By Eric Teniola
LONG before President Muhammadu Buhari joined the Military in 1961 and even long before Dr. Samuel Ioraer Ortom, present Governor of Benue state was born in 1961 or even long before Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria was founded, there have been misunderstandings between the Fulanis and the Tivs. The crisis is better explained by Bem Japhet Audu of the department of History and International Studies, Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna. In his paper which he wrote on the Tiv riots of 1960-1964: The Principle of Minimum Force and Counter Insurgency, he explained on the violence in Tiv Division.
Mr. Audu declared; “In opening years of Nigeria’s Independence in the early 1960s, Tiv division in Benue province was engulfed by a succession of widespread civil unrests which threatened the stability of the Native Authority in particular and the credibility of the Northern regional government in general. The crisis was remarkable for its mutual exchange of recriminations between the government party in the North- the Northern Peoples Congress and opposition United Middle Belt Congress.
The NPC blamed the Action Group, AG, and the UMBC, especially the Alliance leader in Tiv division, Mr. Joseph Tarka of undermining legitimate authority and canvassing and agitating for the creation of Middle Belt state out of the then Northern Region. This development, the Regional government viewed as conspiracy with external influences to destabilise its government, as Oradi of the NPC noted: The NPC regarded the long chain of disturbances in the Division as conspiracy by some external forces… aided by some selfish politicians in the area who hope to achieve their pet ambition (i.e. the creation of a Middle Belt State). It has been the vowed desire of the disgruntled politicians that by so doing, they will make an inroad into the North and cause a setback to the present peaceful and steady march towards political solidarity and economic emancipation of the Northern Regional Government.
This explains the Northern government determination to crush any attempt by the UMBC to undermine their peace and hegemony. On the other hand, the UMBC saw the riots as an inevitable and necessary outcome of the oppressive and marginalised policies of the feudal government of the ruling party in the Northern region, NPC, acting through the Tor Tiv, the Native Authority and its subordinate chiefs. In fact, the leader of UMBC, Joseph Tarka said the violence was only a logical outcome of the policies of the NPC led government and blamed them for:
The high-handedness of the local authority, the clan and kindred heads, arbitrary police raids, mass arrests and imprisonment of the innocent by the police, the NPC, and in particular, the Ahmadu Bello Youth Brigade (the Youth arm of the NPC) for framed offences. The crisis actually began to brew in 1959 during the build up to elections. The UMBC had actively mobilised popular support in the length and breadth of Tivland. As a result of this popular support from the people, the opposition UMBC won 85 percent of Tiv votes cast while the NPC won only 10 percent.
Unfortunately for the UMBC, their votes could not push forth their aspirations as they had no influence upon the nature of the government that prevailed at the local level. For instance, the inclusion of traditional members of the Council comprising village and district heads circumvented the popular mandate. In effect, the Native Authority exercised power without responsibility just as the native court was simply notorious for flouting due process which operated. There was wide spread arbitrary taxation, victimisation of opposition supporters was exercised without discretion and unwarranted closure of markets became the rule rather than the exception. By the time the first explosion came in August 1960, the UMBC supporters in Tiv Division had exhausted their patience and tolerance for the local functionaries of the NPC regime. The Government having made it impossible for legitimate opposition voices to be heard made itself vulnerable to violent aggression.
This first wave of clashes is called Nande Nande with choice of target carefully selected to reflect the basis of popular discontent. Those targeted were the clan and kindred heads, court presidents and members, tax collectors and, generally, known supporters of the NPC. The 1960 uprising which first began in Yandev near Gboko soon spread like wild fire to other parts of Tiv division. The success of the Yandev revolt spurred people in other parts of Tiv land to irresistible acts of violence.”