Sunday, 29 January 2017

MY VISIT TO KUTEB - A FAMILY DIVIDED AGAINST ITSELF


I was in Taraba State, with the aim of visiting Nigeria’s largest national park - the Gashaka-Gumti Game Reserve, which I was told covers about 6600 sq km. While driving through Kuteb, I had a change of mind, I decided to stop over in Kuteb to find out why most of the building were roofless, as if there was war there and it turned out that, yes there was a war. Though it all looks calm now, once there is fight, there might always be more fight because anger is so easy to be provoked.

Dr James standing in front of a burnt house


The Kuteb or Kutep are found in Taraba State of Nigeria. History have it that they migrated from Egypt about 1000 AD. They are mostly farmers, hunters and fisher men, because of the proximity of the Benue River basin. They even spread into Cameroon. The Colonial master placed them under the ruler-ship of a first-class Jukun ruler, the "Aku Uka" of the Wukari Kingdom. In 1914, the British made the Kwe Kukwen the only graded and third class chief in Takum, with the title of Kwe Takum. He was made paramount over other people in the area.  This change was resented by other ethnic groups of Hausa, Tiv, Chamba, Kukuns and Ichen, who forced the Ukwe Ahmadu Genkwe to leave Takum and reside elsewhere. The last 'Ukwe Takum' was Ali Ibrahim, who ruled from 1963 to 1996.

In the 1970s Takum was part of the old Benue Plateau State. The local government gazette recognized three main chieftaincy stools in the Wukari Federation for the Wukari, Donga and Takum local government areas, each to be elected by their indigenous people. This law was changed by the Governor Joseph Gomwalk in 1975, withdrawing the sole right of the Kuteb to select the holder of the Ukwe Chieftaincy stool of Takum from one of their two royal families. The new law allowed for election of a Chamba chief, while making a Jukun man chairman of the selection committee and altering the composition of the committee to include Jukun and Chamba as well as Hausa and Kuteb. The justification was the changing demographics of Takum, but the result was disturbances that caused the government to ban the traditional annual Kuchichebe festival, where the land is blessed to ensure the next harvest will be fertile. Later, similar festivals were banned in other Wukari Federation areas due to the trouble they caused.

burnt building after the Jukuns and Kutebs clashes






In late 1996, the government of Benue State decided to split the local government area of Takum into two areas, Ussa and Takum. The motivation apparently was to manage the boundaries so that one could be ruled by Kuteb and the other by Chamba or Jukun. The plan failed. In elections, the people elected Kuteb to rule in both districts. So the government intervened again in April of 1997, and moved three Kuteb villages out of the Takum area, villages that were immediate suburbs of Takum and not even contiguous with Ussa. The Kuteb were very angry when the first elections were set aside, and new elections brought out a Chamba for Takum's local government chair.

In October 1997, it was alleged that a group of Kuteb young men took a young Jukun man and beat him to death. Young Jukun gangs retaliated by capturing and killing some Kuteb. Suddenly, weapons appeared on the streets, and a war began. The Kuteb residents of Takum fled to Ussa, and two thirds of all the homes in Takum were destroyed. The conflict was exacerbated when federal police came on the scene. They placed blame on the Kuteb, and began shooting Kutebs. Churches of both the CRCN and the RCCN were damaged and closed. Only the small Muslim quarter remained untouched. More than 100,000 people lost their homes, and about 400 people lost their lives. For more than three years, there were no schools open in Takum. Medical and government services were almost nonexistent. Cross-tribal marriages were broken, and engagements called off. Friends who had gone to school together could not speak to one another. Kuteb members who were still part of the CRCN were pressured to leave.

In October 1997 the Taraba State military administrator Amen Edore Oyakhire sent a Comprehensive brief on the Chieftaincy Stool of Takum Chiefdom to the Armed Forces Ruling Council. That month seven people were killed and seven houses razed in communal violence, and 31 people were arrested. Oyakhire said anyone suspected of involvement in the communal violence would be treated as detractors of the transition to civil rule. In 1998 the Taraba State Government also set up a Peace Committee which managed to negotiate a truce between the ethnic groups.
The Kuteb have been involved in ongoing violent conflicts with their neighbors. An ethnic crisis between the Jukun and Kuteb broke out in 1991. On December 27, 2008 another crisis erupted in Takum over an alleged killing of a Jukun youth by Kuteb youths. Perhaps 20 people died and thousands took refuge in the local military barracks. In 2000, there was fighting between the Jukun/Chamba and Tiv people, with over 250 villages burned. In 2006 violent clashes again began between the Kuteb and the Tiv, in which many people lost their lives. In a December 2008 press conference the Taraba State Governor, Danbaba Suntai, said he could see no end to the conflict.
The interesting thing about this people is that during their wars, they will return their wives homes knowing that both families can't kill their sisters. So my questions is why fight in the first in the first place, why not live in peace

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