By Professor Shima K Gyoh, OFR
The Tiv ethnic group has survived over the centuries purely on one asset, the land from which they derive everything they need for life. It provides food, clothes, shelter, and, in modern times, the means to educate and train their children and pay taxes. It is the only valuable asset most parents leave to their children when they die.
Take away his land and you have taken away everything: the dignity, not just from him, but from his entire progeny, and the family will forever live in penury. This is why, over their entire history, land was never sold. It is such a basic fact that many young people whose parents used the proceeds from the land to send them to school and enable them to survive in professions that do not farm, have not appreciated the full value of land to their people. They do not fully understand that, to break the chain of the tribe’s land ownership is to render the people helpless, beggars, not just for life, but for all eternity. It would be the beginning of the end for the Tiv people.
William Ukor understood this very well and felt that he had to peacefully contribute to the aversion of the looming danger of the Tiv massively losing their farmlands to marauding Fulani herdsmen. At the age of 62, his health demanded that he should live a quiet life under strict medical regulations of both his physical activity and emotional state. The activities of the herdsmen who creep up on the unsecured homes of villagers in the small hours of the morning, raping, killing sleeping farmers, and grabbing their lands, inappropriately called “herder-farmer clashes” has been a violent storm that tore his emotional state into shreds, forcing him into activism to the detriment of his health.
He did not relent in his peaceful efforts to awaken the conscience and understanding of society on the danger the people of Benue State and the Tiv were facing. He traveled to many crisis-torn areas to verify his facts and obtain pictorial evidence before placing them in the social internet media, ensuring he did so without exaggeration.
His posts and comments were in such perfect language that you would think the author majored in English at a university in the UK. William grew up at Agan and had moderate formal schooling, but, at this information age, there is no excuse for ignorance. He maximally benefited from the University of Life. Those that knew him will testify that he was a gentleman to the core, highly self-effacing and most considerate to the needs of others.
William served in the Nigeria Police Force for 35 years and attained the rank of Inspector. His contact with both the accused and the convicted persons was of kindness, understanding and assistance to reform long before the change of name from prisons to reformatory institutions.
Although the Police force does have quite a reputation, it does also have excellent officers and he was one of the best. In the last few years, he was struck by an illness that nearly killed him. The funding of his treatment was a huge drain on him, but the State Government under Senator Suswam did provide some welcome relief. Pursuit of his retirement benefits with the Police has so far been unsuccessful. He survived, but with serious damage to his heart and total loss of hearing. In the middle of it all, his wife died six years ago.
One of his daughters says, “he gave up on fighting for his own rights and selflessly picked up the cause for the people. We often called it passion, but deep down, we all knew it was an obsession which was capable of killing him.” It was, and it did! Just to clear any doubts that might exist in people’s mind, he did not have COVID-19. His heart condition could have been compatible with longer life in a country with better health services.
I got to know him through his crusade on the social internet. I tried to persuade him to turn over to me all his medical reports to enable me to determine how best to assist in getting him advanced medical treatment, be it cochlear implants to restore his hearing or anything else. Most people would have jumped at such an offer, but not William! Ever unwilling to involve anyone, even his family members in his health problems, he did not want to “trouble” me, and he changed the subject. Talking to him was not easy, as the total loss of hearing meant I had to write down my own side of our conversation. I did not know how serious the heart condition was, so I decided to wait for another opportunity. In the last week of his life, he felt unwell and went to BSU Teaching Hospital, but could not get near a doctor, and he did not contact me.
It is important that his retirement benefits be now paid without further delay, as he has left behind a family including small children that need to survive and get education.