Category: Cover stories Written by Hir Joseph & Itodo Daniel Sule, Jalingo Hits: 2544
Wukari is now a ghost town after last week’s sectarian crisis between rival ethnic groups left at least 31 people dead. Most residents have either fled or trapped in their houses as the town is saturated with heavy presence of security forces working to enforce 24-hour curfew.
Not a single route into Wukari, headquarters of Wukari Local Government Area of Taraba State can now lead travellers into the ancient town. All of the major routes: Zaki-Biam-Wukaru, Ibi-Wukari, Jalingo-Wukari, and Takum-Wukari as well as minor ones are now being guarded by heavy presence of armed security personnel including soldiers and anti-riot policemen trying to enforce the week-long dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed on the town by the state government.
Crisis broke out last Saturday morning during football training in the metropolis. Trouble started after a heated argument involving two team mates – a Hausa boy and his Jukum friend. It was alleged that after the argument, one of the boys involved ran back home and returned with a firearm with which he shot and killed the other, sparking a revenge reaction which first saw four persons dead, and many others injured in the ensuing ethno-religious violence between Jukum and Hausa ethnic groups.
“They disagreed over a football related issue during morning session training on the pitch. One of them felt too aggrieved that he dashed home and brought out a gun and shot and killed his opponent,” an eye witness said.
In a matter of minutes, the crisis spread, with each side said to have targeted the other with sophisticated weapons in a manner that Wukari has not witnessed in over a decade. Hundreds of residential houses, business places and other properties known to belong, or being occupied by either of the two ethnic groups, were targeted and razed down. But the worship places of mosques and churches were particularly targeted and burnt.
Hospital Road, Wapang Ngaku, Yam Market, Wukari Garage and adjoining sections of the town were worst hit. One of our reporters who was there during an assessment visit by Acting Governor Garba Umar, reports that major roads through much of Wukari now appear like they have just being hit by war.
Earlier, reports on the violence said only a handful died, but later, it emerged from security agents that more corpses were recovered in some of the buildings burnt during the incident.
Police official figures by Wednesday put the death toll at 31, but by Thursday, the state police commissioner, Jibril Olawale Adeniji made more disclosure, stating that some police officers and their children were also killed.
Serious looting of shops deserted by their owners, was also said to have being perpetrated by gun-wielding militias who also burnt down dozens of vehicles in homes, the motor park and along streets.
The crisis which lasted barely a day left devastation unimaginable. The acting Governor, who was led there by the local government chairman, Danazumi Agbu, repeated at various points where he stopped to assess the extent of damage – that the violence wreaked an unimaginable blow on the town.
The visit which took the governor through the rubbles of destruction attracted residents who peeped to catch a glimpse of the outside for the first time since the curfew.
Residents were seen in clusters, with some peeping through their doors or windows to catch a glimpse of the motorcade that traversed their once peaceful town. “We are seeing what looks like a normal life for the first time since the incident. We have been forced to stay indoors since then because of the curfew,” said a trader who said he had no idea what was left of his stretch of shops along Hospital Road.
The violence is coming barely three months after another clash between Muslims and Christians in Ibi Local government Area of the state left over 10 people dead, with churches, mosques, commercial and residential buildings torched.
Wukari shares boundary with Benue and Narasawa states.
It was difficult to speak to residents of the town because of the curfew. But displaced persons located by phone said the violence happened as if it was premeditated as both sides attack each other with weapons as if they had long prepared for war.
A member of the Taraba State House of Assembly from Wukari, Mr. Daniel Ishaya Gani expressed sadness at the incident which he described as “very unfortunate.”
Meanwhile, a stakeholders’ meeting on peace and security was held at the instance of the state government in Jalingo on Thursday and it attracted leaders of both Jukum and Hausa communities. The leaders were unanimous in condemnation of the violence which they said has impeded years of peaceful co-existed.
“This meeting with the religious leaders of Christians and Islamic faith, local council chairmen and we, the stakeholders at the state level is to arrest the drift and to make the categorical statement that this unfortunate development has began and ended with the two local government area; it must not extend to the third,” Acting Governor Umar said.
He observed that lack of tact, gross disdain for dialogue and a quick disposition to engage in violent means to resolve differences as factors responsible for the crisis witnessed in places such as Wukari and Ibi.
He advised religious leaders to watch out for the aspect of the religions being wrongly taught to their adherents, adding that no religion condoles killing.
He also identified lack of job opportunities for the teeming youths as a contributory factor to occurrence of violence and assured that measures have been put in place to generate jobs for youths this year.
Meanwhile, the state police commissioner disclosed that the police have so far arrested 125 suspects in connection with the crisis, saying that after screening them, about 72 were found not to have been much involved to warrant prosecution while about 53 others who were found to have been deeply involved, will face prosecution.
“We recovered many exhibits such as guns, catridges, life ammunitions, cutlasses and assorted charms from some of the people arrested who were caught while breaking into shops, people’s houses and burning houses,” he added. With tight security measures put in place, it is now left to be seen how the efforts will end the violence and restore peace in the area.