The Tor Tiv they forgot
With the formal announcement of the demise of His Royal Highness Orchivirigh Alfred Akawe Torkula Tor Tiv (IV) Begha u Tiv, after the meeting of the Tiv Traditional Council (TTC), the entire Tiv nation was literally thrown into mourning on Monday, 7th December. The ‘Indyer’, a traditional drum, was struck repeatedly to alert the Tiv people of the tragedy that has befallen the nation.
When he was selected in 1999 to lead his people, the one-dimensional formula of ya na angbian the Tiv adopt in sharing whatever they have among themselves, was applied to crown the late Dr. Torkula as the fourth Tor Tiv.
The decision was greeted with much enthusiasm, as his predecessor HRH Orchivirigh Akperan Orshi Tor Tiv (III) was perceived as too gentle to be the Begha (Lion) the Tiv people wanted.
On assumption of office, Orchivirigh Torkula made conscientious efforts to rebrand the Tiv nation, by initiating institutional legacies that would help the Tiv people understand the strategic importance of a king, his influence and relevance to their corporate existence as a people. Until recently, the average Tiv man would not submit easily to be led by another person, he would prefer to be his own man. The late Tor Tiv attempted to change this mindset without success before he died.
His first Daughter Angela Terngu Torkula told The Guardian that, one of the biggest regrets of the late monarch was his inability to imbibe in his subjects the attitude of valuing their leaders. “If you don’t take pride in your own, who would do it for you?” he used to say.
“The people have little understanding of how to reverence their king, his desire was to correct this particular attitude.”
With the reinvigoration of nearly forgotten traditional values, like the ‘Swem u bumun’ (recognition of the Tiv deity) and the introduction of reforms, like the conferment of chieftain titles (Iti Tor) as a way of delegating responsibility and also recognising worthy sons and daughters, as well as friends of the Tiv people, observers felt this was the turning point the Tiv nation had been waiting for.
According to the President General of the Mzough-u-Tiv (MUT) worldwide, Edward Ujege, the Zege Mule u Konshisha (the great shelter), his vast exposure to western education informed most of his decisions as a traditional ruler.
Ujege said the late Tor Tiv tried to use it to influence and change the course of Tiv nation in a country, where the rightful place of traditional rulers have been systematically undermined and usurped.
“He was a very learned traditional ruler. He wrote books about Tiv history. And our history has never been recorded in the way and manner he personally did as the king of the Tiv people. Culture is embedded in tradition and our people uphold their tradition in high esteem. Our king put in place the MUT to provide a veritable platform where all the people gather at the end of the year, usually in December, to review their existence, what was there in the past and what is presently obtained and how to make progress. He appraised their place in terms of national politics, economy, education and every facet of human existence”.
Ujege said he was usually summoned by the monarch weekly to brief him on what was being done to address the situation of the people, especially in the present government where no Tiv son or daughter is considered worthy to be given a political appointment. “He was really sad when we lost out on the race for the senate presidency, his main worry was that the Tiv people are not involved in the scheme of national discourse, even at the level of national security.”
In the quest to ensure a permanent imprint on the traditional institution and cultural heritage, the Begha u Tiv institutionalised the award of traditional titles to deserving Tiv sons, daughters and friends of the Tiv People. It was during the 24 years of his reign that this became really entrenched among the Tiv people.
Before then, the only traditional title we heard then was that of Wantaregh borne by Paul Unongu. Till date, no other Tiv man has been given this particular title said to be conferred on him by Tor Tiv II Orchivirigh Gondo Aluor.
Dr. Torkula who had a doctoral degree (PhD) in Cultural Anthropology and honourary doctoral degrees in other fields, insisted that all titled chiefs, including clan heads, like the Uter, Utyombaiorov and Mbataregh, must wear the traditional black and white beads to public functions as a distinguishing symbol of their roots and what they represent in the society.
According to Dr. Helen Alueshima Awuna, the Shagba Kwase u Taghertagher wan u Tiv, the late king introduced this to recognise Tiv elites globally and as a means of placing a responsibility on them towards contributing to the development of their people. The chieftaincy title places huge challenges on the holder to do more and live up to expectation.
“The Tor Tiv will call you by the title he conferred on you, and it is left for you to live by it or not.”
On the preservation of the cultural heritage of the people, the Tor Tiv, a Jerusalem pilgrim, was known for his firm belief in the efficacy of the Swem, he encouraged his subjects to live right with their god, be at peace with their neighbours and never underestimate the power of the almighty God, especially when dealing with a fellow human being.”
According to Dr. Awuna, Tor Tiv Torkula, an alumnus of the famous Kings College Lagos was a man of peace.
“He encouraged peaceful negotiations. During the crisis between Tiv people and the Fulani herdsmen in Nasarawa State, he went there himself, and his presence humbled everyone. He almost lost his life in the course of that journey, but he remained steadfast that the peace process must be completed. He wanted peace in Tiv land.”
Dr. Joseph Zume, an Associate Professor of Geography and Earth Science, Shippensberg University in Pennsylvanian, and an elder of the Mutual Union of Tiv in America (MUTA) said: “His Royal Highness, Dr. Torkula made an early impression when he was crowned, by sending clear messages across Nigeria that the Tivs were no longer to be taken for a ride. He was the most educated of the Tor Tivs before him and was also more vocal.”
