By Solomon Selcap Dalung
Since the passage of His Royal Majesty, Chief Edward Zhattau, the second Ponzhi Tarok the first to be selected under enacted legislation, unity has eluded the descendants of Vwarka, the ancestor of prototype Tarok who migrated from Tal in present day Pankshin Local Government Area to Lagan hills currently in Langtang North LGA as recorded oral traditions and colonial documentation.
The first Ponzhi Tarok, the father of contemporary Tarok civilization, Chief Ndirken Garba Wuyep was a product of an agreement between Hill and Plain Tarok known as Reak Concensus on 22nd August 1955. Hitherto, there were Ponzhi Zini, the only grade fourth Class Chief with Gazum Chiefdom, Ponzhi Langtang, Ponzhi Bwarat and Ponzhi Gani. Ponzhi Zini was president of his Council supported by Ponzhi Gyang and Kwallak who were autochthonous heads of their areas. While the trio chiefs of plain Tarok were of the same status. The underlying principles of Reak Accord was the unity of Tarok base on mutual respect for one another equality, equity and justice.
The Benue Plateau State Legal Notice No. 3 of 1975, The Chiefs (Appointment and Deposition) Law (Cap. 20) The Appointment and deposition of Chiefs (Appointment of (Ponzhi Tarok) Chief of Yergam Order 1975, which was deemed to come into late operations on the 22nd day of July, 1975, created the stool of Ponzhi Tarok, the College of Selectors and selection process. Under the law, candidates for selection shall be selected amongst male line of the ruling houses of Lagan Gazum and Ce of Langtang. The families of Lagan of Gazum and Ce of Langtang shall include the following immediate ruling families of Luktuk, Gantang, Sinnap, kittang, Vongjen, Sim, and Marzwal.
The electoral College shall consist of the persons holding the following offices, namely- Madakin Lantang, Galadima Langtang, Ponzhi Dambar, Ponzhi Dibbar, Ponzhibin of Langtang, Ponzhibin of Bwarat, Ponzhibin of Gani, District Head of Gazum, District Head of Langtang, District of Bwarat and District Head of Gani. This water shade piece of legislation introduced radical departure from the underlying principles of Reak Consensus which was based on the principles Rotation between the Ruling families of Lagan and Ce of Gazum and Langtang respectively against the college of selectors created by law. The litmus test of this legislation was the selection of Chief Edward Zhattau from the Ce ruling house in 1975. The loser Ayuba Gaven Kum, from Lagan ruling family expressed grievances against abandoning the principles of Reak Consensus, The Gazum people demonstrated their lost of confidence in the institution of Ponzhi Tarok adopting the principles of Selection against rotation, the grievances did not degenerate into litigation because Tarok Elders waded into the crisis so as to preserve Tarok unity.
However after the passage of HRH, Ayuba Kum who was succeeded by HRH, Jeremiah Gosselle the dust was not settled as Gazum people intensified agitations for the restoration of their Chiefdom which was merged to create the Stool of Ponzhi Tarok in 1955. In 1990, the Plateau State government restored Gazum Chiefdom, it also upgraded Ponzhi Zini to second class status. At a colourful ceremony in Gazum, the then Deputy Governor presented the staff of office to Ponzhi Zini in Gazum. This development introduced another dimension to this crisis of confidence occasioned by Benue Plateau State of Nigeria Gazette No. 43, Vol. 9 Jos, 16th October, 1975.
It provoked emerging schools of thought which ascribed consequential interpretations to the restoration of Gazum Chiefdom and upgrading of Ponzhi Zini as naturally removing Lagan ruling families from the Ponzhi Tarok stool. Other contending opinions asserted the eligibility of Lagan ruling house because the parent legislation, the 1975 Ponzhi Tarok Gazette has not been repealed or amended to exclude them. They argued further that the stool is christened PONZHI TAROK, Zini are also Tarok so cannot be excluded from the stool. Ironically, there were no concerted efforts either to initiate conversation or process that would have amicably resolved these thorny issues threatening the foundations of Tarok unity. Especially when most of surviving actors were around, instead clandestine clusterings, provocative murmurings and devisive insinuations dominated the traditional space which only fueled the misgivings ruling us now.
