Over 32 persons are feared killed following attacks by unknown gunmen on Ibi and Wukari Local Government Areas of Taraba State.
The attacks came despite efforts by the state government to restore peace to some of the troubled areas of the state.
A source in Wukari who would not be named for security reasons, told PREMIUM TIMES that heavily armed insurgents launched simultaneous attacks on Sundi and Gidin Waya communities in Wukari and Ibi Local Government Areas.
He said the attacks were carried out from 6.am on Sunday just as people were getting up and preparing for Sunday service.
During the attacks, he said the insurgents killed 25 persons in the Wukari community while seven were killed in Gidin Waya in Ibi.
“The attacks started at about 6. am just as people were waking up and preparing for church service. In Sundi, the gunmen came in a large number and surrounded the community and started shooting at people indiscriminately,” said the source.
“A lot of people were killed while trying to escape to safety. It seems the attacks were planned because just as the gunmen were raining bullets on Sundi community, Gidin Waya community was also under heavy gunfire.”
Another source insisted that the gunmen who unleashed terror on Sundi and Gidin Waya communities are camped in Bantaji, a community in Wukari Local Government Area.
He said, “We received information that Wukari will be attacked if anybody in the area declares for the governorship of the state.
“We also learnt that some Fulani fighters have been brought to Bantaji but we thought it was one of the rumours that have been going round.
“It was surprising to wake up this morning to hear heavy gunshots. Before our youths could mobilise and move in to defend the community, the attackers had done huge damage and withdrawn.”
He said the attacks might have been carried out to stop the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, from registering prospective voters, especially some of the displaced persons taking refuge in Wukari and Ibi.
Speaking on the two incidents, the Special Adviser on Media to the Acting Governor, Aaron Artimas, confirmed the killings but denied they have political undertones.
Mr. Artimas blamed the crisis on criminals who he said crossed into the state from Benue and Plateau states, adding that his principal has no hand in it.
He said, “I am aware that there are insurgents around that area. When such incidents happen, it is always very difficult to track them down and it takes time for healing the healing process to take place after any crisis.
“That area has been the theater of insurgency in the state. Ibi is located on the border with Benue State were the crisis spilled over to Taraba State, therefore, it is most likely that such crisis are happening there.
“There’s also a place in Ibi which shares a border with Plateau State and which is surrounded by forests and highly inaccessible. A lot of criminals have taken over the area and occasionally crossed from the forests and attack innocent people in communities around the area.”
Mr. Artimas said the early morning attacks might have not been caused by a disagreement between communities but by criminal activities who take advantage of the difficult terrain in the area.
When informed of the speculation that the attack might have been carried out to stop one David Kente, a gubernatorial aspirant from Wukari, from challenging the acting governor, he said, “It is not true and I want to assure you that David Kente’s declaration has nothing to do with the insurgency in the area.”
As an indigene of Wukari, he said Mr. Kente would not promote the killings, noting that the aspirant does not pose any threat to Mr. Umar’s ambition to contest the governorship of the state.
“I strongly believe that David Kente is not a threat to the acting governor’s ambition to contest election or anybody else. I want you to also note that David Kente’s younger brother is the speaker of the Taraba State House of Assembly.
“We are not at war or in any disagreement with David Kente’s campaign organisation and we even believe that at the appropriate time, he will be in a position to join us.
“We have nothing against him and he has nothing against us, therefore, anything that is happening has absolutely nothing to do with politics.”
He argued that since there was no crisis during Mr. Kente’s declaration in Jalingo, there was no basis for anybody to link the present one to politics.
When contacted, the Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Taraba State command, Joseph Kwaji, confirmed the killings to PREMIUM TIMES but said only nine persons where affected.
Mr. Kwaji said unknown gunmen attacked the two villages and killed a total of nine people while also burning down several houses.
“I can confirm that there were fighting in Sundi and Gidin Waya communities in Wukari and Ibi Local Government Areas, respectively. Nine persons were killed in all, two from Gidin Waya and seven from Sundi village,” Mr. Kwaji said.
The police spokesperson said it was not possible to identify the killers because before security operatives could arrive at the affected villages, the gunmen had fled.