Ukpute/Bonta crisis: The facts beyond controversy

The last has not been heard about the crisis that engulfed part of Igede land of Benue state early this year. AGI ONDA writes on the facts of the crisis.

Ukpute, a little-known settlement in Oju local government area of Benue state came to world attention in July 2021 following a hydra-headed clash between it and Bonta community of Konshisha LGA of the state. The communal clash, as closely observed, is clamorous in its make.

Beside Bonta’s clamorous fight for Ukpute, there are two other parties involved in the prize fight. One is Ochinyini in Obi LGA of the state in synergy with Bonta in the mould of divide-and-rule system. In the past, Ochoro of Ainu extraction in Konshisha LGA had also played its part in the prize fight for Ukpute.

Origin and history of Ukpute
In the Nigerian ordinance map, Ukpute is a point indicating a market site within a strip of land called Oyiwo, formerly in the defunct Idoma administrative setup but now in Oju LGA.

Furthermore, from Trafford Publishing archives in Canada on ‘Crossroads of Ainu Ette: The Oyiwo Story’ it recorded that Ukpute is an Igede name for a tree, of which shade Ihiobila Market was established by an Oyiwo indigene Aadoga, one of the seven sub-clans of Ainu or ‘epwojiya’ as it called in Igede language. In a nutshell, Ukpute is a nickname for Ihiobila Market in Oyiwo, Ainu Ette.

In the 1940s and 50s, settlement of combined Oyiwo indigenes with settlers migrating from various places in Ainu and Igede land began to evolve around the market square and in the post-independent era, Oyiwo’s little-known commercial area became the centre of attraction and the cynosure of Ainu Ette. It pulled a poll of traders from various places within Igedeland and without as far away Aliade, Gboko, Makurdi, Otukpo and Onitsha.
Ukpute-Oyiwo as it now comes to be called and addressed also served as transit for commercial vehicles to and from western Nigeria, including the towns mentioned above. In the 80’s, Oju LGC marked Ukpute-Oyiwo as one of 13 developing areas planned in the local government gazette to take over for full future development.

The scramble for Ukpute

Today however, Ukpute-Oyiwo remains but a shade of its former glory. The root cause of its decline is conflict. Indeed, when conflict spills its venom called crisis on any land, there is bound to be retrogressive changes. Some of the people involved unjustly suffer deprivation and denied their civil rights. That is precisely the case in Ukpute-Oyiwo Ainu Ette where instability, insecurity, retrogression, injustice and discomfort abound.

From 1914 to 2020, there were squabbles over farmlands here and there along the borderlines between Oyiwo and Bonta on one hand and between Oyiwo and Ochinyini on the order hand; yet no serious dispute ever ensued. Ochoro’s wholesale claim of Ukpute opened the floodgate of crisis being witnessed in the erstwhile peaceful, serene developing settlement.

Internal squabbles

In the early 70’s, Ochoro had contested the seniority and ownership rights of Ukpute with Aadoga but lost among Ainu Elders Forum. Aggrieved Ochoro elite had persuaded other Ainu sub-clans resident at Ukpute and its environs to also lay claim to Ukpute and to resist Aadoga’s right to savour the victory that demonstrates their seniority and ownership.
Conflict had arisen due to the insistence by the Aadoga sub-clan that no signpost without Oyiwo on it should be erected at the Ukpute settlement; hence the removal of the illegal one planted by Headmaster Stephen Omachi in 1979 that merely bore Ukpute Ainu, which Aadoga alleged compromise the community address as found on the earlier one planted with Ukpute -Oyiwo Ainu inscription.

Following the removal of the signpost planted by Omachi in 1979, the then council chairman, Mr Obaike Ode, led his team and the Adutu of Igede, HRH Ikande Idikwu to Ukpute where the matter was addressed with the resolution that Oyiwo name should reflect on the signpost of the local government school to further reflect Aadoga sub-clan’s seniority and ownership of Ukpute settlement, in line with Ainu Elders’ verdict.

The affirmation by the council chairman and the Adutu of Igede for LGEA Primary School Ukpute-Oyiwo angered Ochoro sub-clan under the leadership of Epetike Okwugbem and Barr. Sam Ihie, who instituted suit No. 35/80 against the local government council and Chief Enyuma Uhiahi, an Aadoga from Oyiwo and Clan Head of Ainu Ette as defendants in the case at the High Court of Justice, Otukpo.

