JULY 19TH 2019


Last year about
this time, I was invited by the Ekiti State branch of the Nigerian Bar
Association to give a key-note address at their Bar Association Annual Law Week
in Ado-Ekiti on the subject: What makes a nation great? Today is different. I
am answering a need in my immediate community on a most intriguing subject
mater, which has brought joy and pain to Tiv and non Tiv alike. Tiv Marriage!
And again I am not surprised to be invited by the Benue Chapter of the Nigerian
Bar Association to participate at this years Law week to deliver a seminar
paper. I have a long association with lawyers in Nigeria and abroad. One of
them Barrister Nancy Hagher has been my wife, and my life, for forty-six years.
I have also hung around friends, brothers, daughters, mentors, lawyers and
judges for so long that I am probably being mistaken for one. And that would be
a great and lovely mistake because all my life I have striven to be learned.
But since I am not a lawyer, I will always remain just a knowledgeable but not
learned professor.

My paper basically
seeks to take a sneak view of the momentous decision of the “Ijirtamen” the Tiv
Traditional Area Council (TTAC) of Benue State, to begin reforms in the Tiv
marriage rites system. I have considered the evolution of the Tiv marriages
from the earliest “Yamishe” marriage rite and its evolution to the proliferated
marriage systems today that the TTAC has ruled; as being alien to Tiv culture.
The paper argues that Tiv marriage institution is so central to the soul of Tiv
social organization and unity and that the TTAC by touching the marriage rites
should not just focus on reforming the dowry (by pegging expenditures to be
below 100,000 naira.) They should reform and re-organize the whole Tiv society
holistically. I opine that by touching the marriage rite, the TTAC had opened
the Pandora’s box and let out the most pressing but perversely ignored agenda
of our life the “Women question”

It was Nicolo
Machiavelli’s opinion that a country can only survive as a pure monarchy or as
a pure republic. When Nigeria chose to become a republic in 1963 they had gone
through the door of no return on the monarchy. They closed the doors to the
former Houses of Chiefs and Emirate Courts where the chiefs were the rulers of
the land. Despite this constitutional withdrawal from monarchy, our chiefs,
emirs, obis, obas and kings are playing key roles in national life and in many
cases; strongly influencing public policy. Nigeria is not only a republic; it
harbours strong monarchical tendencies. In certain sections of the country the
influence of the monarchy is very strong. In overwhelming cases our traditional
leaders call Nigerian citizens their “subjects”? And the lawyers stand bemused
or merely askance at this treasonable conduct! 
This is why in every state there is a Traditional Area Council to
ostensibly advise the government on cultural matters. And since culture is
everything and constitutes the sum total of our ways of life they advise on
everything including who gets what where? Yes politics! In some states, they are
the main political engines. In Benue State too, we have the institutions of the
traditional area councils that have their roles defined by the 1999
constitution to be advisors to the governor of the state on religious, arts and
cultural matters. The decisions of the TTAC are weighty matters. The 1999
Constitution has also made provision for states to make laws through their
respective Houses of Assembly, to establish Customary Courts and Customary
Appeal Courts. These courts have the mandate to ensure quick dispensation of
justice without recourse to the origin and technicalities of the common law.
Section 245(1) of the constitution of FRN 1999 here after referred to as the
constitution states:

There shall be
for any state that requires it a “Customary Appeal Court”.

There is
therefore a strong connection between the TTAC decision and the criminal
justice system and law and order in society. This constitutes one of the
pillars and institutions of democracy, the judiciary. As Nigerian laws are
being reviewed and coded, it is important for society to reform the traditional
cultural life of her citizens. The criminal justice system needs to make
reasonable accommodation for new laws that guide the social cultural being of
the citizens and provide for them respect, dignity and freedom. This is why our
topic today carries enormous weight.

