By Adagbo Onoja
Later today in Taraba State, someone who was not a state official at the point of death would receive a state burial. That would suggest a lot about his place in popular consciousness. We are referring to Elder Jibrin Amfani who passed away recently at the age of 80. I found his name on a list I was given in connection with a documentary research in late 2012. Before that, I had never heard his name, not to talk of what he stood for. He was not the only person I needed to go to Wukari in Taraba State to meet but, even then, the idea of going to Wukari at all was not inviting. It was not Wukari itself but the route map and the image of conflicts each one had. It was such that in spite of symbolism that ties one to the place, it was only with the assistance of a journalist friend we made it eventually and interviewed him on October 24th, 2012. The trip to Wukari turned out a most memorable one. Elder Jibrin Amfani turned out to be worth every effort or risks in going through a conflict zone to meet. Without a pen or any pieces of paper and for nearly five hours, he literarily poured out the sort of History you expect from a product of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria School of History of his years there. He was among the pioneer class in that Department. His attraction was not the truth or otherwise of his claims but the power of recollections, of memory. In pouring out History, he went beyond the subject matter that brought us before him.
Ever since the encounter, I have been in touch with the elder as much as possible. Before a recent trip to Benue State, I called him but only for the voice at the other end to say that he was indisposed and was actually in the hospital. From hindsight now, I should have insisted on going to see him in the hospital right away that day. I think I overrated the confidence of the voice at the other end that if I called again at the time he was suggesting, we would have our telephone session. Still away in Benue State, I did not call at the appointed time. Or any other time again because, on return to Abuja, the facebook message announcing his death was waiting for me. He had died peacefully in his sleep.
Reflecting on the totality of the encounter with him, I concluded there can be no better tribute to him than extracting and publishing the portion of the 2012 interview that spoke to the colonial constitution of identity and conflict in Northern Nigeria. If the light he shed on the complex mechanisms in inter-group relations that our fore-fathers worked out centuries ago but which we are not only unable to sustain but have also vandalised helps the cause of peace in this troubled region, the interview would have achieved its purpose. Of course, there is the point in this interview about letting the Other speak. For, it is in the multiplicity of narratives that future prosperity of Nigeria is guaranteed. May his soul rest in peace!
The Evolution, Arteries and Territories of Kwararafa Empire
The Jukuns came from the Arabian Peninsula through Western Sudan to Gazargamu to Kanem Bornu. We left the Kanuris at Gazargamu to come down here through the area of Mandara Hills, (Mubi), settled in Kilba, (around Yola), then to Hawai River, (across Gongola River) and settled in Pindiga. Another column settled in Fika. Bolewa, Karekare are derivatives of Jukun. The first Jukun attack on Kano was from Fika. From Fika, they came down through Gana across River Benue to Kwararafa to Wukari. There are those who took permission to go hunting, the Kuteb settlings in Takum, for example. Kwararafa existed same time with the salt headquarters in Akwana, trading salt to the Arabs up to Tripoli.
Wukari was the hub of Kwararafa, its pivot and fulcrum. Aku Uka was ruling through Idoma to Igala to Okene – those were part of his domain. Kwararafa was a confederation. When it moved to Wukari, the Idoma people were here. We have a section of the town called Akpoto. They decided to move ahead because the ambition of Kwararafa was to reach the sea. Various groups left, some for hunting, others for adventure. They had moved to Wukari in the 16th century. Etulo, Idoma, Igala moved ahead. Alago also left here to settle in Keana and Doma, (present day Nasarawa State). We still maintain relationship with the Gomai of Shendam.
Out of the 36 states of the federation, Kwararafa is found in 27 states. So, it was a real dispersion but Aku Uka remains the divine and supreme leader. Kwande and Namu from Plateau State and Keana and Doma from Nasarawa State used to come here to confirm their chiefs because their chiefs cannot be buried without instruments from Aku Uka. That practice was discontinued by the British but even then, Namu, Kwande, Saminanka, Keana and Doma come here to confirm. It is not like this with the Idoma but Wukari was collecting taxes even up to Igala land until it developed into a war. It was in that war that the Attah Igala had to sacrifice his daughter, Inikpi, to build a defensive wall. They poisoned the water which killed Jukun soldiers and Jukun had to give up tax collection in that near abroad. What you call Middle Belt now was under Jukun influence. We have a yearly conference when all the chiefs come to celebrate. It is called Puje. We have been trying to revive the celebration so that all chiefs can revive the unity of Kwararafa. The Och’Idoma is a son of the Aku Uka and they relate on that basis. The Och’Idoma derives authority from Wukari to keep certain areas. He has certain obligations to the Aku as his divine father. Aku is First Class chief, Och’Idoma is also First Class chief but there is something which unites them – their great, great ancestry where the hierarchy is different.
