Open Letter to Nigerians by Wukari Muslims

On Monday, August 16, 2010, we had cause to address you, fellow Nigerians, through a pieced entitled “Open letter to the President Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Federal Republic of Nigeria, on the incessant killings of Muslims by Jukun Christians in Wukari, Wukari LGA, Taraba State”. The crisis under reference was provoked by the unwarranted destruction of Masjid (Mosque) built by Muslims, within the premises of Wukari Area Police Command.

As if that was not enough, several bands of heavily armed Jukun Christians went to town, attacking Muslims and destroying their properties in different parts of the town. By the time the mayhem was brought under control by a combined team of army and police personnel, the toll on the Muslim side was saven dead (three of whom were innocent commuters passing through the town). Twenty three wounded, Eighteen Masjids and Thirteen houses completely destroyed.

Our “Open Letter” referred to above was meant to draw attention to similar instances of Jukun Christians Islamophobia/xenophobia, with the hope that the perpetrators and sponsors of such irrational acts would be prevailed upon to sheath their swords for good. Unfortunately, the event of February 23, 2013, has completely dashed our hope.

The ethno religious pogrom of 23rd February remains today a sad reminder of how deep-seated hate. Intolerance, irrationality, xenophobia and Islamophobia in the affairs of man could destroy the very basis of mutual co-existence, societal fabric and humanity itself. If certainly destroyed about three quarters of the once boisterous and prosperous Wukari town. To all rational human beings, this should be an opportunity for proper introspection, contemplation and reflection. Sadly, this appears to be lost on a section of the active participants, who would rather continue to stoke the embers of blind hate in their irrational pursuit of ethno-religious cleansing in Wukari. And so, they are busy continuing the unfinished mission by other means, through vile propaganda. In the space of four days and barely two weeks since the unfortunate event, they caused to be published in some national dailies, at great expense, four different articles, all aimed at turning the truth on its head.

First, was a story in Vanguard of Friday, March 8th 2013, entitled “Jukun Indigenes Appeal to Jonanthan, IGP Over Attacks”. In a classic case of villain-turn victim, the story quoted one Mr. Bako Benjamin, President, Jukun Development Association (JDA), appealing to President Goodluck Jonathan and the Inspector General of Police to “protect the people of Wukari from some land grabbers who are bent on wiping out the Jukuns”. The story was basically an attack on the Acting Governor of Taraba State, Alh. Garba Umar, and it betrayed the Islamophobic tendency among a section of the Christian elite in the state against a Muslim Governor. The story quotes the JDA President as decrying what he calls “the humiliation and non-challant (sic) attitude of the state Ag. Governor, Alh. Garba Umar, and the Chairman of Ibi Local Government Area (sic). Alh. Isiaka Adamu, toward (sic) their (Jukun) plight”. Pray, what has the former Chairman of Ibi LGA got to do with the event occurred in Wukari? However, JDA is not done yet. “This incident and several other attacks against our people happened within the few months of absence of Govt. Danbaba Suntai”. Here the picture becomes clearer. He continues: “We reject any commission of inquiry that will be set up the Ag. Governor as we no longer trust his judgement. Rather, the Federal Government should set up a high-powered Commission of inquiry ….. to address the sudden (our emphasis) appearance of religious tension in Jukunland (?) and Taraba State in general”.

Since the President of JDA, ensconced in his blissful comfort in far-away Lagos is obviously ignorant of what is happening back home, let us wean him from his induced innocence.

First, the February 13 crisis was not a “sudden appearance of religious tension” in Wukari. Consider the following instances.

  • On Monday, 3rd April, 1989, the Chairman of Wukari LGA, Alh. Danladi Shehu, a Muslim, was beaten to a state of coma and left for dead. Reason? They could not stand a Muslim being Chairman of the LGA.
  • On 31st December, 1991, Alhaji Sale Zaria, a local contractor, was brutally murdered by them and his corpse set ablaze inside his car on the outskirts of Wukari, on his way back from a business trip in Yola. Reason? They could not stand having a Muslim being a successful businessman in Wukari.
  • Sometime in 1995, a Masjid (Mosque) built by Muslims within the LGA secretariat, with the express permission of the Chairman and his Council, was demolished by them.
  • In early 2000, a Masjid at the premises of Federal Road Safety Commission, Wukari was pulled down by them, and they followed this up with the killing and destruction/looting of properties of Muslims in parts of the town.
  • In 2001, a Masjid built at the Wukari General Hospital by NYSC members was destroyed by them.
  • On October 17, 2005, an argument between a royal son and some Muslim youths over the right of way, led to the killing of the Muslim, “Muhammad Saidu Dama”, and the destruction of his family house as well as the properties of some Muslims. A committee set up by the Aku-Uka on the issue is yet to commence sitting, and the murderer has been living happily ever after.
  • On 13th July, 2010, a Masjid built at the Police Area Command, Wukari was demolished by them, and to date, no one has been apprehended, tried and punished for that crime, and the subsequent mayhem.