The Evolution of
Tiv Marriage

The original
marriage rites and practices of the Tiv were quite confusing to the British
colonialists and non-Tiv alike. But to the Tiv, marriage systems were central
and were the back bone of the their organizational structure. The marriage
system emphasized Tiv democracy and egalitarianism. Marriage rites enforced Tiv
cohesion and solidarity and were the bedrock of Tiv physical and metaphysical

Among the
different forms of Tiv marriages were:

exchange marriage; Bride-labour marriage; consanguineous marriage (people
related as cousins); virilocal marriage (marriage couple resides near or with
the parents of the husband or wife); marriage by capture; marriages by purchase
and the present bride-price marriage. Each of these forms existed in Tivland,
but by far the most popular form of marriage was the “Yamishe” exchange system
of marriage. In this form of marriage the person desiring a wife, would be
granted his bride as an exchange for his sister or another female from his kin

The Institution
of the exchange marriage was of paramount importance. It was the basic
structure that underlay Tiv system of egalitarianism. Tiv patrilineality
ensured that a man who had daughters and sons divided the daughters among the
sons and exchanged them with wives for the sons so that they would bear more
grandchildren for him. In this way, the daughters in law brothers would be
equally his sons in law married to his daughters. His son’s in laws; husbands
of his daughters, reciprocated the treatment meted to his daughter in laws
married to his sons. This marriage system joined the families, the clans, and
the whole Tiv nation through a network of relationships that bound and united
the Tiv. By exchange marriage, a Tiv man’s sons and daughters remained of his
household. They were equitable and honored. In a true sister exchange marriage,
the very existence of physical and metaphysical family intimacy is re-affirmed!

marriages were the only marriages consecrated by special fertility rites. They
were centered on the re-productivity of Tiv. The more children an exchanged
woman had; greater was her approval and prestige. In fact where one woman
produced and the other barren the whole marriage contract could be dissolved
and the barren woman returned to her family and the productive one similarly
went back with her children to her family.

By the Exchange
marriage rite, Ingol, is the cell and the Ityo is the stem through which the
Tiv nation was propagated. Essentially all Tiv clans are divided into two
divisions. These binaries are traceable to half-brothers or the two first sons
being allowed to marry through exchange 
with “angol”. The younger children sometimes had to wait for a long time
of even forty years to get the daughters of the senior brothers to give him an
“Ingol” to exchange for a wife. This controlled the number of wives each person
could to marry. Usually they had two wives from whom they got two sons who were
half brothers. Each son relied on his own sisters to have “ ingol” to
exchange.  The Tiv were averse to
monogamy because it deprived a man from leaving a dual heritage, which was
ideal to generate a diverse and strong genetic pool. If one pool was sickly or
idiotic the other one might be physically vibrant and intelligent. But
shortages of marriage wards ensured that polygamy was controlled and seemed to
have been originally limited to two wives who were product of the exchange.

The units in
Tivland that derived from our numerous clans today are all united through a
complete network of exchanges. In fact apart from the homestead, the kindred
are composed of units formed from those whose extended family allowed them to
share “angol” for wives. Go to any Tiv community today and be baffled by the
existence of other clan names. Mbayongo in Shitile are related to Mbayongo in
Kunav, through exchange, so also is Ugondo in Masev related to Ugondo in
Sankera, Mbajir in Shitile is the related to the Mbajir in  Mbakor etc. More significant is the fact that
social harmony, peaceful co-existence and unity is engendered through the maternal
kinsmen’s protection. In the exchange marriages this was a dual protective
insurance. In Tivland my paternal kinsmen the Shitile might try to harm me. But
my maternal kinsmen in Mbayegh Ushongo must protect me from being hexed and
from their malignant witchery.

Tiv exchange
marriages also portended a respect for matriarchy and accorded space for the
female members of society to matter. Apart from practical purposes of unity and
justice, the metaphysical consequence of belonging to the same sharing
‘‘Ingol”unit conferred on the members the ability to enter into magical cults
and rites and collective potency to ward off malignancy from other unit’s
malevolence. The setting up of both paternal and maternal akombo at the door of
the exchanged wife signifies the deep respect exchanged marriages had. And the
children of exchange marriages were accorded special privileges; in Tiv sharing
formula they had right of first choice.

It was a
devastating blow for the Tiv, that colonialism outlawed the exchange marriage
system. In its place the Tiv borrowed marriage by capture from their neighbors
in the south; those they call “Udam” see (Akiga 2003, p.142) This brutal system
was refined in the Iye, when the Tiv Elders Council outlawed it by extreme
“Iye” pact.

The present
undersirable marriage system in Tivland has evolved from kem system practiced
by Chamba and the Iye from Udam.  There
is an overhang of the exchange system “Yamshe” due to the extension of strong
bonds with the mothers’ lineage Igba.

