Benue’s Journey of Political Crisis

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By Nombor Philip Terlumun 

Benue  State is one of the North Central states in Nigeria, created on 3rd February, 19976 with a population of about 4,253,641 according to the 2006 census. The people of the State are mostly agrarian, fishermen and forest hunters.  Peaceful coexistence of diverse culture and heritage. 

History, as defined by certain scholars, is the systemic study of past, present and future events, particularly in human affairs. Benue has it history dating as far back as C 1500  when the Tiv first arrived what is today known as the Benue Valley. 

The political structure and leadership of the Tiv and Benue was based on age, the oldest in every community was the head of the community with the responsibilities of séance on behalf of the people, settling disputes, allocating lands to each member (household) of the community, performing marital rites and others as was assigned him.

As time goes on, among the Tiv of Benue valley, the position of tor Agbande was instituted between the 18th-19th century, which became the highest office among the Tiv nation- Tesemchi Makar (1994).

 Until the establishment of the Tor Tiv stool, the Ôrtar, ityôr, tax collectors and the first class chiefs, the ator Agbande were the highest, most powerful and revered institutions and offices among the Tiv.

The advent Christianity and the western education in Nigeria, the Benue valley was marked for capture between 1830-1900 which will later change it ancestral style of leadership to present leadership style. 

Modern Politics

The iconic Sen. Joseph Sarwuan Tarkaa was Tiv first to venture into partisan politics, first as the Federal Commissioner of Transport and then Communications under General Yakubu Gowon, one of the founding fathers of the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC).  In 1979, Tarkaa was elected senator to represent Benue East. 

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In rejection of being lord over by Muslims and northern politicians, the UMBC under the leadership of J S Tarkaa rejected the Native Authority’s support for the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and instructed no Tiv to be member of the NPC. 

As it’s often said, politics is a game of interest, personal interest. For political and personal reasons and interest, the UMBC registered its members while the NPC also registered its members in the state.

Tarkaa, who felt politically threaten by northern politicians, declared the abolishment of the NPC in the state, refusal to denounced membership was grievous. This marked the beginning of the first Tiv political crisis named Atem Ityô, Nande Nande or Num u Parti u Baja.

Families were divided against each other, ropes were tied across compounds to separate members of the UMBC and the NPC, brothers betrayed brothers to death, food was shared and eaten by members of same political parties only, it was a feast of corpses, houses were razed and traditional rulers killed. The traditional rulers were the primary target of the Tarkaa’s UMBC as it was believed or thought they were doing the bindings of the Sudan of Sokoto. This marked the beginning of the unending political crisis in Benue.

Peace however returned after the 1979 elections which saw Aper Aku elected Gov of the state. There was political and leadership stability from Aku’s 1979-1999. 

When democracy returned in 1999 with full flagged and registration of multiple political parties, again the Tiv nation became the battle field, an ocean flowing of blood. 

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This time, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of then governor His Excellency Sen George Akume and the All Nigerians People’s Party (ANPP) of Sen Daniel Saor and Paul Iorpuu Unongu whose national leader was Gen. Muhammadu Buhari Rtd. The ANPP at all times, tagged the Akume’s administration as being corrupt, inhumane and undeserving for the  people of the State. 

The PDP on the other hand, was determined holding on to power as long as it could not minding the consequences. 

Unongu’s Kwande Paid the Price

As the political tussle between the PDP and ANPP continue unabated. The first four years of the PDP came to an end and elections were set to hold in 2003.

The elections were to change the present Government or re-elect the government for continuity. 

The two popular candidate were Sen George Akume who was seeking re-election and Chief Paul Unongu, who was contesting to oust Akume. 

Akume was re-elected on the 19th, April 2003 with total votes of 681,717. Unongu, Adasu and Mku scored 0 votes as was declared by INEC. 

However, Kwande rejected the governorship results insisting they voted for Unongu in unison,  everywhere became tensed, fear took over Benue as other local governments too rejected the governorship results. 

Kwande Took a Step

In what seems like a drama stage, Kwande stood their ground and rejected Akume’s PDP during the chairmanship elections. Two local governments chairmen were marked by the government of day to be ousted no matter the circumstances, they were Kwande chairman and Timothy Aondoakaa of Vandeikya. 

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Sensing rejection of PDP in Kwande, thousands of militias were sent to hijack ballot boxes and ensure the PDP wins the Kwande LG elections. Kwande youths and elders refused being intimidated by political thugs. A situation that generates into full political war between the Kwande and the militias with Basil Kwambe serving as the medium of communication between the militias and their sponsors.

Lives were lost, homes destroyed, other properties worth billions razed.

My village of Ute, neighboring Kwande became the refugee home of the Kwande people. 

At a time we were fighting to recover the Tiv-Jukun crisis of 2001, the Vaase, Gbeji, Zaki-Biam and katsina-Ala military invasion, we were hit more harder by the Tiv politics of “Aya sha Agee”.

Today, I see youths fueling political crisis on social Media. Yes, we may not witness the Atem Ityô but majority of us witnessed the Kwande political crisis of 2003-2004 and, we know the level of damages it caused and the number of lives lost. 

If you are a stakeholder, be stakeholding well and ensure those you are stakeholding for were not responsible for the Kwande crises of 2003-2004 and will not be responsible for Political Crisis in the State.

If you are the masses, mass well and ensure those you are massing for were not responsible for the Kwande crises of 2003-2004 and will not be responsible for Political Crisis in the State.

Don’t be the tool of the next Atem Ityô in the 21st century.

(Nombor Philip Terlumun (Glasgow, UK), could be reached via +1 914 520-5126

Email: nomborphilip@gmail.com)

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