AFRICA/NIGERIA - Conflict between Tiv and Jukun in Wukari: Church efforts for peace

Tuesday, 7 November 2023 violence  

Abuja (Agenzia Fides) - A cross intended to give hope to peoples marked by centuries of conflict was created for this purpose by Father Anthony Odey of his parish "St. James" in Taraba State (eastern Nigeria), which is part of the newly founded diocese of Wukari (cf. Fides 14/12/2022). "People in the church are always afraid to go home because there is no peace. And if the gospel of Jesus is to be preached, we need people who can come to us to pray and trust that God "heals and restores", the Catholic priest told La Croix International.
To understand the meaning of Father Anthony's initiative, one must consider the history of the ongoing conflict in the Wukari area of Taraba State, which also extends to neighboring Benue State. The conflict between the Tiv and Jukun peoples is just one of many ongoing land conflicts in various parts of Nigeria, some of which date back to British colonization. It is probably the oldest conflict in Nigeria, as some studies suggest it dates back to the 1860s. Historically, the Jukun were the first settlers in Wukari, while the Tiv are viewed by them as immigrants who have no right to live in Wukari. However, the two peoples used to maintain a friendly relationship that lasted for centuries. During the colonial period, the British assigned Wukari to the Jukuns at the expense of the Tivs. As a result of this decision, the Tivs denied their rivals' claims to exclusive ownership of the land and, among other things, rejected the Jukuns' customary procedures for the distribution of land rights by their traditional chiefs. In 1959, on the eve of Nigeria's independence from the United Kingdom, the conflict also broke out in the House of Representatives in Lagos following the victory of a Tiv against a Jukun representing the Wukari Federation. Since then, the conflicts between the ethnic groups have been intertwined with political maneuvers for the control of the government of Taraba State and for the federal elections. The most violent episodes were recorded in 1959, 1964, 1976, 1990-1992, but the conflict reached its peak between 2000 and 2001, resulting in loss of life and property, including the displacement of several thousand people from Wukari. There have been further recent outbreaks of violence since 2019. Precisely in that year (see Fides, 30/8/2019) Father David Tanko, a Catholic priest who had helped mediate the long-running conflict, was killed. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 7/11/2023)