Rev Fr. Williams Kaura Abba



Name of Publisher: Tamaza Publishing Co. Ltd.

Place of Publication: Zaria, Kaduna

Year of Publication: 2019

Authors: Bala Achi, Yashim Isa Bityong, Akila Dutse Bungwam, MallamYahaya Baba, Laraba K. Nyam Jim, Mallam Kazah-Toure and John E. Philips

Number of Chapters: Eleven (11)

Number of Pages: 261


His Royal Highness, Sir Dominic Yahaya  (the Paramount Ruler of Atyap Nation), Council members, Religious and Traditional Leaders, Chairman of the occasion and chief launcher, the Leadership of Atyap Community Development Association (ACDA), Prominent sons and daughters of Atyapland, our mother, the wife of Bala Achi, Captains of industries, Gentlemen of the Press, Distinguished invited guests, ladies and gentlemen: 

I am very delighted to be part of today’s historic occasion. And I want to thank in a special way, Prof. Lucius Bamaiyi for asking me to do this. When we eventually got speaking last week Monday after the initial text he sent asking me to take up this difficult task, I felt sufficiently inadequate. I was worried about the limited time I have to read through the 261-page book and, of course, the ever busy festive season demands that clerics must be busy officiating at weddings or attending to some other Church functions. Prof. Bamaiyi didn’t sound like he was willing to let my excuses pass. I am sure had he known that I was also a jika (grandson) of Atyap, he would have reminded me that I needed to work for all the chickens I got from my grandparents in Tagama.  

An occasion such as this is unique not only in the annals of the Atyap ethnic nationality, but other nationalities of Southern Kaduna and indeed all oppressed peoples of the world. I am particularly happy because this book, ‘A Short History of the Atyap’, is one whose time has come. The manner in which the controversial theme in its manifold ways is handled and tailored to address our common aspiration of emancipation is simply exceptional. Even though the subject matter and the thesis of the book would have allowed for the use of jargons, the authors have carefully and masterfully demonstrated linguistic sagacity and prowess that has kept the conversation simple, using plain language.  This has made for easy reading of the book possible and has also expanded the scope for its wider readership and comprehension.

While reading through the pages of this book, I was greeted by a fundamental reality. The erudite scholars that have birthed this book have used the lens of history to capture vividly a reality that has been made blurred by those who are incurably determined that the truth about who we are and what we are, is not told. Their ultimate aim might be that when they tell their lies against us again and again, the lies, with the passage of time will begin to sound like the truth. However, it is cheering that this has been defeated with the publication of this book that I will describe as the first of its kind written about the Atyap people that I have read. Because of the expertise that the authors have handled this subject matter that predates both their age and generation, I request that we give them thunderous applause for a job well-done.

 I am glad to say that the manner in which they have mirrored the Atyap history and worldview is devoid of much that cannot be seen. Again, I truly salute you. 

History is critical not only in the lives of individuals but nations as well. The oppressed are never given the opportunity to write their history. Thus, they are always at the mercy of what the oppressor chooses to say about them. The moment the oppressed begin to tell their history in their own terms and in their own words (in the manner in which these authors have done) it gets the oppressor to be threatened. It is against this background that Ngugi Wa Thiong’o (1986) as captured by Mallam Kazah-Toure argues that “it is precisely because history is the result of struggle and tells of change that is perceived as a threat by all ruling strata in all the oppressive and exploitative systems, tyrants and their tyrannical systems are terrified at the sound of the wheels of history. The reason is that history is subversive; and it is actually subversive of the existing tyrannical system that there have been attempts to rewrite history. If they can put cotton wool in their ears and in those of the population, so that the people will not hear the real call of history, will not hear the real lesson of history, they will do it”. However, we have gone past that stage today by the publication of this historical book that tells our story by some of our prominent Atyap intelligentsia; no more from the oppressors or their agents who write our stories from the prism of bias, falsehood and bigotry. 

I am incurably convinced that our tenacity and resilience, which we have always demonstrated as a people is responsible for why our people will continue to break new vistas of hope. The authors, charged by our usual tenacity to challenge narratives that are meant to justify our collective suffering and subjugation, have used archaeological evidence that stands uncontroverted to narrate our history. Their book has shown that you can only lie to some people and only for some time; but you cannot continue to lie to everyone and at all the time. 

