Bwatiye (Bachama/Batta) Nation’s Backwardness
Our VISION Editorial Board recently took a decision to embark on self-examination of the peoples of Central Nigeria. The Board believes that the travails of the Middlebelt have many causes, apart from those inflicted by local colonists. We believe we have a duty to ferret out these internal weaknesses that have helped to weigh the people down and make it easy for their foes to undo them. In short, we feel that we should tell ourselves the home truth, even if it hurts. The ultimate purpose is to help reduce our weaknesses and strengthen our positive attributes in the overall interest of our future. So, no insult or harm is intended, only a robust dialogue between ourselves in a very frank manner: This is the third in the series of LOOKING INWARD with M.M. Buti on the Bwatiye (Bachama/Batta) Nation’s Backwardness. Kindly read on.
Bwatiye, meaning the two subgroups of Bachama and Batta, is a significant minority in Adamawa State. Minority, defined as a self-conscious group bound together by special traits, which their members share and by the special disabilities, which they bring. Bwatiye are a unique ethnic group, physically well-built, tall, huge, dark complexioned, courageous yet very loyal. This is what has been tagged in military parlance, marshal qualities. They are extremely concerned about their culture, especially the language, and will do whatever is necessary to preserve it. They believed in the existence of a Supreme Being (Homun Pwa) before their contact with other monotheistic religions (Christianity and Islam).
Bwatiye cherish their freedom and independence. The main reaction of an average Bwata to any attempt at undermining him by any other person is to ask if he depends on him for feeding or survival. It is for this reason that Bwatiye neither begs nor lobby. Whether this is a plus or not, we shall see later.
Bwatiye have a well-established political system with the King – Homun as head. As far as Bwatiye are concerned, this is the highest attainable social status. They are mainly farmers and fishermen and are great warriors. For, the Bwatiye to be is to be a hero. This is reflected in all aspects of their lives, in their music, songs, dances, folklores and other social relations.
Bwatiye trace their origin to the Middle-East from where they migrated over the years to their present location. Large numbers of their members are still found in the Republics of Chad and Cameroon.
Bwatiye are today concentrated in the following Local Government Areas of Adamawa State, namely: Mubi, Gombi, Maiha, Song, Girei, Fujore, Yola North and South, Demsa, Numan, Lamurde, Mayo Belwa and Ganye. Although the main emphasis of this article is on Bwatiye as found in Demsa, Numan and Lamurde Local Government Areas, the overall implication is for Bwatiye at home and in the Diaspora.
Bwatiye land falls in the confluence of River Benue and Gongola with their numerous tributaries, lakes and ponds. The land is extremely fertile, which favour the production of such cash crops as cotton, groundnuts, beniseed and other crops, including different varieties of guinea corn (sorghum), maize, millet, rice, beans, cassava and sweet potatoes, etc. The numerous back swamp lakes, ponds and rivers provide ample opportunities for irrigation and fishing activities.
Fishing was a major occupation of the Bwatiye, which was confined largely to the riverine inhabitants. (Bwatiye are divided into two groups geographically, those in the riverine areas – Ji Zange, and those in the upland – Ji Bawe). Some communities in the hinterland also undertake seasonal fishing in the back swamp lakes. Kwaye, for example, are a fishing clan in the upland who are the official middlemen that hold the lake in trust on behalf of the Chief; they are in charge of all fishing activities. Bwatiye used very simple gears, such as nets, hooks, traps and spears. The fish caught were either dried or smoked before being sold or consumed.
Other equally important activities were hunting and animal rearing, especially pigs, goats, sheep and poultry. Hunting did not only provide a source of the much-needed meat (bush meat) but also an avenue to train the youth in the art of warfare. Hunting was done in the dry season after the harvest by those in the uplands. In the riverine areas, it was done in the rainy season. Bwatiye did not keep large herd of animals as the nomads, yet virtually every household, had one animal or the other. Pigs were favoured animals, especially in the villages.