The development
from “Yamshe” marriage was fused into the modern Tiv marriage of payment of
bride price was promoted by the British as the official accepted marriage. This
sad development, diminished the sacred, dignified and honourable institution to
a commercial transaction. This was the British legacy. Whereas exchange
marriages controlled how many Tiv wives a man could marry the bride price
commoditized women as property of the husband. The British misconstrued
bride-wealth as price. In bride-wealth, the families pooled resources together
and both families became wealth builders. Even today, by the nature of “Kem”,
(bride wealth) in its traditional form no man ever completes the exchange; it
was a never-ending process. The husband could never finish paying the bride
price. The British slant was to encourage the buy and sell transaction of
marriageable daughters. It was slave trade all over again. And the women have
continued to be slaves and commodities to date. This has continued unabated to
the present. It has even spawned homicide by callous and wicked people that
consider women as property. Tiv marriages have been misunderstood and are today
a sore point and insult by non-Tiv who have systematically waged cultural wars
against Tiv and cast aspersions on the Tiv marriage institution. These
egregious insults must be resisted and debunked in academia, in social media
and legally.

The decision by
the “Ijirtamen” to peg the bride price and marriage festivities to be not more
than a hundred thousand naira; is a responsible decision that has historical
precedent. When the Tiv gerontocracy rose up to ban marriage by capture over a
hundred years ago, it was a system that was truly barbaric. Any strong man or
collection of strong men could take away any person’s wife and call it
marriage. It was pure anarchy. The Tiv Traditional council is vested with
authority to advise the governor of the state on traditional practices. The
present system has made marriages to become more like purchase. To marry a
graduate lady in Tivland could easily cost anything from half a million naira
to five million. This would exclude the wedding ceremonies and other dowry
items. The strange expensive so-called “traditional marriages” or weddings;
held in the home of the bride is also an alien practice!  This commercialization has driven common
decency underground and promoted class rivalry. There is a budding growth of
unmarried Tiv men especially unemployed graduates who cannot afford the massive
bride price and have decided to remain unmarried or to elope without parental
consent. This commercialization has also promoted the marriage of Tiv ladies
not proportionally into other ethnic groups, whose economies trump Tiv poverty.
Many Tiv female graduates are left out as spinsters who are harassed by
concerned relations. Unmarried spinster are harassed and harangued by their
families to go and get married and they often do this to their own
mortification to appease their relations and parents. These marriages almost,
all, always end in divorce.

A holistic

While I welcome
this development, by the TTAC, we cannot touch Tiv marriage rites without
taking a holistic step to reform the Tiv society. There is no better place to
start than to lead Nigeria in tackling the “ Women Question”.  This, I believe, is the main existential
challenge that the 21st century beckons on all of us men and women to help
liberate the Nigerian women from oppression and the denial of their full

There is no
better time than now for the TTAC and all of us to unite and fight the
exploitative society we have created. In Tiv land and much of the Middle-belt
and the far Northern Nigeria, the women are pathetically socialized to accept
their place in society as the subservient sex. They are slaves and slaves
accept inferiority. And when women believe they are inferior to men, they bring
out offspring, that they wean into inferiority. The Tiv youth today exude a
status of slavery, they are ashamed of their Tiv-ness and are unconscious of
the great traditions of our forefathers who were proud, agile, self-respecting,
respectful and assertive of their uniqueness and independence. While the whole
world veered from dictatorship and arbitrary rule to embrace democracy and
industry; our youth are deliriously in love with other cultures that nurture
passivity, indolence, servility, slavery, corruption and arbitrariness.

Our women who
are to benefit from the recent beneficence of the TTAC are a pathetic species
of humanity. A look into the Tiv youth on our campuses provides small preview
of a horrific future ahead. A sexual revolution sweeping across the world has
severely corrupted morality. Lets face it. There is increasing debasement of
female bodies. The skimpy and contoured dresses that reveal female crevices on
the streets are making statements about female debasement. We are seeing the
seamy side of the western ghetto 
sub-cultures among our mainstream youth. Violence, drug addiction,
suicide and homicide are on the increase. Bandits and cultists provide law and
order. Things are bad! Very bad. Instead of dance and song that Tiv are known
for; we hear screams and funeral dirges. In homes of the elite; the hand held
gadgets have heightened alienation. Nobody is talking to anybody. Everybody is
his own demi-god and law! And the churches are struggling and being overwhelmed
by their own contradictions.  As
Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Canada, I was privy to a research on HIV Aids in
Gboko and Makurdi by Canadian Professors, six years ago. I saw a record of
thousands of youths of both sexes who had contracted HIV-AIDS through
homosexual and lesbian activities. Today the figures could be higher. How did
we contact these life-styles, while the TTAC flourished?