As contemplated by the composition of the audience, I was forced to adopt a review methodology that is somewhat novel. Often, and in a strict academic setting, book reviews are done on the basis of critique. In a less academic environment or clime, reviews are done with synchronous and advertisement interest. I am not using the two aforementioned approaches. Rather, it will serve us a better purpose if we adopt an eclectic approach that will allow for critical theoretical critique as well as publicity-purpose-review, considering the value the book adds to the on-going conversation of narratives and counter-narratives that have held us captive from moving on to the spot where the pot of truth regarding our history and identity is spitefully buried, albeit momentarily. Therefore, the best way to recover our history and identity is to excavate, using archaeological analysis and critique as well as publicity driven interest. 

The arguments and the views as espoused by the authors

Chapter one of the book fires a deserving shot at the lopsided and poisonous colonial legacies regarding the history and identity of the Atyap.  Just as it is consistently maintained in the proceeding chapters, the people are identified as Atyap and their language called Tyap. The central thesis argued in this chapter is the unwarranted classification of the Atyap as stateless people simply because they do not have a centralised form of indigenous and self -governing structure as well as a small population size. The author described the assertion as myopic and explains that “there cannot be fixed size, which an area must attain before it is regarded as state”. He further insists that “broad statistical analysis cannot be used as an objective criterion for differentiating between state and stateless; for some are called states for reasons that have nothing to do with population size. Also, the absence of an all-powerful ruler in the polity is no indication of statelessness. Rather, it represents a certain level of development”. 

He therefore concludes by lamenting that history has been used to maintain, perpetrate and perpetuate inhumane inequalities among Nigerians, which is affecting the unity of the country. I concede to this concluding argument, just as others by insisting that part of the reason why conflict continues to dot itself on the African continent is due to colonial legacies’ support for inequalities and subjugation of some groups. Examples are everywhere to buttress this point; from Nigeria to Somalia and from Mozambique to South-Africa. 

Chapter two provides the geographical setting of the Atyap, clearly stating the preponderance of the geographical location of our people. For me, the brilliance of the chapter is the insistence on our native names such as Asholi rather than Moro’a; Agwod rather than Kogoro; Tsana rather Chawai; to mention but a few. 

Fishman (1999) said that “when we take away the language of a culture, we take away its greetings, its curses, its cures, its praises, its laws, its literature, its songs, its rhythms, its proverbs”.  This is a valid argument why our people and towns should hold onto traditional names. The beauty in this is that one’s civilisation and worldview is better conveyed by one’s own language rather than foreign and imposed ascriptions. Therefore, this should open our eyes to proper self-identification using the tool of language and other socio-cultural artefacts. This chapter very explicitly covers location and size of the Atyap, climatic condition, soil type and agricultural exploits.  The chapter ends with population of the Atyap as captured by the 1963 and 1991census.

Chapter three, using archaeological evidence has established the long existence of the Atyap in their current location. Many studies as accounted for by the book say the Atyap had occupied their current homestead as far back as the 6th century AD. It has also hinted of what I will call Diaspora communities of the Atyap are found outside of Kaduna state.  The Diaspora communities include those in Nasarawa, Plateau and Niger states. For me, as it is the case with world best practice, there is no better way of affirming or rejecting historical narrative other than the use of archaeology. 

The challenge of identifying the homelands of Nigerian people is what concerns chapter four. Therefore, the chapter treats the history and migration of the Atyap. There is no consensus opinion regarding the origin of the Atyap. For instance, there are assertions that Atyap came from the North, with various centres like Kallah and Karge in Kauru area have been claimed. Just recently, Sokoto and Zaria have been added to the list of centres of Atyap origin. There are other insinuations that the Atyap migrated from the East.

Kind enough, the author himself has asked the question: If the Atyap came from the North or East to their present area, which language(s) were they speaking while there? Among many other reasons, he avers that the claim of northern origin is likely an attempt by a section of the people to identity with their twentieth century overloads. However, he has agreed with the Eastern origin of the Atyap, considering their similarities and cultural affinities with other people of the area such as Asholio, Attakad among others.