On the 10th October 2008, Ponzhi Chirdap Zhattau joined his ancestors, Upon completion of rites of passage as required by traditions, the Langtang Joint Traditional Council communicated the State Government of the existence of vacancy and the Tarok people were prepared for the selection of new Ponzhi Tarok as provided by the 1975 Ponzhi Tarok Gazette. The government acknowledged receipt of the notice then directed the most senior Chief in Council to act as Chairman of the Joint Traditional Council because then the stool of Vice President of the Council, Ponzhi Zini has also been vacant. The State government letter triggered another round of crisis between the most senior Chief in Council late Ponzhi Bwarat and Madakin Langtang, the traditional regent under such circumstances according to the Ce ruling families traditions.
Actually it was the genesis of divisions within the members of the Traditional Council, even though late Ponzhi Bwarat latter succumbed to superior reasoning in the interests of peace, the state government procrastinated in activating the mechanism for selection. By operation of law, the acknowledgment of notice by government naturally set the selection machinery in motion. Therefore eligible males interested from the two ruling houses started moving round college of selectors soliciting endorsements and support. However in October 2010, Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs issued the (7 days) in accordance Section 5(1) of 1975 Ponzhi Tarok Gazette of its intention to hold a meeting of College of Selectors. The meeting took place at the Ponzhi Tarok palace with all the 12 College of Selectors in attendance as required by Section 5(2) & (3) of the Law.
There was unexplained procrastination from the State government thereafter which started generating suspicion about the credibility of the process. This was exacerbated by the fact that vacancies in other traditional stool which existed after Ponzhi Tarok in the state has been selected and appointed. It was under this circumstance that Government of Plateau deemed it expedient without consultation to repeal the 1975 Gazette with Replacement Gazette No. 4 Jos, 2 November 2010, Vol. 7 (Plateau State Legal Notice No. 13 of 2010). The impact of this legislation was well captured by Esther Bali and Bata Musa in their book, “General Domkat Yah Bali as Ponzhi Tarok Designate”, when they stated thus, “the promulgation of the purported 2010 Gazette and the simultaneous nullification of 1975 Gazette, unleashed an avalanche of controversy that climax in a court action by the aggrieved Tarok stakeholders”
It was within the ambiance of these controversy that General Domkat Yah Bali GCON, was selected and appointed on the 20th November 2010 as Ponzhi Tarok Designate by Plateau State Government awaiting installation and presentation of staff of office. It was this situation that escalated plethora of legal actions in court seeking interpretation and or clarification of the enabling Gazette relating to Ponzhi Tarok stool taking cognizance of degree of compliance in view of Benue Plateau State of Nigeria Gazette of 1975.
Arising from the multiple actions by Tarok stakeholders, two court orders were issued, the first reads, “the defendants are hereby restrained from doing any other thing in the process of installation of the 2nd defendant (General Domkat Bali Rtd) until then”. The second was Court Writ known as Form 48, which reads inter alia, “Take notice that unless you obey the orders/directions not to parade yourself or present yourself for installation as Ponzhi Tarok, pending the hearing of motion on notice for interlocutory injunction as contained in this order attached hereto, you will be guilty of contempt of this Court and will be liable to be committed to prison” Dated 13 January, 2011. The was the last straw that broke the Carmel’s which extinguished the desire to serve his people as Ponzhi Tarok.
After appreciating the dynamics of the stalemate occasioned by the court ruling, the consummate military officer and gentleman, ardent believer in the rule of law initiated a process of disengaging from the official status of Ponzhi Tarok Designate. On the 15th October, 2014, General Bali wrote the Govenor of Plateau state a letter “Notice of Desired to be relieved of the Appointment of Ponzhi Tarok” wherein he attributed his failing health conditions as basis.
