Acting Governor Garba Umar of Taraba state has a lot of worrying to do, as it is, about his unfit boss, Danbaba Suntai, still occupying the governor’s official residence or Government House in Jalingo, preventing him from exercising full executive powers. Now, four local government areas in the southern senatorial district of the state are exploding in sectarian and ethnic violence and he is being blamed for stoking the fire to prevent a power shift in 2015.
As we learnt, it all started on April 15, when dead bodies, victims of a clash in a small Jukun village, were driven into Wukari, the headquarters of Wukari local government area, provoking a reprisal against their Hausa-speaking neighbours. Within hours the violence had spread to surrounding villages and neighbouringIbi local government area.
The following day, Tuesday, the police had reported “at least” 24 persons killed. This week, the fatalities have risen to over 50, including the elder brother of a member of the state House of Assembly, Mr. IshayaGani. “Reports reaching me,” he told local journalists in Wukari, “indicate a lot of people have been killed. I cannot ascertain the number at the moment. My elder brother was killed and my house completely burnt.”
Troops initially drafted to the area from nearby Takum and Serti-Garuwahad been unable to contain the situation and under pressure Umar had to request for additional 50 soldiers from Adamawa state who arrived only Tuesday. That reinforcement seemed to have worked as Defence Headquarters in Abuja, in a statement on Wednesday, said “14 armed men” have been arrested and that 25 houses were razed in Wukari alone and 200 people displaced. A building where arms were being made was found and “4 local machine guns and a sub-machine gun…” were seized.
Relations between the Jukun and Hausa communities in Wukari have seen occasional violent flare-ups over time, more so as the two profess different religions – the former predominantly Christian and the latter wholly Muslim. However, the politics of power succession has fuelled tensions. Taraba South Senatorial District, made up of Wukari, Ibi, Donga, Takum and Ussa local government areas, has not produced a governor since the creation of the state in 1991. It believes 2015 is its turn to produce one, but suspects Acting Governor Umar is standing in the way.
A group calling itself Southern Taraba Forum for a Just Society, has linked Umar with the ongoing violence in the south, citing as evidence his alleged initial reluctance to request for more troops to stop the violence from spreading beyond Wukari. However, his media spokesman, Mr. Kefas Sule, has denied this, saying reinforcement was late in coming because troops were already overstretched.
It is our fear that the situation will get messier as we count down to the 2015 polls, and with alleged Fulani herders moving across the middle belt region.
A short term solution will seem to more troops development to the conflict zone to separate the warring parties, but the prospect of long lasting peace lies in a sustained confidence building process that includes some political concession to the south.