BY YAKUBU USENI.
The various chiefdoms and clans of the Jukun-Wanu were founded by petty Chiefs and their followers many generations ago at the time of the fall of Kwararafa Kingdom and the general South Westerly movement or migration that ensued. Despite this migration the section of the Jukun known as Jukun-Wanu, the entire area was subject to Wukari, the Traditional Headquarters of the Jukun Nations. On the hem of traditional affairs is the AKU-UKA. He is divine and an intermediary between the gods and his subjects. He is regarded as the representative of the gods and the decisions of the government which are supported by religious sanctions emanating from him. His decisions are final, unchallenged and unchangeable. The person of AKU-UKA is believed to have a magical power which secure the invincibility of the country.
Worthy of note is that, there are no physical force to the power and the authority of the AKU . Indeed the AKU is Not militarily potent, but a spiritual leader whose supremacy within the state rested on “the maintenance of innumerable cults under his presidency”. All the Jukun obeyed the orders of the government because they believed doing contrary meant disobeying the gods. Generally, the people obtained the favor of the ancestors and deities through loyalty and obedience to the priest under the leadership of the AKU. Bountiful harvest were both impossible unless and until they fully obeyed the constituted authority. Sa’aad (1986).
As executive, it was required of him to consult with all his various advisers; civil palace and spiritual before any major decisions were taken. In Jukun theology, the AKU was also identical with the state. Sa’aad (1986).
The AKU-UKA is supported by his cabinet members such as; ABON-ACIO, KINDAN-ACIO, AKATO, AKUKAH etc. The Kingdom of Wukari was described not as a unitary State, but as a loosely knit Confederacy composed of a number of semi independent chiefdom. According to Sa’aad, the hegemony of Wukari extended over two types of territories. Firstly, over the core area, metropolis or nucleus which comprised areas around Wukari in the middle Benue region and over. The AKU’S government exercises direct control. The second type of territories comprised two categories dependencies: those inhabited by Jukun under the authority of local Chiefs and those inhabited by the non-Jukun with their own local rulers. Sa’aad (1986). The Jukun-Wanu belongs to the second categories of those dependencies inhabited by Jukun under the authority of their local Chiefs. This is because, all the petty Jukun-Wanu Chiefdoms were directly administered by the AKU-UKA, whom they accepted as their personal Chief. Each Chief was extremely jealous of his local independence and extremely loath to concede any sort of precedence to his neighbor. KDewar (1931).
It is therefore, important to note that the Jukun-Wanu of Middle Benue Region, as those in the metropolis acknowledged the religious supremacy of the AKU and this formed the basis of the traditional and administrative allegiance to the AKU-UKA.
The Chiefs and other officials in charge of the chiefdoms had various types of relationships with Wukari and the AKU. All the Chiefs of dependency Chiefs were autonomous as far as the management of their affairs was concerned. In line with this political and religious seniority, the appointment and deposition of all the major Chiefs were vested with the AKU-UKA. Similarly, in the death of any subordinate Chief, it was the duty of the chiefdoms concerned to select a successor who adequately had to visit Wukari for confirmation. Where it was not necessary or possible to visit Wukari, the Chiefdom’s kingmakers will have to send a message to the effect that a successor to their deceased Chief was appointed. Such a notification to the AKU-UKA was necessary to legitimate the accession to the throne. Among the Jukun-Wanu various chiefdoms or clans, all the newly appointed officials visit him (AKU-UKA) for confirmation and to receive the traditional cap and royal rope (gown) of office. At intervals, in the interim, the AKU-UKA would summon meetings of these Chiefs to settle disputes that were constantly breaking out amongst them (K Dwar (1931.5) as cited in Sa’aad (1986.15) corroborates that “what we do know for sure is that chiefdoms like Kam, Gona, Pindiga and all those to the South of the Benue River (meaning the Jukun-Wanu) looked to the AKU to approve the appointment of the their chiefs, and unless this is done, their accession would be null and void”. In the exercise of this function of approving, the AKU-UKA in most cases abided by the local recommendations of the local kingmakers. It appears that there is no single instance of the AKU-UKA forcing an individual as Chief over any Jukun-Wanu Chiefdoms or Clans. They (Jukun-Wanu petty Chiefs) were also usually strongly admonished by the AKU-UKA to continue to maintain the observance of the daily rituals which as Chiefs was one of the most important functions. Apart from formalizing the appointments, the AKU-UKA also has the power of deposing certain Chiefs under Wukari. In fact, the AKU-UKA according to tradition, had authority to order the deposition, or even executing the subordinate Chiefs. In the interim, for the latter was contempt of Jukun tradition and for the former it was usually general misgovernment of the chiefdom. The local electors, or kingmakers, in their various chiefdoms had also the power to depose their chief but the AKU-UKA had to be officially informed. Sa’aad (1986).
