It began as a minor disagreement at a
telephone kiosk Saturday, June 14. But by
Sunday, that row triggered one of the
fiercest fighting in Wukari, Taraba State, in
Nigeria’s restive northeast.
Residents took up arms against one another,
setting Churches and Mosques ablaze, and
destroying homes and shops in a conflict
not directly linked to the extremist sect
Boko Haram, but to a deadly animosity
between Christians and Muslims.
For no other offence than professing either
faith, at least 100 people were killed that
day, residents said. Police said official
figure stood at 11 deaths.
But both sides agreed that more than a
thousand homes were destroyed.
“We lost so many members in my church
that we were going for burials every day,”
said Dante Angyu, Chairman, Jukun
Development Association of Nigeria, Wukari
Branch. “At a point, the burials were so
many that some of us who are elders had to
conduct them because our pastors were
seriously overworked. At that time, we had
more than four corpses to bury in a day
and so we had to assist the pastors.”
It was not only the Christians who had
corpses to bury; the Muslims also had a fair
share of it.
Umar Sarki, Auditor, Muslim Council of
Nigeria, Wukari, and Deputy Chief Imam of
Izala Central Mosque, said over 30 Moslems
were killed on June 15.
“Others who were killed after the crisis
were people who were caught while trying
to escape to safety. The killings took place
around the Yam Market and those people
were attacked three days after the crisis. We
reported the matter to the state
government,” he said.
Wukari is home to 241,546 people,
according to 2006 estimates. Its fertile land,
beautiful terrain made more alluring by the
Donga River and the Benue River, makes
the town a top destination for farmers.
But in recent years, Wukari has made more
news for bloody clashes than its
Communal and ethno-religious conflicts
involving Jukun, the majority population
there, and Tiv and Fulani, have torn the
town apart and have killed hundreds in the
Most clashes are fuelled, if not instigated,
by religious affiliations. In cases narrated
by survivors of past attacks, relatives have
turned against relatives and friends have
attacked friends who profess different faiths.
The June clash started on a Saturday after a
youth who bought a phone recharge card
accused the seller of withholding his
change. The two men, being Jukun, differed
only by religion.
PREMIUM TIMES could not obtain the name
of the card buyer, said to be a Christian.
The seller, Hussein Hassan, is a Muslim.
The argument soon drew the attention of
other youth in the area, who, also divided
along religious lines, took sides with either
the buyer or the seller.
After protracted war of words, and
exchange of religious slurs, witnesses said
some elders intervened and the enraged
youth dispersed to their homes.
But by about 6a.m. the next day, Sunday,
Mr. Hassan’s telephone kiosk had
disappeared, replaced by charred wood and
zinc, and burnt phone chargers.
As residents of the area stopped by at the
scene, another argument ensued with some
accusing the Christian youth for the attack,
and others saying the incident was staged
What seemed like a rapprochement came
when some well-meaning indigenes of the
area accepted to compensate Mr. Hassan for
his losses, while he too agreed to forgo his
With the settlement, the crowd dispersed,
residents of Wukari and security officials
told a PREMIUM TIMES reporter who spent
weeks in the town investigating recurring
crises in the area.
But barely an hour later, gunfire rang out
from the fringes of the town and chants of
war songs rent the air as heavily armed
men in their hundreds marched on Wukari,
killing residents and burning their worship
places, homes and shops, those interviewed
As the gunmen surged towards the centre of
the town, Christian and Muslim militia
sprang to defend their domains, residents
Unlike other clashes between Jukun and Tiv,
or Tiv against Fulani, both sides in the June
clashes were mostly Jukun, separated only
Witnesses, government officials and the
police paint a disheartening picture of the
fighting that day, all saying it was the
worst the town has witnessed in recent
The fighting started when many
worshippers were already in churches.
Some who attempted to run home were
either shot directly or hit by stray bullets.
As some of the attackers targeted Christian
domains, armed Christian youth were also
wreaking havoc in areas inhabited largely
Both sides fought on the streets and several
When police reinforcement, backed up by
soldiers and armed operatives of the
Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps,
broke through the fighting line and sent the
combatants scampering, dozens of bodies
littered the streets and over 2,000 houses
were burnt, witnesses said.
Joseph Kwali, the Taraba State Police Public
Relations Officer, said only 11 people were
killed while 1,398 houses were destroyed.
The Chief Press Secretary to the former
Taraba State Acting Governor, Kefas Sule,
said the fighting was the deadliest in the
history of Wukari.
“I saw where buildings were brought down
and the foundations dug out in Wukari,” he
said. “I agree that the destruction was of a
Cruelty in God’s name
Wukari has a long history of ethno-
religious tension which occasionally results
In 2010, a mosque built by a police officer
inside the Ibi Road Police station was
demolished by angry youth who protested
against its location. In reprisal, many more
mosques and churches were burnt and
According to residents, the government has
unwittingly fuelled the crises and tension by
failing to bring to justice those responsible
for past attacks.
Often, that tension has seen the barest of
disagreements between locals of opposite
faiths result in deadly clashes.
After the row at the telephone booth June
14, Shittu Balla, a brother to the recharge
card seller, Mr. Hassan, said his family
never anticipated any more trouble.
At the site of the burnt phone booth, Mr.
Balla told PREMIUM TIMES his family was
making attempts to uncover the arsonist
when fighting started and they fled leaving
behind all they had.
