Breaking News

A look at Bala Usman’s analysis of communal conflicts in Nigeria (3)

By Eric Teniola

BAATOUN, better known as Bariba, is the only one of the Gur languages found in Nigeria, the western parts of Kwara and Niger states.

These languages have, as their nearest relatives, the Adamawa-Ubangi languages, which now extend from the Bauchi, Gombe, Taraba and Adamawa states of Nigeria, right down into Cameroons and far into the countries of Central Africa. The best known in Nigeria are Chamba, Mumuye, Lunguda and Waja, found nowadays in Taraba, Gombe, Adamawa and Benue states of Nigeria. According to Kay Williamson, the linguistic evidence would indicate that the speakers of the Benue-Congo languages migrated into the Nigerian  area, coming down the river Niger, “from an earlier homeland upstream on the Niger,” to the North-West of Nigeria, settled and linguistically predominated, over the speakers of the proto- languages of the Borgu, the Chamba, the Mumuye, the Waja and the Lunguda. What is significant is that these Benue-Congo languages, some of whose speakers today take it for granted that they are the autochtonous of the Nigeria area, came after the speakers of the Gur and the Adamawa-Ubangi languages. These Benue-Congo languages which according to Kay Willimson had the homeland of their proto-language and primary dispersal centre in Nigeria, somewhere in the area where the present boundaries of Kogi, Kwara, Ekiti, Ondo and Edo states meet. These Benue-Congo languages include, among the major ones, the following.

1.Yoruboid – Yoruba, Itsekiri, Igala. 2. Nupoid -Nupe, Gbari, Gade and Igbirra. 3. Edoid–Edo, Isoko, Urhobo.  4. Idomoid—Idoma, Igedde, Yala and Alago.  5. Igboid—Igbo, Ika, Ndoni, Ikwerre, Ekpeye. 6.Platoid –Lelna (Dakarkari) Kambari, Kamuku, Bassa, Atsam, Jaba, Baju,  Eggon, Ninzam, Berom, Atyap, Tarok and Jukun. 7. Cross River – Ibibio, Efik, Anang, Andoni, Kana, Gokana, Ogoi, Eleme (Ogoni).  8. Bantoid –Jarawan, Bantu, and Tiv.

The Issue of Sovereignty

But, all of these violent communal conflicts are generated and sustained not over disputes about the peopling of Nigeria, but over more local disputes which derive their credibility and legitimacy from this view about the peopling of the country. These local disputes are over which ethnic, sub-ethnic group, or, religious community owns an area of Nigeria, the land, the titles and the entitlements and the other assets of the area. The claims and counter-claims in these disputes are justified, generally on the grounds that the area was part of the territory and the homeland of a particular ethnic, or, religious community and that colonial conquest, the attainment of independence and all the constitutions and the laws enacted since then are said to have confirmed this ownership, and where they are said to have attempted to abrogate it, are said to be simply unjust, and therefore, unacceptable.

In the Jos Metropolis for example, the dispute has virtually always been over who “owns” Jos, the Berom or the Jasawa? In most parts of Plateau, Nassarawa, Taraba, Bauchi and Benue states, the disputes leading to these violent communal conflicts have almost always centred around claims and counter-claims over prior rights in a particular area; between the Jukun and the Tiv for example.

There is already widely peddled, the view that all these disputes can only be solved at a Sovereign National Conference, where the ethnic groups which are said to be constituent units of the Nigerian Federation will send their delegates to deliberate upon the terms and conditions on which they will continue to live together in the Federal Republic of Nigeria;’ or, the procedure to follow, to break-up this federation and allow each ethnic group establish its own sovereign nation-state alone or with others.

There is no theoretical basis of not only these claims of monolithic ethnic groups and exclusive ethnic domains within a federal democratic republican polity, but also of the very notion of how Nigeria has come to be constituted, and by what entities and the basis of the sovereignty all its citizens exercise collectively over all its territory and resources, which is, under the present Constitution, vested in a democratically-elected Federal Government.

A lot of this seems to take us away from the actual subject of this retreat which is peace and conflict resolution in some of the central states of Nigeria. But, it actually does not, because the violent communal conflicts in these states are the outcome of psychological, ideological, political and economic processes which are nation-wide, continent-wide and even global.

The attack and the denigration of the nation-state in Africa and of its sovereignty and territorial integrity by Africans, funded and encouraged by countries which fiercely promote and defend their sovereign rights, their interests and even the borders of their nation-states, generates, in many parts of Nigerian atmosphere which encourages violent ethnicity and conflicts, in defiance of the fundamental democratic principle of peacefully resolving all conflicts; even though these European and North American countries and  their African proteges, campaigning against the nation-state in Africa, are very loud in their claims about their love for democracy and peace.

