Chapter One


1.1 Background of the Study

In Tiv metaphysics, the universe though made up of countless individual beings or forces is unitary and whole. It comprises of two realms of being, the supernatural and the natural. The former is the invisible while the visible is the latter. The natural is a product of the supernatural and it is sustained by the supernatural. This causal relationship necessitates the inbroken connectivity in Tiv metaphysics between the supernatural and the natural realms. The supernatural realm in this context can be likened to the mother who cares for the well being of her child, the natural realm.

In Ieren: An Introduction to Tiv Philosophy, Anshi Wang explained the universe as being “dichotomized into three parts; namely usha the ‘Beyond’ or ‘Above’, the tar ‘surface’ or ‘earth’ and the shin, makuv ‘below’ or ‘beneath the earth’. The usha is the abode of Aondo, the tar for man and other created things (both spiritual and temporal) while the mbakuv or shin is the abode of the physical body of the dead.”1 The usha and the ushin make the supernatural realm while the tar is the natural realm. God, Aondo, spirits of life, adzov and the Mbakuv, spirits of the dead, are spiritual entities or forces. Man, animate and inanimate beings and spirits of life, adzov, live on earth, tar. The spirits of life are invisible to the natural or carnal man but influence man either negatively or positively. However, as pointed out earlier, the supernatural controls the natural, Aondo, God and spirits both living above, in the earth and the ushin, below sustains and controls the activities of man. In fact, there is a necessary interaction among these forces, this does not imply the spirits interfere with human freedom. In his freedom, man is answerable and responsible for all his actions.

God, Aondo, for the Tiv, is a Supreme Being and creator of the entire universe and all that are in it2. Though above, God has revealed his power and precepts to mankind through the spirits of life and mankind must live by these precepts to experience peace, harmony, progress and development in the earth. Failure of man to live according to God’s will as revealed by spirits of life, is failure to experience good health, peace, progress and development. This implies man must commune with spirits before he can tap from the other forces in nature and use them to sustain the ontological order for quality life and peaceful co-existence. This is done by the Tiv elders through the use of tsav. According to Iyo, “the possession of witchcraft was the most powerful means of discipline in the hands of the elders who needed this to sor tar, that is, to exercise authority and power in such a way that political, economic and mystical acivities of the people in a given tar ran smoothly.”3 It is in trying to enhance the ontological order for a more cohesive, stable and developmental society that the Tiv introduced the philosophy of ya na angbian. Literally, it means ‘eat and give your brother’. This connotes what Julius Nyerere confronts in his political system of Ujamaa, which basically revolved around the indigenous practice of African Brotherhood, family Assembly and being your brothers’ keeper.”4 This principle “demands fair and equitable distribution of social and political resources among the various segments of Tiv society.”5 At the same time, it is a “philosophy of fairness and altruism, equity and responsibility.”6

Today, with the coming of the colonialists and the imposition of capitalist system on the Tiv, the ethico-metaphysical setting of the pre-colonial Tiv society has being eroded by the forces of westernization. This has affected greatly the understanding and practice of the principle. The essence of introducing ya na angbian which had to do with the strengthening of unity7 and the holistic development of Tiv society is no longer totally captured in the modern conception of the principle. This is the motivation behind the evaluation of the modern conception of this Tiv philosophy of fairness and altruism, taking into cognizance, the ethico-metaphysical setting of the pre-colonial Tiv society as the basis from which the principle is applied in the socio-political arena today. Looking at its origin and conception, this study will establish in clear terms the true meaning of the principle, pointing out its misconception and shortcoomings.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

The contemporary interpretation of ya na angbian places much emphasis on the idea of justice as fairness. But looking at the precolonial conception of this philosophy, it was not just concerned with sharing but sustenance of unity and the realization of the holistic development and progress of the society. This is fundamental and it has become expedient that conserted efforts have to be made to bring out the entire meanng of the principle; ensuring that the principle does not only stress on office distribution or powershift but true service to humanity which is the bedrock of development. In doing so, this study takes into cognizance questions such as: What actually is ya na angbian? Is the philosophy concerned with only sharing or service to humanity? What is the point of departure for ya na angbian as applied in the traditional Tiv society as well as the socio-political arena today? Is it possible for the principle of ya na angbian to be strictly applied today in the allocation and distribution of resources in Tiv land and beyond? Can the philosophy be effective in today’s individualistic society since it originated in the pre-colonial era at a time the Tiv practiced communal mode of production? Can the federal character principle be amended be capture the rotational and zoning philosophy of ya na angbian? Could ya na angbian deny competent people the opportunity to serve? These are some of the questions this study will be considering.

1.3 Purpose of the Study

The purpose of studying the Tiv philosophy of ya na angbian is to expose, evaluate and project this element of African political philosophy which is fundamental in addressing the problem of corruption, greed, domination, discrimination, nepotism and marginalization not just in Tiv society of today but other similar societies as well. Other purposes of engaging in this study are to: (2) argue in favour of the fact that ya na angbian was an ethico-metaphysical principle in the pre-colonial time and establish the changes that have taken place in the understanding and practice of the principle since the imposition of British colonial rule on the Tiv people. (3)explain the indispensable nature of this theory to contemporary Tiv politics. (4) establish the fact that ya na angbian does not only entail sharing but unreserved and transparent service to humanity.