Bwatiye are one of the earliest cultural groups in Adamawa to have contact with Europeans. This dated as far back as 1879 when the German Traveler, Hegel, noted that on his way up the Benue, he “stopped at several Bachama and Mbula villages.” It is on record that in 1885, the Bachama Chief, Mangawa, had concluded a treaty with the National African Company, which later became the Royal Niger Company, to ensure the safety of trade routes and property of the Company in return for 30 Shillings annually. On account of their contact with Europeans, the first school was established in Numan in 1913, courtesy of Dr. Neils Brownum. This is a very significant development because education is light, which drives out darkness. As a result of the school, Numan became the convergence point of educational activities in the area. The school produced many learned people not only among the Bwatiye, but among the different people in the State. This placed Numan in the forefront of education activities in Adamawa. The leading points of the endeavour were people like Professor N.N. Pweddon, Fora-Bay product, a linguist and authority on Bwatiye culture and language. He recently published a Dictionary of Bwatiye Language. There is also Professor S.C. Aleyidemo, a renowned educationist, consultant to the World Bank on Primary Education. Dr. A.L. Dalli of blessed memory, a renowned sociologist, equally an authority on Bachama culture. Those who are familiar with the history of educational development in the country, know that, it was first Fora-Bay, University of Ibadan, then overseas. To have Bwatiye sons who met the vigour of these requirements is not a mean feat, thanks to the first missionary work. Bwatiye have also produced great soldiers, among who are Lt-Gen. G.S. Jalo, Col. Sule Apollos, the first Nigerian Army Officer to move troops during the Civil War, Maj. T.W. Numan (Hauka da Bori), a highly disciplined officer who won medals for long service, good conduct and bravery, etc. As of 1976, he was the longest serving Nigerian Army Officer, Gen. Maxwell M. Khobe, who distinguished himself during Peace Keeping Operations in Sierra Leone. The biggest airport in that country is named after him. Only recently, Rukuba Barracks in Jos was also named after him.
Bwatiye land has also produced great politicians, the likes of Edmond Memiso, a Commissioner in the First Republic, Hon. Jonah Assadugu, Sen. Gayus Gilama, Numan, Paschal Myeleri Bafyau, one time No.1 Labour Leader in the country. The area has produced great civil servants such as Reynolds Bayero Hungushi, Mr. R.T. Gajare, etc. Bwatiye can also boast of Ambassadors such as Elias Nathan, Shamaki and W. Juta. The area has produced many businessmen of great repute; e.g., late Chief Edward Aleyideno and Chief Mike Teneke. Bwatiye have produced many men of God who traversed the length and breadth of this country, especially in the North. These include late Pastor Andarawus, Habila Aleyideimo, Ezra, Jamgare, Bishop Akila Todi and Bishop Danu Wonosikou, Dr. Irmiya Tadugorouno, just to mention but a few.
However, despite Bwatiye achievements as shown above, with the 1950s, 60s and 70s as the apogee of Bwatiye progress, influence and power, things have suddenly fallen apart. Bwatiye community today is a shadow of itself. Not many Bwatiye sons and daughters are recognized for positions of high responsibility at National level. Today, Bwatiyeland is characterized by settler meddlesomeness, poverty, hunger, disease, depression, political acrimony, unemployment, cry of marginalization, etc. These have combined to make us impatient, disgruntled, without focus, youth restlessness, increasing high crime rate, so much so that, we have become in a manner of speaking a society in perpetual conflict with itself.
Bwatiye have become a very wasteful people, especially during burial and marriage ceremonies. Concerning burial, Bwatiye must reconsider the idea of conveying every corpse home. Among the Bwatiye from whatever part of the globe, a Bwata dies, young or old, his/her remains must be conveyed home; with all the implications, transportation, risk to the lives of those conveying the body, cost of feeding them, etc. It is even more imperative, if the person is considered rich. Another aspect of this is the idea of buying a befitting casket, some running to hundreds of thousands; money, which if the dead person had, he/she probably would not have died in the first place. Apart from the casket, there are the expenses in terms of food, drinks, presents like plates, cups, caps, handkerchiefs etc. Relations of the deceased will also task themselves to buy uniforms (Asoebi).
The sum total of this is that, money, which Bwatiye do not have, is spent in irrelevant activities. Where then shall we have the money to contest for political power? If we must ask ourselves, who gains from expensive, burial arrangements? The dead? Relations family or the community? Come to look at it, must we convey all our dead bodies home? Some people lived outside Bwatiye Kingdoms for over thirty years and probably never went home at all; however, when they die, their remains are conveyed home, to what effect?
Concerning marriages, Bwatiye have suddenly made their marriages so expensive; not the bride price, but the ceremony that follows. The expenses are so much that many Bwatiye sons and daughters have resorted to marrying from outside. Marrying from outside is not necessarily a bad thing, but if the reason is because of the cost, then we need to do something about it. If every little Kobo we make is to be spent on ceremonies, then we should forget about acquiring political power.
Why do we borrow things that we cannot sustain? The people we borrow these things from are well established. They are enterprising. Take Yorubaland, for example; virtually every community has a cottage industry. Individuals have businesses, which turn out millions of Naira. The same with the Igbo. The Hausa/Fulani have used the advantage created for them by the British to acquire power, which they now use to accumulate wealth. Even then, they still augment it with begging and trading. Bwatiye are no businessmen and women, they have no industries, they do not beg, they have become intellectually lazy; how can we compete with other people?
