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6 Mar 2016

MUST READ: Interrogating the Tor Tiv Discourse

By Prof. Zacharys Anger Gundu.

The race for the occupation of the Tor Tiv stool is in top gear and continues to heighten by the day. Contestants and interest groups are all over advancing ‘facts’, arguments and perspectives as to why it should be them instead of others. These facts, arguments and perspectives which are being thrown at us uncritically are making it very difficult for those with a passing interest in the matter to isolate pertinent issues that are necessary in understanding how the Tor Tiv stool will be filled now that Dr. Alfred Akawe Torkula has been given a befitting burial. This difficulty is exacerbated by two things. One, the Tor Tiv stool is still work in progress. Barely 69 years old, is the stool in a sense still an infant of sorts. There is today, little or no consensus on how to address the stool, how the occupant should appear in public and the medium through which he can address those who approach the stool. One needs to put the pictures of the first four occupants of the stool together to see the chaos in their dressing. It is not clear how Makir Zakpe, the first Tor Tiv was addressed but Gondo Aluor the second Tor Tiv was a Mallam, Akperan Orshi the third Tor Tiv was Orchiviligh while Dr. Akawe Torkula the last occupant of the stool went by the double appellation of Begha U Tiv and His Majesty. Those who had cause to approach the stool while Dr. Torkula was the TorTiv knew that it was difficult understading exactly what to do in his presence, some would kneel down, others would just prostrate. It was also very common for the Tor Tiv to switch between Tiv and English while talking to his subjects who approached the stool, and why not, they were just ‘anMunchi’.
We also know that when Dr. Akawe Torkula first ascended the stool of the Tor Tiv, it was common to see a retinue of girls on his entourage, many saw this as embarrassing and he did stop the practice but the point had been made that the stool was less than clear on who could be on the Tor Tiv’s entourage and for what purpose.
The second point that has exacerbated our difficulty is the fact that at the moment, the law that will guide the selection process for the next  TorTiv is still in the works. What seems to be clear is that for the first time, District Heads who used to form the College of Kingmakers will give way to a smaller college of Kingmakers comprising First Class , Second and maybe Third Class Chiefs if the State Government is not retouching the Law establishing the Benue Council of Chiefs and Traditional Councils which Governor Dr. Gabriel Suswam hurriedly signed on his way out of Government last year. Those who have interest in this matter may need to look at this law closely while we wait on the Government of Dr. Samuel Ortom to show its hand here.  For the first time, the law created a sixth intermediate area in Tiv land  by breaking Ityoshin into two to produce Lobi  and Gwer. Keen observers argue that the late Tor Tiv was in conspiracy with Governor Suswam to bequeath a legacy to his immediate constituency and was in fact planning to ensure that all two pioneer First Class Chiefs for Lobi and Gwer were Iharev to boot.
This takes us to the argument on the place of the intermediate areas in the selection of the Tor Tiv. It is clear that while the selection is primarily a rotation between Ichongo and Ipusu, the intermediate areas are also significant in the selection process. Any discerning observer of Ijir Tmen even today will notice that the structure of sitting in that sacred assembly of Tiv Traditional Rulers conforms strictly with the intermediate areas. The selection of all the first four people to occupy the Tor Tiv stool from Makir Zakpe to Dr. Alfred Akawe Torkula was coterminous with the intermediate areas. Two of the intermediate areas, Kwande and Sankera however present us with a peculiar challenge. They are the only two intermediate areas that are a mixture of Ichongo and Ipusu. What this means is that, if the next Tor Tiv will go to Kwande on the basis that it is the only intermediate area that has not occupied the Tor Tiv stool, the occupant after may still go to the same Kwande because the Ichongo of Kwande will still be the only Ichongo that has not produced an occupant for the stool.!!
The 2015 Law which Suswam hurriedly signed on his way out of Government House tried to go around this intermediate area problematic by providing that the stool rotate between Ichongo and Ipusu amongst six identified components of each of the two ‘royal’ families. Schedule 3 of the Law identifies the Ichongo components as:
i. Ugondo
ii. IkyuravYa and IkyuravTiev
iii. Nongov
iv. Iharev
v. Masev
vi. Turan
The Ipusu components are identified as:
i. Shitile.
ii. Ukum
iii. Mbaikyor (Nanev, Usar, IshangevYa and ShangevTiev, Ikov, Utange and Mbagba)
iv. Jemgbagh.
v. Jechira
vi. Tongov.