On the 10th November 2014, The Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs communicated the Governor’s approval of his “resignation as Ponzhi Tarok, with effect from 1st November 2014.
Against this background, General Domkat Bali, GCON, on the 15th April 2014, wrote and withdrew the authority granted to HRH, Ponzhi Zini, Chief Nimnan Langnim to operate the Joint Traditional Council on his behalf. Also, he instructed the appropriate authorities to discontinue his salary, after he discovered that it was still following into his bank account. Six months latter, this development has not been abated, he wrote a reminder threatening that if this ominous practice is not discontinued he was informing his bankers, on the 22nd July 2019 General Bali Rtd, notified his bankers accordingly.
Meanwhile on the 11th April 2017, General Bali, had a course to write a letter of appreciation and commendation to the Governor of Plateau state, when information reached him that the process of resolution of the impasse has come “ with the Tarok Elders and Members of the Langtang Joint Traditional Council on the need to set in motion, the process of selecting a new Ponzhi Tarok, according to him, “that was a commendable innitiative long awaited”.
He affirmed his resignation from the throne reiterating thus, “let me take this opportunity, Your Excellency to reiterate and reaffirm my resignation from the throne. This decision was taken after due consultation and in due regards for my personal health condition. My earlier position communicated to you on this therefore remain irrevocable and irreversible”.
General Yah Bali, expressed his desire for his people stating, “my earnest desire now, and indeed the collective interest of Tarok Nation, is that the vacancy be filled without further delay” He continued, “ I look forward to partaking in the coronation ceremony of my successor”, unfortunately this was never to happen during his life time.
General Domkat Rtd, bored his concerns about the lingering crisis when he lamented that “As a senior Tarok citizen and elder statesman, I am quite worried that this issue has dragged on for this long. The Tarok Nation will remain eternally grateful to you for bringing this matter to closure”. Sadly, his wishes fell on deaf ears while the controversy continue to unfairly trailed his legacies after his passage.
To General Domkat Bali’s greatest chagrin, he observed that his instructions about salary stoppage and other related emoluments as erstwhile Ponzhi Tarok continued to flow into his bank account, on 2nd August 2019, he wrote a stained worded letter to the Plateau State Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs stating that he “was by/through this letter instructing my bankers, to [henceforth], return to sender, any such payments coming from the state or Local Government sources,” he continued, “ I hope my bankers will respect my fiduciary relationship with them and act within the confines of my instructions on this matter”.
When the matter was finally ruled against him, this firm believer in the rule of law, a disciplined officer and gentleman expressed his displeasure when he learnt the Government had appealed against the court ruling, he urged the Governor in yet another letter dated 18th November 2019, to terminate the appeal process so as “to save Tarok Nation further embarrassment and humiliation”
When all his human efforts appears not yielding the desire impact the four star General, Yah Bali, prayed “that God will spare my [his] life to see the final resolution of the matter, as I [he] look forward to partaking in the coronation of my [his] successor”. Painfully, his heart desires and love for his people never materialized before he lost the battle of his life to the infantry of death on the 4th December 2020.
As he continue to rest in peace, the controversy rages on as the selection process has been further stalled with the matter in the Supreme Court. Recent efforts by the Plateau State government to resolve the matter suffered another set back due to lack of commitment and political will to address the crisis. As the people remain without leadership, the land bleeds with different challenges militating against peace and unity of Tarok Nation.
You came, you saw and you conquered but your legacies is unfairly invaded by crisis entrepreneurs for their parochial advantages.
Happy post humorous birthday and rest in peace amen.
Dalung, a lawyer and former Sports Minister, presented this paper as a guest speaker during the public presentation of a book titled, “General Domkat Yah Bali, Ponzhi Tarok Designate…” on February 27, 2022, at Sheraton Hotel, Abuja.