Based on the overwhelming and intimidating evidence tendered at the court, judgment was entered in favour of the defendants, the local government council and Enyuma Uhiahi with Justice Alhassan Idoko asserting that the plaintiff had no locus standi in the matter of what name the Aadoga sub-clan and the Oju LGC chose to give the school that is physically located at Oyiwo and rightly belongs to Aadoga sub-clan.

The same conspiracy theory was used by Ochoro sub-clan to embolden and indoctrinate Mr Williams Utta, then sole administrator of Oju LGC who in 1985 disregarded the existing court decision and flagrantly declared that Ukpute settlement should be known as Ukpute Ainu without Oyiwo in what was apparently an executive fiat.

Empowered by the sole administrator Williams Utta, former Ainu Development Association (ADA) leaders’ resolutions and adjudications by groups both at home and in the Diaspora, many of which disregarded the court judgment in the suit No 35/80 merely advocated for harmonious cohabitation; the Aadoga sub-clan have continued to stand firm against the perceived injustice and suppression of truth, still insisting till date that since the court decision has remained unchallenged they will not shift their ground.

The Bonta claim

Bonta came next in the clamour for Ukpute with its masochistic style – war! Indecent and unlawful means of staking a claim is barbarous. Bonta’s claim was barbarous at its height. The dichotomy of Bonta and Ochoro’s claims is however relative to each other. While Ochoro sub-clan claimed that Ukpute belongs to ‘all- Ainu Ette’ including herself in Konshisha LGA, Bonta is holding firm to that logic arisen from Ochoro’s claim that Ochoro, in Konshisa LGC, wherever claimed is Konshisha’s jurisdiction.
In the face of this conflicting web of claims arisen a third claimant, Ochinyini-Ito who is claiming that Ainu clan as a whole has no appendage to the land between Ochinyini and Bonta.

Mr Z T Ade, a boundary commissioner also team leader of Benue State Boundary Committee commissioned in July 2020 to reopen the boundary between Oju and Konshisha local government areas, welcomed Ochinyini’s pal up with Bonta.
For reasons best known to him, he put aside the archival documents retrieved from Federal Archives Kaduna and came out instead with new documents that tend to concede a large portion of Oju LGA into Konshisha LGA. His logic in the self-made documents was derived from Ochoro sub-clan’s migratory trends from Ochoro settlement in Konshisha LGA to Oyiwo in Oju LGA.

Reasons for Ochoro sub-clan’s shift to Oyiwo, the commissioner noted, border on marginalisation, underdevelopment, etc in Konshisha LGC. Recalling Ochoro’s SOS message sent to the state government in 1996. Mr. Ade with his Tiv kinsmen in Konshisha LGC is of the view that since Ochoro politically is in Konshisha LGC, therefore, any where Ochoro sub-clan moves out to settle invariably belongs to Konshisha LGA.

The action of the Benue State Boundary Commissioner, the Bonta militants’ ferocious attack (that not even the eleven Nigerian soldiers and one officer sent in to quell the communal clash could match) and the 15 months lukewarm attitude of the state governor accounts for the belief that Governor Samuel Orton and his aides are in tacit support of the imbroglio.

Way forward

It is the capacity to resolve and manage conflicts that stands humans above other beings. The persistence of the conflict over Ukpute has denied the Ukpute-Oyiwo inhabitants all fruits of development, making her the epicentre of poverty in the local government in spite of her alluring and strategic location as the gateway to the state capital from Oju LGC.
The recipe for peace at the so-called Ukpute settlement should be the adherence to the rule of law, that is, adhere to the properly recognised Ukpute-Oyiwo Ainu Ette as permanent elixir to the conflicts, in line with the existing court decision which is superior to all other mediatory pronouncements with a view to mollifying the Aadoga sub-clan who has been branded the scapegoat as well as the whipping boy in Ainu Ette.

Furthermore, Oyiwo and Bonta had lived in cordial relationship for decades. The issue of boundary that has resulted into large scale war with Ukpute-Oyiwo settlement is unfortunate and shameful. The state government has been reiterating the need for boundary demarcation between the two local government areas; the sooner this is done the better for the interest of peace.