The deposition of the Jukun-Wanu Chiefs is more or less in theory. In practical, history has not shown or proven any case of deposing any chief by the kingmakers or the AKU-UKA except, the case of Chief Agabyi, the eleventh (11th) Chief who was deposed by the Colonial masters due to his complexity in the Abinsi riot of 1906, that led to the destruction of the Royal Niger Company Store and the Hausa Quarters. Chief Agabyi was sent on exile in Wukari where he was placed under the care of his OverLord, the AKU-UKA where he stayed until his demise. Another instance where the Jukun-Wanu Chief was deposed, was chief Captain Clement Asuku Abayilo the sixteenth (16th) Chief of Abinsi was also deposed and sent to exile by the then Benue State Government in 1996 on the strength of the recommendation of Justice Oki Panel of judicial Commission of Inquiry. In the opinion of the author of this article, the then government of Benue State was biased and sentimental in her judgment. This is because, despite the recommendation for the creation of Jukun chiefdom in Benue State among several other recommendations by the same Commission/ panel, the then government settled only for the deposition of the Chief and paid no attention to the other recommendations. However, in all the depositions mentioned above, none was from the kingmakers of the chiefdoms or clans concerned or even the AKU-UKA himself.
The argument by Meek that the Jukun state was not a “tax collecting Sultanate” is not quite convincing. Meek (1931.343). Although, there is no established regularised system of taxation among the Jukun Kingdom of Wukari, which may be the case in the other states like Sokoto Caliphate, Kanem-Borno, the Oyo Empire, Benin and other Nigerian traditional kingdoms in the precolonial era but it had a system which enabled the AKU-UKA and other functionaries of the government like the fotso who was charged with the responsibility of collecting tributes from the various resources from their different chiefdoms that constitute the Kingdom of Wukari. For example, Dampar generally sent dried fish and palm oil, Akwana sent salt , Arufu sent salt and antimony, while Chinkai sent cloth. Within the capital itself, it was the custom for each household to give to the AKU-UKA bundles of corn at the end of each farming season, and the quantity paid by each household depended on the status of the householder. Moreover, all fines imposed and paid in cause of judicial proceeding were retained by him . Similarly, the AKU-UKA was entitled to be part of the game animals killed in the course of hunting expeditions. He was also entitled to free services from his subjects; his palace was usually fixed by the people, the royal farms were worked on communally by their citizens of the capital and those near it, under the supervision of the Wananku. Sa’aad (1986).
It appears that these tributes of resources given by these various chiefdoms was according to the resources produced in a particular area so it is possible that the Jukun-Wanu Chiefdoms presented fish, farm products and animals from games as tributes to central government at Wukari since they are predominantly fishermen, famers and hunters. Meek substantiates that, these tributes were mainly sent for “semi religious offerings”. Meek (1931.345)
Sa’aad corroborates that “the various products were sent to Wukari, not as mere gifts for the pleasure of doing so but in recognition and appreciation of the duties performed by the AKU-UKA and the priests; duty which they believed were by and large, responsible for health, fertility, peace and tranquility in Jukun land”. Sa’aad (1986.19). These tributes in the opinion of the writer of this article, were not for semi religious offerings, but in recognition and appreciation of the duties performed by the AKU-UKA and the priests as advanced by Meek and Sa’ad respectively. This tributes were very essential for some reasons. These include, for up-keep of the members of the government and the maintenance of the army for the protection of entire Kingdom. It is important to note that sending of the tributes by the various Chief, including the Jukun-Wanu Chiefs, which may be regular, to the central government at Wukari headed by the AKU-UKA was not basically as a result of his military might, but because of the fear of the consequences or sanctions emanating from the force of religion.
