Published on Aug 08, 2017 Yawe Emmanuel
The avalanche of the current travails of Taraba state started on June 22 with the violent outbreak of communal discord on the Mambilla Plateau.
I first visited the Mambilla Plateau in April 1982 as a cub reporter with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). For many reasons the visit has remained indelible in my memory.
Dr. Emmanuel Atanu, President Shehu Shagari’s Minister of Water Resources was on a facility tour of the Upper Benue River Basin Development Authority at the time and I was detailed to cover him. The tour began in Yola with Abubakar Hashidu the Chief Executive of the Authority who himself later became a Minister of Water Resources and later still, the elected Governor of Gombe State. We toured the major facilities from the North of Gongola to down South. From Wukari we went to Donga, speeding through Shagu, the village of my ancestors, my place of birth, which I had not seen since 1960 when the first Tiv riots broke out before Independence on October 1 of that year. I fled with my mother. Unable to find home in Shagu since then, I have been an internally displaced person since 1960. Memory number one.
We then went through Bali, Serti and then from Nguroje began the suicidal journey of climbing the Mambilla hills. It was dangerous and breathtaking. But the beauty of Mambilla was a big reward for our efforts. I have travelled to many parts of the world that have been gifted with natural beauty since that memorable visit to the Mambilla in 1982; but none can be compared with the unbelievable natural beauty of the Mambilla landscape except the Kashmir in India which I visited in 1990.
Taraba’s recent travails started when local killer squads of the Mambilla ethnic extraction from the wonderlands of Mambilla hills pounced on their Fulani neighbours and murdered them with their cattle abundantly. As sad as the senseless massacre is, it reminds me of what I have said again and again: the medieval system of cattle breeding that the Fulani have refused to abandon poses a grave danger to us all, including the Fulani. In the past few years the story has been that of Fulani cattlemen destroying farms and murdering people all over Nigeria. Now the tables have been turned and the Fulani’s are on the receiving end.
But the disadvantages of the present system of cattle breeding by wandering all over the country and even beyond are more than the type of attacks we saw on the Mambilla. In their endless trek, the Fulani are exposed to all kinds of hazards from dangerous wild beasts and unfriendly men. Their livestock are malnourished, exhausted and not in the best of circumstances to yield enough meat and bountiful milk. Modern day farmers believe with reason that if you expect the best yield from livestock, they should be confined. Murtala Nyako, the big time modern farmer and one time Governor of Adamawa, himself a Fulani man told me this much in an exclusive interview I had with him for Crystal Magazine in 2004.
As ugly as the massacre of Fulani’s on the Mambilla may seem, it has important lessons to be learnt therefrom.
Soon after the massacre on the Mambilla was the death of Silvanus Giwa, the Special Adviser to Governor Ishaku Darius on Media. I first met Silvanus Giwa in Yola in the mid 80’s where he was cutting his teeth as a pupil broadcaster with Gongola Television under its founding Chief Executive Joshua Hassan while I was the Managing Director of Gongola Press.
We were yet to get over the sudden death of Silvanus when news came that Danbaba Suntai former Governor of the State who was involved in a plane crash on 25 October 2012 and has been clinging to life has finally succumbed to death. It was a sad end to a man whose tenure as governor of Taraba had the salutary effect of peaceful communal coexistence.
I knew Danbaba Sunatai in the late 80’s when I was a senior official in the vortex of power in the Military Governor’s office in Yola the Gongola State capital while he was a Local Government potentate in Bali. When he was elected Governor in somewhat controversial circumstances in 2007, I had the singular responsibility of coordinating and stabilizing his government. With his godfather and immediate predecessor, the Rev Jolly Nyame locked up in Kuje prison and all sensitive documents of the Taraba state government impounded and locked up by Nuhu Ribadu’s EFCC, it was almost impossible for him to run his office. I was approached and I contributed my modest efforts in stabilizing him in office.
I know from my brief encounter with him then that he was passionate about providing good leadership to the State. But our collaborative efforts in the interest of Taraba did not last long. Soon on his release from prison, Jolly Nyame and Danbaba Suntai parted ways politically and I became a victim of their political squabbles.
Danbaba I also discovered had a different temperament from me. He was often impulsive and temperamental. It served him and Taraba State well especially on issues of communal discord which he handled spontaneously. But I doubted his judgment on other issues. For instance I was baffled at his decision to enroll as a student in an aviation school and indulge in frequent piloting of aircrafts all over Nigeria on graduation.
My limited understanding of the responsibilities of a governor is that any man who occupies that office should not be bothered with such mundane things as driving a car, let alone the intricate and mentally taxing art of flying an aircraft.
As news filtered into Jalingo that he was killed when he crashed his aircraft in Yola, the Taraba state capital exploded in commotion. There followed emotional outburst s for and against his reported death along religious lines: some wailed, others hailed. As Governor, Danbaba held the fate of millions of citizens in his hands. I admired his guts as he moved with speed to preempt ethnic and religious outbursts in the state. That air crash took Taraba back to its bad old days.
We have seen the worst of Taraba since his hospitalization and eventual exit from the seat of power. Wukari has been burnt so badly and has stopped burning these days because there is nothing more to burn. It is no longer a fight between the Jukun and the Tiv. It is a fight between Jukun Christians and Jukun Muslims.
Many more flash points have exploded in Taraba since that unfortunate and clearly avoidable air crash. The massacre of the Fulani on the Mambilla is a perfect example. Danbaba Suntai’s successors have proved profoundly incapable of handling the crack lines in the state.
Last week I read in the newspapers that he will be buried on the 19th of August. I pray that God consoles his family and grants those in control of state apparatus in Taraba his wisdom in handling the ethnic and religious divisions in the state. The travails of such discord in Taraba are a wrenching ordeal. I am a living witness and victim. I know what I am talking about.
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