1.4 Significance of the Study

The study of the philosophy of ya na angbian is important giving that it will brings out the inadequacies in the modern conception of the principle and explain its true meaning and how it ought to be practiced. Ya na angbian postulates a socio-political theory that has relevance all over the world as regards the distribution of leadership positions and wealth and true service to humanity. The theory of ya na angbian which emphasizes equitable and just sharing of power and wealth has the potential of saving the Tiv from prejudice and bias that has bedevilled their corrupt society, particularly in terms of ethno-religious crisis, corruption, greed, self-centredness and marginalization. It will also avert the problem of gross individualism, nepotism and domination by unscrupulous African leaders who see themselves as the only competent people that are qualified to rule in their respective societies. The work will also serve as a source of literature for future research in this area.

1.5 Scope of the Study

This work is restricted to critical examination of the principle of ya na angbian in Tiv social and political philosophy. An expose’ of the ethical and metaphysical background of pre-colonial Tiv society is necessary and so this study seeks to elaborate on the continued relevance of this philosophy and how it has survived the storm of colonial rule and post-colonial developments. We shall also bring out the importance of this philosophy to national politics and sue for its entrenchment in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Other relevant materials to the Tiv philosophy of ya na angbian will also be considered to bring out other perspectives to the understanding of the concept.

1.6 Methodology

This work is a documentary research in which data has been sourced chiefly from books, journals, periodicals and the internet. The historical method was used to understand the concept of social justice through the history of philosophy, from ancient to contemporary times. The expository method was used to explain and expound the Tiv Social and Political philosophy of ya na angbian. Finally, the critical method was adopted to examine the strength and weakness of this philosophy.

1.7 Thesis

The study seeks to demonstrate first and foremost, that ya na angbian being a traditional philosophy does not only imply justice as fairness as could be seen in zoning and power rotation. Secondly, that ya na angbian implies zoning, power rotation, selfless service to humanity, democratic consolidation and holistic development of the society. Thirdly, this philosophy through ‘lending-injo’ permits that a position should be zoned out of a particular segment that fails to present a competent person for election. Fourth, that this democratic philosophy has the potential to avert the leadership problems of looting, greed, fainthearted corruption, alienation and ethno-religious crisis that has stampeded the progress and development of Tiv society, Benue State and Nigeria at large. Lastly, there is need for the entrenchment of this socio-political philosophy in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

1.8 Definition of Terms

1.8.1. TIV: The concept Tiv has three meanings according to Ushe Eduwardo. First, the term  designates the people as an ethnic group. Secondly, it refers to their language, and thirdly it refers to one ancestral father, Tiv, to whom all Tiv people trace their common ancestry.8 In this work, Tiv is also used to designate an ethnic group, a language and ancestral father as lucidly given by Ushe. The Tiv people are located in North Central Nigeria, also known as, Middle-Belt in Benue State. They number over 4.5 million and so considered the majority tribe in Benue State. They are having a large number of settlers in neighbouring Nassarawa and Taraba States. Tiv is the 4th largest tribe to the trio of Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo in Nigeria.

1.8.2. Ya Na Angbian

There are two components in Ya Na Angbian: Ya which means eat and Na Angbian which means give to your neighbour or sibling. “Ya” literally can assume various meanings depending on the context within which it is used. For instance, when you win election somebody can say in Tiv: “U ya ishangen.Ya in this context means “victory”. When one is appointed a king, it is said “U ya tor”. When a football player scores a goal during a match, it is “A ya ikyo”. Ya is also used to connote “comfort or enjoyment”: “A ya tar”, meaning he has enjoyed life. The concept can also be used to designate looting of public fund. This is implied when I say, “A ya inyaregh”. That is, he has embezzled money. So, ya is used in many contexts to mean different things. However, in this study, ya will be used to stand for “eat”.  Na Angbian means “give your neighbor or sibling”. Who then is a neighbor or sibling? It can be a male or female personality. Na angbian has to do with sharing what one has with his fellow humans. In other words, it implies sacrificing one’s time, talent, energy and other resources for the good of others. Ya na angbian as a principle in Tiv society emphasizes on the welfare of all Tiv people and sundry. Hence the Tiv people see themselves as brothers, ya na angbian therefore entails not only sharing but devoting one’s resources, time, talent, energy and wealth etc. in service of others.

Democracy: Democrac comes from two Greek words, demos – people and kratos– power, to rule. Democracy then can be literally translated as power of the people or government of the majority. Power of the people in what sense? In modernity, it is often conceived as being concerned, in the first instance, with a voting rule for determining the will of the majority. The power of the people is thus the authority to decide matters by majority rule. In line with this, Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as government of the people, by the people and for the people. Here the supreme power is vested in the people9. It is exercised by the people directly; in large societies, it is by the people through their elected agents. Ya na angbian is a democratic principle that protects the interests of all the segments of Tiv society. It emphasizes the fact that all have a stake in the common good of the society and must fairly benefit from it.

Consensus: Consensus is defined by Merriam Webster as, first, general agreement, and second, group solidarity of belief or sentiment10. It has its origin in the latin word consentio meaning literally feel together. Consensus and the Tiv ya na angbian go hand in hand in African philosophy. Where the principle is applied, consensus must be reached by the elders.

Egalitarianism: Merrian Webster defined egalitarianism as first, a belief in human equality especially with respect to social, political and economic affairs. Second, a social philosophy advocating the removal of inequalities among people11. Traditional African societies were founded on humanist and egalitarian principles and norms. In traditional Tiv society, these principles were reduced to the ya na angbian principle.

Communalism: According to oxford dictionaries, is first, the principle or practice of living together and sharing possessions and responsibilities. Second, the allegiance to one’s own ethnic group rather than to the wider society12. The free dictionary construes it as first, belief in or practice of communal ownership, as of goods and property. Second, strong devotion to the interests of one’s own minority or ethnic group rather than those of society as a whole.