On Saturday, March 4, 2017, history was replicated in Gboko, the traditional headquarters of the Tiv nation in Benue State following the coronation of His Royal Majesty, Orchivirigh, Prof. James Iorzua Ayatse as the paramount ruler of Tiv people worldwide, the Tor Tiv, the fifth.
The memorable event had generated no small controversy among the Tiv society and the general Christian community because the new king was administered the oath of office with a bible instead of “Swem” the traditional god of the people.
It is believed that Swem uphold the customs and values of the Tiv people, thereby ensuring justice as well as equity in the land and that the traditional god has powers to punish offenders. Traditionalists opined that any king who swears by the Swem is bound to do justice to the people or else risk the wrath of the gods if he goes contrary in the course of discharging his duties.
Therefore, some critics have opined that the professor of Biochemistry now Tor Tiv, V, who hails from the Kwande bloc of Ipusu generation in Mbakan, Shangev-Ya in Kwande local government area of the state has from the onset of his reign desecrated the culture of the people for which he was elected to preserve as they based their argument on the grounds that the stool was established on traditional spiritual practices.
But a peep into the brief history of the Tor Tiv institution as scripted by the Central Planning Committee of the coronation of Tor Tiv V, has showed that the establishment of the stool 71 year ago was the political creation of the colonial master in response to the agitation of the Tiv people who resented being ruled by aliens.
Before then, the British colonial administration had introduced centralisation of political authority in Tiv land, a process which began with the merger of autonomous compounds to form kindreds and kindreds to form clans for easy administration under Captain R.M Downes between 1932 and 1939.
It was recorded that in September 1944, the Chiefs of the Tiv people put their demand for a paramount ruler before the then Governor of Nigeria, Sir Arthur Richards, when he visited Gboko and the request was granted and by the time Sir Richards revisited the town in 1946, the contest for the Tor Tiv, the first was at its peak with the narrowing down of the position to two candidates.
And so, the institution came to be with the late Orchvirigh Makar Dzakpe who became the first Tor-Tiv to mount the throne between 1946 and 1956. He was succeeded by late Orchivirigh Gondo Aluor who reigned between 1956 and 1978 while late Orchivirigh James Akperan took over as Tor-Tiv, III between 1979 and 1990. It was after his demise that the late Tor-Tiv, His Royal Majesty, Dr. Alfred Akawe Torkula IV ascended the exalted seat in 1991.
However, the demise of Dr. Torkula on Sunday, November 22, 2015 followed by his interment at the palace coliseum in Gboko precisely on Thursday, February 4, 2016, left the foremost stool of the land vacant. Hence, the contest to fill in the vacant position mainly rotated between the two major clusters in Tiv land which are the Ipusu and Ichongo- the two sons of their progenitor.
Based on this, the 46 kingmakers in Tiv land had during the process followed strict adherence to the culture and tradition of the land in the quest for a new traditional head which produced the ex-vice chancellor of two federal universities in Nigeria after he beats two other fellow contestants with a total votes of 39 as against their three and one scores respectively.
Suffice to say that even before the contest Governor Samuel Ortom had announced that the next Tor Tiv would be sworn-in by the Bible and not the usual ways of using Swem, a decision which was sequel to a three day fasting he ordered for the Tiv people, particularly, the area traditional council to pray so that God could anoint a paramount ruler for the Tiv nation who will lead with His fear and seek to unite rather than create divisions among the people.
The governor who is a born-again Christian of the Redeemed Christian Church Of God (RCCG) denomination had also emphasised the need to return the state back to the living God as he demonstrated earlier during his one year in office when he formally dedicated the state to God.
To this end, the foundation of what to expect in the new king was laid even as the governor himself explained that after the House of Assembly had passed the amended appointment of chiefs bill and he signed it into law, God told him to declare a three day period of fasting and prayer for the process of the selection of chiefs to be transparent and peaceful.
Earlier, Brigadier General Atom Kpera (retired) who is the Chairman of Central Planning Committee of Tor Tiv the fifth coronation cleared the air on the heated debate making rounds in the state about the Tor Tiv taking his oath by the Bible instead of Swem.
He said: “We are growing in this world. No human being is static and we have got Christianity introduced to us. A lot of us are Christians and we feel that it is good to maintain traditions but certain traditions which can be changed may be changed.
“We noticed that all the Tor Tivs that have gone; the number one, two, three, four are Christians. Tor Tiv, one, two, three, four; the first Tor Tiv, I don’t know because I was young. The second and third, that is Gondo Aluor and Akperan Orshi were all sworn in by the Bible. The Tor Tiv the fourth, Akawe Torkula swore by the ‘Swem’, but thereafter, he practiced Christianity throughout. The Tor Tiv the fifth is going to be sworn in by the Bible.”
Corroborating the retired senior army view on a growing world, Pastor Queenette Williams of Shalom Africa ministry recalled the reign of Kings Asa and Abijah in 2nd Chronicles 14:1-17, noting that from the beginning, the royal stool was mounted by men who feared God and ruled the people according to the dictates of God’s word (bible).
She added: “we don’t know what went wrong and the rulership/leadership shifted to evil men who implored the services of Baal (traditional god) to rule the land. We are not saying that African tradition is bad but there are some barbaric ones which must be done away with. David was man of God in his time, yet a ruler and a leader.”
Williams therefore opined that the new Tor Tiv has not in any way desecrated the land by swearing with the bible to uphold the culture and values of his people, stressing that the best thing has happened to the Tiv people.
Similarly, Pastor Gbile Akani, of Peace House in Gboko had earlier when the governor announced that any new king to emerge would swear by the bible at the Government House in Makurdi delivered a sermon saying that; God set ordinance for the enthronement of kings in Deuteronomy Chapter 17 and explained that the land allocated to each race should be ruled by people from that land, not outsiders.
On his part, Pastor Ayuba Okpanachi, the media chapter, president of Full Gospel Fellowship in Makurdi who quoted from John 1:1 and Romans 13:1 averred that the bible is the highest point of authority and that all powers come from from God.
“The bible is the word of God which is the same as God,” Okpanachi added.