tiv merely comatose?
No, my brothers and sisters! We even lost out to our brothers, the Idoma, who are a mere one fifth of the Benue population, in the pursuit of mundane things like federal job placements on a ratio of 90 to 10. In political influence and networking, we score zero!
Do you know that we are not part of the Nigerian Leadership!
In a Federal Government, headed by a “minority man,” whom we helped to bring to power, at the Federal level, after liberating his people and his minority areas, during the Nigerian Civil War, in the so called Niger Delta, we are not considered important.
Where are the young Tiv officers whom we lost in the creeks of the Niger Delta. Where are the Shande Anyakpa and the over 20 young lieutenants – the Zachary Agbachas and co, all whom we lost in the creeks of the “powerful” Niger Delta areas?
Today we have had a concluded the handpicked National Conference of friends of our Minority President, gleefully, announcing its conclusions. We, despite our numerical strength of about 10 million people, and standing at about the 4th or 5th most populated ethnic group in Nigeria, despite the request we made for 5 states, not a single state was created for the Tiv nation! Do you know what? Apa State was created for the Idoma with a population of less than the Katsina-Ala State, which General Sani Abacha created for us Tiv, and we, the Tiv, then promptly rejected!
Today, we are weak and powerless! Need I say more?
Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to ponder on the following issues, before we break from Mississippi. These matters have become urgent.
1. How do we reclaim our lost relevance in Nigeria?
2. How do we empower our people taking them away from the debilitating poverty they are trapped in now?
3. How do we recruit good political leaders to protect our interests, develop our people and society and generally govern us well?
4. Do we really have any true friends, and who are these our true friends and allies in the country of Nigeria?
5. In the event of a very serious crisis in our violent, crisis torn country, in a worst-case scenario, where can we go? Can we stand on our own?
6. I believe we are back to the question I posed in 1968, our Tiv compatriots of MUTA—“Where Do We Go From Here?”
Under the second consideration, as we reflect on these issues, I want to plead that we broaden our analysis to consider my earlier concerns and promise, expressed as a young gubernatorial candidate in 1983, at 46. To me, now MUTA is sincerely the most credible of all Tiv cultural and/or politico-social organizations, still standing, not completely polluted, or taken over by party material corruption, so evident, “back home” in Nigeria.
From that sincere observation, I would like to congratulate the leadership of MUTA and the membership, for their development efforts both in Nigeria and in the diaspora. The scholarships, the medical and other projects they have packaged for the benefit of our people over the years, are commendable.
Rather than only appearing to be critical of what I have lived and observed, I feel positively disposed to MUTA and wish to venture to put before all of you distinguished compatriots of MUTA a constructive challenge, that may someday, aid in our efforts, to develop Tiv land and advance the Tiv people.
Could MUTA invest in developing an all-embracing all-time-applicable vision for the Tiv that is not bound by partisan politics?
What is MUTA’s blueprint, or vision, of what our people’s development would, or could, or should look like in the future? If MUTA has such a vision for the future, could they clarify, what they think of what our homeland and our people should be, in say, 50, 30, 20, or, 10 years time. What do you members of this great MUTA envision?
I had such a dream way back in 1983, and I communicated same, clearly, to my party and people and dared promise to set the pace and be governor for only one term of 4 years. I programmed then, a continuous steady development plan, including even leadership development, stretching out for 20 years.
I envisioned how many universities, with what mix of academic and research specialties and capabilities, we would – or should – have!
Can MUTA do us the favour of dreaming what level of infrastructure development we should attain in 50, 40, 30, 20, 10 years? What will be the mix of industries that productively employ our people? What levels of technological capability will we or should we reach? And even how will we be governed for same periods? How will our institutions function, and how accountable will our political leaders be to the people they are supposed to serve? In my little effort in 1983, I even said in public, as a partisan politician, that my running mate, Dr. Edwin Obe, of blessed memory, would take over and also continue with the programme on our 20 year scale as envisioned. We seriously bought into this kind of orientation. Can MUTA accept this challenge with superior capacity and better preparation than me?
Along our limited orientation, we believed we would rehabilitate political behavior to become more goal directed and more purposeful.
I wish to appeal to the leadership of MUTA to expand their orientation by adding another dimension of this topic, as a result of their physical location in the USA.
MUTA should evolve a vision of how the diaspora communities will grow, evolve, prosper, and thrive! Will it be up to every man and woman to struggle and find their way on their own, or could anything be done – at least a the level of a vision – to help our people become successful and well anchored within the larger societies and communities that they may settle in, outside of Tiv land, like here in the United States.
I ask these seemingly rhetorical questions both for my own understanding – that you might educate me if MUTA has developed such visions or blueprints – and to encourage you to develop a concrete, and comprehensive, vision for the future of the Tiv if you have not done so yet.
With such a vision in hand, you might want to use it as a compass or guide, for your own assessment of the state of our people overall, or the state of our people in the diaspora. You may also want to use it as a basis for engagement with various leaders, and leadership groups, who may speak to you about their ideas and plans for the Tiv people.
You can use your vision as a somewhat objective basis for holding leaders accountable for their exercise of power and influence, since they love attending MUTA annual conferences. Because, after all, if powerful leaders are not significantly advancing the Tiv people towards goals of development in education, infrastructure, industrial and technological development, and improved governance, democratization, and civil society development, then what good are they really?
Also, having a concrete vision or blueprint of the future may stimulate the MUTA community to think on your own of ways that we individuals and MUTA, might advance the development of the Tiv, even without waiting for government leaders to take positive action. More often than not, we all know that Nigerian political leadership, in general, is often more likely to disappoint than impress.This is the reality confronting us, in this our now, strange Nigeria!
I am done, distinguished ladies and gentlemen at the 2014 MUTA get together. I do not wish to bore you anymore.
However, as a 79-year old unemployed Tiv man, don’t be deceived, distinguished leadership and MUTA community assembled here.
This narrative of mine is a serious application for employment, from a committed applicant.
My experience as a university teacher, of the old, a restless or is it troublesome, political activist of the old order, a consultant and advisor to governments coupled with the leadership of my companies, these experiences exposed me to much knowledge, about life in Nigeria.
I now present myself humbly, as an unemployed resource person for those who wish to hire. Will you be hiring soon, I ask!
I love you all, and God bless and empower Tiv land, Tiv people, MUTA, and Nigeria, my beloved and bleeding country.
Wantaregh Paul Unongo, OFR
Northern Elders Forum
August 1, 2014