What led us to this unfortunate situation and for how long can we allow it to continue? Is it not a shame that Bwatiye who were always in the forefront of campaign for unity and democracy have now been reduced to mere passive observers of the democratic process? What is our take-home for our stake in the last elections? Have we fought the right fight? It is an irony that the very factors, which made us great, are the very same factors that have somehow worked against us, due to our failure to manage them properly.
As we mentioned earlier, the first primary school was established in Numan in 1913. Its main emphasis was on the production of literate people for the purpose of evangelism. Any wonder that the area produced so many pupils – teachers and evangelists who it even exported to other lands? The S. U. M, which brought this education, did not find it fit to establish post-primary institutions – secondary, grammar, technical, vocational or teacher training. For more than 40 years since the arrival of the first missionary school, which catered for Numan Division and beyond, there was no post-primary institution in the area, which would have produced the much needed high level manpower to occupy positions in government, trade and politics. Indeed, when later other denominations such as the Roman Catholic, came with the intention of opening up schools – including secondary schools, they were rejected in Bwatiyeland because of the claim that they worshipped Mary. Of course, they went to other places to open schools. Other missions were not allowed in Bwatiyeland as S.U.M. continued to predominate at our own peril. The result was that some of the literate people, who did not proceed beyond primary school, lapsed into illiteracy.
By the time the S.U.M. established a Teacher Training College and Secondary School in Numan, other places that came into contact with other missionaries, EYN, ECWA, Catholic, Anglican, etc. had gone ahead in terms of post-primary education. In other words, the S.U.M. ruined the lives of many brilliant Bwatiye who could not proceed beyond the primary school at the right time and simply ended up wasted and spent. But for the Roman Catholic, which established the famous Villanova Secondary School, Numan, the story of many Bwatiye sons would have been a terrible one today, GREAT VILLANOVA. To date, how many secondary schools do we have in Bwatiyeland? Are they enough?
Another aspect of our lives, which led us to this sorry state, is our concept of valour. I have mentioned earlier that for the Bwatiye to be is to be a hero. The military service provided an opportunity for Bwatiye to realize their dreams of being heroes. The average Bwata enjoys fighting wars, without caring for the cause of such wars. They were not mercenaries, but simply instruments of war. They do not care about the booty, which was why many of them who fought in the 1st and 2nd World Wars, came out poorer than they joined the army. Again, it is a problem of education. Most of them that fought in the two World Wars, were largely illiterates, hence could not work out any special interest in the war apart from the uniforms, sound of jackboots, trip to foreign land and fighting side-by-side the white man, and seeing him die. As though that was not bad enough, the 30 months old Nigerian Civil War did a deadly blow on the Bwatiye. In pursuit of their cherished pastime (valour), most able bodied youth joined the army as foot soldiers. Again, most of them were primary school leavers, who did not understand the motive and politics of the war.
After the war, most of them remained in the army with a few lucky ones rising to the rank of Sergeants, Staff Sergeants or Warrant Officers. After spending the better part of their lives in the army, some 35 years and more, those who were lucky to remain alive, retired. Due to the length of service, the regimented life, they had become completely alienated from their land; many of them chose to remain in the cities to work as security men or labourers to rich people who profited from the war. Those who went home did not fit into their communities, a good number did not have accommodation, they could no longer work as fishermen, farmers or as hunters, they did not have the implements; they therefore became a burden to themselves and their communities.
Their situation was further worsened by the present administration, which without any preparation provided them with huge sums of money as pensions. Many of them quickly took new wives, dyed their hairs and moved to the cities to start life afresh, moving away again from their traditional trades. Only very few built houses or invested in some business ventures. However, that was not to last, the long delays in paying the pension subsequently again constrained many of them to sell some of the property they acquired, including houses.
Our highly fertile land is yet another factor. The mass exodus of young energetic and able bodied males to enlist into the military in the late 60s meant that great farmlands were lost. As a result, our land, which does not require the use of fertilizers, attracted many immigrant farmers. Some who came as fishermen, e.g., Kabawa, when they saw the nature of the land, turned cultivators; the result is that within a very short time, these people had become rich and started contesting for and acquiring political power at the expense of Bwatiye. This process was greatly accelerated by their brothers who had settled in Bwatiyeland and other groups who saw Bwatiye as a threat to their self-actualization.
Given Bwatiye background, whereby wealth was measured mainly on the number of barns of sorghum, number of wives and children a man had and the present political system, which favoured the use of money, Bwatiye found themselves greatly disadvantaged. It is not surprising therefore, that Bwatiye sons and daughters who came out seeking political offices were overpowered by the new class of wealthy individuals. This trend is likely to continue until Bwatiye are able to sit down and critically address the matter with all seriousness.
