The Bonta community in Konshisha Local Government Area of Benue State is currently locked in a bloody clash with the people of Ukpute in Oju LGA, also of Benue State. The account of the violence below is a bit fragmentary and from one side. However, if it helps to provoke a more muscular government intervention, it would still have achieved the purpose. Reactions to the post are welcome!
By Benson Upah
This conflict flared up in 1997 with casualties on both sides. The causes have been the same. The Tiv from Bonta in Konshisha do cross over the boundary by up to three kilos and want to decide what happens.
It is not your regular communal clash, but a calculated annexation and genocidal programme over a long stretch of land across communities as highlighted in the main piece.
We should call a spade a spade. The silence of the government leaves room for all manner of theories. Truth is that with your aggressor, you cannot be careful enough. Thus, placating or wringing of hands should not be it here in line with the saying that you cannot appease your enemies, neither can you please your friends.
On Monday, June 22, 2020, the DPO of Oju in company of a few others from Oju went to Bonta to return a seized motor bike to Chief Mbanongo as part of a last ditch effort to stave off a violent conflict.
The motor bike was seized by Igede chaps from Ukpute in retaliation to two motor bikes seized by Tiv boys from Bonta . The seizures themselves represent a progression in the development of conflict, which in recent times was marked by the pulling down of a church building by Tiv boys. The Ukpute boys reported this matter to the police but did not retaliate.
A few weeks later some Tiv boys from Bonta again uprooted food crops of farmers from Ukpute. This time, there was retaliatory measure as the Ukpute boys had had enough of this regular harassment. A fight ensued and bikes were seized on both sides with the Ukpute boys reporting to the police.
On the evening the DPO of Oju returned the lone bike seized by the Bonta boys, their Chief, Mbanongo, an ex-service man, promised to return the two bikes seized by his boys the next day by 8:30 at the latest. Meanwhile, the Ukpute boys had screamed blue murder when the DPO returned without their own bikes as promised. But this was not to be the only setback for them as before the appointed time of returning the bikes, the Tiv attacked Ukpute and Obotu villages catching the people unawares and laying the villages to waste.
The police and the authorities in Makurdi were promptly informed but no help came. The assaults continued ceaselessly prompting a counter mobilisation. But just when a counter offensive was about to be launched on the fourth day, a military patrol arrived and sued for peace. It came into Oju via Utonkon.
After appealing to the people in Ukpute to sheath their swords, they proceeded to Bonta with an assurance to be back to address the people again. This was why and how the people demobbed and went to sleep. The first thing the next morning, however, Ukpute, Obotu and other villages came under attack. Their attackers were in military fatigues.
Once again, they cried to Makurdi, but no help came. Total silence. Total confusion as the people wondered whether if there was treachery on the part of the patrol team.
It turned out that the patrol team left via Aliade without informing Ukpute people who had let down their guard because of their presence. Once again, patrol team again passed through and the next day, attackers in military fatigues attacked.
This has been the pattern of killing and pillaging. No response from Makurdi or the police until yesterday evening when some MOPOL came….exactly one week after the commencement of hostilities. By then, maximum damage had been done. The only action the state government could be said to have taken was the convening of a meeting of the chiefs from both sides. Nothing more.
The Ukpute people in Igede are not the aggressors here, even if this rings like self-righteousness.
Accordingly, time has come for an unmistakable message to be sent out to those in authority and the world that there this is a systematic campaign of annexation and extermination simply because we are few and have none in authority (of significance).
Proof of my statement lies in the claims to Igede land by the Konshisha Tiv from Itogo, Ekingo, Ukpute, Ima, Ohuma, down to Igabvu. They have harassed, violated and dispossessed those communities of their lands or killed them for resisting.
It is not a one-off thing. Yet those boundaries were never contested in the past as they were/are well documented and marked by the colonial masters and thereafter….as between Idoma Native Authority Division and Tiv Native Authority Division (later rechristened Otukpo Division/Gboko Division respectively).
Recently, the Konshisha Tiv instituted an action in court against Igede on some of those lands but lost. In 1997, the Konshisha Tiv said their land extends to the College of Education, (COE), Oju (a kilometer to Oju LG headquarters) and vowed to take it by the sword. Recently, Mbanongo, the Bonta Chief reiterated this. He said he only needed ten guns to achieve this. This was to the hearing of a law officer.
It is not by accident that we have a resurgence of violence along that stretch from Itogo to Igabvu in Obi and Oju LGs. The aggressors (relying on mercenaries who assembled at Aliade and attacked in military fatigues) are executing a carefully planned agenda. It is no longer news that for one whole week including yesterday, Monday, June 29, 2020, they attacked Ukpute, Ekingo, Obotu and other communities, razing them to the ground and killing scores in the process. They are not satisfied as they are repositioning for another wave of attack.
Why now or why the urgency? Facts gleaned from around Bonta suggest that the people displaced from Taraba and Nasarawa want to form a distinct community of theirs instead of merging with their kindred. Mbanongo who illegally ceded the land, we are told, promised them autonomy complete with a subordinate chieftainship.
While we are in sympathy with the displaced, issues of resettlement should be collectively pursued in line with land protocols. After all, are we not supposed to be brothers? But annexation is a different thing and will be resisted.
It is trite knowledge that with a people as marginalised and exploited as the Igede with no single viable economic activity in their domain, their only means of livelihood is the little, increasingly infertile and overstretched land. Take that from them, and they are dead.
I will not be party to placating our traducers (in whatever shape or guise) they manifest or present themselves. The Tiv have a history of speaking out, of resisting cultural/political/economic injustice as manifested by the UMBC and ancillary movements. Even in the years of Benue/Plateau, elite like Aper Aku spoke out to and against authority.
In light of this, it will not be acceptable to some of us or to history for a segment of Tiv to want to lord it over the Igede people. Some of us will resist this. We will shout! We will cry …to the world, if necessary. In the same vein, let me use this opportunity to commend one or two Tiv leaders, whom I am told, have spoken out. My respects as always.
Having let off this volume of steam, let us also look at the issues of development around the Konshisha/Oju area which could be one of the remote causes of this conflict.
It is a shame that the stretch of land from Achohor (off Aliade-Gboko Road) to Ukpute ( the first community in Oju LG), a distance of about 40 kilometers, there is no light, there is absolutely nothing except numbing poverty, yet it is difficult to get harder- working people anywhere. Government must take up its responsibility of ensuring that this forgotten people (of Tiv and Igede heritage) be remembered outside the electioneering period. They need a road, they need light, they need simple basic cottage industries such as rice mills, juice processing factories, yam/ cassava flour mills, they need telecom network, they need water.
I speak today knowing full well that I have friends among the Tiv elite (for whom I have a lot of respect), and knowing that I have friends in authority in Makurdi. But my personal relationship is not worth the dignity of my people.
Deal fairly with all people. Deal fairly with minorities. Deal fairly with minority of minorities. God who created us all did not make a mistake. He is watching.