By Eric Teniola
IN September 1960, an NPC delegation from Gboko heading for Wukari for a provincial party conference was ambushed by an angry mob mainly from the Mbatie clan, near Yandev. The action was partly in retaliation for repeated government denial for the opposition UMBC to hold its own meetings. The NPC convoy was forced to retreat to Gboko to seek police protection. The second attempt encountered another ambush and the police opened fire and Gbantiogh, a man from the Mbalagh clan was killed. Following this incident, widespread violence broke out in most parts of the division.
On September 3rd the Muslim village of Gidan Uga was razed, ostensibly for its overwhelming pro-NPC sympathies. The following days witnessed indiscriminate burning and looting in most parts of Tiv division and were particularly directed against government functionaries and NPC supporters. The arsonists assumed a special characteristic of their own. Although they did not wear special uniforms, they blackened their faces, festooned themselves with palm leaves (the party symbol of the UMBC – AG alliance) and frequently shouted, ‘Tarka’, ‘Awo’, as battle cry. They assumed the name of Adzov (spirits) by which the rioters absolved themselves of responsibility by invoking the spirit of the ancestors.
It is clear from the foregoing that resistance to political oppression stood at the centre of the Tiv revolt. Thus, using legal and administrative measures without redressing the fundamental political questions could only exacerbate rather than resolve the contradictions. It was only in the middle of September that some efforts were made to address the political problem with the dissolution of the Native Authority (the Council of Ten).
Although this went a long way in calming tension, it could not however, immediately resolve the problem because inherent sectional cleavages and some unresolved chieftaincy disputes had crept in to compound the prevalent schismatic tendencies. In the course of the conflict, violence was especially directed against property. The crisis was so severe that according to the Government White Paper: “At the beginning of the disturbances the administration broke down completely.” During the crisis 5,000 people were known to have been arrested out of which 3,882 of them were convicted.
In all, some 50,000 people were estimated to have directly participated in the arson. These figures are definitely high by any imaginable standard of civil unrest whether in Nigeria or anywhere else in the world. For the next three years, the political and legal reforms which accompanied the 1960 revolt went a long way in calming the otherwise restive population. However, the outbreak of yet another unrest of no less disruptive character in 1964 called Atemtyo meant that the earlier reforms did not permanently resolve the issues. Added to this is the palpably vindictive character of the settlement of compensation of the 1960 riot victims.
The Fletcher Commission which assessed the 1960 riot damage estimated the cost at over half a million pounds. This amount, by a directive of the Northern Regional Premier, Sir Ahmadu Bello, was to be paid up by every adult male tax payer in the area to the tune of two pounds, eleven shillings (£2.11) per head. The average Tiv man was infuriated by this decision because its enforcement clearly exposed the intense political bias and insensitivity of the Northern Regional Government and the NPC functionaries against pro-UMBC clans in Tiv Division. For example, in Abinsi, Gboko and Katsina-Ala (UMBC stronghold) where no riot took place and, therefore, no property was destroyed the people were forced to pay the special levy, whereas Makurdi (a pro-NPC base) was exempted although many people from the area were convicted of participation in the riot.
Suffice it to say that compared with the 1960 riot, the 1964 incident was very severe in terms of the extent of personal violence. The reason for the outbreak of violence in 1964 was, apart from the above factors, largely due to the fact that the grievances of the UMBC were not addressed by the NPC government. At an UMBC meeting in March 1960, a catalogue of the party’s grievances were discussed and subsequently embodied in a petition to the Premier of the North.
Among the grievances raised were the following: 1) The appointment of NPC loyalists to the dissolved Tiv NA by the Tor Tiv when the members of the NA ought to have been popularly selected by the kindred and clan heads, representing their people’s wishes; 2) The appointment of NPC members as District members as District Heads and Court members throughout Tivland; 3) Dismissal of UMBC supporters and appointment of NPC supporters as tax collectors in place of those dismissed; 4) Refusal of the NA to grant contractors and trading licences to UMBC supporters;5) Discrimination in the allocation in the award of scholarship by the NA; 6) Discrimination in the allocation of jobs to UMBC supporters; 7) Indiscriminate sacking of clan and kindred heads, e.g. Tarka Nachi, clan head of Mbakor; and 8) Lack of attention to UMBC request and complaints by NA councilors. It should be noted that the Tiv NA Council was dissolved in 1959 and from this date onward, no local election was held to elect representatives to the central and District Councils. This meant that UMBC supporters who formed the majority of Tiv population were denied their rights to vote.”