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Date Published: 10/01/09

Kilba Chieftaincy: An Exposition of a just cause By Edward Wabundani


It is rare to have two or more people with the same idea of what capitalism is all about. But the truth is that it is not a system of force imposed by others. Rather, it is the lack of such a system. Broadly speaking, capitalism is what happens when people are free from the force of others. And to have people free of the force of natural conditions, ordinarily, something must be done to make those conditions people – friendly. The inventors of machines and wheels, the production of energy and everything that followed are the product of people. Without these, mankind may have been unprotected against nature.

The Kilba people in Hong Local Government Area of Adamawa State provide a similar example of the intimate connections between church development and political change. Even before Nigeria’s independence, the people irrespective of their differences in religious leanings, had demonstrated how development in their various religions and in more explicitly political organizations, might be two different organizational and ideological expressions of the same process.

For instance, the then Danish Sudan United Mission opened a station in Pella Village in 1922, from where Christianity spread to other parts in the entire community. Infact Mission activities were organized then along the same line as among the Bachama in Numan LGA, although in the period before 1945, they did not have similar scope and success as among the Bachama people. To be precise, in 1940, barely 18 years after the opening of the station in Pella, reports had it that only 21 Kilba people had been baptized; prominent among them was the first baptized Kilba Christian, Rev. Shall Holma of blessed memory.

Infact, a point of reference for the political history of Christianity in Kilba land was that, the British administration then gave permission to open a station in Pella in 1922, in spite of its own general principle of not permitting Missions to work in predominantly Muslim areas. Here, it should be noted that, Kilba land was not among the areas in Adamawa Division then dominated by the Muslim Yola Emirate. The area was mainly dominated by pagans. And when the British nevertheless authorized the Danes to work there, they did so, hoping that the Missionaries might succeed in what the British had failed to do; thus, to bring Kilba under control. But that did not work out after all.

The early Kilba, according to historians dates back to the 8 th Century A.D. It was there after in early 14 th century that the German traveller Dr. Berth reported that “there was no other power supreme and well organized north of the River Benue than Kilba”. He further recorded that “Kilba history is an organized pagan kingdom second to none in Western Sudan and resembled that of ancient Egypt”.

It could be recalled that, even during the colonial period, the Kilba people had persistently left no one in doubt, that they wanted to separate themselves from the defunct Adamawa province and even uptill today. The struggle did not just begin today as erroneously held in some quarters by certain politicians and their Co-hort. Their (Kilba) struggle against suppression and oppression, started by using the Mission, first by joining the Mission schools and acquiring Western Education.

After World War II, the dominant political issue in Kilba land was the relationship between them and the Yola Division. As in other parts of Northern Nigeria then with substantial non-Muslim populations, the system of Fulani sub-imperialism began to disappear. The leadership of the Emirate in Yola and the British Administrators gradually realized that the system was already in jeopardy. This was glaringly clear in the annual report from the Adamawa province heaquarters in 1953 put together by the British Resident, C.K. Wreford, where he was quoted as saying “the new Lamido and members of the Council realized that there are many stresses within the Emirate, and a sharp increase in political consciousness” Equally “there is a growing awareness of identity, particularly in the tribal areas, leading to an awareness of rights”. The aforestated quotation captures the colonial administration’s view of political changes after the Second World War in Adamawa, especially among the young people who acquired Western education (Christians and Muslims inclusive).

Typical of a politically conscious society, the Kilba community through an ethnic Association Kilba State Union (KSU) under the leadership of Yerima Balla, formerly known as Yerima Amos Balla, of blessed memory, father of Fati Y. Balla, former Ambassador to Mozabique, continued with an intensive struggle for Kilba independence. The indefatigable Yerima Bala, developed himself for political struggles of his people, when as a child attended the Danish Sudan United Mission in Pella. He later proceeded to a Church Missionary Society School in Zaria. During the Second World War, he enlisted in the Army. After a successful military training, Yerima Bala served both in Burma and India throughout the War period. His stay in Delhi was of decisive importance for his religious and political development. He later converted to Islamic faith in Bombay in 1942.