In the face of all these and others not mentioned here, how can we talk of “sudden appearance of religious tension” in Wukari under a Muslim Acting Governor?

Besides, Muslims have not been the only victims of their xenophobic tendencies. The Tiv, Fulani, Kuteb and Igbo have their own stories to tell. We must ask the pertinent question:

Why is it always the Jukun Christians against others, whether it is in Wukari, Ibi, Donga or Takum?

The Leadership newspaper of Friday, 15th March, 2013 carries an advertorial entitled “The Wukari Religious Crisis of February, 23rd 2013: The True Story”. Authored by one Rev. Jerry Agabison, Chairman, CAN, Wukari LGA. In it, he tries to argue that Islam and Christianity “have peacefully co-existed in Wukari, hence there has been no record (emphasis ours) of religious clash or crisis’’. Referring to the july 13 crisis, he says, “strangers”, non indigenes and settlers are always responsible for the breach of peace’’ in Wukari.

This is strange, because Rev. Agabison, a Wanu settler in Wukari, fits that description more than any other. Wukari Muslims do not belong to that category, and no amount of effort can wipe them out of their land. And, saying there has been “no record of religious clash or crisis’’ in Wukari is not just playing the ostrich, but stretching fantasy too far. Comments like this can only scuttle on-going effort at peace and confidence-building. If Wukari is “peaceful’’ as he claims, then we ask: Why continue to demolish masjid, the very physical and spiritual symbol of the presence of Islam and Muslims, duly built in public places with the express permission of relevant authorities? For good measure, why should the “paramount traditional ruler, Aku Uka’’ oppose the building of a Masjid in a public space, as stated by Agabison? Pray, is the primary responsibility of a good leader, traditional or democratic not to protect the fundamental right for the citizens, the most fundamental being the right to worship? And after the Masjid was demolish at 4am by “unknown person’’ (Agabison’s words) who were actually Jukun Christians, what did the Aku Uka do?

Rev. Agabison feels outraged that the emir of Muri, Alh. Abbas Tafida, linked the crisis to the effort to frustrate the confirmation of Alh. Garba Umar as Governor of Taraba State.

We, on the other hand, see the link, and every intelligent Taraba that I know speaks about the connection. Can they not understand that Alhaji Garba Umar is not a child of circumstance? That he is in fact a child of design, the supreme creator’s ultimate design to bring the much-needed unity, stability, peace and progress to our dear state?

And, as if having Jukun Christians as enemies is not enough, Rev. Agabison and his fellow apologists are tying desperately to incite other ethnic groups in  Wukari  against the Muslims by insinuating that a Tiv Christians man was killed and Igbo shops were looted by Muslims during the crisis. Alhmdulillah, both the Tiv and Igbo communities in Wukari, given their past experiences, are acutely aware of their real enemies. And here, we must express unreserved gratitude to the Tiv community for providing safe havens and feeding for fleeing Muslims in their villages in Wukari and Ibi during the crises in both LGAs.

The Leadership of Saturday, March 16, 2013 caries yet another advertorial entitled “The Immediate Cause of the Wukari Crisis of Saturday 23rd February, 2013”. Signed by one Nathaniel Angyetsokwa, Youth Wing, CAN, Wukari. In it, the author traces the immediate cause of the February 23rd crisis to an argument by two opposing football teams.

