Chief Barnabas Andyar Iyorhyer Gemade, distinguished Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and former National Chairman of PDPa serving Senator of the Federal Republic, is a Tiv and hails from Mbawar District, Konnishisha Local Government Area of Benue. A politician and technocrat, he has held positions in his home state, Benue and Nigeria. Among these were Managing Director of Benue State Cement Company; Chairman, Cement Manufacturers Association of Nigeria; Hon. Minister of Works and Housing; National Chairman, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and a presidential aspirant in the 2003 elections.

In this interview, he speaks on his Tiv background, the origin of the Tivs and other issues.

Q: As a Tiv, we believe you are in a position to tell us about your people. So who are the Tivs?

A: The Tivs are very active species of the black race. History has it that they are of the stock of the Bantu who migrated into Nigeria through the route of the Bantu movement from Southern Africa to the Congo, Central African Republic, Cameroon and Nigeria. You can appreciate that the route so described is one of the most difficult terrains in the entire African continent; a place full of heavy mangrove forest; regions full of wild country, with a lot of wild life; terrains full of ranges of mountains and big rivers. And if a people are believed to have come through that, you will appreciate that they have got to be tough people.

Having arrived Nigeria, probably one of the last tribes to do so, they occupied one of the most difficult terrains of this country that is the Benue river valley. By history, we know that this was one of the areas most dreaded by Nigerians or people in this area. Of course they were no Nigerians at the time because there was no Nigeria. We are now talking about those territories at a time when the nation of Nigeria had not yet been formed. There were many empires in this part of the world, and the Tiv had to move in, contending with different historical empires that were in this region. This Benue river valley or what we call the Benue basin was so dreaded at the time because it was full of potential killers, by way of diseases. Apart from the traditional malaria, which was killing a lot of people, especially foreigners, in this valley, you also had diseases like tuberculosis, small pox, guinea worm, and all kinds of man killers that had invaded this river basin. No wonder it was very simple for these tough people to actually come in and occupy this land that was generally feared by many other tribes that had been in this area. The terrain also provided a very conducive environment for agricultural and hunting occupations to take place. Watered by many rivers like Benue, Katsina-Ala, Gongola and many other rivers in the area, there was enough agricultural farmland. And also because of many forests, there was enough game for hunting. With this you can appreciate the natural toughness of a people to survive extreme conditions of habitation.

Q: Can you tell us different places where Tiv people reside in Nigeria?

A: Among the minority ethnic nationalities in this nation, the Tivs are only comparable to the Ijaws who are in eight states of the South South and South West. Today the Tivs are found in seven states of the Middle Belt. And I am not talking about just a handful of people in these states, I am talking about a sizeable number in at least three states, whether people acknowledge it or not, they are number one in terms of population. These states are Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa. They are also found in states like Adamawa, Plateau, the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja) and Niger.

Q: If they are so scattered in the way you have just said, has that not in a way affected their unity?

A: Not all. In fact the scattered nature of the people really demanded that there must be a central unifying factor. And of course, traditionally, there is a paramount ruler who represents the whole race. But also a number of us tend to provide opportunities as a rallying point for the people to have a sense of belonging in this nation. And while I was functioning either as a Minister of Works and Housing or as National Chairman of the ruling party (People's Democratic Party) or National Chairman of the defunct Congress for National Consensus, definitely I provided points of aspiration for the people, which gave them a fantastic sense of belonging.

Q: What would you say is responsible for the fact that in spite of the Tiv people being scattered, there is consistency in their language and there is a monarchy? 

A: The issue is all based on natural phenomenon. For instance, why do people look alike? Why do races appear to have specific features? Why are the Chinese always looking like the Chinese? These are natural issues, which are predetermined by our creator. And I think the stronger the genes the more permanent they remain in whatever offspring that comes out of those genes. So the Tiv tribe is a tribe of naturally strong people. I that in itself has made them remain more or less united. And because of the nature of their background, I think their language also remains intact irrespective of where the people reside; and that is why there are no dialects in Tiv language. Every word spoken means the same wherever you live, and if one thing can be described by two or three words, then those two or three words will describe the same thing where any Tiv person exists. I think that is more or less a natural development among Tiv people.

Q: What major quality would you say stand the Tivs out?

A: Basically, I believe it is resilience. It is very difficult for any Tiv man to start any issue and abandon it along the way. We are known to stick to a course till it is concluded. And we are known to stand our guard until the last man falls. No wonder at a time when Nigeria had about two million troupes in the Federal military, Benue, one of the thirty six states could conveniently boast of nearly four hundred thousand out of that number. Of course, the Tivs were in the majority. That for me has being one of the bedrocks of my existence.

Q: What does being a Tiv mean to you? 
A: It means having true African blood in my body. That blood that is capable of standing the difficulties that nature presented to Africans generally. It also means an opportunity of being a stabilising factor in a country where there is a tremendous amount of contradictions; a country that is made up of over three thousand tribes of diverse cultures; a country that demands that all these cultures must live side by side; a country that is full of diversity not only in culture but also in religion and beliefs. The diversities have posed a major challenge to this nation, and I see a Tiv man as one that is able to produce some form of stabilising factor to these diverse cultures of the majority ethnic nationalities of this nation. I believe the fighting spirit in the Tiv man is what has given Nigeria the ennoblement to produce a dynamic military that can keep this nation united at all times.

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