Opinion: Governor Ortom and Tor Tiv’s oath

By Kelvin Zeremo

The social and traditional media has been awash with the recent pronouncement by Governor Samuel Ortom to the effect that the next-to-be-appointed Tor Tiv would take his oath of office using the Bible. This has, expectedly, generated considerable controversy, and understandably so. 

Over time, the Traditional Institution has suffered value depreciation and content loss as a direct consequence of unethical  political interference. As a result, the reverence with which Subjects of Tradition held the institution became and has remained completely eroded. The negative impact of this interference on the Tiv Nation is too fresh in memory for anyone to forget…or pretend it never happened. 

If I recall, Governor Ortom had earlier pledged to have nothing to do with the appointment of Tor Tiv, neither the process nor the outcome. If this is true, to assert that the Tor Tiv, when appointed,  would take his oath using the Bible amounts to double speak on the part of the Governor, and this might set a dangerous precedent. 

I have not been privy to, and so have not read the new law passed by the Benue State House of Assembly regulating the Traditional Institution in the State. I therefore do not know if the law defines the Governor’s role or assigns any responsibility to a sitting political leadership in the appointment of the Tiv paramount ruler. But if we hope, as a people, to preserve what little is left of the dignity of our culture, we must and should do whatever is necessary to  insulate it from political interference. 

I am tempted to think that Governor Ortom assumes that everyone who professes “Christianity” is a Christian fitting into his definition of such, his mould of belief and mode of practice. This is not; and even if it were, Christianity, and indeed every religion, is practiced with individual and personal preferences. 

The choice of the instrument of oath should be left to the discretion of the appointee to the throne and not be pre-determined by the Governor or the political system. If I recall, and I am open to correction, I understand that the Late Tor Tiv,  Dr. Akperan Orshi, took his oath using the Bible. But that was a personal choice, not politically influenced. 

The Governor may need to be informed too, that as flimsy as this may seem, the choice of the VERSION of the Bible to be used for such purpose might be contentious! In today’s “church” where there are varying versions of the Bible, pray tell, with which version would the appointee swear? King James Version? New International Version? Good News Bible? New Jerusalem Bible? I know for instance, that the appointee, if a Catholic, may not wish to take an oath with the New International Version! This may be an issue. And what if he is not a Christian at all?

The role of the political system in the Traditional Institution is and should be limited to the facilitation of a smooth transition from one ruler to the next. This is in terms of providing the enabling legislation to guide the process – like the State Assembly has done; ensuring security and a conducive atmosphere to achieve acceptable outcomes. The process itself should be left to the Council of Elders, the Ijir Tamen,  Mzough u Tiv, etc.

In conclusion, it’s pertinent for the Governor to realize that what the Tiv Traditional Institution knows to be the swearing-in of Tor Tiv goes beyond the normal oath-taking of a political appointee, which is usually a lip-service recitation of written words. Here it involves rituals that have binding meanings and deep-rooted implications for the individual and the people over whom he presides. 

Governor Ortom should therefore realize that what he considers expedient now because he holds political authority over Benue, even if well-intended, may not ultimately augur well for the Traditional Institution and  the people it serves. Precedents are sometimes difficult to reverse,  especially bad ones.

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