Tivland is under
threat and severe stress from external and internal predators. There are
coalitions of other ethnic groups wishing the Tiv off the face of the earth.
Tiv identity has never been more threatened now, than in any other time of
recorded history. The Tiv language is in decline and might be replaced by
Pidgin English, Hausa or Igbo in the next generation by the year 2050. Alas,
Tiv the last egalitarian society on earth is in its death throes and the TTAC
is struggling to revive it from metastasis.

What is to be

The TTAC has the
very difficult task of bringing Tiv together in unity. A divided Tiv society is
easy prey to centrifugal forces that operate from within Tivland. This is the
time that the TTAC must embark on a holistic reconstruction of Tiv society to
combat disunity, poverty, crime, banditry and the menace of cultism. The TTAC
needs to network with the political class and the government at all levels to
reduce the high cost of governance that leaves little for development. It
should instigate a mentality revolution in the political class to ask those in
power what do they use state power for? How best can we help Tiv land and Benue
State to enhance good governance by eradicating poverty, inequality and promote
development through the respect for human rights, equity, the rule of law,
pluralism, accountability and anti-corruption.

The TTAC should
build on its vision in focusing on the marriage rites to promote, conscientize,
mobilize and galvanize all Tiv men women and the youth to build a new Tiv
nation, which can operate a dynamic and vibrant economy and rise above the
Nigerian average.  Nigeria is lagging
behind much of the rest of the World with over 70% of the population below
poverty line, over 13.2 million children out of school and 54 years as life
expectancy. Nigeria has been rated as one of the worst governed countries of
the world and scored 45.8 on the Moh Ibrahim index of African governance while
Africa’s average is 51%. Even in West Africa, Nigeria lags behind.

Tivland and the
TTAC must position the Tiv above and beyond the Nigeria average in the full knowledge
that Tiv agrarian economy is the economy of the non-sovereign Tiv nation, whose
population and land mass is bigger than many sovereign nations of the world.
The following recommendations are therefore necessary to re-position Tiv
country (Tar Tiv) on the path of quick recovery.

 Repositioning Tiv women.

Let us not make
any mistakes in continuing to demean our women folk. They remain the backbone
of our exceptionalism; in food production. Increasingly, we are not giving our
women the opportunities to participate in the economy and when a society closes
the door to economic survival in the workforce then the women and their
sexuality become the only tool of trade.

Our Tiv women
are beautiful. They are national assets! We must include them in all our social
and political life and institutions and give them the best education. The young
Malala Yousafzai who won the Nobel prize at the age of 17 called on the world
to tell “the girls their voices are important” Let the TTAC tell the Tiv women
that their voices are important. These girls and boys are strategic national
assets. They should demand from their political leaders that they should
“invest in books instead of bullets”, Tiv intellectuals, lawyers, artists and
singers must raise consciousness and systematize a new code of information for
people, because,  “Whenever human beings
chose to oppress other human beings, they also did all that they could do to
undermine any expansion of consciousness of the oppressed”(Akbar 2017:30). We
need a new thinking to get us out of the pit we have fallen into.

Our women must
not be burdened with guilt that an unmarried woman is a social failure! At
present we need to answer why we have more women in churches and in hospital
wards across the state. Our oppression of women is a hard and abiding reality.
The suffering we inflict on women has caused them to passively accept suffering
as they seek refuge in the church in overwhelming numbers. Only in Jesus
sufferings, passion, death and resurrection do they find meaning in life. Our
women are the walking dead, and we are the cause and undertakers. They are
weighed down with children inside their bodies, arms, back and legs and our
needs to be served; worsens their lot. The TTAC, must look at this oppression
of women as one of the causes for societal decay and breakdown since it affects
the production of other cultural values, other kinds of human inter-relatedness
and other ways of thinking.

It must be
stated that the TTAC, by beaming a search light on marriage rites in Tivland
and declaring same alien to Tiv culture have actually opened the Pandora’s box
and the “Women Question” in Tiv society and elsewhere has been pushed forward
in the public realm for discussion.

This paper has
shown how the British accelerated the build up to patriarchy in Tivland.
British social policy dissolved the collaboration and interaction between men
and women inherent in Tiv egalitarianism. In the “Yamishe” marriage system that
was banned; was the cohesive social glue that bound the entire Tiv social,
political, economic and metaphysical world. When this “Yamishe” was outlawed,
women became mere commercial commodities and private property to be purchased
and sold. 1900 changed the position of the Tiv woman significantly from being
an equal partner and valuable, honorable and dignified clan institution of
security and prosperity to become chattel slave and commodity today. This must
be rolled back, and a new marriage rite based on reciprocity, wealth instead of
price, be carefully drawn up.

