Rex Cheng

The 2019 Nzem Berom cultural festival is an annual event of the Berom-speaking people on the Plateau. In this piece, ACHOR ABIMAJE writes on the significance of this mother of all festivals to Beroms and Plateau State in general

Nzem Berom is an annual cultural festival of the Berom speaking people of Plateau State. They can be found in Plateau North senatorial district, which comprises of six local government councils (LGC), which are Riyom, Barkin Ladi, Jos South, Jos North, Bassa and Jos East LGC of the state.

The Berom are neighbours to the north with Anaguta and Anabuze (Buji); the Afizere to the northeast; Bacce (Rukuba) and Irigwe (Miango) to the northwest. And to the southwest, they share boundary with the Aten and Takad, to the south are the Ron and Kulere, while to the southeast of the state, they share boundary with Mwaghavul, all in Plateau State.

Nzem Berom is held every year from April to May, to usher in rainfall for the planting season and to pray for bountiful harvest of crops at the end of the year’s farming.

It further serves as an avenue for Berom sons and daughters to choose wives or husbands, as it presents an array of Berom beautiful women and handsome men, who easily discover themselves at the festival.

The festival is said to be as old as the people and the culture of Berom. The Berom tribe constitutes one of the largest ethnic groups on the Plateau with ethnic spill into Taraba and Nasarawa States.

This festival brought Berom sons and daughters, both home and abroad, to showcase their rich culture to the outside world.

Also, Plateau State is said to be the home of peace and tourism, with over 54 ethnic groups in the state.

The state is blessed with several tourist attractions such as the Riyom rock formations, Jos zoological garden, Jos Wildlife Park, Pandam game reserve and Kura falls among others. Indeed the festival attracts tourists to the state every year and boosts the economy.

Although, the 2019 Nzem Berom festival has come and gone, its impact cannot be forgotten in a hurry.

The festival, with the theme, “Celebrating the Berom Prowess in Science and Technology,” was not only historic but educative, rich, informative, entertaining and mind blowing as it was the celebration and display of the culture of the Berom people.

The event was held between Friday, May 10th, and Friday, May 17th, 2019 with series of activities, but the climax was the grand finale (Nzem Berom) held on Friday 17th May 2019 at Rwang Pam Township Stadium.

The event was colourful and started with a royal procession from the Gbong Gwom Palace Jishe, to Rwang Pam Township stadium in which Berom Warriors, Traditional Leaders, Illustrious Sons and Daughters accompanied the paramount ruler, the Gbong Gwom Jos, His Royal Majesty Da Jecob Gyang Buba, to the venue of the event.

The Gbong Gwom was given a colourful welcome by the people who were already at the venue to receive him.

Each one of the 11 districts of the Berom Nation led by its district head, known in Berom as ‘Gwom Rwey’, paid homage to the Gbong Gwom Jos.

Chairman of the 2019 Nzem Berom, Da Builder Dachollom Jambol, in his address, thanked all those who graced the occasion and gave brief history of the Nzem Berom.

Senator, Plateau North and former governor of Plateau State, His Excellency, Da Sen Jonah Jang, CON, in his remark, described the event as historic and said the Berom have held to their culture and tradition, which they inherited from their forefathers.

National President of Berom Educational and Cultural Organisation (BECO), Da AC (Rtr) Gyang Dudu Dalyop, spoke on the need to preserve culture and the sustainability of the event.

Da Dudu said the Berom have contributed and are still contributing immensely to national peace and development of Plateau State and Nigeria at large.

There were cultural displays by various tribes and groups, as well as exhibition of Berom technology during the festival.

The Gbong Gwom Jos awarded two personalities who had done the Berom Nation proud, among them was Late Da Barnabas Dusu, who was given a posthumous award for being instrumental to the successful translation of the Holy Bible to Berom dialect and Ngo Maria Nyam, who was also awarded as someone who has contributed immensely to the educational development of sons and daughters of the Berom Nation.

Spicing the event was the cultural display by the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Barr Solomon Selcap Dalung who thrilled the audience.

The event was well attended by traditional leaders, religious leaders, political leaders, captains of industries, illustrious sons and daughters of the Berom Nation, Friends and well wishers of the Berom.

Speaking at the event, the Gbong Gwom Jos and chairman, of Plateau State Traditional Council, HRM, Da Jacob Gyang Buba, called on Governor Simon Bako Lalong to read the outcome of all the three judicial commissions of inquiry, which placed the position of Jos as belonging to the Afizere, Anaguta and the Berom and do the needful.

Against the backdrop of the recent administrative restructuring that led to the creation of two traditional councils, Jos North and Riyom out of Jos under the royal father’s authority, he appealed to the governor to rescind the order to avert breakdown of law and order.

Indeed, this issue had featured prominently, at the 2019 Nzem Berom with the royal father using the occasion to tell governor Simon Lalong of the state that he had no such powers to redefine traditional boundaries.