What is the way forward?
Bwatiye, like so-called minority ethnic groups in the country, must look inward for a solution to the myriad of their problems rather than keep crying wolf or look up to the government or try to impress the so-called majority ethnic groups, in order to improve their conditions.
Politically, as a rule, freedom cannot be got on a platter of gold. We must have to confront the so-called majority ethnic group in our contest for power. Fortunately, we are no strangers to this. Even in our well-established succession system, the different clans fiercely fight for chieftaincy, though when a winner emerges, the others usually accepted. Therefore, the idea of calling on all our people to support the majority ethnic group in its quest for power so that one day they will give us a chance is simply unrealistic. We can only go into tactical alliance with them on terms that are clearly beneficial to us. In confronting the majority group, we must carry along all our brothers, sisters and friends. Remember that Numan Federation is the political status given to the former Numan Division because of the coming together of Lungada, Kanakuru, Mbula, Bilke and Bachama to resist the emirate system represented by Yola. If we do not carry these people along in our struggle, definitely, we will run into difficulties; worst of all, if there are semblances of differences between Demsa and Numan.
In order to capture political power, we need to have economic power. To do that, we must take full control of all economic activities in our land. We must take advantage of our rivers, Benue and Gongola and their numerous tributaries and back swamp lakes, Mbemun, Tingno, IIlapi, Kayin, Mbemuzoum, Warn, Gburwa Nyisogore, among several others, to go into dry season farming. Our area is good for rice production and we can produce it twice a year. Other agricultural activities we can engage in are fishery, piggery, cotton production and vegetable production. Our riverine communities can improve on their beans production and take to vegetable farming.
There is no one reason why Numan, Imburu, Zagum, Opalo, Zekun, Mgbakowo, Kabawa, Ngodogoron, Gamadio, etc., cannot grow the vegetables needed by Adamawa and have extra for export to other States, especially the East and Lagos. The communities can form cooperative societies and Local Government Areas should be their guarantors for loans to buy water pumps, seeds, seedlings, fertilizers as well as insecticides.
Our fairly well to do Bwatiye sons and daughters can be encouraged to set up small-scale industries:
Vegetable Oil Milling from Groundnuts, Cotton-Seeds, Sheabutter, etc.,
Fish Smoking and Preservation, Cotton Growing and Processing.
One area that we need to develop is the education sub-sector. Our communities are highly literate. All that is required is to redirect the interest of our youth to read courses that will make it possible for them to create jobs for themselves. This is the future direction of our country. The youth must professionalize with emphasis being placed on agro-based programme. Our youths should read courses that fit them into this sector. Fortunately for us, a campus of the state polytechnic is located in Numan and the head is an Agric. Engineer, and he is one of us; he understands our needs.
Bwatiye are so ethno-centric so much so that other ethnic groups seem not to matter at all. That is why Bwatiye are the “human being,” and others are some variety of slaves or non-humans. This self-pride is extended to the realm of jobs. Certain jobs are considered good only for strangers or slaves. How, for example, can a Bwata engage in nail-cutting, selling water, shoe-polishing, local laundering, production and sale of vegetables, hotel-business, etc. Any Bwata who engages in such, attracts a curse in songs not only for himself but his family or clan. But the reality of our times is that, someone has to do these things, the strangers do them and make a living out of them at our expense. The wicked killing of Evang. Jinkai by a Hausa water seller is still fresh in our memory. If one of us was doing that, definitely her death could have been averted; at least she would not have died through the hand of a stranger – a water seller.
The call is for Bwatiye to look inward, take advantage of every available opportunity to generate wealth in the land, which God has given us. Let us stop unnecessary pride to do things that can improve our present situation.
Why, for example, can’t we have Bwatiye carpenters, mechanics, bricklayers, electricians, etc., all over our land? How much does it cost to start a shop – Restaurant or Saloon? Let us get involved in these things. There are enough lodgings in Numan; when shall our people have a standard hotel at Lamurde, Tingno, Gyawana, Imburu, etc? What about clinics or pharmaceutical stores? Our women and children die in their hundreds in the hands of quacks who pose as doctors and open suicide houses, when we have well qualified doctors, pharmacists, nurses and other para-medical staff serving all over the country and abroad.
Finally, our people at the local, state and federal levels must empower the younger ones through creating legitimate opportunities from where they can make enough gain to save something for the rainy day. In our country today, no one can contest political power through mere moralization. There must be cash backing. Our youth must forget about easy life, alcoholism, womanizing and undue dependence on relatives or parents. The future is in their hands. They have to shape it now. As one of the elders said recently, ‘your lifestyle determines your life span.’ This is a clarion call.
Culled from Our VISION magazine, Vol. 5 No. 4, 2004