No fewer than 32 people were killed yesterday in renewed violence in the ethno-religious crisis gripping Wukari local government area of Taraba state.
Besides, several houses and other property worth millions of naira were destroyed in the violence, which spread to neighbouring towns and villages, including a nearby local government area.
The crisis, several eyewitnesses told our correspondents, started at about 6.30am when youths suspected to be Christians belonging to the Jukun tribe razed down two shops near a church at Angwan Hausa, a community predominantly occupied by Hausa Muslims.
The shops owners, said to be owned by two Hausa youth, mobilized others to set the church and other properties ablaze.
“There was an argument between some boys over charging of phones; one thing lead to another and two shops were set ablaze. The next thing we heard was gunshots and several houses were set ablaze,” an eyewitness said.
The youth leader of the Hausa/Fulani in Wukari, Mallam Audu Ali, in an interview with the Hausa segment of the BBC, said at least 30 Hausa/Fulani Muslims lost their lives.
On his part, the youth leader of the Jukun in Wukari, Mr. Zando Hoku, agreed that the burning of the shops was the cause of the violence, but refuted claims that his tribesmen had anything to do with it.
Curiously, both sides accused soldiers of involvement in killing of their own people.
The crisis, which gripped Wukari town, also spread to neighbouring Ibi town, nearly 60 kilometres away.
The riot also led to the disruption of traffic along the busy Jalingo- Katsina Ala road linking the South-eastern part of the country with the North-east as travellers were not allowed to access to the road.
Several security operatives however sustained injuries in the gun battle that lasted for several hours.
Residents who spoke with our correspondent said many people were preparing to leave the area.
“We are living in fear; we are not safe in Wukari. We can’t differentiate between original and fake army, so we don’t know the real enemy. I can’t count the dead bodies I saw but its more than 12”, said another witness.
ASP Joseph Kwaji confirmed that four corpses have been recovered from the riot scene, but could not ascertain the exact number of casualties as at press time.
He said the situation has been put under control. “Our men and officers of the Nigerian Army have moved into the community and putting things in order”, he said.
Kwaji appealed to the warring parties to lay down their arms and embrace peace, for meaningful development in their area.
He appealed to the people to always report suspicious persons to law enforcement agents for immediate action.
However, the Taraba state government declared a dawn-to-dusk curfew while condemning the crisis, calling on the youths in region to shun any form of violence.
Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the Taraba acting governor, Garba Umar, Aaron Artimas, who spoke to one of our correspondents, said the government wants peace in all part of the state, to fast track developmental projects of the present administration.
“There won’t be development if there is no peace; we want peace. The acting governor is doing everything to ensure peace returns to Southern Taraba. He recently facilitated a peace pact that was signed by all parties at the Aku-Uka’s (Wukari paramount ruler’s) Palace, and he has empowered the security agencies, and is meeting with all stakeholders to ensure lasting peace in the region”, the governor’s spokesman said.
It would be recalled that seven persons lost their lives last week in clashes between farmers and cattle grazers in Ananom, Donga local government area of the state.
The crisis in Wukari has been on-going since April when unknown gunmen laid siege on the town, killing over 50 residents, although the Taraba state police command put the figure at seven.
Days after, the gunmen, armed with sophisticated weapons defied the dusk-to-dawn curfew and attacked Gidan Aku community on the outskirts of Wukari, again killing no fewer than 50 persons and injuring many others.
Acting Governor Umar, had inaugurated a judicial commission of inquiry to probe the crises in both Wukari and Ibi.
Meanwhile, tragedy has again struck rural communities in Borno state as suspected Boko Haram insurgents yesterday morning stormed a local market and killed 15 persons in a village in Askira Uba local government area of the state.
Askira Uba shares boundaries with Biu, Chibok, Gwoza and Hawul which recently witnessed series of deadly attacks.
Residents said the incident occurred around 11am when dozens of heavily armed insurgents invaded a weekly market in Daku village, Askira Uba local government area of the state and fired sporadic shots into the crowd, killing 15 traders on the spot.
One of the residents, Malam Shettima Kale, told newsmen that several persons were equally wounded, even as the attackers burnt hundreds of shops, houses and vehicles during the onslaught which lasted for over two hours.
Kale said over 30 militants, wielding sophisticated weapons and explosive devices drove into the town in five pick-up vehicles and motorcycles, before unleashing terror on the villagers.
He said the entire area was deserted as the residents fled into the bush, while others escaped to the neighbouring villages. The resident explained that the invaders carted away hundreds of bags of assorted food items, before fleeing the scene.