KILLER HERDSMEN: Wantaregh Paul Unongo’s Unspoken Message At The Caliphate

By Yanor Nyigbem Kukwa

November 1st 2016 would remain fresh within and around the palace of the sultan of Sokoto for a long time to come. On that day something novel happened. The palace came alive with captivating music and dances never before witnessed in the palace. The whole atmosphere was charged with robust drumbeats accompanied by energetic dance steps executed by beautiful young damsels and fine young men from Tivland.

The palace had been in a festive mood for over a week. The 10th anniversary celebrations of the Sultan Alhaji Sa`ad Abubakar III was in progress. This particular day; the dancing and music emanating from the palace was from various dance troupes from Tivland selected randomly from across the states of Benue, Nassarawa and Taraba.

Many people from far and wide trooped into the palace. The Emir of Kano Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi who was conveyed into the palace in the latest model Rolls Royce also added colour to the event.

But to the Tiv contingent made up of almost two hundred persons led by Benue`s most quintessential politician, Wantaregh Paul Iyorpuu Unongo, the significance of their visit to the palace went beyond the anniversary celebrations of Sultan Sa`ad Abubakar.
An age old debt was been repaid.

One of the last tribes to come into present day Nigeria, the Tiv easily trace their ancestry to Tiv the son of Takuruku whom was himself begotten by Anyamazenga. The Tiv and Fulani however consider their relationship beyond mere neighborliness. Just as the progenitor of the tribe is Tiv, the mother of the tribe is Aliwe, a Fulani daughter. The Tiv therefore consider the Fulani as family. To this day, many of the tribes folksongs and lore eulogise Aliwe as Matriach of the Tiv race.

Perhaps it is on that note that leading a contingent of the old, some older than his eighty-two years, youths, women, professionals, artists and journalists to the event, Wantaregh Paul Unongo, second republic Minister of Steel now retired from politics and playing a leading role as one of the elders and spiritual leaders of the clan in his speech asserted that ‘as a Tiv man, I come as a friend, a brother and a Comrade. I come as a Northerner, for it is not immoral and subversive to suggest that our loyalties must first be to ourselves. I come with a strong belief and conviction in what our great Arewa stands for. And as a Nigerian, I come as a compatriot with all the faith in the non –negotiable indivisibility of the nation-state of Nigeria.’

Fondly called Agwai by the Tiv, there is no one single tribe in the country and beyond that share a closer affinity to them like the Fulani who also fondly call them Munchi. While Agwai is a general name commonly referred to the Fulfulde, there is however a story behind the name ‘Munchi’.

The Pastoralist Fulanis have been an integral part and parcel of the predominantly Tiv farmers for centuries mostly coming after harvest time with their cattle to feed on the lush and fertile greenery of the Benue valley and mostly go back up North when the rains become dense. Up North the rains are lighter.

On one of such sojourns, it is said, before going back, the Fulani had given the Tiv cattle to rear. This is a normal practice in farming. Seeds and seedlings are given out by one individual to another who is expected to cultivate and share a portion of the yield with the seeds or seedling provider. This is a normal way of starting one’s own farm.

Thus the Fulanis, it is said, had given the Tiv cattle to rear for a specified period of time wherein the cattle would multiply and shared by the two. But the Tiv, not versed in cattle rearing consider the cows as meat and therefore slaughtered and ate them.

Till date, the Tiv have been the butt of the joke by the Fulani who keep laughing derisively demanding for their cattle up to this day. The story is a joke shared by only the two groups since time immemorial.

But on that early November day in the gently blowing dry harmattan wind from the Sahara at the palace of the spiritual leader of the Fulanis, at the palace of the Sultan of Sokoto, Alfarma Sa`ad Abubakar III, descendant of Usman Danfodio, right in the heartland of the Caliphate, Paul Unongo who bears the unique spiritual title of Wantaregh had made history. On behalf of the ancestors and entire Tiv race, he repaid the cattle his people had eaten back to the Fulanis.
Even the air stood still. Just after a parley with the Sultan and former President Shehu Shagari, loud drumbeats and merriment overtook the palace. No fewer than ten different dance groups had accompanied the Wantaregh to this historic occasion and their vivacious dance steps mesmerized the crowd in a charged and electrifying atmosphere. 

