By Ati Kenneth Kengkeng
Countless times as I sojourn on Social Media I come across various submissions seeking to entrench the dichotomy that exists between the Tiv and Idoma people in Benue State. If one is not questioning the tribal inclination in the quota allocation of Federal job slots and appointments to Benue State, then it will inevitably be the quest for an Idoma person to be Governor of Benue State. This anomaly took a voracious dimension shortly after the 2007 elections when the Idoma tribe commenced a robust campaign for power shift. Friends who have no dispute whatsoever soon begin to poke hands into eachothers faces at the slightest dint of tribal inclination in any activity. I know a Pentecostal church where some Idoma folks don’t respond to Tiv songs and vice versa. The advanced level of this dichotomy is the movement for the creation of Apa State. This divide is raising its head in almost all facets of our daily lives.
Benue State has an uneven population distribution among its tribes. Tiv, Idoma, Igede, Etulo, Nyifon, Afia and Abakwa are the indigineous tribes resident in the State. Of the 23 Local Governments in the state, 7 are Idoma speaking, 2 Igede speaking and a highly populated 14 are Tiv speaking areas with a massive spill-over into Taraba, Nassarawa, and Plateau states. Etulo as an entire tribe has only one council ward to itself while Nyifon, Afia and Abakwa exist in total obscurity. They are all found within or around Buruku, Katsina Ala and Ukum Local Governments. In this distribution, half of the Tiv speaking Local Governments (Logo, Ukum, Katsina Ala, Vandeikya, Konshisha, Kwande and Ushongo) represent Benue North East (Zone A)with Chief Barnabas Gemade as Senator. The other half (Makurdi, Guma, Gwer East, Gwer West, Gboko, Tarka and Buruku) represent Benue North West (Zone B) with Senate Minority Leader His Excellency Sen. Dr. George Akume as Senator while the remaining 9 (Apa, Agatu, Ado, Oju, Obi, Ohimini, Otukpo, Okpokwu, Ogbadibo,) represent Benue South West (Zone C) with the Senate President David Bonaventure Alechenu Mark as their representative.
In the above explanation, one thing stands out: The supremacy of the Tiv nation. No doubt, the Tiv population outweighs that of Idoma and all other tribes combined. This numerical strength is by all standards the greatest asset of the Tiv tribe. Could this also be the undoing of the Tiv tribe? Has it been or is it a tool for oppression of the minority tribes? How well has this numerical strength cum political supremacy helped the Tiv people and the state? What is the story in Zone C? How well has the Idoma tribe (Second largest) handled their own end? At the same time, do they have a noble case in their quest to Govern Benue? What has been the opinion of the seemingly non-existent tribes? Do they have equal rights as the major tribes in this game of numbers?
I want to state emphatically that the lack, failure and derogatory state of affairs in Benue State is totally the doing of the Tiv man. If Benue State has had any indigenous Governor from creation in 1976 to date, he is a Tiv man. In the line of succession excluding Military intervention are Late Mr. Aper Aku, Late Rev. Fr. Moses Adasu, Dr. George Akume and Dr. Gabriel Suswam, all of whom have spent a cumulative minimum of 23 years out of the 38 years of our existence as a state. Since tribe is the bone of contention here, it is almost needless to point out the achievements and failures of individual administrations. However, I will be doing my conscience a disservice if I fail to mention that Mr. Aper Apollos Aku of blessed memory has been and is still the Best Performing Governor that ever ruled Benue. I was born 7 years after he took his first oath of office and I was 2 years old when he died but today, over 25 years after his demise; I walk and drive smoothly on roads and streets he paved; I’ve built structures with the cement from the factory he built; I grew up eating foods cooked with oil extracted in factories he built; I drank from water treatment plants he established; I buy and sell at the modern market he built; My mother just retired as a civil servant and was well accommodated in a befitting secretariat he built; and a lot more too numerous to mention. Lots of the achievements of his administration have suffered loss due to neglect by successive governments while others were deliberately surrendered on unworthy platforms to gain selfish political and financial advantage. Since the exit of Aper Aku, the abysmal performance of successive administrations has made his achievements enigmatic and beyond the comprehension of todays “super performers”. No civilian Governor, in essence, nobody has measured up to the standard he left behind. This is no doubt one of the sources of the agitation for power shift to Zone C. It is beginning to look as though the Tiv nation is lacking the capacity to select and elect their best brains into positions of authority to at least match up with the level Aper Aku did. The situation is not as though we don’t have the brains but the system we have on ground today has been doctored to attach value and generate appreciation for mediocre personalities, something Iorliam Shija captured perfectly when he wrote:
“In 2004, the same society that honoured men like Jerome Tilley Gyado, that great Industrialist and men like JS Tarka, the minority rights activist for their achievements and contribution to the development of Tiv society is honouring SPACO, OSAMA, SHORTMAN and John Akperashi. My people, what is the common denominator of the former and the latter? That’s why I say honour is cheap in Tivland today…”-Iorliam Shija 2014.
He stated again: “I know that today, unlike in the past, people that are honoured in Tivland are known murderers, criminals, cultists, thieves and the likes. So how can we develop as a people?”- Iorliam Shija 2014.
At the same time, in a rare case where the “going” began on a good note, same elements within the Tiv nation instigated enmity or confusion in the political system which stimulated a turn-around in the original mindset of the policies and programmes of the government of the day. Governor Gabriel Suswam started on a handsome note. The “Our Benue Our Future” policy document was a water-tight manifesto for a united and prosperous Benue. Half way into his first term, we suddenly did not know where we were heading. Petitions were flying in and opposition to programmes of government became the order of the day. Politics took centre stage and development was relegated to the back-burner. This is not an attempt to hold brief for the Governor but an exposition of one of the factors that entrench under-performance in government. As a matter of fact, I expect my Governor to be loaded with the capacity to work under tremendous pressure and deliver with utmost exactitude. This attitude has cost the Tiv nation tremendous losses at all levels of our human existence. The death and burial of the movement for the creation of Katsina Ala State is one example too many.
To further buttress the quest for power shift, the Idoma tribe has suffered a lot with underdevelopment and neglect. Passing through Otukpo as I sojourn to PortHarcourt, I posted a comment on my facebook wall which spoke of the level of backwardness in Zone C. Otukpo, the most developed town in the entire Zone is a haven for dust, mud, laterite, filth, smoke and brown zinc roofs. Zone A and B have not benefitted much but the story in Zone C is worse. Virtually all functional industries and agencies built by the detribalized Aper Aku regime have been abandoned. Otukpo Burnt Bricks is a simple case study. Zone C fits the perfect description of a dead zone. This is enough for anyone to excuse every explanation and opt for a tribal shot at Benue State Government House. Many have argued that Senator David Mark is expected to ensure infrastructural upgrade and the all-round wellbeing of his people using his office as Senate President. Whether he has that capacity and has failed or he doesn’t have that capacity remains a topic for another day.
To be continued…