The various Chiefs from the chiefdoms do not only sent tributes to AKU-UKA, but they also accept gifts from him, which in most cases, are marked as important occasions in the lives of the various chiefdoms. For instance, the Kona used to send fish, iron currency and calabashes in varying quantities to the AKU-UKA every year and in turn, he sent salt and charms to Kona Sa’aad (1986). Sa’ad further argued that the practice was not peculiar to only the Jukun, in most Nigerian precolonial policies, sovereigns did, from time to time, sent gifts to the subordinates. Thus, it was common for the Shehu of Borno, the Caliph in Sokoto or Alafin to send special gifts to their vassals who had been sending tributes. Sa’aad (1986).
The indigenous system of administration among the Jukun-Wanu people is modeled as far as possible on that of Wukari. The essential features in each village or chiefdom are an AKU or semi divine Chief adviser to the Aku and an ABBOH or the equivalent which is the Chief adviser to the AKU and seems to combine his person to the functions of the ABON-ACIO of Wukari and various others of the AKU-UKA’S important ministers. The existence of other ministers depends on the number of the unit. K.Dewar (1931). Among the Jukun-Wanu traditional administration, each minister or titleholder is assigned specific duties and functions. Despite the threat by many forces like the jihad , which was spearheaded by Sheikh Usman Ibn Fodio, Chamba from the Northeast, the Tiv from the Southeast, whose encroachment on the fertile Middle Benue Valley in search for more fertile Agricultural lands still remained resolute and undefeated. And even at the time it was superseded by the Lugardian system in the defunct Northern Nigeria, the traditional and political organization of the Jukun people still survived, even up to date although with little modifications because of the modern mode of administration in the country is a clear evidence that the system is an effective one. Having established the general background of the traditional administration in Jukun settings, this article shall therefore narrow the discussion to the Jukun-Wanu cultural, political and traditional administration noting the similarities and the slight differences from the central government.
THE CULTURAL AND TRADITIONAL ADMINISTRATION OF THE JUKUN-WANU OF BENUE STATE.
As earlier stated, each of the Jukun-Wanu Clans and chiefdoms had a well organized, established and structured traditional system of government and administration before the advent of the colonial government. This system of administration in each of the clan and chiefdom is headed by a well respected peripheral Chief known as AKU that is supported by the lesser Chiefs and titleholders known as AWATSA who always help in the administration of the Chiefdoms. The name for this titleholders AWATSA may vary from chiefdom to chiefdom. But whatever nomenclature may be in every Chiefdom, AKU is always on the top of the hierarchy, followed by the AKINDA who is the second in command. However, the dichotomy between what is obtainable in Wukari and in Jukun-Wanu traditional settings is that, in Wukari after the AKU-UKA is the ABON-ACIO. He is the second in command who performed the functions and traditional rituals.
Apart from aiding the AKU in the performance of his duties, the AKINDA also deputises the AKU in the event of his absence in the kingdom or demise pending the selection and installation of the substantive AKU. What is regarded as palace coup, where the second in command will transform or evolve himself to the Chief executive (AKU), the traditional institutions in Jukun-Wanu arrangement does not permit that because the secret Chief making tools such as; royal cap, and gown and the rests are not in the possession of the the AKINDA. The AKINDA must be a man of brave and probity with other outstanding qualities because of the possession he occupied. He is also the second in command to the AKU.
