By Peter Duru, Makurdi
On the 20th of this month, the name of a new Tor Tiv, the paramount ruler of the fourth largest ethnic group in Nigeria will be announced. James Ayatse, 60-year-old Professor of Biochemistry, who contended for the position, was at a time Vice Chancellor of two federal universities in the country. In this interview, he spoke about his aspiration to become the fifth paramount ruler of the Tiv people of central Nigeria.
Why are you in the race for the Tor Tiv stool?
I’ve indicated interest to be considered for selection as the fifth Tor Tiv so that I’ll make my contribution towards the upliftment of our people traditionally and developmentally. I’ve taken this decision because by the grace of God I’ve had the opportunity to serve in public office and I think I have the experience and the exposure that I think will be relevant in that office.
I’ll bring that experience to bear in administering the affairs of the Tiv people. I could say that we need to look at our culture and see the positive aspects and use them for the development of our people. Those cultural aspects that develop the improvement of the people we’ll promote, such cultures like songs and dances can be used positively instead of using them negatively.
We can use them for purposes of worshipping God, for example, and for purposes of entertainment in a way that will not expose or bring out negative aspects of human life. I’ve seen that it’s important that as a people we draw near to God and it will be my intention to encourage the Tiv nation to return to God, to submit to God and invite God into the affairs of our people so that God will guide and help us to overcome the different challenges that our people are going through individually and collectively as a Tiv nation.
I want to be able to use that position to uplift the Tiv nation because our people have a lot of potentials which are not being harnessed and we would be in a position to encourage our youths, encourage skilled people to come forward and showcase the skills they have for development and promotion of our people. These are very important aspects that I think would be useful.
We also discovered that in our lives we’ve borrowed some cultures that are not very useful positively and such cultures are becoming a nuisance to our society. We can look at burial ceremonies. Ceremonies in general consume a lot of resources. We were not doing this before so we need to take a second look at it to see how we can modify some things. I will also be thinking in the direction of promoting the Tiv language which is getting more or less extinct among the younger generation.
We need to encourage the teaching of Tiv language in schools and the teaching of Tiv language at home because once you lose your language you lose your culture. What I think is also important for me to do is to set up structures that will address the security of our people at the local level. We will have the vigilantes at the different levels of chiefs to coordinate with the local governments to ensure that security issues that are arising will be tackled at the local level so that the burden on the central government in the state will be reduced.
I will also promote the study of science and professional courses among my people. A lot of people go to school but they read mainly the arts and social sciences. These are useful courses but we want to see more people going into engineering, medicine, technology, and so on.
We need more people in the science-oriented areas, in information and communication technology, ICT, in the new sciences, in genetic engineering and so on for better development. Our people, especially the young ones are not taking agriculture seriously and farming is the mainstay of the Tiv nation. When by God’s grace I occupy that stool I’ll use it to encourage young people to go back to the farm instead of just loitering around in the streets and being idle. These are the key areas I would want to address if I have opportunity to occupy the stool.
You’ve held positions of influence, how have you deployed these to the benefit of the Tiv people?
By the grace of God I’ve held public office twice. I was Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi for five years between 2001 and 2006. When I was in the University of Agriculture, the student population was less than 2,000 when I started, by the end of my tenure the student population rose up to over 7, 000. I created a lot of admission opportunities and opportunities for university education for our people.
The population of students increased and the intake from the Tiv nation went up astronomically as the majority of the students in the university were Tiv speaking. New courses were introduced; new programs, new departments and new colleges and that benefited our people a lot. They had opportunity to read choice courses, many of them are engineers now and many of them are agricultural scientists and so on.
With the expansion of the student population we also expanded employment opportunities and a lot of Tiv people were employed when I was the Vice Chancellor and they were also given positions of responsibility in the university. The participation of the Tiv people increased beyond what it had been before when I assumed office so they had a fair share of the activities in the university.
Many of them were also awarded contracts in the university to build structures; some functioned in the area of consultancy or in the cleaning services of the university. I also had opportunity to serve as a board member of the National Youth Service Corps Scheme and when I was there I was able to facilitate the employment of 35 Tiv people and I believe that was the first time in history that they had that kind of massive entry into that agency.
In the course of your public career, have you ever had an encounter with anti-graft bodies?
I’ve been in public life in the two places I served in the universities and I want to say of a truth that public life is open to people saying a lot of things, all kinds of allegations come up. But I want to say that there has never been any proven allegation against me in my public life and I’ve never had any anti-graft body taking me to court because of any allegations against me. I’m also aware that some people who want to assassinate my character are publishing that I have issues with ICPC but as I speak I’ve never received any invitation from ICPC.
There is the controversy that the Tor Tiv should take the oath of office either by the Christian Bible or the ancestral Swem; if given the opportunity, on what would you swear?
If given the opportunity I would swear by the Bible which stands for the truth and which is the word of God, the Almighty God, the compassionate and merciful, full of grace and the one that created the heavens and the earth. That is my conviction, I’m a Christian, I’ll swear by the Bible.
Why should the Tor Tiv come from the Kwande area?
I’m from Shangev-ya in Kwande and my conviction and belief is that the Kwande axis or the intermediate area referred to as Kwande has never occupied the Tor Tiv stool. The Tiv people have been compartmentalized into intermediate areas and these intermediate areas have come to stay and there is no way you can wish them away, therefore, we must consider the intermediate areas in sharing opportunities that are available.
When I looked at it the Jechira intermediate area has benefited, I also see that the Jemgbagh intermediate area has benefited, the Minda and Sankera intermediate areas have also benefited. The intermediate area that has not occupied that stool is Kwande and my belief is that in fairness it’s proper for the next Tor Tiv to come from Kwande. Fairness would demand that all the intermediate areas taste it first so that if you want to change the formula, after everybody has tasted it, we’ll sit down and then agree on the formula that will be more acceptable. But that is my personal view, I’m not a king maker.
Do you have any appeal to make to the king makers and fellow contestants?
My appeal, first to fellow contestants, is that we should look at the whole exercise as sports which should be without bitterness as we know that only one person will emerge. Let us do the contest in a very clean manner; this is not politics where sometimes politicians would say that the end justifies the means. But here we’re talking about tradition which requires truth and fairness and so we should have an attitude of sportsmanship and that any of us could be the Tor Tiv.
We don’t need to go into character assassination and blackmailing the other contestants so that we would have an advantage. That is my counsel to my fellow contestants. We are in the race but we know only one person will win and whoever wins we should all rally round that person and put all our ideas on the table to help him succeed for the good of the Tiv nation.
To the king makers I would advise that they should be fair and be guided by the truth and the tradition in which the Tiv people do their own things. They have a culture of sitting down and talking until they agree without being violent and being negative about certain things so we believe that they would do that. Secondly, they should not allow themselves to be influenced by whatever means.
They should see and do what is right because the Tiv nation is at a point in their history that they need to bring out the best that is available to lead them at this point in time. Therefore, they should allow God to guide them, be honest and pure in their motive in selecting who will occupy the next Tor Tiv stool.