Several people were killed early this month in a renewed conflict between Jukun and Tiv ethnic groups in villages along Wukari Kwatan Sule in Wukari LGA of Taraba State. Many houses were burnt while several persons from both sides were injured.
It later spread to Benue where at least 10 people were killed in a fresh attack on Vaase village in Ukum LGA. The community is at the borders between Benue and Taraba. The two tribes have always been at each other’s throats, fighting mostly over farm lands and politics for the past 70 years, without a permanent solution.
Cause of latest conflict
Though many versions of the root cause abound, the latest clashes between the two groups according Daily Trust findings, started over a misunderstanding between Tiv and Jukun youths in Kente town in Wukari Local Government Area on Monday, April 2. The Jukun claimed that some Tiv youths molested a Jukun woman who defied an order allegedly given by the Tiv that no one should bring goods to the Kente market for sale. It was gathered that the Jukun youth’s reaction led to a clash where two persons were killed on the spot. From there, the crisis quickly spread to surrounding villages.
It was further gathered that both sides were fully armed with standing militias. The crisis resulted in a full scale confrontation and for hours, several houses including the Government Day Secondary School, Kente were set ablaze and other property including farm produce and animals were looted, an account corroborated by the Chairman of Wukari Local Government Area, Mr Daniel Adi, who said 10 persons were killed while 10 communities were burnt.
Militias from both sides later resorted to guerilla warfare, attacking and quickly dashing into the bush. Daily Trust further gathered that about 10 communities in Kente ward were completely burnt down and the road from Wukari to Kwatan Sule in Benue State was blocked by militias from both sides, unleashing terror on innocent travelers. The area close to Benue State has both Jukuns and Tivs, and Tivs living in the villages around Wukari were forced to cross into Benue.
It is very difficult to have an accurate casualty figure from the recent battles, according to our correspondent. The quick deployment of security personnel, it was gathered, helped reduce the casualty on both sides, but sources from the affected areas said about 20 people were killed while several persons from both sides were injured.
A prominent member of Kente community, Chief David Kente, said it was unfortunate for the two ethnic groups who had been living peacefully, to take arms against each other.
He said since the end of the Tiv/Jukun crisis of 1991, the two groups had been relating peacefully and expressed dismay over the latest crisis.
Chief Kente said many persons displaced by the crisis were in dire need of relief materials and medication. He called on the National Emergency management Agency and Taraba State government to come the aid of the victims.
The National Chairman of Jukun Youths, Comrade Zando Hoku, said in an interview with our reporter that the latest crisis was over a land dispute. He said Tivs from Benue State usually came to farm in Jukun land and would always want to take over the land.
Zando said the Jukuns would always want to maintain peace with their neigbours but would not allow annexation of their land.
The senator representing Taraba Southern Senatorial Zone, Mr. Emmanuel Bwacha, also expressed serious concern over the crisis, but added that it was not a full scale war between the two ethnic groups as before. He accused criminal elements from both sides of causing the misunderstanding in order to steal people’s property.
A Tiv leader, Mr David Oche, dismissed claims that the crisis was caused by some Tiv youths who molested a Jukun woman. Rather, he said the crisis had a political undertone, adding that it had been happening between the two sides since the 1950s, and was politically motivated. He said the Jukuns always felt threatened by the population of Tivs in Taraba and therefore always found a reason to ignite crisis between them.
He urged Jukun elders and the Taraba State government to call to order, Jukuns who are killing Tivs and looting their property. He stated that over 20,000 Tivs in Wukari were forced to cross into Benue as refugees.
According to Mr. Oche, all Tivs around Wukari – Ibbi road have fled and their houses were vandalized while their property was looted. The Tiv leader also alleged that Jukuns hired mercenaries who attacked a Tiv community at Bisai, killing several Tivs.
According to him, since the beginning of the crisis, Jukuns made several attempts to hire people to join them in fighting Tivs.
The police spokesman in Taraba State, DSP David Misal, said normalcy had however returned to the area, adding that security agents were working to douse tension with a 24-hour patrol.
Meanwhile, members of the Wukari traditional council, Tiv elders, top security officers and officials of the state government have met in Wukari to find lasting solution to the crisis. The police spokesman said he was not aware of any arrest in connection to the clashes yet, but that the police were in the affected areas to ensure peace and order.