Jukun-Tiv Conflict in Nigeria 1990-1992

[ 1990 - 1992 ]

The long-running conflict in the predominantly Jukun town of Wukari in the Middle Belt appears indicative of the way in which ethnic conflicts have been exploited for political purposes. The Tiv are a significant minority group in Wukari, as are the Hausa. Their predicament also illustrates the dangerous influence of "traditional" authorities on the political process. Chiefs and traditional rulers are an important element of the system of government - essentially a continuation of colonial "indirect rule". Because they play this role of a quasi- government, all residents in a given area are expected to owe obedience to (and pay tribute to) a traditional ruler, regardless of whether they are of the same ethnic group. Thus the Tiv and Hausa in Wukari owe allegiance to the Jukun traditional ruler, the Aku-Uka.72 

The Tiv and the Hausa are historic allies in the attempts to legitimize control of land and access to economic life in the area. However, under the First Republic the Jukun and Hausa both supported the Northern People's Congress, while the Tiv supported the United Middle Belt Congress. There was widespread conflict between the NPC and UMBC, which manifested itself in Wukari in Jukun-Tiv confrontations. By the time of the Second Republic the Jukun and the Tiv were supporting the same political party, the NPN. However, there was internal tension within the NPN because of what the Jukun considered to be preferred treatment of the Tiv in Wukari on the part of the government. The end of civilian politics, however, signalled a revival of the Tiv-Hausa alliance against the Jukun.73

Open violence erupted again in 1990 over internal disputes between Tiv and Jukun factions within the NRC. Several people died and much property was destroyed. Matters escalated in 1991 over the issue of the creation of new states. The question was whether Wukari should be part of the new Taraba State, with a Jukun majority, or Benue State where the Tiv were the largest group. Further violence erupted in December 1991 after a Jukun victory in the Wukari local government elections. Tivs argued that a Jukun candidate had been elected head of the local government only because many Tivs were not registered to vote because they had been displaced in the fighting. In June 1992, the only woman member of the Taraba state assembly, a Jukun, was assassinated. The Jukun blamed the killing on the Tiv and two villages were burned and 20 people killed in reprisal. Up to 5,000 people were reported to have been killed in the clashes and a further 80,000 displaced.

A number of accounts suggest that the mobile police acted in complicity with Jukuns in burning down Tiv villages and that the government did nothing to stop them. Despite the high number of casualties and the scale of the displacement, the Government delayed for months before sending in the army to restore order (which they seem to have done even-handedly).

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