Another vital position among the Jukun-Wanu traditional administration is the ABBOH. This Abboh is saddled with numerous responsibilities and tasks. Prior to the colonial administration, the ABBOH occupied a very strategic position in the Jukun-Wanu traditional setting. The ABBOH was the premier adviser to the Aku and he was to report to the AKU on daily basis among other functions. The most alluring aspect of this arrangement is that, ABBOH can be removed or have his position substituted on account of negligence of his duties but can still be reinstated as may be decided by the AWATSA in the cabinet. Similarly, while the AKU is the intermediary between the the gods and the people, Abboh is the channel through which the people can communicate with the AKU. All other subjects including the officials of the cabinet had no direct access to the Aku except through the ABBOH at all times. It is therefore, suffix to say that ABBOH is a messenger and a custodian of the AKU secrets. Though, ABBOH is a priest in his own right and was in charge of the Royal rituals upon which the authority of the AKU depended. It is therefore appears that because of the importance of the position occupied by the ABBOH, his prestige can not be undermined by the citizens nor the AKU himself. This is because, the maintenance of the Aku’s secrets about the Royal rituals was indeed a prestige to the Aku-ship and all Abboh needed is only the approval of the Aku for any measure that may threaten the disclosure of the secrets of the Royal rites that is equal to the undermining of the authority of the AKu Sa’aad (1986). Other titleholders that formed the cabinet of the AWATSA are; Asayi, Akando Oga, Akakhe, Awodi, Adawuho and the rest. However, the question on the minds of the readers of this article may be, is Jukun-Wanu traditional administration exclusively the matter only for the men? The obvious answer is NO because the system equally permitted the inclusiveness and participation of women in the administration.
INCLUSION OF WOMEN IN THE TRADITIONAL ADMINISTRATION OF THE JUKUN-WANU IN BENUE STATE.
The traditional administration of the Jukun-Wanu does not give any room to chauvinism. This is because women are also allowed to have a say in the Jukun-Wanu kingdom. The involvement of women in the traditional administration of Jukun-Wanu is what gave rise to the position such as ANYONWUNE. This office is an exclusive preserve for the woman which is somewhat similar to the position of ANGWU-TSI in Wukari kingdom. In both Wukari and JUKUN-WANU chiefdoms, the positions are for the females counterpart sovereignty. The office is held for a lifetime and she lived outside the AKU’S PALACE but in her own resident with the court and it’s officials. Importantly however, they are the heads of all the women in both Wukari and JUKUN-WANU chiefdoms respectively. Included in their tasks was to annually plant the Royal seeds. Sa’aad (1986). The roles of the ANYONWUNE in Abinsi chiefdom which is somewhat applicable to other chiefdoms and clans among the Jukun-Wanu people. The Anyownune received instructions from the AWATSA for onward implementation by the women. The role of Anyownune in the kingdom is so powerful such that she reserved the right to reject whatever decision reached by the AWATSA if she feels they are over stepping the rules and norms of the society and so, she has to be lobbied to accept decisions. The Anyownune is being assisted by the ANGAZYIYA (Magajiya) in the hierarchy of administration in the women world in Jukun-Wanu Kingdom and other officials that constituted th Council with a specified functions assigned to them. Worthy of note however, is that, the officials in the council of women must be mainly old woman who are no longer within the ages of menopause. Young girls are not involved.
Another important position in the council of women in Jukun-Wanu Kingdom is ANYAKO (priestess) this woman is powerful in the traditional administration of the Jukun-Wanu kingdom such that, even the Aku himself received instructions from her against any pending dangers that may likely befall the kingdom. She is a government of her own, she communes only with the goods of the land, receives information on the pending dangers that may befall the kingdom as well as the possible solutions and transmits same to the Aku, Anyownune and her cabinet members. She seemed to have a correlative functions withe the Adawuho (chief priest) but more powerful than the Adawuho himself because her position is only but determined by the gods and not anyone else in the kingdom.
However, the succession to the Jukun-Wanu throne is always by inheritance. It is hereditary because the right to the throne of the Chief among the Jukun-Wanu Clans is based on a class of people, mostly the princes from the ruling houses or clans. In other words, succession to the stool of AKU is a privilege accorded on the particular class of Jukun-Wanu people which is acquired through inheritance. It is indeed an intended precedence among the Jukun-Wanu Clans and chiefdoms that upon the demise of any smaller chief, the selection of a new one is only between the princes or members of the ruling houses. It not open to all types of people, Even among the Jukun-Wanu. This therefore means that, contestants to the throne must be royalties.