If a new law comes into effect and retains this template, it will effectively limit the current contest to Shitile, Ukum, Mbaikyor (Kwande) and Tongov.  This will also bring Ishangev Tiev who are now in Tar Jechira as possible contestants to the stool. Though, this sounds simple and neat, it has created its own unique distortion in the rotation formula, in the choice of First Class Chiefs especially as it applies to Shangev and Ikyurav. While Shangev Tiev is lumped with Shangev Ya in the royal sub house of Mbaikyor for the purpose of the Tor Tiv stool, it is effectively in Jechira Intermediate Area because it is part of Konshisha Local Government. Ikyurav Tiev on the other hand is lumped with Ikyurav Ya in the royal sub house of Ikyurav for the purpose of the Tor Tiv stool but is effectively in Sankera Intermediate Area as part of Katsina-Ala Local Government.  Those who are quick to point to the separation of the ‘traditional ’from the ‘political’ in matters of chieftaincy may need to consider how we can go around this apparent distortion.
This takes us to a consideration of the politics in the previous selection of the occupants of the Tor Tiv stool. The selection has not followed seniority in neither the royal house of Ichongo nor the royal house of Ipusu. Politics seems to have beclouded the matter of seniority in every of the four previous instances. Makir Zakpe emerged after overnight intrigues by ex-service men over turned the selection of Gondo Aluor who was ‘sponsored’ by the Native Authority establishment. As far back as 1942, the Native Authority establishment had ‘ordained’ Iyorkyaa Ako for the stool.  The death of  Iyorkyaa  in 1943 scuttled the selection process throwing up two other contenders, Akiga Sai sponsored mainly by followers of the Dutch Reformed Church Mission (DRCM) and Oradi Ugba who had been sponsored by the Tiv Progressive Union. (TPU). There was no consensus on any of these two until the emergence of Makir Zakpe following the manipulation of ex- service men, ranking Jechira chiefs and leading Native Authority interpreters and messengers led by Deem Kpum,  Igeege Fate and Manta Abela. Mallam Gondo Aluor’s emergence as the second occupant of the Tor Tiv stool, was less intriguing yet, even here, Tarhemba Makir wanted to scuttle the ‘ya na angbian’ rule and emerge after his father’s demise. Akaajime Ako who was also Ipusu contested together with Gondo Aluor and Torkula Ama Orngu. Gondo Aluor finally emerged because of the strong Native Authority lobby and his exemplary conduct as Makir’s Deputy. The politics of Akperan Orshi’s emergence as third occupant of the stool is probably best known because of the role of Senator JS Tarka. Mallam Gondo Aluor died in 1978. This was literally at the eve of the return to civil rule. Asema Yuwa from Mbaikyaa (Mbagwaza) who had stepped into the race to ‘replace’ Anzenke Aba from Mbakyaa (Mbayegh) was favoured to win. In the meantime, JS Tarka was jostling with ideas on how he could emerge Senator in the new dispensation.  Though he was a man of ‘little formal education’, he was politically savvy and schemed to turn the tables in favour of Akperan Orshi who had planned to contest the Senate seat with him. Many may not know why Asema Yuwa had been favoured until Tarka showed his hand.  As indicated above, Asema Yuwa was not initially in the race, it was his kinsman from Mbayegh, Anzenke Aba who was in the race. Anzenke however carried two baggages.  He did not have good formal education and he had lost a leg in a motor accident. People did not connect with the idea of an ‘illiterate’ Tor Tiv and one who was physically challenged. When Asema Yuwa stepped in to emerge the candidate to beat, he had one thing going for him very strongly. Asema Yuwa had been an ‘Agric Officer’ and ALL Agric Officers’ in Tivland supported him and worked on District Heads to throw in their lot for him. We will return to the significance of this later on in our interrogation but many would argue that he lost out only because of the money JS Tarka and Denen Torfi are argued to have brought out to corrupt the selection process. For the first time, the Ijir Tamen voted to select an occupant for the Tor Tiv stool with Akperan polling 24 votes to beat Asema Yuwa who polled 22 votes and Daniel Akiga who polled 4 votes.  It is instructive that in this defeat, Asema Yuwa’s name had proved to be his albatross. He had the innocuous name: Asemagemaioramo!!!!!
Dr. Alfred Akawe Torkula who emerged the fourth occupant of the Tor Tiv stool contrary to what some have argued, was not  the ‘favorite’- certainly of the Iharev block.  The favorite here was David Gever. Dr. Alfred Akawe Torkula was the creation of Messrs. Ason Bur, Anthony Hanmation and other Tiv sons in the Government of Col. Fidelis Makka. For reasons some of which are still not very clear, these had decided on Dr. Torkula very early. They ‘rigged’ the nomination process in his favour and set the minute by minute context for his reign as Tor Tiv the fourth. After the final votes were counted, Dr. Torkula emerged with 38 votes to beat Ignatius Nomhwange who had 6 votes and Jonathan Igbadoo Apezan who had 5 votes. All the talk about Dr. Alfred Akawe Torkula taking the stool to enmesh in idolatry was the machinations of Ason Bur and the influence he sought to live on the Tor Tiv stool. Ason Bur was one person who was truly concerned that the institution of the Tor Tiv should be a metaphor of our culture. He and his colleagues created the attire Dr. Akawe Torkula popularized including the beads and the chieftaincy titles for which the Tor Tiv and other chiefs ruthlessly exploited for personal profit. Ason Bur attempted to play with other rituals around the Tor Tiv stool and many have tended to interpret these as idolatry, maybe it’s the way Dr. Torkula conducted himself but this is turning to be an important issue in who emerges the next Tor Tiv.
