For much of the outgoing year 2016, the Tiv nation was in mourning, in grief. The portentous accents of the Indyer drum announced the passage of the paramount ruler of the Tiv towards the end of 2015. Following the gathering to the ancestral domain of the Begha u Tiv, Orchivirigh (Dr) Alfred Akawe Torkula, Tor Tiv IV, Tivland became disconsolate. Benue State was in a mournful mood. Even Nigeria was drenched in tears.
It was the Catholic Bishop of Gboko Diocese, Most Rev. Dr. William Amove Avenya who captured the lachrymal mood most luridly. Addressing the mammoth congregation at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Baptist in Gboko, the umbilical cord and centre of Tiv unity, the cleric advised the Tiv people to accord a most decent burial to the late monarch in fidelity to Tiv tradition and culture. But he also admonished them to ensure that an “unpolluted” Tor Tiv emerged to succeed late Torkula.
Providence heard the prayerful admonitions of Bishop Avenya. Today, the Tiv have a new paramount ruler. He is Orchivirigh (Prof.) James Ornguga Ayatse. The new Tor Tiv is a foremost scholar, celebrated intellectual, experienced administrator, refined gentleman and a man of culture. He has been twice vice-chancellor, a rare accomplishment he shares with another distinguished Tiv compatriot, Prof. David Iyornôngu Ker.
My interest in this column is not so much to weave panegyric songs and serenade the new Tor Tiv. That will be a fit subject worthy of attention in the near future. My immediate concern now concerns the overriding and imperative need for a new Tiv agenda now that a new Tor Tiv has emerged. For after the expected euphoria of the moment, the Tiv need to harness the arrows of their minds and etch them onto the tight bowstrings of reality in contemporary Nigeria and in the face of present global realities.
In an attempt to chart a new course in the course of Tiv nationhood amidst the plural contradictions that define Tiv society, one sure way to begin is to have recourse to history. It was Wantaregh Paul Iorpuu Unongu who prophetically and perspicaciously asked the Tiv where they wanted to go. That was in 1969. Unongu, a young academic with Lagos University, sought to know from the Tiv in an open letter where they wanted to go from that moment in their national pilgrimage in Nigeria and the world. Today, that question is more urgent, more immediate than ever before.
So I enlist the words of Unongu, the renowned and ageless sage and ask: now that a new Tor Tiv has arrived, where do we go from here? This is a crucial question. Whether the Tiv realise it or now, this a critical juncture in their history, a forked road in their journey towards becoming, toward belonging in Nigeria and in the world.
It is an epochal moment for sober reflection on past history with its successes and failures. It also calls for a dispassionate assessment of present history and its defining trajectories and compels for a trained vision and renewed focus on future history. For it is important for one to look to where one fell but is more important to know why one stumbled and fell. The Tiv must seek to why history has somehow treated them unkindly.
Now that a new Tor Tiv has emerged, one direction the Tiv must pursue is to ensure that there is national unity and cohesion in their ranks. For long, there has been a crisis of national purpose. This is because of lack of unity due to personal selfish ambitions and gross greed. The Tiv have for so long failed to achieve national consensus whether in the realms of politics, culture, economy and social life. The loss of the then Benue Cement Company and the inability to compete favourably with others in political engineering locally and nationally are a glaring consequence of lack of national unity and an abiding sense of purpose.
The cardinal principle of communal sharing has altogether disappeared from Tiv national memory archive. The creed now has become primitive individual accumulation, egocentricity and self-aggrandisement. Our memory bank has been so drained that the Tiv have turned against themselves and so rendered themselves most vulnerable and assailable in a pluralistic society like Nigeria where ethnic nationalism over-determines national engineering. To survive meanigfully in such a hostile and competitive environment, the Tiv need more than sheer luck or fortune. Unity and cohesion are indispensable.
A new Tiv agenda now that a new Tor Tiv has arrived will also require that petty jealousies and envy which have become a national pastime will have to geometrically decrease if not get eliminated altogether. The Tiv have unfortunately refined the art of jealousy, an act that runs contrary to Tiv tradition and culture. This has negated the time-honoured ethos which proclaims that “I am because we are; we are because I am”; as well as the powerful philosophical statement that “One for all; all for one”.
Another Tiv agenda now that a new Tor Tiv has been appointed will require the inauguration of Tiv cultural renaissance. Tiv culture is undergoing a slow but sure culturocide. This debilitating reality is accompanied by the erosion and denudation of Tiv grammar of values and mores. An unavoidable consequence of the neglect and progressive death of Tiv culture is the slow disappearance of Tiv language as the medium of communication.
Every culture is transmitted by its language. The crisis of language translates to cultural stasis. What is happening with Tiv language now suggests a cultural crisis which if not addressed urgently with the seriousness it deserves will inevitably result in the weakening and eventual disappearance of the culture and race. The new Tor Tiv will need to vigorously push an agenda for Tiv linguistic and cultural renascence for the continued survival of the group in a multi-ethnic Nigeria.
A new agenda under a new Tor Tiv will also compel great individual and collective investment in economic activities for enhanced social development. The Tiv are famous farmers who alone can conveniently feed Nigeria. If Benue State today earns the sobriquet of “Food Basket of the Nation”, it is without doubt the industry of Tiv in agricultural production.
However, farming has earned the Tiv more poverty than wealth and riches. This is because there is no economic activity in the land. There are no industries, for instance, to process agro-based produce. Farming itself is still being done on a subsistence basis. This reality affects the Tiv in other states other than Benue such as Taraba, Nasarawa, Plateau and parts of Cross River.
However, sustainable agricultural production which will uplift the people from poverty to wealth can only be accomplished through mechanised farming. The Tiv Traditional Council under the new Tor Tiv can stimulate action in this direction by conscientising the government but also raising consciousness among the people about the dignity of agricultural production. With the right attitude, food production will achieve a quantum leap and wealth will be created for the people. Well-to-do Tiv sons and daughters can also champion the cause of industrial development by investing at home so as to provide employment for the teeming idle youths.
Purposeful leadership is essential for a pan-Tiv agenda under the new dispensation. The new Tor Tiv has the historic mandate to galvanise the people in the direction of greater unity of purpose and consensus on issues of national significance. He must have proper understanding of the present realities and a clear vision about the future direction he will steer the Tiv nation for him to have a successful and memorable tenure. He should avoid the pitfalls of partisanship and assume the proper role of father of the nation who is willing to treat with justice and fairness all Tiv compatriots irrespective of politics, religion or creed.
Now that a new Tor Tiv has arrived, let there be newness of life in the land. Let the people bask in the euphoria of a fresh and promising day. Let the vegetation luxuriate with a green fortune that will yield a bountiful harvest of development and growth. Let the animals be fertile and the land produce in abundance. Let this new beginning propel the Tiv nation on the path of true greatness and ethnic solidarity now that a new Tor Tiv has ascended the throne.
*Tsaaior is a Professor of Media and Cultural Communication, Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos.