Very few foresaw that the elite failure in Nigeria would be so total as for the book to make much sense when it was first published in the year 2000. Talking about traditional cures for modern conflicts did not only look anachronistic, it also embodied the Western image of Africa as a static place and people. Today, very, very few would argue with the author’s ‘anthropological’ insight. In the absence of a modern elite capable of some consensus on meritocracy or qualitative governance deploying the power of the modern state to manage diversity, only ‘African conflict ‘medicine’ might be the last option for the nightmare of Jukun – Tiv relay of violence, especially since 1991 when it was always characterised by arson and killing.
In its current phase in the past few weeks, it compounds the anarchy that has been on the prowl across Nigeria, from the Benue-Taraba – Plateau axis to another variant in Zamfara – Katsina axis and then Borno – Yobe axis. That is not to say that safety can be taken for granted anywhere else across Nigeria.
The media writes of Jukun – Tiv type of violence as ethnic but nothing is ever said about why ethnicity might be conflictual when it could equally be very positive and even emancipatory. Land is another variable regularly mentioned as the spark but just as ethnicity, the question is also whether land in itself could lead to violence without the narratives. Neither ethnicity nor land, therefore, triggers violence. It is always the narratives around them, bordering on who owns the land, why and how, etc. That is the job of conflict entrepreneurs who manufacture and sell narratives too sweet to have the potential to move men into violent behavior in resolving clash of interest.
In the current context, there do not seem to be overt narratives and the conflict merchants. In fact, the chairmen of Ukum and Wukari Local Government Council in Benue and Taraba states respectively even seem to be in touch on containing the conflict. Of course, left usually without skilled workforce, control of any ‘troops’ and without resources, local council chairmen are usually not in a position to anticipate or prevent conflict. Still, it is symbolically significant that the two appear to be communicating in this case. It is perhaps the case that the situation in Nigeria today is such that problems of lack of inclusive, fair and just governance can easily be presented in ethnic terms, sufficient to generate violence between even different ethnic groups that belonging to a same party as in this case.
Taraba State where the Jukuns predominate is a PDP governed state just as Benue where the Tiv predominate is also a PDP ruled state. It would be thought that, as such, party consciousness would override ethnic consciousness when there is an issue in contest between the two or much easier if the matter is within and around Wukari which is in Taraba State. Why that is not the case here is the basis of the conclusion that what exists in Nigeria are just political parties in name without soul of personality or message inspiring enough for anyone. It is a sign of the serious decline of Nigeria because it was never like that. What does anyone call a modern state where neither the elite structures such as political parties nor instruments of modern state such as the Police, DSS, the armed forces and other para-military agencies are either unwilling or too overwhelmed to contain conflicts?
Two scholars, Jackson and Rosberg attempted an answer. That is their distinction between the Empirical and the Juridical State which they say is peculiar to Africa. The Empirical State is the normal, functional state where anyone who breaks the law sees the police coming after him within three minutes of doing so. That is if the law breaker is even able to actually break the law before he or she is grabbed because preemption as a national security strategy now has a policing dimension. If your profile by the security network suggests to them that you are in a state of preparedness to commit a crime, they can grab you. It is full of errors of judgment because it is all speculation but it is part of the practice.
The Juridical State on the other hand is the state which exists but only in name because it is not functional. It is more or less the opposite of the Empirical State. State officials go to the UN and other high pressure diplomatic activities but that is for show, In truth, such states have collapsed.
African social scientists have been protesting the racism they perceive to underline this theory. But it is even becoming difficult to do so anymore. Imagine the fool one would be in taking a lot of time attacking the theory at a conference of the International Political Science Association, for example, but only to learn on one’s arrival at one’s home airport that one’s relation is among those killed in a Jukun – Tiv relay violence. This is more so that no one knows whether members of the power elite in Nigeria are even aware that some two scholars have come up with such a distinction and their state falls within the disreputable category.
What seems rather clear is how the state making consequences of the embarrassing elite crisis of mission peculiar to Nigeria must force the Jukun-Tiv component of that power elite to seek wisdom in Zartman’s approach. That is, we should not be surprised to see the Aku Uka of Wukari and the Tor Tiv taking leadership of the peacemaking process based on forgotten traditional mechanisms for conflict management. Only their congregation can reverse whatever narratives are fueling current spate of violence. What we know is that current violence contradict the history of both ethnic groups. As late as 2013, it was heard from someone who is incapable of telling lies that there is nowhere in history where Jukuns fought Tiv. If he is correct, then the analysis here must be correct that the conflict has nothing to do with land or ethnic hostility in themselves but the framing of them. In other words, the current spate of violence is modern tribalism which has very little to do with ethnicity. The violence also challenges the wisdom that the Jukuns are peaceful people because, having run an empire that went far, they have the cultural influence that most ethnic groups in the Middle Belt lack. All the two conclusions are under threat from the relay of violence between the Jukuns and Tiv, a very, very recent phenomenon. Most importantly, Nigeria as a whole cannot make claim to peace and stability if two ethnic groups of the position of Jukuns and Tiv occupy in Nigeria are violently chalking out each other. Finally, other parts of the country locked in intractable conflict we carelessly or uncritically label as ethnic conflicts might benefit from what the Jukun and Tiv exploits of this paradigm might reveal.
In the current security situation in Nigeria, all options must be on the table for exploration and lesson learning.