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Between Tor Tiv And Awujale –By Olusegun Adeniyi

Where the interest of the powerful is concerned in Nigeria, justice is usually swift and without mercy. That was what Stephen Nyitse, the young man who sat on the throne of the Tor Tiv shortly before the recent coronation in Gboko, Benue State, witnessed recently. 

Three days after his public misadventure, the 30-year-old man was jailed for four years after being convicted by a Chief Magistrate Court in Gboko presided over by Justice P. S Chaha. 

The court held that the convict was guilty of trespass and impersonating the new Tor Tiv, Professor Orchivirigh James Ayatse. 

According to the prosecution, the convict made confessional statement to the police during interrogation that he was under an evil spell to do what he did on that day. 

Justice Chaha described Nyitse’s action as a disgrace to the Tiv nation for which he deserved no mercy, and sentenced him to serve as deterrent to others.

To compound his woes, Nyitse has been banished from Tiv land. 

According to Ter Kwande, HRH Chief Ambrose Pinne Iyortyer, who announced the banishment on behalf of the Tiv Traditional Council (TTC), Nyitse shall under no circumstances step his foot on any part of Tiv land. 

The council also prohibited all Tiv sons and daughters from offering any form of assistance to Nyitse whose action was described as a taboo. It is an unfortunate end to a bizarre story.

Claiming to be directed by God to ‘cleanse’ the throne, Nyitse caused a stir at the JS Tarka Stadium, Gboko, Benue State on 4th March this year when he sat on the throne of the Tor Tiv, Prof James Ayatse on his coronation day. 

He was immediately apprehended and knowing how our policemen react to such impudence, Nyitse must have been subjected to some serious beating, perhaps in the bid to also “cleanse” him of the demon that pushed him into what he did. 

By the next working day of the week, Nyitse was hauled before an angry judge who, after a trial lasting minutes, sentenced the young man to four years imprisonment.

Without any doubt, Nyitse’s action was very reckless, even stupid; but then, we have to assume that he was in his right senses because I don’t think a normal person would try that sort of thing. 

However, having already sentenced him to spend four years in jail, I see no point in the idea of banishment, assuming that is even legal. 

In any case, with the new monarch being a professor of Bio-chemistry with intimidating academic credentials, I am sure he would also have his doubts about the efficacy of taboos and all those grounds upon which the action was taken.

If he doesn’t, I will gladly recommend to him a rather interesting book, “Awujale: The autobiography of Alaiyeluwa Oba S. K. Adetona Ogbagba II”.

According to the Awujale, who as a young bachelor studying accounting in the United Kingdom in 1959, was brought home to assume the throne of his forefathers, there is nothing to these rituals of coronation. 

Besides, “custom or tradition should not be dominating the people but rather, people themselves should be creating the traditions and customs according to their needs” wrote the Awujale who added that he does “not see any value in continuing to cloak the rituals in a mystical veil.”

What that suggests is that Nyitse may have “trespassed and impersonated the Tor Tiv” for which he has already been tried in court and punished according to law, attempts to cloak his banishment in some traditional mores will not stand. 

Even at that, to the extent that Nyitse’s action was not in the process of the coronation rituals that are usually done in secrecy (and must have been concluded for the Tor Tiv) but at a public event in a stadium, it would be difficult to invent a crime, even within the domain of tradition, to prescribe the kind of punishment (banishment) meted to him.

Meanwhile, in unmasking the rites associated with the coronation of traditional rulers, Awujale wrote of his own which took place some 58 years ago: 

“…As part of the coronation process, the Odis (aafin attendants) embarked on the various rituals that would lead to my installation as the Awujale of Ijebuland. 

“Personally, I can say here that there is nothing about these rituals that could not be made public. 

“In fact, many of the Odis performing the rituals were themselves novices to the rituals and were actually trying out their roles for the first time. 

“It must be remembered that my predecessor, Gbelegbuwa ascended the throne in 1933 and my ceremony was conducted 27 years afterwards. 

“Many of the Odis were at sea as to what was to be done. So, for many of them, it was all experimental and mostly guesswork. 

“All the secrecy that they maintained about the rituals was, therefore, as I saw it, simply a ploy to extort money from the public, just as their fathers did before them. 

“They deliberately made the rituals look very mysterious.”

Yet, another one by the Awujale: “…at the Owa Stream, the Elese of Ilese carried me on his back across the stream as custom had it that my feet must not touch the water. 

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