The chapter also captures the striving quasi democracy of the Atyap that was novel and useful at the time. This is because every clan had a specific role that was meant for the good of all. Thus, there was regulation and cooperation among the clans. The author argues that the division of function among the clans, created interdependence between them. It also helped in the effective organisation of the society since it became the basis for mobilising people for specific social tasks. Thus, for me this revelation discards the myopic assertion of colonial masters that the Atyap had no institutions and a body polity like other ethnic groups in Nigeria.

Chapters five and six are related if not same. For instance, chapter five is titled economy, trade and intergroup relations, while chapter six reads ‘trade and Islam in Zangon Kataf’. Trade and economy as mentioned in both chapters simply means the same thing. In addition, religion (Islam inclusive) is part of intergroup relations. For me Islam in northern Nigeria is defining phenomenon of intergroup relations.  Therefore, the two chapters can comfortably be collapsed into one in subsequent editions. 

I do not concede to the argument in chapter six that Islam came to Zangon Kataf via trade without exploring the option of migration that was very common at the time. In addition, I would have loved the question of whether Islam in Atyapland is a tool for liberation or suppression answered. I agree that there are comments relating to this question on pp125 and 131. However, they only scratch the surface. For instance, we need to know when Hausa, Fulani and Islam became almost one reality in socio-political environment. Anyone of them represents the other in our body polity. 

Elsewhere, my friend Benjamin Gudaku (2019) reveals that ethnographers are in agreement that before the Jihad of Uthman Dan Fodio, there was no nomenclature called Hausa-Fulani. Of all the ethnic groups that there are, none was called by this name. However, the Jihad contrived this socio-cultural identity that today is assuming the dimension of ethnicity, especially in the political space. Providing further information of the term, (Hausa-Fulani), Toby in Government White Paper on the Report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Civil Disturbances in Jos and its Environs (2001) argues that the expression Hausa-Fulani is a double-barrel coinage of relatively recent history, a nomenclature aimed essentially at achieving political, economic and religious ambition and relevance. Hausa is a tribe. Fulani is a tribe. The expression Hausa/Fulani in our view does not have any historical, cultural and even ancestral meaning or relevance. There is no tribe in Nigeria called Hausa/Fulani and the expression has no background in the culture and sociology of the two distinct Nigeria tribes.

This point is vividly portrayed by Bala Usman (1994) in the following words. “The notion of the ‘Hausa-Fulani’ with the primary sources of the history of the Emirate and Borno even in the 20th century is a ridiculous contradiction in terms. The Fulbe are Fulbe because they are not Habe. A Pollo cannot be a Kado! What we have are Hausawa, Kanawa, Zagezegi of varied antecedents and Fulbe (Fulani) of diverse backgrounds. But it suited the elites of foreign and local powerbrokers and power-managers to promote the Hausa-Fulani and thus stereotype complex processes of community formation and nation building”. 

My reading of it as Fr. Abba is that the impact of the Hausa-Fulani Muslims cannot be denied as been central to intergroup relations in Atyap land.

Chapter seven discusses the imposition of British Colonialism on Atyapland (1902-1928). The arguments of marginalisation of our people by the British are laced with proper examples and evidence. For example, the author says that when the Zangon Kataf district was created in 1912, Hausa officials were imposed on the Atyap from Zaria. These are disturbing historical facts that their shadows have refused to die. This is because some of the challenges witnessed in Atyapland today are hangovers and intricately connected with this poisonous colonial legacy.

The fact that the Atyap was and still remains a target for subjugation is not in doubt. To buttress this, chapter eight which talks about Western education is clear as to how the colonial masters never cared about providing education in Atyap land. Except for the missionaries, the Atyap land would have remained educationally disadvantaged. Chapter nine, which deals with colonial economy has also shown how colonial masters sabotaged the economy of the Atyap. There are vivid examples to substantiate this claim on pp. 176-177 as well as p.190 . To further buttress this fact, Dr Achi notes with great sadness that “The Atyap were not only denied jobs in the district administration, but were also forced to cough out even the little that they had. Where jobs were given in the late 1950’s, these had to be carried out within the framework and with the assistance of Zaria Native Authority, a majority of whose staff were relatives of the Emir and the District Heads with their own people called “non-locals” if they were to carry out their task of exploitation”.   