Swange, the Ikpilamar or Tsav utu, Anchonokupa, Ibyamegh amongst others all performed one after the other right inside the palace. Tiv secular artists were not left out. Among Wantareghs entourage was international songstress Wan Amase, Music Messiah Anongo Data JP, June 12, Benue Michael Jackson, Sonia Group, popular comedian Igboji and the multi talented but diminutive Rita all thrilled the audience that day.

But beyond the surface, all is no longer well with the two ethnic groups who once shared a filial relationship.

This much was captured by Unongo in his speech. “The Tiv and Fulani came to meet and establish a symbiotic relationship over 400 years ago. This relationship was based on mutual respect and trust. While appreciating each others attributes and world views, they yet recognized in their people a similarity in ways of life like integrity, valour and honour, values by which a man`s character is measured. It is therefore not a surprise why these two groups that are by physical attributes and by occupation so different would come to be such great friends, since values and ethics are the basis of all sensible human relationships. And this relationship has continued to be so until quite recently.

“It is within this context that the Tiv and Fulani must now examine the bestiality of their descent in their once fraternal relations; juxtapose same against their seeming incapacity and inability to amicably iron out their differences! While there are bound to be differences amongst people living together, as even siblings of the same parentage have their differences, we are proud to recall through history that our two peoples over the years, perfected their conflict resolution mechanism which ensured civilized peaceful co-existence that was unparalleled…”

Of recent though there have been mind boggling bloodlettings, a situation that appears intractable and has defied all solutions. Hundreds have been killed. Farms and homes have been destroyed and cattle rustled but Unongo remains adamant that “what went wrong can be fixed and should be fixed urgently…By this gesture, a gesture of brotherhood, we have once again, today extended a hand of fellowship and reconciliation to the Caliphate. We do not have much to say again. Everything we have to say is eloquently symbolized in the gesture of our action here today. Let this gesture speak for itself.

“May I use this occasion to appeal therefore, on behalf of the Tiv nation, to the Fulani nation and advise/request that we have fought long enough! We must return to our brotherhood fraternity which has long been the envy of all. I come in peace. Let there be peace between the Tiv and Fulani… I hurt deeply my people!”

But beyond the dancing and drumming by the Tiv contingent led by the deputy leader of the northern elders forum and his message of peace and reconciliation lay an unspoken message that was loud and clear to the discerning.

Wantaregh Paul Unongo has taken his peace efforts a notch higher. While many are trying to make peace with the headsmen themselves, Unongo has taken his own peace initiative right to the heart of the caliphate.

The caliphate is the spiritual seat of the Fulanis, if it cannot leash the Fulani herdsmen then nobody can – and that was Unongo’s unspoken message.

The herdsmen attacks are well planned and well coordinated. That only goes to show that they are properly organized. Those who know even say that the herdsmen who do the actual attacks are foreign mercenaries. But foreign mercenaries brought in by who? Sponsored by who and paid for their services by who?

After the elder statesman’s visit to Sokoto, over seventy of his kith and kin were massacred in Gassol Local Government Area of Taraba State by the rampaging Fulani herdsmen thus making rubbish of whatever peace effort. Now the herdsmen have laid siege on Benue communities with the most recent being the cruel murder of farmers in Buruku and Gboko local government areas of Benue. The songs and dance at the Sultans palace has turned to a dirge back home.
But if even the Caliphate is unable to put a leash on the herdsmen, would there be any option left other than a recourse to self defense like Darfur? if the herdsmen can bring in foreign mercenaries and defy all entreaties to peace, should the farmers now sit docilely as Guinea pigs or also follow suit and bring in their own mercenaries to fight back?

For now that is clearly the stage we are getting onto. A state of anarchy. A gradual descent into Somalia. Already the ominous signs are there. The once famed hegemony of the north is being blown to smithereens. Likewise the deputy leader of the northern elders forum’s conviction and faith in the indivisibility of the country may as well end up a mirage if the herdsmen / farmers debacle remains intractable.

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