interviewBy Theophilus Abbah
The Kuteb is a major tribe in Takum local government area of Taraba state.
The town is synonymous with crisis, a phenomenon which has continued to bedevil the people. Recently, the people were embroiled in another crisis.
In this interview, Engr. Wukari Josiah Wasa, 51-year-old marine engineer who resides in Lagos and is a prominent Kuteb, gives an insight into why the crisis has persisted.
Wasa said only the restoration of the Ukwe traditional stool to the Kutebs can bring lasting peace in Takum, amongst other issues.
What seems to be the problem?
The crisis has often emanated from the fact that some people with connection in government want to lord it over the Kutebs, who are predominantly farmers. Takum has become a cosmopolitan area like any other city in Nigeria. In Lagos for instance, you have the Yoruba, Ibo, Hausa, Edo etc. But the Ibo and the Hausa people do not attempt to take over the throne of the Oba in Lagos. In Takum, it is the same. You have the Kutebs who are the indigenes and you have other ethnic groups whom we welcome, like the Chambas (Jukuns), the Kpazuns, the Bafuns, the Damas, and the Ibos. But these other tribes are there to undertake different businesses and they are law abiding. However, there are some groups who have, over time tried to usurp the paramount stool that belongs to the Kuteb people.
Can you tell us more about the Jukuns?
The Jukuns are the people in the former Wukari Division of Northern Nigeria; there you have the Wapan (Kpazuns) people, the Kutebs, the Ichens. That name Jukun is generic; the Chambas are not part of this group. The Wukari Division witnessed the migration of a lot of people to the area, but again, this is good for development. In any case, you do not tamper with the culture of the people when you go to live with them. The culture and tradition of the people should be allowed to thrive. It is our language, our way of life, the way we do things. And for the Kuteb people for example, Kuchichebe is an important festival because it is like our Christmas. Before the advent of Christianity, Kuchichebe was our annual festival, it represents the time of harvesting, when we dedicate the land for the next farming season. It represents a lot of things to us. So when it was banned, the people were not happy.
When was Kuchichebe banned?
The festival was banned way back in the 70s when there was a problem with the Kuteb Chieftaincy stool in Takum. At that time Takum was under Benue Plateau State and the Local government gazette covered Wukari Federation which recognized the three main chieftaincy stools, namely, Aku for Wukari, Ukwe for Takum and Gara for Donga. But during the time of the Benue-Plateau government, this law was changed in the case of Takum only, leaving Wukari and Donga untouched. The problem started with the Benue -Plateau gazette, it was the beginning of the crisis in Takum as the Chieftaincy stool was made available to everybody, the Hausa, Yoruba, and anybody can come to Takum and become the paramount ruler.
This is not supposed to be the case. The Benue-Plateau gazette also increased the number of kingmakers for the Ukwe Chieftaincy stool so that any visitor can become the traditional ruler. Can that be done in any part of Nigeria, can a Kuteb man go to Kano and become Emir of Kano, or go to Lagos and become the Oba? This is the genesis of the perennial problems in Takum and the Kutebs are saying this cannot be, you cannot make the Ukwe Chieftaincy stool vacant for all comers. It is injustice and the change of the Northern Nigerian gazette was done without consultation with the Kutebs or their paramount ruler, the Ukwe who was alive at that time. So when the Benue-Plateau gazette became public, the Kuteb people protested and since then, the Kuchichebe festival has been viewed with skeptism.
Who do you think engineered the Benue-Plateau gazette?
Precisely the Chamba (Jukuns) were instrumental to publishing the Benue Plateau gazette. And at that time they had a lot of prominent people in position. Let me put it another way, when the white people came to Ibo land, the persons that were sent to School were the Osus, the out casts, you won't find a prince or a free born being allowed to go to school, so the Osus are now in the forefront of educational advancement in Ibo land , so is the same for the Kuteb, when education came to our area, what our people used to do was that if you are a virile Kuteb man, you would not be allowed to go to school, you would be sent to the farm as farming was regarded as a honorable profession, so you will find that the sons of settlers who were idle were the ones that went to school. This made the settlers who were Chambas (Jukuns) to be educationally, more advanced than us at that time and they were predominant in government. So they were able to manipulate these things like changing the Northern Nigeria gazette to our detriment.
How did the ban on the Kuchichebi festival lead to the present crisis?
When the Taraba State government banned that festival, our people said they would abide by it if the other groups also complied. But the Chambas (Jukuns) and the Kpazuns in Takum did not accept it, they went ahead and staged their cultural festival which was what sparked off the crisis.
It was learnt that a similar clash between the Jukuns and the Kuteb occurred last year during the Kuchichebi festival and people were killed. How did it happen?
Yes, during the Kuchichebi festival, it was disrupted and people were killed with guns but we did not know where the guns came from. There is no gun manufacturing facility in Takum. Regarding the present crisis, the cause was the undertaking of a Jukun cultural festival which had been banned along with the Kuteb festival by the state govtnment So the Kuteb did not understand why the Jukun should perform their own festival when all festivals were banned. Instead of enforcing the law, soldiers were brought to protect the Jukuns as they were carrying out their activities, the Pujan festival. Fighting then ensued and many were killed. Up till now the killings are going on. Even my house has been burnt down. Economic activities have been disrupted and all shops have been closed down.
Is there a political perspective to the crisis?
The chairman of the local government was elected during an election which no other party contested. We felt that he emerged by consensus after the other parties were appeased.
What is the solution to the recurring crisis between the Jukuns and the Kutebs?
The Taraba government should revert to the law that set the Chieftaincy positions for Wukari federation in Northern Nigeria. Under that law, the Ukwe Chieftaincy stool was reserved solely for the Kutebs, that law should be revisited for peace to reign in Takum. Not only in Takum, it will also bring peace in Wukari and Donga where the crisis always spills when it starts in Takum. All the commissions of enquiry set up by the various state governments have always made the same recommendation, this should be adhered to for lasting peace.