Monday, 20 July 2015

POLITICAL KILLINGS IN #BENUE By Emmanuel Yawe

David Atoza Ihindan was my primary school teacher at Harga, his home village. Trained at a Teachers Training College, TTC, established by Christian Missionaries at Mkar, he was one teacher that made an indelible impact on me at that formative stage. I often told him that he taught me things that no other teacher taught me even at Nigeria’s premier university in Ibadan where I later earned a degree. And I meant it.


He was a man of extraordinary intellectual courage and ambition. He went to school late in life and the teachers college he attended never offered French as a subject. Still, in his ambition to study French, he taught himself the language while teaching us in the village primary school where there were no French speakers. Unbelievably, he took the entrance examinations to study French at the Advanced Teachers College (ATC) in Zaria and passed.

After his studies at ATC Zaria, he gained admission into Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), again to study French. By the time he graduated in 1976, he was far above the age of participating in the NYSC scheme so he took a teaching job. With the return of politics in 1978, he joined the NPN and was elected into the Benue State House of Assembly. He and Audu Ogbe were few of the articulate and active members of the House.

We shared political beliefs and were often collaborators in politcal causes. During the Abacha government, we formed the movement for the creation of Katsina Ala State out of some Local Governments in Benue and Taraba – he was the National Chairman while I was National Secretary. Our movement believed that the new state would bring to an end the perennial Tiv/Jukun ethnic wars in Tarba. We were somehow alone in our thinking because the popular thinking amoung the Tiv and Jukun elite did not share our optimism.

We fought on regardless, appearing before the Mbanefo panel set up by Sani Abacha at it’s sittings in Makurdi and Jalingo. Atoza Ihindan was an excellent debater; few Nigerian politicians are gifted with his oratorical skills. At the Mbanefo sittings in both Makurdi and Jalingo, he made powerful representations that moved everybody, including Mbanefo himself who was visibly shaken. But the creation of additional states in Nigeria, especially the kind of controversial state of our dream called for more than strong arguments and excellent speech delivery which were the only things going for us. We did not have the political clout. When Abacha announced his new states, we were left in the lurch.

In 1999, Nigeria returned to democracy. In 2001, the Jukun/Tiv wars in Taraba that motivated our demand for a Katsina Ala state broke out in full force. This time, the carnage spread from Taraba into Benue, leading to the brutal butcher of some soldiers in Zaki Biam and the even more brutal and unjustified massacre of innocent civilians by the army in a whole senatorial zone of Benue state, erroneously reffered to as the Zaki Biam massacre by the media.

Somehow, Atoza Ihindan believed that this was an opportunity for us to press ahead with our demand. I felt we were doomed to fail again. His interest in the Katsina Ala state project got a boost with the election of Gabriel Suswam as governor of Benue State in 2007. Suswam and Atoza Ihindan come from the Shitile clan of the Tiv tribe, half of whom are trapped in Taraba and have been persistently subjected to ethnic cleansing. He felt Suswam was in a position to find a solution to the problem and sent endless messages to me to revive our movement since as the National Secretary, I had in my custody all the relevant documents of our demand. I balked, watching Suswam.

By December 2009, I drove to his village for a meeting on the way forward. It was a stormy meeting; for the first time in my life, I took a strong stand against my former teacher whom I had all along held in awe. He repeated his demand that we should work with Suswam. I replied that in my short experience with governance, I have been associated with some governors beginning from Adekunle Ajasin of Ondo state, Bamanga Tukur of Gongola, some military governors in Kano and David Jang in Gongola. I told him that I was happy to be associated with these governors because they possessed clarity of thought and their governments had set objectives which were pursued. I told him I had watched Suswam’s government for two years and he was a very elementary man whose reasoning did not go deeper than his pocket. Working with Suswam would not get us anywhere.

But my teacher was too far gone. He went to etxraordinary lenghts in his relationship with Suswam, a relationship I believed was wrong headed and unproductive. In this years election, he staked all to support Suswam who had Barnabas Gemade as a formidable opponent. Atoza Ihindan was married to Dinah –a sister to Gemade. Now parading himself as Suswam’s ‘father’, he mounted the soap box several times to denounce Gemade in very vitriolic terms.

I felt this was wrong and even if every voter in Benue was against Gemade, Atoza Ihindan should have stood by him. We met at public functions but I avoided him because I did not want to talk to him in a way that will be construed as disrespectful of an elder. But I was hoping to meet him one day and ask him where he placed Dinah and her children who are nephews to Gemade in his tirades on the Senator.

This will never be. Atoza Ihindan is a victim of an assassins bullet. Many others are being killed in a senseless wave of political carnage that has hit Benue. While he was alive, we disagreed politically. Still, I believe he and the other victims do not deserve the extra judicial killings going on. 




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