There is always someone who thinks differently. Thus, chapter Ten has captured notes of Richard Lander’s visit to Zangon Kataf in 1827 as recounted by John Philips. This legendary colonial administrator unlike his peers and contemporaries wrote good things on the Atyap and commended their organisational skills and hospitality as well as established commercial centres. His discovery of the viability of Atyap and their economic prospects brought the Atyap to limelight. 

Often than not, we are guided in life by our experiences. The harsh encounter between the Atyap and the colonial masters as well as their agents gave birth to Atyap anti-colonial movement that lasted from 1929-1960 as captured by chapter Eleven. It is important to say that the anti-colonial struggle was a common enterprise of the Southern Kaduna ethnic nationalities. It eventually snowballed into pre-independence political activism in southern Kaduna. Chapter eleven is a summary of all the chapters showing how interconnected they are. This makes the work to have a thread that runs through all the chapters.

Suggestions and observations:

To the Audience: No one should leave this place without (a) copy or copies of the book. It is a good reference material and will indeed engender more research on the history and culture of the Atyap. These copies are not just to be kept in our shelves. We must dedicate time to reading and analysing this book with a view to understanding what transpired in the past so that we can reposition ourselves for the future. 

To the Authors: 1). I find the title of the book not reflecting the rich contents. Therefore, I am suggestion that a title such as History of Atyap and their worldview be considered. You will agree with me that the book has expressed the worldview of the Atyap on different issues. 2). There is always a struggle in history between continuity and change. How has intergroup relations with colonialism, the Zaria emirate and other socio-cultural institutions affected the Atyap? How has this also impacted on continuity and change of the Atyap culture and identity? These are very critical issues that need your attention in subsequent editions. 3). Edited works are rated higher. I would suggest that this work should have a central editor and his role recognized. This will add to the value of the book when it comes to ratings. 4). The book is a 261-page document. This is no mean achievement. I will therefore suggest that the adjective “short” be expunged from the title of the book. 

To the Organisers of this book launch: Well done to the organizers for putting together this great event. We all hope to achieve immortality when our work is done here on earth. What Steve Bawa and his friends have done is to immortalise Dr Bala Achi of blessed memory through his works. The other authors who contributed different chapters, have also in their life time, ignited a great debate on the question of identity of the Atyap. Generations to come will find in your works, resource materials for further interrogation.  

I find it a bit strange though that a book about a people and their way of life is being launched outside Atyap land. I would have thought that an event as significant as this would have held in no less a place than Atyap land, that same place that was subjected to indignity by colonial masters and feudal lords. You may have been worried about insecurity, logistics and convenience of your invited guests. But those that love you would always be glad to suffer personal discomfort. 

Post Script:  1). In the face of the glaring injustice(s) we have suffered in the hands of colonial masters and still suffering now in the hands of neo-colonialists, what can we practically do to liberate ourselves from their shackles and grip? What comes readily to my mind is that it is time we celebrate and embrace our customs and traditions. It does not make sense that we are crying that we have been oppressed and subjugated, yet still tied to the ways of life and customs of the oppressor. Once I went to visit a paramount ruler in Southern Kaduna, I was stunned to see that the King was adorned in robes that clearly showed more of an Emir than a Southern Kaduna King. His dogarai still holding tight unto the kakaki (long trumpet) instead of our traditional flute and horn. We have our customs and traditions. Why can’t we promote and celebrate it? The day is far spent. It is renaissance time. I know that our liberation goes beyond mere changing of attires for our Chiefs. But we must have the courage to begin from somewhere. 2). Our traditional Institution is threatened as evidenced in the purported gazette on the changing of traditional nomenclatures. Our chiefs will no longer rule over their kinsmen but over towns and cities. If this threat is made real, Agwatyap will now be known as Agwam Atak Njei. Agwam Bajju will be known as Agwam Zonkwa. What happens to their people that are outside these designated areas? They become subjects of other rulers and kingdoms. You already know about the balkanization of Adara Chiefdom. They are in court over this matter and we do not wish to comment on this as it will be subjudice. Surely, this deliberate ploy to change our history is real. What can we do to avert the catastrophe that is staring us in the face?

In the words Prof Attahiru Jega,  I ask rhetorically, will we keep agonizing or we will organize? 

I thank you for your kind attention. 

Being a draft of the book  review of, ‘Short History of the Atyap’, as delivered by Rev Fr. Abba on December 19, 2019 at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja 


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