Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Glimpses of Plateau’s Izere chiefdom

The Izere chiefdom of Afizere people of Plateau State retains many features of the people’s culture that remain dear to them, including a festival which makes even the paramount ruler dance
Once was when a paramount ruler of the Afizere people of Plateau State, called the Agwom Kuwop, exercised much power over the people. This was due mainly to his additional role as the chief priest. The Agwom Kuwop, according to oral tradition, used to dress in animal skin draped on one side of his shoulders. In that out of the ordinary stuff, he wielded awesome reverence.
This was a time the Afizere people were a compact race who had little interaction with the world around them. Having co-existed with the Hausa and Fulani tribes of Bauchi state for quite a while, some of the bits and pieces that constituted the cultural heritage of the Afizere chiefdom that marked out the people have given way. The chiefdom, intermingling with the Hausa and Fulani emirs, has taken up much of the royal regalia of the two largely homogenous tribes, including bodyguards called Dogarai.The Afizere, also known as the Jarawa people, are mainly found in two Northern states of Nigeria. They occupy mostly Jos North and Jos East local government areas of Plateau state and are found in the neighbouring Toro local government area of Bauchi state.
Known to be a very peaceful tribe and one of the major ethnic groups in Plateau state, the Afizere trace their ancestral origin to the famous Nok culture of the village of Nok, close to Kwoi in Jaba LGA of the southern part of Kaduna state. They also settled at Chawai, still in southern Kaduna and then migrated to Jos where they settled first on a hill at the very place where the National Museum in Jos currently exists.
The Afizere people loved living on hills during the pre-colonial era because they believed the high heights   made them unconquerable by the Fulani jihadists of Bauchi Emirate, though some of them were influenced in the course of time and became Muslims.
The fact of beginning their sojourn in what is Plateau State today at the Jos city centre and particularly where the Jos museum is located currently, is duly identified at the museum where the original settlement area is preserved and marked by an entrance gate on which the sign, ‘100 steps to Afizere Settlement’ is inscribed.
The predominant occupations of the Afizere people are hunting and pastoral farming. They are known to rear the humpless cattle called ‘Muturu’ in large numbers.
One significant feature which makes the Afizere chiefdom unique is its dual stool; one, a first class chiefdom in Jos East LGA, and the other, a second class chiefdom in Jos north LGA.
According to public records, when Benue and Plateau were merged to form Benue-Plateau state, some 28 percent of the Afizere people in Jos found themselves in the new established state while the remaining 72 percent in the Bauchi Province remained a part of the North Eastern state. But with the creation of additional states in 1976, there was a need to bring the Afizere people together. Those in Bauchi were merged with their kith and kin in Plateau state in a 1976 boundary adjustment exercise, thus giving the Afizere people two chiefdoms.
The 2004 administration of Chief Joshua Chibi Dariye upgraded the Jos Izere chiefdom to a second class status called the Jos Ize which is headed by His Royal Majesty, Adagwom Emmanuel Ajiji while that of Jos East with its headquarters at Angware, headquarters of Jos East LGA itself, was upgraded from third class to first class status called Izere chiefdom and headed by His Royal Majesty, Adagwom Emmanuel Magaji.
The composition and hierarchy of authority in the chiefdom places the Adagwom of Izere chiefdom at the top, followed by the Adagwom Jos Izere chiefdom and then the Hakimai. Nest in ranks are by the Dakatai (Gundumomi in other states), then masu littafi and finally masu anguwa.
Though Adagwom Emmanuel Magaji is regarded as the paramount ruler of the Afizere people in Plateau state, the two chiefdoms operate independently as no Afizere from Jos North can hold the position in Jos East and vice versa.
At present, there are five district heads representing five clans of the royal families. The five district heads also happen to be the king makers. The districts of Jos East include Federe , Fobur, Maigemu, Shere, and Fursum. When the Adagwom Izere dies, any of the five district heads would succeed to the Adagwom Izere Stool.
Despite encroachment of Western civilization, a number of Izere customs have remained in practice. For instance, Uwreng-Izire, a traditional customary marriage where a young man who falls in love with a woman can mobilize his friends to abduct her, is a custom that is still practiced. Magaji explained this aspect of culture: “In such cases, the young man and lady are already in love and they must have planned it together. So, he takes her away to his house and the young man will tell his father so that the father can go and tell the lady’s parents that their son has married their daughter.”
Another cultural practice of the people is the Izhak, a customary form of circumcision. Though Izhak has not taken place in a few years, the people claim it cannot be regarded as a dead custom since once a date is fixed, it will be carried out. According to the paramount ruler, “during Izhak, boys are taken to the bush where they will stay for seven days. Rituals will be conducted and on the day of the festival, their parents will sew new clothes for them as they are circumcised. We still have plans to do the Izhak, so it is not a dead custom.” 
Much of the prominence of the Afizere people is derived from their love for dance and music which has placed Plateau state and the entire Izere land on the international cultural map. The most popular dance troop, known as the Asharuwa dancers have gained so much popularity and fame within and outside the country that they are now regarded as the Asharuwa International Dancers, having travelled and performed in countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States of America.
 But the Izere chiefdom has had its own share of challenges. Having occupied the throne as an acting Adagwom Izere for 15 years has meant some tension. There have been hints of hostility against the acting paramount ruler by forces opposed to the status quo. An attempt, for instance, was made on Magaji’s life in 2010.
Adagwom Emmanuel Magaji ascended the throne as the acting Adagwom Izere following the death of Alhaji Adamu Yakubu Fobur 15 years ago. Since then, no election to select a permanent Adagwom has ever been conducted. Asked why it is taking so long, the palace insists it was also waiting for a directive from the local government council on the matter.
The Afizere people are regarded as a peaceful tribe having lived side-by-side and harmoniously with the Hausa, the Fulani and other tribes around Plateau and Bauchi state.
The Izere people however nurse a grudge against the government of Plateau State. They take exception to Governor Jonah Jang, a Berom man who renamed the surroundings of the present Government House in Jos North from Gyesse, an Izere term used to describe an area with abundant bamboo trees, to Jishe, a Berom word.
The Afizere claim that bamboo trees which had once covered the entire Gyesse area, extending to the Wild Life Park at Federal Low Coast in Jos was a place where Afizere hunters used for their expeditions. “The name of the area has always been Gyesse and trying to claim a place that does not belong to you can cause crisis,” the paramount ruler said.
In all, Magaji is a happy man. One source of his happiness as the paramount ruler is seeing thousands of Afizere sons and daughters exhibit the Izere cultural heritage during the annual Igoon-Izere festival which usually takes place on the 1st of January. The festival is known to attract dignitaries from various parts of the country and the Afizere people love it.
“The festival is the day when you will even see me dancing,” the Adagwom said.
Read more at http://www.dailytrust.com.ng/sunday/index.php/newsroyale/15084-glimpses-of-plateau-s-izere-chiefdom#ikLeTFzTX55smtT8.99

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