I appreciate the write up by Hon SAN, an Abuja based lawyer that is widely circulated by the President General of Mdzough U Tiv World Wide. There is a friend of mine who once asked me to reconstruct this aspect of Tiv History through the lenses and perspective of Tiv Indigenous Historiography.
My reply then, and still now, is this, do the Tiv people value their history? How much of our indigenous history has come under State Sponsorship and the good efforts of private sector driven people.
This debate has been on for decades despite the fact that there is a Benue State University that houses an entire Department of History.
Where is the better institution where the histories of indigenous peoples of Benue State can be salvaged and rescued from stereotypes and falsehood? The University is a research institution that can carry out such responsibility with good sponsorship by State and private actors.
In other climes, especially the Western World, there is a conscious policy of pushing research grants to institutions of higher learning to break new grounds and to emerge with new perspectives of dealing with societal challenges. Universities do not just exist for the sake of it. There has to be a synergy between what is research at the university and the relevance of such research to societal development.
I know several years ago, at the Benue State University Makurdi, when Historical Files on the Tiv Nation which were kept in the Custody of Professor Charles Jacob, were abandoned, after his death, were left to be destroyed by rain. The university treated the files in contempt and were dumped in the public space for destruction. Nothing was done to save the Tiv Native Files which were a rich source of Tiv History.
Do we really value Tiv History?
I recall my conversation with the late Professor Jacobs who had moved on from the University of Jos to the Benue State University Makurdi. He was worried about the state of the history of the Tiv people. He pointed out that much of the history of the Tiv people was a historiography of external forces hostile to existence and image of the Tiv Nation.
Professor Jacobs pointed out for instance that Dr. Tesemchi Makar original thesis of the Tiv people was doctored and distorted by a group of Arewa Professors and Professors of Kwararafa Confederacy, for obvious reasons. One of such, among many, has been the false claims that the Tiv Nation was under the sovereignty of the Sokoto Caliphate and the Jukun Sovereignty in the pre colonial era. Furthermore, the idea that the Tiv were late intruders, migrants, who had come in late, to wrestle lands from their neighbors like the Alago, Jukun, Idoma, etc. In addition, the Arewa and Kwararafa Historiography of Tiv History pushes the Tiv people back to the Cameroon while others, out of ignorance, pushes the Tiv back to ” Benue”.
Benue is a geographical term that is almost comprising of the present North Central Nigeria. I wonder sometimes where is the Benue. Is it from the foothills of Cameroonian mountains to the Confluence Area at Lokoja?
Let me use some of my personal experience to enrich this discussion. Recently, at the Federal University of Lafia, I did an Inaugural Lecture on the Tiv Nation that attracted the hostility of the Historiographical forces mentioned above.
A colleague of mine, a Fulani by extraction, said this to me. “The Tiv people have a rich History, but there is a dearth of Tiv Historians researching and publishing on the area.”
On the day of the Inaugural Lecture, I will not forget the efforts of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Dr Iorchia Ayu, who send in a support as well as sighted the usefulness and the significance of the lecture to the identity and image of the Tiv Nation.
The Benue State University Makurdi, where I am a Graduate as well as where I did began my academic career, turned down my invitation to attend the lecture on Tiv History.
The Government of Benue State also did not acknowledge my request to attend the Inaugural. The same also for the Tiv Traditional Council.
I don’t think the Tiv Nation is yet to wake up to the power that History wields over a people and nation. It is rather unfortunate that we are beginning to realize it in this regard: The idea of infidelity of the Tiv people. There are still more controversial issues to come that will hit and destroy the collective image of the Tiv Nation.
In recent years, the Ford Foundation instituted a Research Grant on the Bantu thesis which among many research findings, was to dig up and validate the Bantu assumption of the Tiv Origin. Let me careful with my statement here that, I don’t think there were Historians of Tiv Extraction on that Project. If they were, there has been yet any publications on Tiv Origins to further illuminate the efforts of early indigenous scholars like Dr. Makar.
As much as I know, at the moment, there is no research findings and publication on the TIV people, in terms of Origin, Society and Culture, by indigenous Professional Historians, on the Tiv people. In addition, since the establishment of Benue State, there has been no State Sponsorship of Tiv History to give an Official Version of Tiv History.
Recently, I did a proposal to the Governor of Benue State, Fr. Hyacinth Alia on the need for a State Historian presiding over a State Research, Documentation and Archival Center. Other states of Nigeria, who understands the pivotal role of history in national rebirth, reconstruction, identity and development, have long established such units.
History is Development and Development is History. Both are critical to National identity and perception in the twenty first century.
The Tiv Nation has for too long forgotten their history through acts of omission and commission. We have become a reactionary force and that explains why strangers and perceived enemies now write and publish our history. We don’t value our own and have invested nothing in our culture and identity. The logical outcome of our “historical Luke warmness” is the false distortion of our history and culture by enemies who don’t want us to be in Nigeria and anything in Nigeria.
I am not a lawyer, a learned person per say, but I think I can make my little contribution here in this respect. We have a Faculty of Law at the Benue State University Makurdi, the crème de la crème of the Legal Profession in Nigeria, but for history sake, cannot take to the Supreme Court for a review of legal verdict that has come to legalize adultery in Tiv Society. We have the best of the Senior Advocates as well produced a Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation but still have such an travesty of justice hanging on the neck of the Tiv Nation?
There is more to this controversy than what it appears to be. There is a conspiracy within us and the issue has been politicized. The adultery scandal like several conflict issues of the Tiv people reveals a salient fact:
“The Man Tiv has Died”
I use the words of the late legend Wantaregh Paul Unongo with a sense of deep sadness and reflection. Where is the collective resolve of the Tiv people today in contemporary national and global affairs? We are such a highly progressive force but badly divided, visionless and non nationalistic.
I can share some of my thoughts in this respect published in some of my works. My conclusion is that we have for long played politics with history and development. The law of retribution is beginning to close in on us as a people.
From all around North Central Nigeria and even beyond, we are been pushed around merely struggling to survive, holding to nothing concrete. We are the beast of burden, tenant farmers, commercial sex workers, the shrinking intellectual giants, the lost federal frontier.
Politics is what defines and make a people. As long as we have a political elites whose adversaries is the intellectual class, the TIV Nation, will continue to suffer decay and decline.
Our Arewa and Kwararafa neighbors have long understood this secret that you never politicize the intellectual class, rather, articulate and project their combined mental and emotional force.
Uji Wilfred Terlumun
Department of History and International Studies Federal University of Lafia