The aim, as stated by the writer, is to correct the impression by some journalists of linking the conflict to Jukun Youths “based on their previous experiences or knowledge of the Jukun Kingdom” (our emphasis). Need we say more?. The author adds”. “Jukuns are peace loving people”. Indeed!Yet another advertorial in the Leadership of Sunday, March 17, 2013, with the headline, “Wukari Ethno Religious Crisis Mischief and Murder of Christian Faithfull Position of Jukun Youths Cultural and Development Association”. Signed by one Mairiga Agabi as Secretary General and one Zando Hoku as Chairman, merely confirmed the desperation of the sponsors of the serial murders of

Muslims and other non Jukuns in Wukari. It is curious that the writers will bring in the recent Ibi crisis and turn facts on their heads by referring to “recent attacks on the Jukun” race and non Muslims at Ibi”, when everyone knows that the crisis in Ibi was started by Jukun Christians with help from their kin in Abinse, Benue State and Christian mercenaries from Plateau State.

The same mercenaries were involved in the Wukari crisis, and fact that the killings, burning and looting of Muslims and their properties were carried out in different locations in the town simultaneously, suggests a carefully planned act of pogrom waiting to be executed.

THE IMMEDIATE CAUSE:
It is not in dispute that the immediate cause of the crisis was the accidental shooting to death of one Musa Luka, a Christian, during an argument over the use of football pitch by two opposite teams. It is also not in dispute that both teams comprise Muslims and Christians and that, in fact, there are more Christians than Muslims in either team, even though both are owned and financed exclusively by Muslims.

It is also not in dispute that the offensive weapon, a locally-made hunter’s rifle and not Ak47 as alleged by the JDA President, which was concealed in a sack, was in the possession of a twelve-year-old boy who was said to be returning from a hunting expedition in the company of some older people but, as fate would have it, had strayed back. The boy himself was not a party to the initial argument, being neither a member nor official of any of the two teams.

What is in dispute is who actually pulled the trigger since various eye witness accounts speak of intense struggle by members of the two teams to disposes the hunter of the weapon, during which, sensing danger to his personal safely, he simply let go of the gun and fled the scene. The actual shooting was said to have been done several minutes after the gun owner’s departure from the scene. However, granted without conceding that the boy actually pulled the trigger. The leaves us with a vital question: Did he kill in the name of Islam or Muslims? Why visit retribution on all Muslims in Wukari and environs for the sins of a child? Why did Christians react at the same time in different part of the town, some area more than two kilometres away from the scene of shooting, by engaging in an orgy of mass killings, arson and looting? Were they perhaps prepared and waiting for an incidence such as this to strike? The victim of the accidental shooting, Musa Luka, was said not to be a party to the initial quarrel between the two football teams, but actually a safe distance away from the scene, in the same position as the gun-carrying child. But he was reportedly the first person to grab the weapon from the child, and to attract the attention of the quarrelling footballers, who immediately rushed to the new centre of attraction.

It is further not is dispute that Musa Luka did not die at the scene, but was conveyed to the hospital on a motorcycle belonging to, and driven by a Muslim, and that he was escorted by Muslims and Christians. It is also on record that it was due to the insistence of Muslims at the scene that the Police were invited into the matter. Sadly, while the victim was being attended to at the hospital, blood-thirsty Christian warriors gathered there were said to be swearing vengeance, not on the alleged culprit but on all Muslims, and calling their groups in different part of town on mobile phones, urging them to prepare for war. The moment Musa Luka was pronounced dead, the killings, arson and looting started.

THE RESPONSE OF THE ACTING GOVERNOR
We are appalled that the president of Jukun development Association, Mr. Bako Benjamin, apparently speaking for all Jukun Christians, would accuse the Acting Governor of Taraba State, Alh. Garba Umar, of “nonchalant attitude” to this issue. On the contrary, every objective person must commend the Acting Governor for his immediate, practical and humane response to the crisis, which can not be said of any of his predecessors in similar critical times. It is on record that the Ag. Governor was in Abuja when the crisis broke out.

On getting the news he immediately took charge of the security situation, giving the necessary orders for deployment of troops and, in less than twelve hours, he was back in Jalingo to ensure that the situation was effectively brought under control. A twenty –four hour curfew was imposed on Wukari some day. And Alhamdulillah, the rampaging bands of Jukun militia were effectively neutralized in less than twelve hours of the eruption, far short of their stated objective of wiping out Muslims from Wukari. This, obviously, drew the ire of the modern –day crusaders.