Meeting the Indian nationalists became a turning point in the political life of Alh. Yerima Balla. His political horizon was broadened and suddenly presented himself as part of a worldwide movement for the struggle against the colonial subjects for political independence. He started his career in Nigerian politics which was to last till the middle of the 1980’s. Apart from championing other issues of common interest to the Kilba community as a whole, the first major regional political event which the KSU handled was the election for the House of Representatives in 1954, where Balla vied for election but lost. As a democrat, he petitioned the British administration, complaining over the election. Ahead of the said election Yerima Balla earlier complained to the Resident in Yola that the then Kilba District Heads were favouring the Fulani, alleging refusal of his brainchild the (KSU) to organize public meetings prior to the election. He (Balla) criticized them for showing a higher loyalty to the Fulani than to a laid down democratic election principles.


It is based on this recorded antecedents among several similar Kilba history, that the then Governor-General of the Northern protectorate, Fredrick Lugard in 1906, directed the British Resident Administration in Yola to confer staff of office on a number of chiefs, prominent among whom were the Kilba and Bachama. Unfortunately, over 100 years after, nothing came out of that, at least for the Kilba people and many other tribes. The usual idiosyncrasies to manipulate others, seem to be the choice of the people at the helm of affairs across board. As a result of high profile intrigues adopted by the Adamawa Emrate Council and the then Resident British Administrator, the staff of office approved for the Kilba and their counterparts in other local governments in the state have continued to elude them.

In the 80’s during the military regime, both Military administrators late Colonel Yohanna Madaki and GP Capt Jonah Jang, gave approval for the conferment of second class staff of office to the Tol Hoba as directed by Lord Lugard in 1906. But playing the script of powers that be then, their successor Wg Cdr Isa Mohammed, turned down the conferment on the instruction of the former Chief of General Staff and Second in Command to I.B.B, Vice Admrial Augustus Aikhomo.

It should be noted however that whatever reasons that prompted the Federal Military Authorities and their Collaborators to cancel the Conferment of the Chieftaincy title on TolHoba in 1986, was baseless, unconstitutional and biased. Their action was ultravires, self serving and does not hold water, as it is an infringement of section 5 (Cap 20) of the laws of Northern Nigeria (1963) which empowered only the state chief Executive to exercise such action. Infact there is no any provision in the country’s constitution since independence, which vests the power to appoint and a depose emirs or chiefs on the federal government but rather on individual state governors.

The late Elder Statesman, Alh. Yerima Balla on the other hand, has left a legacy on the sands of time. Posterity will surely forgive him because he had proved he was a patriot committed to the cause of his people; just like some few other community leaders who also fought the same cause.

After those tortuous struggles, it is only logical that some concerned citizens from the area should take up the challenge to the next level. Before the present generation incurs the wrath of their children’s children, who may decide to term them, as cowards and traitors, for their age-old action and inaction on this issue. They should forge ahead and push the issue of chieftaincy for final adjudication through a judicial due process, just like the Ife-Modakeke Chieftaincy tussle, recently handled by the Supreme Court and ruled in favour of the Modakeke people. This was a struggle by the Modakeke People in Osun State which spanned over a hundred years, yet justice prevailed at last. So the Kilba Chieftaincy issue is just a question of time!

In the meantime, the Adamawa government and infact the attention of President Yar’Adua should be draw to the fact that, the perpetrators of this injustice are not done yet with their evil machinations on their fellow citizens, more gross injustice is still the lot of many communities, as far as chieftaincy issues are concerned. This issue of injustice may only be simmering for now, but it is really a time tomb, if left unchecked, it may do no one any good.

Edward Wabundani, a commentator on Public issues, can be reached on quiveer@yahoo.com
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