By Tony Iyare
I join the Jukun and others who draw their ancestry from the old Kwarafa kingdom, to mourn the departure of their revered paramount ruler and the Aku Uka of Wukari, Dr Shekarau Angyu Masa-Ibi, who passed on a few days ago after 45 years reign on the throne.
My path as a reporter first crossed with the Aku in 1991 when he was just 15 years on the throne. I met a man full of banters. I had taken the one and a half hour tortuous Nigerian Airways flight to Yola and then the six-hour road trip via Numan, Mayobelwa, Jalingo to Wukari to be greeted by the staccato of booming guns by warring groups, putting asunder the nodal town which also offers easy access to Calabar via Katsina Allah and Vandekia, Makurdi via Yandev and Jos through Ibi and Shendam.
While many reporters took a walk as the hostilities intensified, I remained in Wukari to tell the story, spoke to all warring groups including the Aku and also went to Gboko in search of the Tor Tiv, His Royal Highness, Alfred Torkula. I also had words from the then Police Commissioner, Dauda Gololo and the Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of Zone 4 in Makurdi, Zannah Mamadi, who came to visit the flashpoint with then Taraba State Governor, Jolly Nyame.
Getting the government’s position on the crisis was an easy fry. I had long known Nyame’s chief press secretary who had previously served the military administration of Navy Captain A.A. Afolahan and Col Yohanna Dickson. I was also close to the Governor’s Personal Assistant, Boni Haruna, who later became Adamawa State Governor, and who was like a de facto Deputy Governor.
Apart from speaking with the ordinary people, I spent my evenings at the Wukari Club where I interacted with some retired permanent secretaries who served under the military Governor of old Northern Region, Gen Hassan Katsina, who later rose to the position of chief of Army Staff. So I had my hands full as I gleaned the news around me.
The Jukuns were involved in constant skirmishes with the Tiv massed in Benue state and Bali LGA and separately with the Kuteps and Chamba located in Donga and Takum LGAs over the kutchecheb traditional festival. These crises often times degenerated into bloodbaths turning brothers against brothers at daggers drawn. I recall one of the cover stories of Timesweek titled, “Brothers Kill Brothers” was devoted to this crisis.
Another story on the kutchecheb crisis in Takum was one of my early reports for Newswatch.
These skirmishes plus the regular brawl between the Fulani and the Mumuye over grazing land, made the then southern Gongola perpetually on the boil. It was my forte to cover these crises in addition to the politics of the area.
I had arrived at the theatre of operations in a remote community on the outskirts of Takum after the smoke from the booming guns by rival groups were just settling. The mobile police officers deployed to quell the conflict were surprised to see me in their midst as I alighted from the motorbike and began scribbling away on my reporter’s notebook.
They could hardly fathom how I left the comfort zone of my abode in Lagos to come and cover some skirmishes in remote Takum. After demanding to know my mission, one of them retorted and said to his superior officer, “Oga come see this Newswatch reporter wey say him come from Lagos”. And turning to me, they said in unison, “Oga you no know say dem they fight for here” as they all had a big laugh on what looked like my folly.
I had a warm engagement with the Aku who regarded me as not just one of his subjects but a son. Each time, the secretary to the traditional council, Mr Joseph Nzema took me to his palace to pay obeisance, he would tell the Aku that “your son has come”. I always insisted to salute the Aku the same way his Jukun subjects would do and sit on the mat.
Once Nzema announced my entry by saying “your son has come,” I’ll offer my salutations clutching my right fist and raising it to hit my left palm three times in deference to the Aku who would simply reel and reel with laughter and then ask me to sit on the couch.
Taraba state in North Eastern Nigeria, named after the Taraba River which traverses the southern part of the state is one whose developments are close to my palms. Its inhabitants are mainly the Fulani, Jukun and the Ichen who are found predominantly in the southern part of the state while the Wurkum, Mumuye, and Kona tribes are predominantly located in the northern part of the state. The central region is mainly occupied by the Mambila people. The state has over 40 different tribes and languages.
Somehow, my spirit seems to flow with many people of Taraba State extraction. One of my closest buddies from the students’ movement is Rimawande Shawulu Kwewum, now in the House of Representatives. I got acquainted with another friend, Christopher Gaduya, a retired Comptroller of Immigration whom I met at the Federal Youth Development Department, Lagos where I did my Youth Service. One of my sons also developed a warm relationship with a Taraba State classmate from their early years in secondary school.
In spite of my friendship with the Aku which later extended to a chummy relationship with Baba Adi, a lawyer and prominent Jukun son then based in Lagos, all warring sides had their views reflected in all my stories. I never got unnecessarily enmeshed in these crises but reported them as detached as possible as a reporter.
Perhaps I could have become mincemeat for any of the warring parties if I opted to unduly take sides. Even without giving any advance notices about my trips, my tracks were known. Once I get to Yola park, words would have reached Wukari that the Newswatch reporter was on the way. None including the Aku who was more concerned about enthroning peace in his domain had any issues with my stories. My Editors also never received any complaints of bias. As the Aku who played a role in enhancing my professional work as a Journalist, joins his ancestors, may his soul find rest in the Lord’s bosom, Amen!
*Tony Iyare, veteran journalist and public affairs analyst, writes from Lagos.