He said the later ruler would be remembered by his stance on Tiv freedom and the chieftaincy titles that he conferred on many prominent Tiv children and non-Tivs alike.
“I met him more closely at the MUTA conventions that he attended here in the United States. He was such an imposing figure and an eloquent speaker,” Zume said.
Other accounts by prominent Tiv sons show that the one-time Pro-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan believed firmly in the political relevance and strategic importance of the Tiv people as the fourth largest ethnic group in Nigeria, but the political placement of state governors above the traditional rulers clipped his wings to some extent, more so, when his family welfare depended on the benevolence of the sitting governor. His stance on some political issues was greatly misunderstood and he began to loss popularity among his people.
Professor Zume said, “Regrettably, this Tor Tiv’s glory faded rather quickly. Lately, many of his own were quick to dismiss him that he was partisan. In the process, many had forgotten about the sanctity of his office.
“While it may be true that the Tor Tiv had become partisan, to me, that was also inevitable, given that his office depended directly on the state government for sustenance. This should never be the case. Without financial autonomy, the office of the Tor Tiv cannot be expected to function separate from politics and devoid of influence from those that call the shots in government houses.”
His daughter however disagreed that her farther was partisan, but was misunderstood. “Apart from George Akume, who until the death of the king never looked down on him nor disregarded the issue of his welfare, others after him (Akume) refused to take care of his welfare.
“Unlike when Akume was the governor, where he would ensure that all that needed to be done for Tor Tiv was in place, (Gabriel) Suswam, who is the Tor Tiv’s cousin, used to look down on him just as one of his other cousins that are depending on him for sustenance, and not as the Tor Tiv.
“But the monarch still tolerated him because of their relationship and also gave him the support he needed. Most people called him foolish because of his involvement with Suswam and the many compromising positions he took on matters that involved the then governor, but they neither understood the relationship nor his reasons.
“At a point in Tivland, some people started calling him ‘Tor party or Tor PDP’ because of the obvious support he gave Suswam, but he did not budge, his loyalty to Suswam was unbending, all in an effort to convince him to reposition Tivland and also to give the people what was due them. At a point, he almost became a yes-man to the governor, accepting to do unimaginable things to please Suswam. Yet Suswam did not as much respect him, there are times Suswam would not see the King for a whole year. One of his failures which he regretted was his inability to make Suswam become the ideal political leader he desired him to be,” she said.
The situation disturbed the monarch to the extent that, he craved that a Tiv son would rise to become the political leader of the state.
You hear him say, “Someday the Tiv people would sit together, agree in one accord that God almighty bestow leadership on anyone that is chosen, and that such a person needs to be given the due regard required for the position. Only then can they take their pride of place among other ethnic nationalities.
To buttress this assertion, Dr. Zume said, “A critical vacuum of leadership has been created in Tivland by the Tiv politicians, who have placed self-interests and personal egos ahead of the collective good of the tribe. As the elite politicians battle for supremacy in the land and only fan the flames of disunity, not even a Jesus-turned Tor Tiv would make a difference. A reflection of our collective failure is evident by our lack of representation at the federal level even though we are among the first 6th largest tribe in Nigeria and a strong supporter of the government at the center. Unless the Tiv elite chart a new course the cloud of darkness that currently hangs over Tivland might extend to render us completely invisible for a very long time.”
According to the Princess Terngu Torkula, the late Tor Tiv has documented all these challenges documented in the books he wrote, some already published but not launched while others are yet to be published and there are manuscripts of others in the works that he did not finish. Although the former governor asked him to stop launching books, he didn’t stop writing, as he insisted they are references to be used, if things are to be done right in Tiv land.
She noted that HRH also desired to eradicate the ‘pull him down syndrome’ among the Tiv brethren, as it is retrogressive and has not benefitted the people. But “the mind of the Tiv person is bent on undermining each other to the extent that, the petitions you find against any top government official of Tiv extraction are written by a Tiv man. The Tiv desired to erase this. At the federal level, it is well known that a Tiv man can bring down his brother without worrying about it.
“Again, the Tor Tiv could not effectively stamp his authority on the Tiv people because of the erroneous perception that the ihyarev lineage, where he came from, lacks the required wisdom to lead, thus he was greatly belittled. “Even those he gave grand titles that admitted them into the TTC had this anachronistic belief and treated him with similar disdain, just like Suswam did. At any time he brings up a measure to correct these anomalies, those who would have ordinarily supported him to succeed, would instead turn against him insinuating that he is arrogating too much powers to himself.
“His major challenge was to reposition the Tiv nation in the scheme of things where they are supposed to be as the 4th largest ethnic group in the country. Unfortunately the Tiv people never recognised their strategic placement in the politics of Nigeria. All that the Tor Tiv tried to achieve in his 25 years reign as the paramount ruler of Tiv nation, to reposition his people; he could not achieve it, because the people refused to reverence their king. All these challenges, and the way forward are well documented in his books.”
Tor Tiv Torkula IV died on the 22nd November in a private hospital in Abuja. 16 children and 10 grand children survived him. The tradition requires that the king be buried after about 100 days of his demise, when the traditional rites must have been completed.
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