What the world needs to know about Tiv People and their Wives
by S.T. HON, SAN, FCIArb.
It has taken me more than a decade to make up my mind on writing this article, knowing the passion it is likely to generate, no thanks to the sensitive nature of the topic. At a point, I even played with the idea of not doing any public write up on the subject matter. However, the sheer ferocity and consistency of the misinformation being peddled around and the risk of not standing up against this deliberate falsehood against my clan (and vicariously, perhaps, against me) while I am yet alive and the greater risk of going to join my Creator at His appointed time without countering this public lie have all made me damn the consequences and send this article for publication.
It all started in 1987 in a criminal complaint of adultery, in the case of Tofi vs. Uba (1987) 3 NWLR (Pt. 62) 707 C.A. In this case, the appellant had filed a private criminal prosecution for adultery against the 1st respondent in the Magistrate’s Court, contrary to Section 387 of the Penal Code. It must be noted that under this penal provision, a man can only be guilty of adultery if he is “subject to any native law or custom in which extra-marital sexual intercourse is recognized as a criminal offence.” This provision was one of the compromise provisions of the Penal Code at the time of its enactment, which balanced Sharia law with native law and custom, as both religions or customs held sway in the then Northern Nigeria.
When the charge against the 1st respondent came up, his counsel raised objection that the charge did not disclose any offence known to law, contrary to section 33(12) of the 1979 Constitution – the equivalent of section 36(12) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended. At that relevant time, the Local Government (Declaration of Tiv Customary Marriage) Order, 1985 was in force; and section 25(1)(f) thereof provided that “any person who detained a wife duly married under this Declaration for any reason or purposes whatsoever against the wish of the husband” was guilty of an offence.
In view of this, the learned trial Magistrate dismissed the objection and called upon the 1st respondent to take his plea. Rather than do so, he applied to the High Court for judicial review, pursuant to section 33(12) of the 1979 Constitution. The High Court granted his reliefs and quashed the charge. The appellant’s appeal to the Court of Appeal was dismissed on rather technical grounds. That Court held that since the Local Government (Declaration of Tiv Customary Marriage) Order, 1985, did not prohibit adultery in express terms but merely criminalized wrongful detention of a married woman against her husband’s wish, section 33(12) of the 1979 Constitution was rightly invoked by the 1st respondent; because this meant adultery per se was not a crime in Tiv land. The Court of Appeal also rejected the need for oral evidence to be called.
It was this judgment that laid the unfortunate foundation for the scandalous, ever-blossoming and tendentious falsehood that adultery is lawful in Tiv land. This barefaced lie is even widened to include a very silly assertion that ‘when you visit a Tiv man, he will offer you his wife!’ What a monstrous and pith-of-hell assertion! Not even domestic or wild animals tolerate strangers or lesser males going near their female partners (and not even wives); talk more of the naturally well and strongly-built (chemistry-wise) and ultra-proud Tiv man!
Before I proceed further, I wish to submit that in the whole of Southern Nigeria, adultery remains a moral offence as opposed to a criminal offence. So, are we on this basis alone going to say adultery is not a criminal offence or is lawful in Southern Nigeria? I think not, with due respect.
In my mental agony of trying to repel this rapaciously-growing corporate lie against my clan (and vicariously against me), I dug deep into some fork lore and traditional songs. Two songs readily came to my mind.The first is this: “Aberanyi, ikurche, or van nya kpa ka gbidi nan; Ikurche, Terem O, or van nya ta abeda icul.” This, translated, means: “Aberanyi, let me give you information (ikurche”), even a visitor can be beaten; more information (“ikurche”) my dear father, your visitor tied your wife’s wrapper.” This is a clear indication that while Aberanyi the father was not around, the visitor misbehaved with the wife and there was need to teach the visitor the lesson of his life!
The second song goes thus: “Baba o-o, Baba u yem ke zende yo, or nyor sha yough i Aya la, or yav sha gambe u Aya; Aya ka a daa or; or a daa Aya, cho i gba ga Aya yav gadeaa, kwaghbo.” Everybody knows the meaning of “Baba.” The interpretation, therefore is thus: Father, while you travelled, a stranger entered into your elder wife’s (Aya’s) hut, sat on her bed and the two of them started pushing each other until after a while, Aya, the old women lay weak; it is an abomination (kwaghbo). Of course, the consequence of such kwaghbo or abomination could only be imagined!
My findings and views above were recently confirmed by no other person than the (Late) Tor Tiv, HRM Dr. Alfred Akawe Torkula, the paramount traditional ruler of the Tiv worldwide, in his book, The Tiv Woman: Challenges and Prospects, published by the Aboki Publishers in 2009, the foreword of which was written by no less a personality than HE Rt. Hon. Gabriel Suswam, the Executive Governor of Benue State, himself a Tiv. Writing in his capacity as the chief custodian of Tiv cultural values, HRM submitted on pages 21-22, under the banner FIDELITY, as follows:
“The challenges of the pre-colonial Tiv woman were enormous. She had to be faithful to her husband at all times. Like the Idoma of Central Nigeria who dragged their wives before alekwu for adulterous confession, as reported by Shishima (2008), the pre-colonial Tiv woman faced the same situation … married women were subjected to periodic concoction-drinking rituals to determine their fidelity in marriage … It was an exercise in morality which brought honour, respect and good reputation to the husband on one hand and the parents of the woman on the other. Any adulterous woman who dared to drink the concoction risked instant death if relevant deities were not appeased or propitiated.”
And concluding on the effect of Christianity on the moral life of the Tiv woman, HRM summed up on page 41 of the book as follows:
“No less obedient to her husband, educated, feminine in structure, comely in looks, stately in gait, and faithful among other equals, more than any woman in Nigeria, the Tiv woman today yearns and aspires for the best that is available for the womenfolk…. Through evangelisation, her belief in tsav and akombo (wizardry) has been replaced by the Christian Biblical teaching of the Almighty God … The Christian God has become central in the belief system of the Tiv people as a whole.”
What a truism! If over 95 per cent (by my estimation) of Tiv people are Christians, where then is the place for adultery?
My research has further shown me that a man reacts angrily, call it fatally, to infidelity of his wife or partner. The Tiv man is not an exception. Two recently reported cases will support this. In Sugh vs. State (1988) 2 NWLR (Pt. 77) 475 S.C., the appellant, a Tiv man, murdered in broad daylight a foreigner for flirting with his Philippine girlfriend in Makurdi, Benue State. He was sentenced to death, which sentence was confirmed by the Supreme Court. More recently, the Court of Appeal confirmed the death sentence of another Tiv man in far away Osun State, who had murdered a native of that State for flirting with his wife. This was in the case of Ahungur vs. State (2012) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1313) 187 C.A. Admittedly, every society has deviants, sinners and immoral persons. Tiv land cannot be an exception till our Lord returns in His Glory to take His saints to heaven. But I oppose the lie growing like wildfire that adultery is lawful or even tolerated in Tiv land. This is an intolerable lie. It must die a natural death. Now! God bless the Tiv nation.
Was originally published by The Nation of 29th October, 2013.