One fundamental characteristic of the Jukun-Wanu traditional administrative system of government is that, the position of the Chief is a life one that once installed, he can not be deposed. The Jukun-Wanu system of traditional administration does not permit the removal of the Chief once the traditional rituals are carried out on him less and until the Chief died on the throne. Unlike the other traditional institutions in Nigeria, the Jukun-Wanu chieftaincy stool can not be filled once the incumbent is still alive even when deposed and sent on exile for whatever reason. The glaring examples are in the cases of Chiefs Agabyi the 11th Chief and chief Clement Abayilo the 16th Chief of Abinsi. Agabyi was deposed in 1906 by the Colonial administrator probably because of his complexity in the crisis that led the destruction of the Royal Niger Company’s Store and the Hausa Quarters in Abinsi. Worthy of note is that, the said crisis was between the Tiv and the Hausa communities in his (Agabyi’s) domain. He was sent to Wukari on exile under his overLord the AKU-UKA. K Dewar (1931). History told us that through out his stay in exile and up till his demise, a new substantive Chief was not selected and installed in Abinsi chiefdom. However, his successor Chief Azyidoku was selected and installed as the 12th ABISEKU after the death of Agabyi.
In the same vein, Chief Clement Abayilo the 16th ABISE-KU was deposed as a result of the Tiv/Jukun crisis of 1995 in Abinsi and was first sent on exile to Oju local government area of Benue State but thereafter to Kaduna State. He stayed till 2008 when he died. Even when he died, the Benue State Government under Governor Suswam refused that his remains must not be buried in Abinsi but somewhere else outside Benue State. Still no substantive Chief was selected and installed in compliance with the tradition of the Jukun-Wanu chieftaincy stool that the stool cannot be filled once the incumbent is still alive, deposed and sent to exile. Equally important to note is that, the tradition of the Jukun-Wanu does not permit the substitution and retirement of an incumbent Chief by whatever reason, being it extreme old age or whatever reason. For example, during the reign of Chief Ataki the 13th ABISE-KU, he was too old to carryout his daily administrative functions as the incumbent Chief, he was never removed or retired, neither did he abrogate the throne. History accounted that, he was only assisted by his son Prince Agoshi who thereafter became the 14 th ABISE-KU after the death of his father to carry out some of his public and private functions. It was only after his death that the son was installed in line with the tradition of the Jukun-Wanu people.
A part from chieftaincy by hereditary, the succession to the throne of the AKU among the Jukun-Wanu is rotational, a system which used to be followed duly without any external interference. This is judicially backed up in the case between Peter Akwuchi and 1 other versus Azetu Atuwase and three others. The presiding judge, Justice. I Hwande of the Benue State High Court Makurdi delivered judgement in favour of the plaintiff on grounds that, the selection and enthronement process of the defendant did not follow the custom and tradition of the Ankwa Clan of the Jukun-Wanu. The judgment further stated that the defendant vehemently violated the laid down tradition of rotation of the Aku-ship in Ankwa (Azyoko) Kingdom. The premise of the judgment is that there are three ruling houses in Ankwa (Azyoko). These are; Akato, Afasi and Ako ruling houses. That the last AWASE (Chief) of Ankwa was Audu Edo, and that he was from Ako ruling house. That in July, 1999 the other defendants secretly nominated and installed the 1st defendant and declared him Chief when he is from the same Ako ruling house . The judgement further stated that, it was not yet the turn of the 1st defendant to be made the Awase of the Ankwa community. That by their tradition and custom, when their chief dies, the next one comes from another ruling house and that no one ruling house rules twice in succession. The court therefore ruled that the rightful person ought to have come from another ruling house and not from where the last Chief and the 1st defendant come from and thereby nullified the selection and enthronement of Azetu Atuwase as the AWASE of Ankwa community on the grounds that the selection violates the tradition of the rotation of the throne. The judgment, though a default one but still valid since was not challenged by any of the defendants.
However, the universal principle of this tradition of rotation to the throne among the ruling houses of the Jukun-Wanu Clans and chiefdoms is in doubt . It appears that the tradition of the rotational chieftaincy among the Jukun-Wanu ruling houses is not strictly followed in some clans or chiefdoms. For instance, Abinsi Clan does not strictly adhere to the rotational chieftaincy among its ruling houses. There are three ruling houses in Abinsi namely; Apkoko, Alo and Aga. History has proven that the Apkoko clan of the ruling houses in Abinsi has dominated the succession to the throne of ABISE-KU of Abinsi. From Agabyi the eleventh Chief to Clement Abayilo the 16th ABISE-KU, those from the throne were all Apkoko ruling house. Worthy of note is that, between Agabyi and Clement Abayilo, there were four Chiefs namely; Azyidoku the 12th , Ataki the 13th etc. The members of the other two ruling houses were excluded from the throne. The worst of it all is that no member of Alo clan has ever been crowned ABISE-KU probably because, Alo clan has been assimilated by the Apkoko clan and has since lost his royal clanship in the same way the Fulanis have assimilated the Hausas and are now dominating the traditional, political and religious space of the Northern Nigeria. This view is therefore, subject to intellectual and historical argument.
