Roving armed gangsters of Tiv and Jukun ethnic origin have since April 1 2019 resumed hostilities in Wukari Local Government, Southern Taraba State.
The hostilities are ongoing with thousands of people displaced, property worth billions of Naira destroyed and an unspecified number of women, children and men killed.
The two ethnic groups are known to fight themselves on a regular basis since 1991. The causes for such fights are normally traced to political differences or claims and counter claims over farming land.
But the recent fight appears to be for neither political or land disagreement as a root cause.
The News Agency of Nigeria NAN quotes Mr. Jerry Luka, a witness to the crisis as saying that trouble started in Kente Village in the evening of April 1 when youths from both ethnic groups clashed over a misunderstanding.
“The misunderstanding led to the killing of two people in Kente and this was followed by the killing of two others around the General Hospital in Wukari.
“The argument started over cultural heritage issues between the two tribes which have festered for some time now,” he said.
Chairman of Wukari Local Government Council, Mr Daniel Adi, who confirmed the outbreak of the crisis, said trouble started on Monday when some Tiv kinsmen were prevented from bringing goods to Kente Market.
“One woman who defied their order and brought yams to the market for sale was molested; the action sparked reprisal.”
He said 16 people had been killed in the crisis and over five hundred others displaced.
“There’re still people that have not been accounted for,” Daniel said.
“They attacked my convoy when I visited the area, they burnt three cars in my convoy and went killing people and mounting roadblocks in the bush killing people.
“I have since reached out to the Chairman of Ukum Local Government in the neighbouring Benue and the Security Adviser to the Benue Governor and we are making efforts to stop the escalation of the crisis.
“I have visited the area where the crisis started with the Chairman of Ukum from Benue and we have all agreed to talk to our people to give peace a chance,” he said.
The chairman of Ukum Local Government council in Benue state, Hon Ibellogo Tyokyaa also confirmed the killing of some persons following a bloody communal clash between Tiv and Jukun Youths.
Another eye witness, Paul Tyona told newsmen that what started like a minor disagreement snowballed into a bloody civil strife which resulted into killings and setting ablaze of houses from both tribes.
Tyona said Jukun youths allegedly stormed a settlement called Atsenga and razed down over 2000 houses including 3000 tubers of Yams and personal belongings.
There are no exact figures of casualties but the Chairman of Wukari Local Government Council of Taraba, Mr Daniel Adi, has confirmed that 16 people were killed and several others are missing and injured in the ongoing clashes.
His figures may be very conservative as he may be talking only of those who are Jukun since he himself is Jukun and may not know how many Tiv have been killed.
In an interview with newsmen in Wukari on Sunday, Adi who called for calm, further disclosed that more than nine communities had so far been razed and displaced from the Kente ward of the affected area.
“As I am talking to you now, several households including Government Day Secondary School (GDSS) Kente, were burnt down by the attackers in the early hours of today.
“I made efforts to contact my counterpart in Ukum LGA in Benue to appeal to his people to lay down their arms and embrace peace,” Adi said.
He disclosed that the Wukari local council was footing the bills of several injured persons currently receiving treatment at the Wukari general hospital.
Meanwhile, Chief David Kente, a former APC governorship aspirant who hails from the area, has condemned the wanton destruction of lives and property.
He described the crisis as unfortunate, adding that the Tivs and Jukuns in Kente had co-existed peacefully for many years after their first clashes in 1991.
He appealed to both the Tivs and Jukuns to embrace peace and sheath their swords, promising that all those who lost their property to the current crisis on both sides of the borders would be assisted.
The Tiv and the Jukun who have been peaceful neighbours since time immemorial started fighting each other in 1976 when what used to be known as Wukari Federation of Benue Province and later Benue/Plateau State was excised from Benue and merged with some Provinces such as Adamawa, Muri and Sardauna to for the new State of Gongola. Since that action, the relationship between the two ethnic groups have strained with the Jukun insisting that all Tiv ethnic men, even those who are indigenes of Wukari must relocate to Benue.
The disagreements degenerated to the extent that by the time Taraba was created out of Gongola State in 1991, a full scale war between the Tiv and Jukun was already going on. These hostilities continued without let until the 2001 massacres in Zaki Biam by the Nigerian Army which drew national and international condemnation.
It is believed in some circles that General TY Danjuma, a Jukun man who was Minister of Defence at the time of the invasion ordered the massacres of Tiv tribesmen to teach the Tiv a lesson. The general has consistently denied the accusation.
Meanwhile the Benue state governor, Samuel Ortom, who rejoices in his self-awarded title of “Defender of Benue Valley” has sued for peace and mutual understanding among the Jukun and Tiv people living on the border communities of Benue and Taraba states following on going crisis.
Ortom, who sympathised with the victims of the crisis, however condemned the conflict which led to loss of lives and destruction of property as well as rendered many people homeless.