Relations with Borno
They are all monarchs of different backgrounds. When Kwararafa was migrating from the Arabian Peninsula, they left together with the Kanuris, only separating at Gazargamu. They have maintained the relationship. That relationship has been cemented when the Shehu of Borno sent fire on a basket of cotton lint but which was not burning. It was a message of fire, of challenge. The Aku received that and sent him a basketful of water and the water did not leak till it reached Borno. As a result of this exchange, Kwararafa sent certain gifts to the Shehu of Borno. The Borno people saw them coming. Thinking they were enemies, they sent fire. The area was burning but the messengers made rain to fall. It is fire and water all the time. So, they vowed never to fight each other because it was always a drawn battle. To date, Jukuns and Kanuris play. They never go to court because of the traditional tie that binds them. They recognise each other as brothers. There is no superiority contest. The Shehu of Borno does not hold Aku as a subordinate and vice-versa.
The Shehu has a representative in the Kwararafa Empire. The one in Wukari is even a Ward Head. He was in Aku’s cabinet before the Area Courts were taken off the traditional authority. Aku Uka’s representative in the Shehu’s court has been assimilated.
Relations With Sokoto
Sokoto came later after Kwararafa had collapsed. When Sokoto was extending the Jihad, they did not do it this way. From Bauchi, they were trying to attack Wukari but they said no. Bayero, a son of the Sultan tried but it was a misadventure and he was recalled. The Jukuns didn’t collect any flag from Dan Fodio. The essence of collecting a flag was surrender. So, there is no tension in relations between Jukun and Sokoto. Whatever tension you see or hear in that regard today was the arrangement of the colonial authority who started grading chiefs after 1802. That was because the British decided to rule through chiefs. Lugard had a model from India to rule what later became Nigeria indirectly through our own chiefs. They cornered the chiefs and started assessing and grading them with staff of office. The British found the Fulani to have certain features like themselves such as standing armies, horses and big gowns and started liking them and they started giving them First Class status. On the contrary, they found the Aku in his traditional wrapper and gave him Third Class status. That is the identity contest you find there. It did not come from the Fulanis but from the British. The British found no standing army in the Jukun kingdom but the instruction of the Aku was going beyond his territory without element of force. What they did was to send an anthropologist to understand the mysteries of the Jukuns. He came and wrote his book but the colonial administration in Kaduna was not happy about what he wrote. They said it would embarrass the British. They asked him to change and rewrite the work. A Sudanese Kingdom: An Ethnographic Study of the Jukun-speaking Peoples of Nigeria by Charles Meek is not a history of the Jukuns. They hid their findings and since 1903 when these people were graded, Aku remained Third Class until 1983 when he was regraded. That is 80 years before the British blunder was corrected. But Aku Atoshi was in the Northern House of Chiefs. The Sardauna said in his autobiography that the Jukuns who conquered most of the places in the North before they lost their adventure were not with those opposing him.
Tiv – Jukun Relations
Tiv came very late. The empire had collapsed. It was around 1835 or so when the Tivs arrived in the country through Congo. The first people Tivs saw were Jukuns. So, you cannot separate Tivs from Jukuns. They found one person, Mallam Ala, a hunter. That was their first contact. That was by the side of the River. They asked him permission to hunt and farm. He said no, he too was under permission. He said he would ask for permission for them too. Ageshi was the centre of Jukun power – the salt they used to send through the Transaharan route up to Tripoli. The salt was the power of the empire. Ageshi is Etulo and he got permission from Audu Manu – the incumbent Aku. The migration of the Tivs was in batches. The Tivs were not fragmented then. Up till today here in Wukari, the Tivs have 10 clans recognised as our own, they select their chieftaincy and the Aku will endorse.
Tivs have problems, not with the Jukuns alone but with their nieghbours. Tivs have a genealogical difference between them and others and among themselves. I was faced with that as District Officer, (DO). Most if not all staff of Gboko Native Authority were Ipusu. They were setting up each other and jailing each other on the basis of Ipusus versus Ichongo. It was on the basis of this I suggested that Tiv Division was so big to have one Commissioner in Benue Plateau. I said, couldn’t we split this Tiv Division? I discussed with Paul Unongo. He liked it. Tarka and Isaac Shaahu didn’t like it because they said splitting the division would be inimical to control. Eventually, there was Makurdi, Gboko and Katsina Ala, each with a Commissioner instead of one in Benue Plateau.
