The Challenge of Christianity in Tivland

Iorliam Shija

Iorliam Shija

Padre Remy Ihyula, The Former Secretary of Bishop of Makurdi Diocese, Bishop Athanasius Atule Usuh, who is at the moment studying in Rome, or so, sent me a message after he had read my piece: “So Akume is a catholic Knight?”. This was the message:

“IS, don’t be distracted. That you are able to retell history so well is an attribute in you that should be encouraged. I don’t take issues with you about what you have written here matter of fact it is your right since we live in a democracy and freedom of speech is allowed. Our inability to recast history has made us repeat silly mistakes in that aberration of ours called Nigeria. One thing though I would like to add is that, you should also do an expose of the CAN under pastor Ayo so that your readers would be able to make a judgement the way they are doing here. As a last word, bravo is what I would say to you, your sense of history is refreshing.”

I took particular notice of his message amidst so many I received at about that time for so many reasons. Chiefly being that since he is a Catholic Priest, he is very familiar with the Church’s teachings; but, unlike others, less in understanding of these things, who only insulted me and called me names, the priest saw a certain good angle and commended me; he also gave me another assignment, to “do an expose of the CAN under pastor Ayo so that —- readers would be able to make a judgement…..”

Actually, the import of my message was not on the activities of Pa Ayo Oristjafor, what he did or how it related to the jet and cash issue, but mine was an interrogation of George Akume’s Knightly pretentions. That I was misunderstood and all that, once again, are not the issues I wish to write about here. Here, I wish to use the window provided by Padre Remy, but rather than focus on Ayo and CAN, I will focus on the challenge of Christianity in Tivland, and maybe Benue State. That is; I will do an expose on the coming of Christianity in Tivland and assess its impact in the face of extant challenges.

Before 1911, all Tiv men, who live mostly in Benue State Nigeria, were idol worshippers, traditionalist and worshippers of a god figure they called Aondo. The Tiv society which then, had not have so much contact with the outside world, regulated itself by taboos stipulated by the fortune tellers, great wizards, witches, Mbaakombor, Mbatsav, Mbakpenshov and m batweregh (Mbasoron akaa); the above mentioned , in such a society, served as a link between the Tiv and what they worshipped; and also defined the parameters of the essence of life. The Society gave them legal roles, and them, with the sort of leadership structure on ground; the Orya(owner of the house), and Ityo(elders), tried their best to keep the society moving.

Perhaps it were the numerous taboos they put on ground, or maybe, it was due to the so much human sacrifices that were involved in most of their rituals; this pre-1911 regime , caused general fear in the land. Although a section of people now seem to argue that, such a society had its benefits in spite of fear that reigned everywhere then.

In 1854, the first European, contact with the Tiv people was established by WB Baikie. Western traders, colonialist and later, missionaries, cashing in on Baikie’s brave journey in 1854, made more daring journeys in route in the hinterland. That was how the Dutch Reformed Christian Mission, founders of NKST Church, found their way into Tivland in 1911 at Sai, today in Katsina-Ala Local Government, Benue State. The German Roman Catholic Missionaries were to follow in 1920s; as they preached to this traditional society and had followers, the Christian missionaries insisted that the old regime which was based on fear, made GOD angry and led the people to hell. So as a basic condition to be baptised and made to have peace with God, and become a Christian, based on the bible, the convert would have to rescind his or her allegiance to the old regime.
So, by the 1950s, Tivland had three religious beliefs or ideologies competing for the soul of the Tivs; these were the DRCM (NKST), The Catholics and the Traditional religion practitioners ; the latter comprised of especially , the old men, those who still saw meaning and explanation of life from the prism of the old practices.

In 1959, the NKST group, the Catholics and the traditionalist had another more radical rival; the Pentecostal movement. It was started in Tivland by a south African, Rev J J styne in Gboko. The Pentecostals were obviously Christians, yet were against all the previous groups. The Catholics and NKST were more tolerant with the people; the Pentecostals raised the standards, not only for the traditionalists, but also the NKST and Catholics. Rev Styne started All Christ Command Mission in Gboko; and his earliest followers were Moses Tyodugh, John Akogh and Yaseta Mazima.
Rev Styne left back to south Africa , during the diplomatic snag that existed between Nigeria and south Africa during apartheid, and died, so his earliest followers, having no leader to raise them, joined another ministry , which they saw similar practices in them like the ones eschewed by Styne, Full Gospel Revival ministry founded around Mbausu, in today’s Vandeikya Local Government, in 1974; it came from Cameroun where it was founded by a German, Rev W Knorr; today one of its popular preachers, is Rev Tom Igyah. Others who had made efforts in the proliferation of Pentecostalism in Tivland , at different times were , 1957 global frontier mission, WIND OF HEALING , and the efforts of the Etulo man, Rev Mashika Agu who broke from the NKST and evangelised freely; Jonh Orguze’s and Joe Ichull’s Christian Center founded in Gboko in the mid 1970s,; Joe Ichull later left to establish Word of Life Church in Makurdi; William Okoye’s All Christian Fellowship Mission, 1973 in Zaki Biam, and 1975, in Gboko.

In 1980s/1990s, Deeper life, Tor Uja’s Mission House, and later Living Faith, Redeemed Christian Church of God, and all the others came around or were started in Tivland, such that by 2011, when Christianity was 100 years in Tivland , Great Tiv men have risen to be head of almost all these faiths. We have Tiv catholic priests, we have pastors; Tiv people have founded Pentecostal churches, Tiv people are bishops; and all that. But amidst all these , there are constant arguments, accusations and allegations, not only by the members of all the churches in Tivland but their leaders and members all over the world.

Today, the Tiv seem to be dissatisfied with all these; NKST, Catholics, Pentecostals and all the other churches like Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian… they seem to question Christianity or doubts its portency.
And so another movement started by Brother Gbile Akanni seem to be the rallying point of all these people now. Akanni Came for his NYSC to Katsina-ala around 1978/1979 and then he decided to stay back and evangelised after his service. In the 1980s, he moved from Katsin-ala to Gboko. Most of his Tiv colleagues are Denis Tserga, Emmanuel Akaahimbe and Terwase Targema.

Gbile Akanni, who lives in Gboko is a teacher of the Word. He holds an inter-denominational fellowship which attracts Christians of all backgrounds. This is possible because the services are held during week days. He does not run Gbile Akanni a church. He is an itinerant preacher who moves from one denomination to another on invitation. He is in high demand and travels a lot. Because of his tight schedule, he is booked several months before the appointed date. In addition, he runs a week-long programme in December each year tagged Ministers Leadership Retreat. His areas of strength are in teaching and evangelism.

To be continued next week.

Iorliam Shija is the Editor-In-Chief, Nigerian Peoples Post

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    October 20, 2014 at 9:59 AM

    great history sir.

  2. Rev'd Ben Ugba

    February 23, 2016 at 5:39 AM

    you have forgotten Bishop Pius Dyege, of All Nations Evangelical church. Thanks

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