At least seven persons were feared dead Tuesday after rampaging youth groups clashed in Wukari, Taraba State, residents said.
Residents said gunfire erupted in the early hours of the day, shattering a fragile peace that has kept the troubled town calm for more than a month.
Details of the events were varied. The Taraba State Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Joseph Kwaji, confirmed the attacks but did not give details and the number of casualties.
“I can confirm that there was crisis in Wukari during the early hours of the day. But the situation has been brought under control by security operatives who swung into action immediately we got report of what was happening,” Mr. Kwaji told PREMIUM TIMES.
He said the police had yet to establish the cause of the shooting.
But a source said the violence started when a vehicle approaching Wukari through Takum Road at about 5.30 am refused to stop at a police checkpoint.
“While the police were trying to check the vehicle, it zoomed off with some young men inside it and sped towards the city centre,” he said.
He said the police gave chase and fired at the fleeing vehicle before the car drove into a building near the Central Mosque.
“We learnt the owners of the compound prevented the police from entering the premises and an exchange of gunfire ensued between the police and youth guarding the area,” the source said.
He said three young men believed to have been occupants of the car were killed before others trooped out the town torching homes in reprisal attacks.
The rampage was quelled by soldiers and policemen.
He said the injured were taken to Gongolo Hospital for treatment, while seven bodies had been recovered from the scene.
Another resident told PREMIUM TIMES that on hearing the early morning gunshots, Christian and Muslim youth barricaded their strongholds and started shooting too.
The youth later mobilised and torched homes, he said.
The youth leader of the Muslim Community, Sani Ismaila, told PREMIUM TIMES that there was sustained gunfire around the town early Tuesday.
“There is trouble in Wukari. I don’t know what is happening but there has been shooting right from 5.am. There is shooting all over the place and I don’t know where they came from,” Mr. Ismaila said.
Taraba State has been hit by a wave of deadly violence for months. The fighting have been mainly ethno-religious, between Christians and Muslims, and between Jukun and Hausa/Fulani.
One of the state’s major populations, Jukun, consider Wukari as their ancient homeland having occupied the area, south of the River Benue basin, since the 17th century.
But other ethnic groups including the Tiv and Hausa have been present in the area for over 200 years.