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SPEECH BY WANTAREGH PAUL IYORPUU UNONGO ON THE OCCASION OF THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION OF HIS EMINENCE, MUHAMMAD SA’AD ABUBAKAR AS THE SULTAN OF SOKOTO ON THE 31st OCTOBER, 2016
I am honoured to be part of this epoch making occasion in honour of a great man, a great leader, who sits on the throne of a line of great men and leaders.
As a Tiv man, I come as a friend, a brother and a comrade. I come as a Northerner, for it is not immoral and subversive to suggest that our loyalties must first be to ourselves. I come with a strong belief and conviction in what our great Arewa stands for. And as a Nigerian, I come as a compatriot with all the faith in the non- negotiable indivisibility of the nation-state of Nigeria.
I come with peace, I bring you goodwill, and I stretch forth my hand of fellowship and love to the two groups to which I belong by blood; my maternal grandfather being a Fulani from Kano and my paternity being a Tiv man from Benue.
As we join your Royal Majesty, your Eminence, in celebrating the 10th anniversary of your ascension to this revered throne, we must also make out time to think about issues that trouble our nation not just in lamentations or repressed nostalgia but as elders and leaders, we owe the nation not just a responsibility to rescue it from falling into the abyss, but to also create a conducive environment for peaceful co-existence and for cementing the bonds of friendship that have held us together over the centuries.
As a Tiv man born of a woman whose mother was the daughter of a Fulani man, I therefore feel, in all humility, eminently qualified to stand before the whole world to speak at this great occasion to honour a notable Fulani leader, indeed, a Nigerian leader. Part of my qualification is also that my people, the Tiv share a crucial portion of history with the Fulani.
The Tiv and Fulani came to meet and establish a symbiotic relationship nearly 400 years ago. This relationship was based on mutual respect and trust. While appreciating each other’s different attributes and world views, they yet recognised in their people, a similarity in ways of life like integrity, valour and honour, values by which a man’s character is measured. It is therefore not a surprise why these two groups that are by physical attributes and by occupation so different would come to be such great friends, since values and ethics are the basis of all sensible human relationships. And this relationship has continued to be so until quite recently.
It is within this context, that the Tiv and Fulani must now examine the bestiality of their decent in their once fraternal relations; juxtapose same against their seeming incapacity and inability, to amicably iron out their differences! While there are bound to be differences amongst people living together, as even siblings of the same parentage have their differences, we are proud to recall through history that our two peoples over the years, perfected their conflict resolution mechanism which ensured civilised peaceful co-existence that was unparalleled. The Fulani had become seasoned diplomats and administrators, throughout history crafting enviable relationships between herders and arable farmers, while living off adjourning lands. What went wrong can be fixed and should be fixed urgently, Mai Alfarma, the head of the Sokoto Caliphate.
Since 1803, the Islamic Jihads led by Usman Dan Fodio resulted in the emergence and establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate, under the central control and command of the Sultanate. The Sokoto Caliphate, since then, has spanned over two hundred years to the present, producing a line of great and experienced ancestors who have ascended the throne as Sultans. It is within this context that we have found ourselves here today in this great celebration of the Sokoto Caliphate, a legacy of the Legendary Uthman Dan Fodio.
On this occasion of the 10th Anniversary of your ascension to the throne, we have come to identify with Your Eminence Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III and the entire Caliphate, as one of the greatest Islamic Empires not just in Nigeria, but also in Africa and the world at large. The Sokoto Caliphate, long before the age of European imperialism and conquest of the West African sub region, provided a strong foundation of government, a bastion of peace that sustained the entire region for at least one hundred years. Historically, it came to symbolize the Ottoman Empire, which provided the foundation of governance in Europe, North Africa and Asia for over one thousand years, extending justice and peace to people of different faiths and persuasions to live side by side under the Ottoman Empire.
As we celebrate the 10th Anniversary of your Sultanate, it is of great significance to look at the relationship between the Caliphate and some ethnic groups in Northern Nigeria, particularly the Tiv People of North Central Nigeria.
The Tiv and the Fulani ethnic groups had co-existed side by side for over a hundred years before the establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate in 1803. The story of their friendship is known to all Fulani and Tiv people.
History has it that the two nations went into a covenant in which, if a Tiv man had a burnt item such as a cloth, any Fulani man could lay claim to such a cloth except the Tiv man redeemed it with a token sum of money to save the burnt item. Likewise, the Tiv laid claim and collected Fulani clothings or items perforated by fire except the Fulani redeemed with a token sum of money.
The renowned Tiv scholar, Akiga Sai pointed out that the Tiv and Fulani shared a common historical relationship in a common fraternity of brotherhood. Against this backdrop, the two ethnic groups, entered into understanding to further cement their relationship. According to tradition, one of such controversial deal is centered around the “cow debt theory”, in which it is alleged that the Fulani loaned out cattle to the Tiv, who being farmers and not knowledgeable about cattle rearing slaughtered and ate the cattle. The Fulani, upon the agreed time of repayment asked the Tiv for the cattle, the Tiv responded by simply saying “munchi” meaning “we ate them”.
The relationship of the Tiv and Fulani is not limited to cattle. Another legend which has also become a tale which further cemented the relationship between the two ethnic groups, is noted by the Tiv.
The Tiv claim that over a long period of living together, they observed an undeniable fact that some Fulani children delivered turned up stockier than their normally slenderly built siblings.
It is in a veiled reference to the above fact that on his first maiden visit to Gboko, the then Tor Tiv, Zaki Makir Dzape advised the then Northern Premier, the Sardauna, Sir Ahmadu Bello to permanently relocate to Gboko because he resembled a Tiv man with his stocky looks more than his slightly slenderly built Fulani brothers.
On a lighter note, even now as I cast my eyes around this gathering, Your Eminence, I am really tempted to suggest to the Mai Alfarma, the Sultan of Sokoto to seriously investigate the paternity of quite a few stocky Fulani men I see right here now. They may be of Tiv ancestry!
Interestingly, whether the foregoing is a myth, legend or fact, the Tiv – Fulani relationship is inexorably and inextricably woven around the “munchi” story. It has been the basis of our friendship. The story has also been the fulcrum of our jokes and ironically of our fights as well.
It is on that basis that I, Wantaregh Paul Iyorpuu Unongo, traditional leader and by the grace of God and spirits of our ancestors, spiritual head of the Tiv nation, stand before you, Mai Alfarma Sultan Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, leader and spiritual head of the Fulani on this day, to repay the debt of cows allegedly owed by our ancestors. I come with a contingent of over a hundred and fifty people, representing the soul of Tiv and all Tiv from all over Nigeria including elders, youths, jurists, professionals, artists and traditional dancers, all in solidarity with you Your Eminence.
By this gesture, a gesture of brotherhood, we have once again, today extended a hand of peace, fellowship and reconciliation to the caliphate. We do not have much to say again. Everything we have to say is eloquently symbolised in the gesture of our action here today. Let this gesture speak for itself.
May I use this occasion to appeal therefore, on behalf of the Tiv Nation to the Fulani Nation and advise/request that we have fought long enough! We must return to our brotherhood fraternity which has long been the envy of all. I come in peace. Let there be peace between the Tiv and Fulani. I am both and I hurt deeply, my people!
Thank you all.
Wantaregh Paul Unongo, OFR
Deputy Leader of Northern Elders Forum