The reason for the inconsistency in the succession to the throne on the rotational basis in Abinsi may be due to the incapable Prince to be selected for the Aku-ship from the other ruling houses or unwillingness by the other members of the other ruling houses to contest for the Aku-ship. The case of inconsistency of the selection to throne on a rotational basis may not be restricted to Abinsi only. The traditional administration system of government among the Jukun-Wanu is indeed a centralized one and not a decentralized. The dichotomy between a centralized and a decentralized Chiefdom is that the principle of the former is authority based, while the latter is not. As earlier stated, the traditional administration system of the Jukun-Wanu various clans and chiefdoms are centralized because the government is headed by the principal focused authority that is the Chief. The Jukun-Wanu power of governance of a clan and chiefdom being it spiritual, political and traditional are all vested on the AKU who by virtue of his exalted position, wielded unquantifiable powers to himself. By this, It is suffix to say that the Jukun-Wanu Wanu clans and chiefdoms have a centralized authority because it is not an egalitarian Society where the various clans and chiefdoms are governed by the hierarchical order of Chiefs.
Another prominent feature of the Jukun-Wanu traditional system of government as described by Meek is that, it is a theocracy state where the state is being governed directly by the gods or through a sacerdotal class where the AKU serves as head of the priestly class. He is not therefore, but merely a representative of the gods as well as the intermediary with the people. He is saddled with the power of life and death over his subjects and his decisions were final no appeal, because he had divine power of sanctions. Meek (1931). In each clan and chiefdom of the Jukun-Wanu people, the AKU is the most senior person and the most important Personality in terms of hierarchy. As a result of the theocratic nature of the state, all Jukun obeyed the orders of the government because it is believed that doing contrary meant disobeying the gods. The generality of the Jukun-Wanu populace obtained favour of the ancestors and deities through loyalty and obedience to the priests under the leadership of the AKU. Interestingly, the obedience is always accompanied by the blessings such as; sufficient rainfall and bountiful fishing and Agricultural harvests. Similarly, the National property was only possible when the AKU and the various priests and priestesses around him observed their various taboos and carried out the essential rituals. If for any reason there was a serious problems such as drought, outbreak of epidemic and the likes, and if the cause was traced to AKU’S negligence in observing taboos and proffering solutions to it, He will have to die (joining his ancestors) for failing to protect his subjects. Sa’aad(1986).
In conclusion, as stated earlier in this narrative, there are of course separation of responsibilities among the titleholders in Jukun-Wanu traditional administration. The doctrine of separation of functions here means that the titleholders are assigned with distinct functions. For example, the ABBOH is the premier adviser to the AKU and he reports daily event to AKU. The ABBOH is also the channel through which the other subjects communicate the AKU. All the subjects including the other cabinet officials in the kingdom have no direct access to the AKU except through the ABBOH. In the interim, he has access to the Aku at all times. Sa’aad (1986).
I hope that this article elucidated extensively on the traditional institutions of the Jukun in general, and further narrowed it down to the Jukun-Wanu for proper grasp of those who may not be aware of the traditional administration and the principles around it and may want to interfere with it to please respect the the culture and tradition of the people that have lived for so many centuries. It is indeed my sincere hope that the article has frugally educated any one who has taken his or her time to read through to be properly guided. I hereby admonish all the Jukun sons and daughters, including friends and well wishers as well as those who claim to be Jukun foes to please have a rethink and live in peace with all. To the Jukun, please note that when too brothers fight to death, a stranger will inherit their properties. To the none Jukun, please if you can not be a solution to a problem, do not be a part of creation and make it worse. One Nigeria, peace to all for meaningful, purposeful and sustainable development to our Nation.