When they returned weeks later, the family
met an empty land where their home once
The Chairman of the Muslim Youth Council,
Wukari, Sani Ismaila, recalled that he was
at home when Mr. Hassan came to report
about his burnt phone booth.
To stave off a possible confrontation, Mr.
Ismaila suggested the matter be reported to
the police. As they left for the divisional
police station, the fighting was already
In interviews, some residents suggested the
disagreement between Mr. Hassan and his
customer may have been a smokescreen for
a planned onslaught on the town.
The Deputy Chief Imam of Izala Central
Mosque, Wukari, Mr. Sarki, said the
burning must have been done by a
Christian. He said those who instigated the
fight had a hidden agenda. “If not, why did
they go about burning churches, mosques
and houses,” Mr. Sarki asked.
Some Christian leaders in the area agreed
the phone booth fire may have been a
cover-up to trigger a crisis. But they argued
that no provocation justifies the scale of
destruction Wukari witnessed that day.
Agabison Williams, the resident pastor of
Christian Reformed Church of Nigeria,
CRCN, and Chairman of the Christian
Association of Nigeria, CAN, Wukari
chapter, recalled how several members of
his Church were killed that day.
Mr. Williams said worship service had
barely begun when worshippers heard
heavy gunshots and war cry from a
“When the shooting came too close, we
stopped the service and opened the backdoor
for people who were trapped in the church
to run out,” he narrated.
“In the course of trying to flee to safety,
some were shot and others were brought
down by stray bullets. When the killing
became too much, the youths from the town
also mobilised to defend their areas from
the invaders,” he said.
While police said 11 people were killed, the
clergyman said the dead surpassed 100.
More than one month after the fighting,
PREMIUM TIMES found 16 obituary posters
on the notice board of the CRCN, Gu Puje
Overall, Mr. Williams said over 30
members of his church were killed.
Apart from the destruction of Wukari town,
fighters also sacked several villages,
including Akwana, Fyayi, Ikwe, Ndo-Yaku,
Kata-Iko, Nayi Nawa, Tudun Wada and
Nwokyon. In Ndo-Yaku alone, PREMIUM
TIMES learnt 29 people were killed.
Persistent crises have helped shut down
Wukari. After the June fighting, schools
were closed for months, while banks
refused to open for business.
The town long described as the Land of
Opportunity, no longer has opportunity, the
Chairman of Jukun Development Association
of Nigeria, Wukari branch, Mr. Angyu, said
“It was not a joke; it was the worst crisis
we have ever had,” Mr. Angyu said. “If you
go round the town you will see the level of
destruction. We are not still safe months
after the crisis because there are rumours
that we may come under attack at any
He said indigenes of the area, Christians
and Muslims alike, have continued to flee to
neighbouring states to seek refuge.
On why some residents still hang on even
with renewed threat of attacks, Mr. Angyu
replied, “We are the owners of Wukari and
we don’t have any other place to run to.
We will live and die here come what may.”
Shocking tales from survivors
There is hardly a family in Wukari not
directly affected by the fighting of June 15.
Awulo Tanko, who said he was born and
raised in the town by Jukun parents, said he
grew up in the Christian dominated part of
the town until he converted to Islam.
Long after he became a Muslim, he said his
brothers who remained Christians still
loved and accepted him.
Mr. Tanko however recounted how his
Christian relations invaded his home and
shot his father before setting the house
ablaze, after he fled with his wife and
“When the fighting started,” he said, “I took
my wife and children to a neighbouring
town. When I came back, I saw many dead
bodies on the street. I got home to find my
father dead in the house. He was shot and
burnt with everything we had.”
Another resident, Haruna Ismaila, said two
of his brothers were killed by their
Christian neighbours, who also burned
his house and household items.
A staff of the Federal Road Safety
Commission, FRSC, Mr. Ismaila said, “We
have been living together peacefully until in
recent time. During the June 15 crisis, two
of my brothers were killed and my house
burnt down. It was terrible. I can’t explain
how I escape. It was just the hand of God.”
A Clerk with the Chief Magistrate Court,
Wukari, Suleiman Usman, said although he
is a Muslim, he has lived peacefully for
years with some of his biological brothers
who are Christians.
“I think the politicians are the ones
polluting our minds against each other. Our
relationship with our Christian brothers has
changed badly. I lost my house during the
crisis and that is why I relocated my family
Thirty two-year-old Justina Timothy said
her husband was shot by Muslim fighters
who attempted to overrun the CRCN, Gu
Puje, branch. Mrs. Timothy’s husband
served in the church’s security team.
“My husband was at home that Sunday
morning while I was making breakfast.
Suddenly, we started hearing gunshots. My
children argued it was firecrackers but my
neighbour insisted it was gunshots.
“I immediately ran inside and told my
husband who was still sleeping. Just then,
his colleagues called him on the phone and
asked him to come to the church. He
quickly took his bath and rushed out to the
church. That was the last time I saw him
alive,” she said.
PREMIUMT TIMES saw scores of residents
leaving the town with few belongings they
could salvage from the ruins of religious
The Chairman of the Taraba State Peace
Initiative, Charles Yohana, said the Wukari
crisis was between Christians and Muslims,b
and should not be seen as an inter-ethnic
“The crisis in Wukari is between two
brothers. It is not between the Jukun and
Hausa/Fulani but between Jukun Christians
and Moslems,” he said.
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