Within seventy-two hours of the cessation of hostilities, the Acting Governor was in Wukari, against security advice on his personal safety. Even in Wukari, desperate attempts were made by over-zealous LG officials and jittery members of the royalty to stop the Acting Governor from visiting areas where the destruction was massive, on the flimsy grounds that such areas were not safe. Again, the Acting Governor shoved aside concerns about his personal safely and remained focused on his mission, which was to have an on-the-spot view of the arson and destruction, and to sympathise with the victims-Muslims, Christians and animists alike. Can anyone ask for a more humane and caring leader?

To give the visit and lessons of Wukari February 23rd state-wide effect, the Acting Governor took all the traditional rulers and Chairman of the sixteen Local Government Area in the state along with him. Many of them were said to be close to tears on seeing what Wukari had been reduced to. Now, tell us, which state Chief Executive before Alh. Garba Umar has given such a humane and even-handed response to crisis?

Besides, his declaration of intention to set up a Judicial Commission of Inquiry on the crisis is the first in the state. Not even an administrative panel was set up in similar crises in the recent past. Already, we are aware of subterranean moves in high quarters to persuade Alh. Garba Umar against taking that course, obviously for fear that highly-placed people will be exposed for their roles in the pogrom. We pray that the Ag. Governor will remain true to his word.

As to citing two crises in the state “within a few months” of Governor Danbaba Suntai’s absence, we ask: Under whose tenure did the incidence of July 2010 happen, and what did the governor do about it? We are not surprised that the Ag. Governor does not inspire “confidence” in them. How can he, being a Muslim? But we ask: is he governor for Muslims alone? What in his official or private statements has portrayed him as being pro-Muslim or anti-Christian?

OUR POSITION
It is clear to us, based on facts stated above, that the typical Jukun Christian does not want Muslims, or even non Jukuns in Wukari, and would go to any length to ensure total ethno-religious cleansing of the town. However, we insist that Wukari belongs to Muslims and other non-Jukuns, as much as it does to Jukun Christian. In fact, history tells us that the town was founded in 1008, not by the Jukuns, but by a group of Hausa people from Daura, led by two brothers, Sambo and Dikko, and that the original settlement was known by that name up to the time of the arrival of the Jukuns from Kwararrafa in Gassol LGA, Taraba State, in 1855, when the name was changed to Uka or Wukari. Evidence of this historical fact is the Sambo da Dikko Street in Wukari, the longest street that runs through the centre of town, and the fact that the old Wukari town center is occupied by the Muslims, most of whom are Hausa.

So, we assure the Islamophobes among the Jukun Christians that Muslims will continue to remain in Wukari and lay claim to it, not as “land grabbers”, but as rightful owners of the ancient town. Can they not even see that Muslims constitute the majority of the population in Wukari, and that majority of the Jukuns residing in the town are refugees from Jukun Tiv wars of the sixties and early nineties? So, we will stay and continue to develop the town because, as bonafide owners, we cannot watch and see it being destroyed. Those who are bent on destroying this historical town are doomed to fail.

OUR DEMANDS:

  • The Judicial Commission of Inquiry promised by the Acting Governor should be set up immediately and be given all the necessary assistance/cooperation to carry out its mandate of ensuring justice for the aggrieved and punishment for the output.
  • Immediate disarming and disbandment of the Jukun Youth Militia.
  • Immediate ban on the observance of the so-called Jukun Day, a recent phenomenon staged to intimidate, harass and assault non Jukuns.
  • Immediate constitution of a conciliation and peace committee.
  • Immediate establishment of a permanent Army and Mobile Police Bases in Wukari.
  • Non interference by the traditional authority in matters within the jurisdiction of the Police and other law enforcement agencies.
  • Redeployment of all Police personnel in Wukari who have stayed for three years and above, as some of them have been in the town for more than ten years and are hardly neutral in matters involving Jukuns and non Jukuns.
  • Payment of compensation to victims.

Finally, we wish to reiterate our total confidence in the Taraba State Government under Alh. Garba Umar, and his capacity to handle crises, as effectively demonstrated in the cases of Ibi and Wukari. We call on all Tarabans, Muslims, Christians, Idol worshippers and atheists, to support the government, with the new dawn being witnessed in governance, as evidenced in the prudent and effective management of resources in transparent and accountable manner.

We end by calling on outsiders to, in the words of, Rev. Jerry Agabison, CAN Chairman, Wukari LGA, please “leave us alone!”