By Wole Ayodele
Five persons were killed Saturday in the ancient town of Wukari in Taraba State while several others sustained varying degrees of injuries as Christian and Muslim religious adherents engaged themselves in violent and bloody clash.
Besides, hundreds of houses and business premises, including places of worship were razed down by the warring groups who engaged in a gun duel, thereby rendering thousands of people homeless and striped of their means of livehood.
The crisis, which erupted in the early hours of Saturday, THISDAY gathered, was ignited by an argument between some youths during an early morning football training session at a football pitch located in the town which later snowballed into a bloody clash following the killing of one of the youths in the course of the argument.
In the ensuing mayhem, dangerous weapons were freely used by the youths who later engaged each other in gun battle while residents were forced to flee their homes to take refuge in nearby bushes just as some had to flee to neighbouring communities.
“The crisis started as an argument between two youths at the football field and in the course of the argument, one of the youths was shot. In an attempt to retaliate the killing of the young man who is an adherent of one of the religions, it became a full blown war between Christians and Muslims who engaged themselves with dangerous weapons including guns,” an eyewitness who spoke to THISDAY on condition of anonymity said.
A victim of the crisis, Agyo Ado, whose family house was razed in the mayhem, told THISDAY in a telephone interview that no fewer than 40 persons were killed at different locations in the town though one of the members representing Wukari in the State House of Assembly, Hon. Daniel Ishaya Gani, told newsmen that five lives were lost to the crisis while properties worth billions of naira was destroyed by the warring groups.
He however disclosed that some of the injured victims, who were being treated at the General Hospital, Wukari and other health facilities in the town, were in critical conditions, saying medical personnel were trying their best to prevent more casualties.
“It is unfortunate that while the country and state governments are working round the clock to ensure peace, some few individuals are still taking laws into their hands but I am pleading with the warring groups to sheath their swords and embrace peace,” Gani, who is also the deputy majority leader and chairman, House Committee on Information, said.
Speaking on behalf of the State Police Commissioner, Ibrahim Maishanu, the State Police Public Relations Officer, Amos Olaoye, said several teams of heavily armed policemen and anti riot squad have been dispatched from different locations to the town to restore peace and normalcy. He said the police would conduct a thorough investigation into the remote and immediate cause of the crisis.
Meanwhile, a community leader in the town, Chief Mannaseh, has told THISDAY that thousands of residents of the town have fled to neighbouring Benue and Plateau States as well as nearby Local Government Areas, particularly Ibi, Donga, Takum and Gassol.
Efforts to speak with the chairman of the Local Government, Hon. Dan Azumi Agbu, proved abortive as his GMS line was unavailable though THISDAY gathered that he made spirited efforts to bring the situation under control , particularly by mobilising security agencies to the troubled town.
It would be recalled that a similar crisis between Christians and Muslims broke out in November last year at Ibi, less than 20 kilometres drive from Wukari in which over 30 lives were reportedly lost and properties worth billions of naira destroyed.
The state acting governor, Alhaji Garuba Umar, who took over the reins of power in the state a few days earlier following the crash of the governor declared a dusk to dawn curfew in the town which he later reviewed to 24 hours following the escalation of the crisis. The curfew in the town is still in force though it has been relaxed drastically due to return of normalcy to the town.