Bemoaning a
similar fate of the Burkinabe woman in the eighties, Thomas Sankara had this to

“Our women are
burdened by a hundred traditions and a thousand excuses, women continue to rise
to meet challenge after challenge. They have had to keep going whatever the
cost for the sake of their children, family and for society in general through
a thousand nights without a dawn.”


1. The TTAC
needs to set up a special committee to interact with Tiv women and listen to
their grievances and to raise their consciousness to new ways of child rearing
and integration in the social and political life of the Tiv society.

2. The TTAC
needs to codify a single system of marriage rite from what has gone before the
present proliferation. There are too many different marriage practices that are
from other cultures.

3. Severely
sanction spousal abuse.

4. Re-introduce
the egalitarianism where dignity and equality was conferred on a married woman
so that her patrilineal roots are not obliterated. A married Tiv woman was
always called by her father’s name or her lineage or clan name. Is it possible
for that married educated Tiv woman, to once again, if she wishes and in
agreement with her husband be allowed to keep her pre-marital surname? Why must
our high value women change all their documents because of marriages? The Tiv
were culturally leading other societies in the arts, in innovation and
creativity. We were even a republic before Nigeria became a republic. Why are
we lagging behind in finding cultural expressions to advance our humanity?

5. Is it
possible for the Benue State Edict establishing the TTAC to include also, the
full participation of women as also capable of being traditional leaders and
being given staffs of offices? This week we lost one of Nigeria’s most iconic
women. In 1979 Mrs Elizabeth Afadzwana Ivase, was the first woman from Northern
Nigeria to be Minister in Nigeria. She is Tiv. We are sliding backward when we
cannot have at least one Tiv woman capable of being a third class chief.  How can we make progress when the men deny
the women the chance to make history together?

6. Set up the
Tiv agenda where a new vision Tiv 2050 is couched. In the 21st century, the Tiv
have a very real chance to becoming global players and thus make Tiv society
enjoyable, peaceful and prosperous. The world today is flat (Thomas Freedman
2006:398) and every economy that wishes to grow must focus on infrastructure to
connect with the world outside, the right education and good governance. How
the TTAC is able to navigate this agenda with strategic action will make the
difference between a great Tiv society or a collapsed and decayed Tiv society.
We are at the brink, staring dimly at beckoning disaster.


I salute the
courage of the Begha U Tiv, His Royal Majesty Prof I. Ayatse the Tor Tiv and
the Tiv Traditional Council for leading change and applying creativity to
answer the tough challenges facing the Tiv nation. It is my hope that the
issues I have briefly alluded to in this paper will contribute in providing a
small lead to the big issue that stares us in the face, the “Women Question” as
a major agenda to reform and build a better Tiv society. When we have done so
in Tivland, we can provide a template in Northern Nigeria and other places, to liberate
our women from systemic injustice and slavery in the 21st century.

Finally I must
return to you Gentlemen of the Bar, I appeal to you not to sit on the fence and
please also do not join the hordes of Nigerian lawyers and judges whose
practice and judgments are merely for a price. Let us like our ancestors and
the founders of this great nation be nation-builders. In the end the measure of
a man is not the amount of money in the bank account, not houses and cars; but
the amount of integrity, compassion and love that defines him and her. My wife
demonstrated to me the type of lawyer she was twenty five years ago when as a
owner of her law chamber she was confronted with a moral dilemma. A rich man in
Jos had committed a major crime of armed robbery. He bribed his way and was
given a light sentence of three years. On his way to prison, he exchanged with
a poor youth who was a cleaner in his company who was promised a pick up truck.
He served the entire sentence. At the end of the sentence he came back to his
master who now apparently did not remember what the youth was talking about and
began to take steps to eliminate him. It was when the matter was reported to
the police and the rich man was re-arrested and charged to court that he came
to my wife and asked that she defended him. He produced millions of
mouth-watering crisp naira notes. She said no! No and no again and refused to
be the defense lawyer.   You lawyers are
all in the moral dilemma. Will you uphold justice and be judged by your
conscience and the law books or will you be judged by your greed as you exploit
loopholes in the imperfect laws that guide our constitution and the law books?

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