The mistakes that Tiv politicians of Benue State make are many, but a distinguishing one that is most recurrent in their political history is the mistake of marking out for attack, a “Common Political Enemy”. In most cases, the one marked out, is the most promising. Tiv people made this mistake significantly in 1969, 1983, 2003 and 2011.
The first set of Tiv politicians was the not too educated men who started the Tiv progressive Union, TPU in the 1940s. When the Tiv were to be integrated into the mainstream politics like it was the case throughout ” Nigeria” towards Independence in the 1950s , it was a tribal association like the TPU which became the beacon and here , a young primary school teacher, Joseph Sarwuam Tarka emerged as the greatest beneficiary of the political consciousness built over time by TPU.
In Lafia, in 1957, JS Tarka became the leading light of Tiv politics because he was the most prominent member of the Tiv educated elite at the time! Tarka reigned supreme as the voice of Tiv politics until 1969.
From then till his death in 1980, Tarka became a common enemy of all discordant voices and ideologies led by the now better educated Tiv elite. Like the biblical Pharisees and Sadducees of the Jews, these Tiv men buried their stiff differences and marked out Tarka for the guillotine.
Where do we go from here? The ring leader of the anti-Tarka politics, Wantaregh Paul Unongo, asked the people. Unongo had a strong base and an excuse. The 1960 and 1964 political crises had sown bad blood in Tivland. Many could argue that these were the the “dividends of Tarkaism. Unongo wanted a new route for the people. Many Tiv people, including the then Tor Tiv HRH Gondu Aluor, saw Tarka as a common enemy.
This is the mistake. The Tiv were bent on localizing a political phenomenon like Tarka. Somewhere else, Tarka had the respect of the Sarduana of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello; he also had the respect of Dr Nnandi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo who were the leading political and leaders of thoughts of his time.
He also had the backing and recognition of the military, but the people could not see this bigger picture. So, Unongo, in the place of this behemoth, also carved a smaller niche for himself.
In 1979 when elections were held though, Tarka proved that he was not a push over. His candidate won the guber election. He also installed a Tor Tiv, against popular will. He died in 1980. But, he had at least proven the Tiv people wrong. He wrote series of letters shortly before his death and indicated that he was dying a fulfilled man.
In 1983, Tarka’s protégé, Aper Aku who he had made governor in 1979 became the next common political enemy of the Tiv people. He was adjudged by many to have failed as a first term governor who didn’t deserve a second term. Morseo, he was facing this election without his godfather, Tarka. This was a precarious situation. Aku, once again, defeated the people. He once again proved the people wrong.
When this new political dispensation began, the first man to become the common political enemy of the Tiv pople was Dr George Akume in 2003. Once again, as it was in 1983, it was Paul Unongo who was the rallying point of the differences against Akume.
Everybody who had anything against Akume found Unongo as a common saviour. Again, Akume defeated the people. He survived the common enmity. He didn’t only survive 2003; he has evolved as the most successful post -1999 Benue politician. As a mark of this, Akume became influential in the governorship election of two of his successors; in 2007 and 2015.
In 2011, after his first term as governor, young Gabriel Suswam became the common enemy of all the differences in Tiv politics. Sworn enemies united to fight Suswam. His former allies left him just like Aper Aku and Akume to team up against him. These politicians were oblivious of the prospects of a Suswam as a second term governor. All they saw was his badness – as it was the case of Aku and Akume, Suswam too defeated these forces.
This mistake appears as an evil. It is based on revenge, falsehood and crude quest for power. Tarka was not perfect, but as his former secretary and “boy”, Unongo shouldn’t have come after him the way he did. Unongo only demystified Tarka and made him vulnerable and less effective.
Aku didn’t do everything for the Tiv people in his first four years, but he really tried. Most of the campaign that Unongo led against him was based on frivolous issues and falsehood. Same with Akume in 2003. He didn’t do much, but still, there was so much propaganda against him.
For four years, Suswam struggled to rule; he was not perfect, but it was risky and quite shameful that he became a common enemy overnight and was rejected for a man nobody could say what he had to offer.
Collectively, these Tiv mistakes have although robbed us of unity and development. But, incidentally the major culprits in this saga are not the politicians, but the common people.
The people are always overwhelmed by the arguments of the politicians, as suspicious as they come. It was the same people who dumped Aku for Unongo, funnily, who were also the people who sang his praises the day after.
Doesn’t this make Tiv people politically inexperienced?