“The country has a Land Use Act with the customary rights of land ownership embedded in it,” he said. “All over Nigeria, land belongs to communities, families and individuals. We want to appeal that government must not take actions that will bring security challenges to the Plateau.”

With the new creations, the Gbong Gwom, Jos has been left with only two local governments – Jos South and Barkin-Ladi.

He further said: “I wrote a letter last year, reminding the governor of this and requested him to allow traditional rulers of these tribes to sit with the state boundary commission to determine everybody’s boundary,” said the royal father.

According to him, “I am still appealing to government to look into this.

“We don’t want a situation where government policy will bring chaos between neighbours, brothers and sisters that have lived together in peace over the ages,” he said.

He urged the governor to stop intruding into the affairs of the traditional institutions in the state to avoid plunging it into another round of unwarranted crises.

The royal father maintained that, “For some time now, I have been devoting my time into calming down the fraying nerves of vibrant youths of the Berom Nation to avoid the state going into flames.”

According to him,” I have never heard, both in my experience and history, where the government redefines traditional boundaries between two ethnic groups that have hitherto coexisted peacefully and without misunderstanding.

“You would recall that Governor Simon Lalong’s creation of the two traditional councils – Jos North and Riyom – had whittled down the powers of the paramount ruler, who superintends over traditional rulers in the four local governments that make up Jos Joint traditional Council”.

Governor Lalong, in a goodwill message he personally signed and addressed to the Gbong Gwom, Jos, on the occasion of Nzem Berom 2019, shows that he still regards the royal father as head of the traditional council in the state, while the letter from the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, conveyed the governments’ administrative decision to excise two councils from the monarch’s domain.

The monarch, Da Jacob Gyang Buba, called on Governor Simon Bako Lalong to direct his energy to address the state land use Act that has been begging for government’s attention.

“On Thursday night, I had to appeal to the Berom nation and its vibrant youths to please calm down.

“I told them that as sensitive as the issue is perceived, it has not gone beyond the Berom traditional institution, the elders and the Berom organisation.

“We will sit with government and educate government about what it is; we hope we will have the listening ear of the governor to make amends where they have made errors.

“There is no human being that is perfect, we all make mistakes.

“We appeal to the Berom nation to please calm down. We will follow due process and we are absolutely sure that God will not forsake us,” the monarch maintained.

He further added that they had written a well-worded letter to governor Lalong led government, to, as matter of urgency, revisit all hitherto commission of enquiry results with a view of implementation.

The creation of two traditional councils has generated huge reactions with the people of the state taking sides for or against the government.

Some say the government has done no wrong as the governor, in a letter congratulating the royal father for the cultural celebration, addressed him as Gbong Gwom Jos, and head of Plateau State Traditional Council, meaning his entitlements and former documents remain valid, while others state that the administration’s excision of two councils from the royal father’s domain was an indication that the status quo has changed and with time, the true intention to whittle down his powers would become fait accompli.

Not waiting for such a time to come with all its implications, the royal father has decided to raise the alarm at the Nzem Berom 2019 before it causes another avoidable crisis in the state.

His Majesty also said that despite the permission by President Muhammadu Buhari and the Inspector General of Police for the establishment of Mobile Police Barrack in Gashish village in Barkin-Ladi LGA of Plateau State where over 230 people were killed in June last year, nothing has been done up to date.

The chairman of Plateau traditional council of chiefs, noted that the Beroms have the largest numbers of IDPs in the state, who don’t only need food to eat but need to be relocated to their ancestral homes.

Da Buba said the state has not felt the impact of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and appealed to the government to direct NEMA to come to the aid of the people.

In the same vein, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara, in his address, said no ethnic nationality could be wiped out despite the insecurity that has destroyed several lives in rural villages in the country.

The House of Representatives speaker who doubled as the chairman of the occasion, described the Berom Nation as peaceful, hospitable and industrious.

Speaker Dogara stressed the need to promote peace and unity through culture. He thanked the Berom Nation for finding him worthy to chair an auspicious event such as the Nzem Berom.

“Violence has been disturbing this nation and I believe it is not above us, the Berom Nation has had its own share of this unfortunate tragedy that has befallen our nation.

“I have said it severally that we can’t afford to lose the fight against violence that has bedeviled us as a nation, it has never happened, it won’t happen and it will never happen. Any nation that has lost the fight against violence will not be stabilised.

“If we have decided that we must win this fight against violence, it will be because some of us have decided that we will work across board in order to be peace builders for our people to live in peace.”

Meanwhile, the Plateau State Commissioner of Water Resources and Energy, Engr Ja’afaru Wuyep, who represented the governor at the event, promised to convey the monarch’s message to the governor.

He said that cultural festivals remain a unifying force that brings about peaceful coexistence, saying it is a platform to project the Berom cultural identity, attract tourists and promote socioeconomic activities.

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