Many people have invested a lot of efforts and time in arguing that the next Tor Tiv must come from one particular area or the other. One ‘internet prophet’ has even come up with a name. Though these efforts are commendable, in my opinion, we may miss the point if we do not go beyond these efforts. The Tor Tiv will this time around go to Ipusu and the only Ipusu sections that have not occupied the stool are Shitile, Ukum, Kwande (Mbaikyor) and Tongov. Since these are not in any particular order, it could be just any one of them. This should be fine with us. What should concern us is the type of social and cultural  engineering that can raise the bar for the ‘qualification’ of the occupant, the long term agenda for the stool and how we can truly use the stool to revive our rich culture, protect and save our language from extinction. We should be also concerned with how we can collectively enhance respect and self-esteem for the stool and make it a respectful mouth piece for our people.
At the moment, the ‘man specifications’ for the Tor Tiv stool are more or less generic. Tiv man of descent, not less than 40 years. Mental fitness, good repute and knowledgeable in Tiv culture and tradition. A minimum of West African School Certificate or its equivalent. This is not only ordinary, it is plainly pedestrian and it will be helpful for the discourse on the Tor Tiv stool to explore how we can improve the ‘man specifications’ and by implication the quality of aspirations to the stool. If the present Government retains the idea of six or five  First Class Chiefs in Tivland and scouts for one or two First Class Chiefs from some of the aspirants who have indicated interest in the Tor Tiv stool, they would automatically raise the bar for the Tor Tiv stool and reinforce further support and respect for the Tor Tiv stool. One has to imagine if the caliber of Professors Daniel  Saor,  Derry Yakubu and Commander Jonathan Afeah emerge the Tor Sankera, the stakes for the Tor Tiv stool will shoot up overnight. By the time, this caliber of First Class Chiefs start paying their dues to the Tor Tiv, only the very insane will still have enough skin depth to show the stool disrespect. Similarly, if an Ambrose Iyortyer, Professor Anongu Liam, Dr. Benard Verr,Adaa Maagbe emerge Tor Kwande, their emergence will up the stakes for the Tor Tiv stool enhancing respect for it at the same time.
We should also now be concerned with the long term interest of the Tiv and the possibility of the Tor Tiv stool driving this interest.  We cannot leave this to the politicians. Their capacity and willingness to champion a Tiv agenda is suspect. It should be possible to encourage the Tor Tiv stool to craft a Tiv agenda of not less than 50 years, one which will be owned by all Tiv people and one which can reorient us towards a dream future.  The Tiv people still think about killing cows at the end of the local BAM instead of investing interests accruing from their savings. In many parts of the country where the Tiv meet, they connect more with the idea of saving so as to take dead bodies back to Benue instead of investing in profitable ventures including scholarships for their children.

Tiv language is also at the verge of extinction. This is also true of many other aspects of Tiv culture. How can the Tor Tiv stool be used to revive Tiv language and other aspects of Tiv culture. To what extent are the aspirants to the stool aware of the threats to Tiv language and culture. Do they have ideas on how to mitigate these threats? How can we engage them on these ideas? How can the stool be held responsible for promoting and protecting Tiv culture?  What body of rituals do we need to build and sustain around the stool for it to have some level of self-esteem and win our respect? Asking these questions and risking answers to them will be more helpful now than trying to denigrate other sections so our candidates shine. We must deliberately begin to enter the discourse on the Tor Tiv stool along these lines so that we can add value to the process.  While doing this, it should be clear to all discerning observers that even though the politicians maybe denying overtures to influence who emerges the next Tor Tiv, if we must learn from history, their denials  may be deceitful. Is it possible to engage with our political class in a way they will appreciate what the issues are and why it is important not to sacrifice our collective interest just because they may want to put a person of their choice on the Tor Tiv stool? We must attempt to do all these and more so that we will have a competent and focused person on the Tor Tiv stool that will truly be deserving of our support and respect.
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Item Reviewed: MUST READ: Interrogating the Tor Tiv Discourse Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Link Naija