We have, fortunately, for this examination of the premises of this campaign a lecture by Professor Itse Sagay, who is widely promoted by the media as an eminent scholar and a jurist, with authority on constitutional matters. In the Ibori Vanguard Lecture, under the auspices of an organisation of the political goons and praise-singers of James  Ibori, Governor of Delta State, at the Lagoon Restaurant, Lagos, in May, 2001, Sagay brought out in explicit terms one of the basic premises on which this campaign is being conducted. He stated that:

“In the beginning, there was no Nigeria. There were Ijaws, Igbos, Urhobos, Itsekiris, Yorubas, Hausas, Fulanis, Nupes, Kanuris,Ogonis, Gwaris, Katafs, Jukuns, Beroms, Agnas (sic), Ogojas  and so on. There were kingdoms like Oyo, Lagos, Calabar, Brass, Itsekiri, Benin, Tiv, Borno, Sokoto Caliphate (with loose control over Kana, Ilorin, Zaria, etc) Bornu, Opobo, etc.  Prior to the British conquest of the different nations making up the present day Nigeria, these nations were independent nation-states and communities, independent of each other and of Britain.”

These opening statements of his lecture reveal a level of ignorance of how peoples, nation-states came to be which even a secondary school pupil should be beyond. Of course, at the beginning there was no Nigeria. But when was this beginning? Was it 37,000 years ago, when we have the earliest evidence of human activity in the Nigerian area in the form of Stone Age tools on the Jos Plateau?

There was certainly no Nigeria then. But, were there the Itsekiris or, the Yorubas? Or, was the beginning only c.1861, on the eve of the beginning of the British conquest of Lagos? There was no Nigeria at this beginning. But was there an Itsekiri Kingdom? This kingdom ceased to exist for forty-eight years in 1848-1886, and was replaced by a British controlled Governorate of the Rivers.

Even in 1900, when the British proclaimed the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, largely on paper, were there any Igbos? Kenneth Dike has made it clear that there was not. As for the Yorubas, they were just been formed, and the process of forging a Hausa ethnic identity from the Sakkwatawa, the Katsinawa, the Kanawa, the Zagezagi, and others, had hardly started. As for the Tiv it is not clear yet when they developed the common ethnic identity of being “Tiv”, in spite of the elaborate genealogical patterns which are said to form the basis of their political relations. There were many sovereign nation- states in pre-colonial Nigeria. Benin was one. Opobo and Calabar were others: These were the Sokoto Caliphate and Borno. Some of the village confederations in many parts of Nigeria also retained their sovereignty until the British conquest. But, even these village confederations were not conterminous with ethnic and sub-ethnic groups. They were territorial entities which survive and were able to grow and resist bigger polities because they attracted migrants with all sorts of agricultural, crafts, military and other skills and built networks using these.

All the citizens of the various sovereign polities of Nigeria were forcefully made British colonial subjects, because there polities proved incapable of effectively incorporating and absorbing the useful skills, resources and values which others from outside had. In fact, not only did they fail to do that, but themselves came to be fragmented by conflicts often tied up to claims of ancestry and origin; such that they were at war with themselves and with others and could not stand up to the British. The late Ken Saro- Wiwa made this point clearly about the way, violent internecine conflict wrecked the Ogoni polities, in his book, Genocide in Nigeria: The Ogoni Tragedy. He stated that: … in the latter half of the nineteenth century internecine war became the order of the day. By 1900 these wars had virtually destroyed the fabric of Ogoni society and the Ogoni were forced to survive in independent villages “.


The point here is that in the Central Nigerian Uplands the Middle Benue Basin and most of the rest of Nigeria, the issue of sovereignty was resolved in favour of the British because, to serve their own imperialist interest, they represented a much more inclusive, open, and economically productive social and political order. The current violent communal conflict in our area of concern, and elsewhere in Nigeria, raise the issue of the urgent need for a political contest between the ‘forces which seek to move forward independently of the British and build this much more inclusive, incorporative order, or, to retrogress into futile, defensive, and retrogressive autochthony.

In the Middle Benue Valley and the Central Uplands of Nigeria the use of the notion of the ethnic domain, with the Tiv migrants in the Wukari LGA claiming the areas as Tivland and the Wukari authorities rejecting them as intruders will not go away through any importation or exhortation, or, preaching. In the Jos Plateau, the contest over whose ethnic domain Jos is, between the Birom and the Jasawa, will not go away in the same way.

We can conduct detailed archaeological, ethnographic linguistic genetic, palynological, and historical research generally, to establish which polity and which community within that polity had the most legitimate claim to the territory on which the Jos Metropolis is been built. We can build on the work of earlier scholars to conduct research to confirm that all the evidence available places Tiv migration into the Middle Benue Valley in the late 18th and the 19th centuries. The exhaustive field work by Tesemchi Makar, have laid solid foundations for this and the Maps IVA, VI and II of his PhD thesis, reproduced here, illustrate that we have the foundations.

But all this will not solve the problems, even though they will enlighten the path towards solving them.

What is required for tackling this problem is to take up, at the political level the issue of ethnicity and nation-hood and confront directly the current nation-state and national citizenship, in ethnic and religious citizenships in favour of ethnic and religious republics and ethnic and religious citizenships. There are tens of millions of Nigerian, not only committed to the Nigerian citizenship of this polity, who have been demobilised by the predominance of the current politics, which, with, or, without any conviction, kowtows to those who actually generate the psychological generation and the political legitimations of these violent communal conflicts. And since the dominant political trend is to kowtow to this, even the law-enforcement agencies and others lack the vision, commitment and capacity to tackle these. It is only at the political level, that this problem of establishing a proper, fruitful and forward-looking relation between security citizenship and social and economic progress can be comprehensively tackled and resolved.



Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.