As Tiv multiplied, they started infiltrating into main areas. The British wanted to stop or check their infiltration, saying it would adulterate the Jukuns. But they were too much for everybody. But, after the last crisis, three issues came up. One is that Benue land is over – used. So, they are all over Taraba today. Second is elite distortion of history, some even saying the Tivs were here even before the Jukuns. There is nowhere in history where Jukuns fought Tivs. The Jukuns said Bee Chi – come and stay. The Hausas corrupted it to Munchi but where did the Tivs meet the Fulani to eat their cattle? Read Captain Dowse’s book. The relationship is also symbiotic – land and food. If you check carefully, you would find that the Tivs have no name for maize, for instance. The Tiv name for maize is something they found in Uke. The third and last point of crisis is politics. The Tiv wanted to use numerical advantage to play the game of number. We said, go to Benue and do it. You have 10 clans and we would stay with that in sharing political benefits. The 10 clans have the recognition and authority of the Aku. Of course, other ethnic groups came and started going in between.
The Conflict Epidemic in the North
Every sickness has a cure. Lugard with his experience in India, mentioned to his Secretary in the ship that he was going to rule through the native structures when he arrived Nigeria. And that was what he did. Where there were no chiefs as in the East, he appointed Warrant Chiefs. Yoruba chiefs do not take decisions alone, so they got chief and council. In the North, it was chief-in-council, except in certain pagan areas where chiefs were not in place. Emirs and chiefs were in charge of the treasury, the first was in Kano in 1910. Chiefs were collecting taxes and using it for their own. Police, prisons, courts and those services had to be paid for. Since colonial administration would not bring resources from England, what chiefs were collecting should be used for these services and that is the chief himself should be put on salary. Chiefs were judges in their own courts. The courts and prison and the police were his. So, powers continued to be exercised by chiefs until independence. Then the politicians came in 1960 and one thing led to another until the Federal Government took over the native courts, police prisons. Since then, the hands of the chiefs became clipped. There was law and order under the clearer hierarchy in the colonial authority because every leader at every level could account for everyone. That channel is now broken. The people are on their own but they do not have the apparatuses. This is the beginning of the end. Eventually, the Abdulsalami government removed the chiefs from the constitution. But who would maintain law and order? Politicians made chiefs instruments of oppression and molestation of the people. The answer is to bring chiefs back and give them their primary role which is responsibility for law and order. Unless you make the chief important because he is the one the community is looking up to, there will always be conflicts. Unfortunately, it is when law and order breaks down that politicians look for the chiefs. There is nothing wrong with bringing chiefs back. Is Britain not still maintaining the monarchy?. The Queen’s signature makes the law to be the law. Instead of that, we have embarked on an expensive system of government. The system is even wrong. We are not mature for it and it is very wasteful. How can someone have N400m as Constituency Allowance? They use it to go and incite conflict and slip away. So, you do not even have the epidemic you are talking about yet because they are getting bigger and bigger amounts every day.
Why Jukun is Not Part of Middle Belt Forum
The people doing that forum deceived T. Y Danjuma to collect his money. They deceived because their concept of Middle Belt is too restrictive. What metamorphosed into Middle Belt politics was an initiative of Patrick Dokotri of Berom and Joseph Tarka in Tivland. They felt so much subjected by the Sardauna people in politics. So, Tarka came up with the Middle Belt People’s Party. There was struggle between the two until they agreed to merge into the United Middle Belt Congress, UMBC. That is Dokotri in Jos and Tarka in Benue. They were all fighting the NPC led by the Sardauna.
So, we are seeing Middle Belt as too restrictive for our own liking. Kwararafa is geographically much larger than the political Middle Belt. Kwararafa extends to Benin Republic, far outside Nigeria, well into Niger, Cameroun and Chad and we are in 27 out of 36 states that make up Nigeria, including certain parts of the North, South – Cross Rivers, Arochukwu and parts of Bendel. We are saying Kwararafa owns the country but we have not come together to understand ourselves. We gave power to the North, South, everywhere but they are looking down on us. What are we getting? We should strengthen Kwararafa instead of dashing people power. We are the pivot of this nation. Once the equilibrium is lost, the nation cannot hold. We hold the balance. Why are we sharing the meat without eating it? Yet, we are everywhere. We are part of Borno like Biu; we are part of Yobe, like Fika; we are in large part of Bauchi and Gombe, we have almost the whole of Plateau, we are there in Saminanka and other parts of Kaduna; almost the entire Niger State; parts of Cross Rivers State; we are in parts of Kano such as Rano and even in Katsina. Kurfi was where they stopped the Jukun advance. There is a 1660 map of places under Kwararafa Empire which I will show you.