OPINION: That Peace May Reign In Wukari

‎On the night of Sunday, November 8, 2015, the entire people of Wukari, who had never had any real sleep for the past four years anyway, were woken up to yet another signal of war. It was the sporadic sounds of ear-shattering gunfire from different sections of the once peaceful town. It was a sound the people had become all too-familiar with. By the early hours of Sunday morning, what was a sign became a reality. The theatre was, again, the Muslim section of the already traumatized town. By the time the obvious sounds of death were silenced following the eventual intervention of the military, about one hundred and fifty people (conservative estimate) had been killed on both sides: Hausa/Muslim and Jukun/Traditionalist/Christian. About fifty houses and shops, all located in the Muslim section of the once heterogeneous community, had been razed to the ground. This was only the latest of several senseless attacks, killings, maiming and mutual destruction on the otherwise peaceful people of the ancient town. Between 2010 and 2015, about 25 of such wars had been fought, each following unprovoked attacks on the Muslim population. Each had resulted in heavy casualties and enormous destruction on both sides. The conservative estimate is 70 dead, over 4000 residential and commercial houses completely demolished, with them goods worth hundreds of millions of naira. Indeed, the total cost of reconstruction and rehabilitation is put at over five billion naira. Today, Wukari, a once rapidly growing town and the largest and most advanced town in Taraba State (some will say even in the defunct Gongola State) lies in ruins, a forbidding ghost of its former glorious self. Its people, once the happiest and most self-assured, are today strangers in distant lands, living in pathetic conditions occasioned by abject poverty and hopelessness. The misery affects both sides in these senseless wars. No one is happy, but everyone is helpless. An iron wall now divides a once united and harmonious society. No one dares to cross the line to the other side. It is something like the North and South Koreas, only in this case there is no totalitarian government on either side to force separation. What exists is worse. A video clip has gone viral of a Jukun non-Muslim girl who dared to cross the line. It shows a completely naked girl, her head partially shaved, undergoing harsh interrogation and severe torture. Her offence? She had the foolhardiness to befriend a Muslim boy. She was made to swear by her tormentors-in-chief never to cross into the Muslim section to visit her boyfriend again, which she gladly did, only for the torture to continue. This is a land in which nearly half the population is a product of inter-marriages between Hausa/Muslims and Jukun-Christian-traditionalists. Indeed, significant population of the Jukun is Muslim. This includes more than half of the Aku Uka’s daughters and some male children. The tragedy of the strange times we are in today is that these Jukun Muslims are virtually all refugees in strange lands, with no home to return to in their ancestral land. In almost equal measure, hundreds of non-Muslim Jukuns are now taking refuge in Wukari, away from their villages. To the majority of Wukari people, a situation in which brothers take up arms against brothers is a strange phenomenon. It’s not just unheard of, it’s a taboo. Our relationship had never been defined by war or religious bigotry. It was a relationship of not just shared social engagements but also shared religious ceremonies. The Muslim Sallah festivals and Christmas were occasions of merriment for all, not just for “us” or “them” alone. Today, it’s ‘us’ versus ‘them’. How sad!
No one can accurately put a finger on the cause of this unfortunate turn of events. There are incoherent and untenable claims of “strangers” taking over “our” land. For more than two centuries the people of Wukari (Hausa/Jukun, Muslim/Traditionalists/Christians,) had co-existed peacefully. The early Jukun had maintained their traditional religion while the early Hausa/Muslims, were contented with their role as ‘spiritualists’. There was seldom any friction as none got in the way of the other. All the people, irrespective of ethnicity or religion, regard the Aku Uka as their paramount ruler and are absolutely loyal to the throne.
So, all the ingredients for peaceful co-existence exist in Wukari. Why then the seemingly endless animosities? It must be said that the situation persists because neither the perpetrators of the crisis nor their sponsors have ever been punished. The local militias have elevated themselves above the law and unleash violence at will, confident that powerful figures in the community will always get them off the hook. Successive government at the State level have tried, and failed, to bring lasting peace to Wukari. Efforts by the present administration under Arch. Darius Ishaku, including peace meetings convened and presided over by the governor himself at Jalingo and Wukari, as well as repeated calls by the governor: “Give me peace and I will give you development”, have fallen on deaf ears. It is clear that something more drastic and urgent needs to be done. This has to involve the collaborative efforts of all the stakeholders in the peace enterprise in Wukari: the federal and state governments as well as elders of the town who have so far refused to condemn the endless violence due to the atmosphere of fear created by the militias. The people of Wukari are devastated and tired of these endless crises. We want complete peace to return to enable us pursue our legitimate means of livelihood. We don’t want our misery to continue. Please end it now. Saany Sule Sale is the President, Wukari Federation Muslim Ummah 

-Daily Trust