Sprouting ethnic nationalism, blurred boundary demarcations between Tiv and Jukun communities in Wukari, Taraba State, palpable youth unemployment and sheer criminality mirrored in banditry, kidnapping and armed robbery had meshed to stoke considerable inter-communal bloodletting in the aforementioned rural enclaves.
Besides the unconscionable loss of human lives and freezing of economic activities, wanton destruction of property and displacement of communities from their homes are further sad ramifications of the lingering crisis. Mindful that further widening of the already huge theatres of crises in the country could signal loss of central control with dire upshot, the federal government decisively waded in to umpire a crucial truce.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha boldly and successfully anchored a vital truce parley last week at the Shehu Musa Yar‘adua Center, Abuja; an indication of the seriousness and political weight of the truce initiative.
“The President has directed that we should speak to the governors, and I can assure you that he is fully behind whatever resolutions this forum will reach in terms of finding a lasting solution. On our path at the federal level, we will facilitate whatever you decide because the resolution for these issues can only come from the people directly. We would stand with you, and do everything within the instrumentality of government facilities to resolve the issue you want us to address,” Mustapha told the gathering.
Brought aboard the important peace initiative were key political leaders of the crisis’ epicenter: Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom; his Taraba State counterpart, Darius Ishaku, and former Senate President, Chief David Mark.
Other stakeholders that attended the truce parley were the Deputy Governor of Taraba State, Engr. Haruna Manu; the Deputy Governor of Benue State, Engr. Benson Abounu; the Honorable Speaker, Taraba State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Peter Diah; the Honorable Speaker, Benue State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Titus Uba; Secretaries to the Government, members of the National Assembly and members of the State Houses of Assembly from the two states.
The Aku Uka of Wukari, Tor-Tiv, other traditional rulers and religious leaders; the Security Chiefs, the Army, the Police Department of State Services, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps also attended the critical stakeholders’ truce parley. Included in the significant meeting of minds were respected leaders- serving and former members of the National Assembly, serving and former ministers, representatives of Civil Society Groups, Women Associations and Youth groups from both states.
Turning to the royal fathers, the SGF said: “The traditional institutions hold a special place in terms of spiritual authority over its communities not the institutions of government. Your words are law over these communities, if you preach and dictate peace, the people will honor your word because they know that you hold an esteem place in their lives.”
Reading through the communiqué of the meeting, it was clear there were significant presentations from the deputy governors of the two states, the Honorable Minister of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs, George Akume; the Tor-Tiv and Aku-Uka of Wukari, and other stakeholders from the two states as well as three representatives from each state on the crisis. The speakers deplored in strong terms the wanton destruction of life and property.
Significantly indicative that control over land is central to the renewed hostilities, the communiqué issued at the end of the parley, not surprisingly, attributed the conflict to lack of clear boundary demarcations between the warring communities. Jointly signed by the SGF, Mustapha; Governor Ortom and Governor Ishaku, the communiqué also identified “the issue of criminality such as banditry, kidnapping and armed robbery” as some of the causes of the communal clashes.
The parley noted that the conflict was internal to Taraba State. However, all affected communities were now desirous of ending the clashes that have “brought economic activities to a halt and has led to loss of valuable lives, wanton destruction of property and displacement of communities from their homes”. Going forward, the meeting called for immediate cessation of hostilities to pave the way for peace building effort, asked the two governors to make “strong pronouncements” condemning the crisis and to visit the affected communities as a confidence-building measure.
It also recommended “massive deployment of security forces in intensive patrol and surveillance of the affected communities to checkmate the excesses of criminals and enforce law and order on the border corridors of Taraba and Benue States”. Another crucial recommendation was the empowerment of the “restive youths” as a way of reducing unemployment and making them useful members of the society.
Obscure boundary between Taraba and Benue states has remained a sore point. Now the federal government must move fast and ensure the marking of the boundary of the two states as well as facilitate implementation of all the resolutions jointly arrived at by the two state governments aimed at permanently resolving the crisis.
Indeed, negotiating peace between warring parties has been the standard practice for dealing with conflicts – both large and small. Parties who seek to help restore peace use a variety of methods to help end disputes and neutralise conflicts between antagonists like the Tiv and Jukun. The successes of these efforts will depend upon the parties’ and mediator’s ability to find compromising grounds.
The weighing in of the federal government is an important and well thought-out intervention, which enjoys the confidence of the parties at the core of the conflict. Noteworthy is the federal government’s strategy of involving stakeholders of diverse interests who are central to the crisis and ensuring both their physical presence and participation.
Although the Jukun-Tiv crisis is not intractable, an unbiased handling as the federal government is currently doing is crucial. Why? Seemingly biased arbitration in destructive conflict has the potential of undermining our nationhood and is also the biggest threat to our common good and future.
Without crucial interventions like the federal government’s, conflicts such as the Jukun-Tiv crisis can ruin personal lives, prevent us from solving common problems and underlie dystopian trends towards chaos and large-scale disruptive violence. Worse, the theatre of conflict can quickly expand and engulf other contiguous zones.
Good a thing, the federal government has recognized that understandings of „facts,“ different values, attitudes, cultures, economic concerns, religions and cultures give conflicting parties different perceptions about what the problem „is,“ and what should be done to address it. This will enable it to sustainably deal with the conflict dynamics.
For folks affected by violence, or those who have fought for a cause, accepting an opponent’s demands is difficult. But for peace to take root, negotiations are an essential starting point. As agreements are reached on key issues, the foundations of peace are strengthened. In many instances, the decisions reached at the peace table – in this case, the Shehu Yar’Adua Centre, given the nuances of views and stakeholders’ particpation – can set the course for the socio-economic and political transformation of a region or country. Negotiated agreements are, in effect, a blueprint for the future.
It is against this backdrop that the federal government’s effort to resolve the Jukun-Tiv conflict should be commended. Simply put, it fundamentally mirrors the vision of President Muhammadu Buhari for a catholic peace in the country. The Tiv-Jukun exemplar is apposite. It is the way to go: the conscious effort of addressing rising complexities, containing waves of tension as well as ending budding and festering ethnic crises.
–Ojeifo is an Abuja-based public affairs analyst
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