By Sola SHITTU, Gombe
They had lived together as one family for as far back as 400 years ago when the entire terrain of Nyuwar and Jessu was a thick forest inhabited by wild animals. Then, there were no such distinctions as Waja, Lunguda or Tangale; they all lived together as brothers and sisters, marrying and bearing children for one another and watching one another’s backs for any external aggression.
Such was the life the Nyuwar and Jessu communities lived until the night of Monday, April 10, 2021 when an attack by hundreds of youths from Waja believed to be high on drugs disrupted the age long peaceful co-existence between Waja and Lunguda tribes in Nyuwar and Jessu communities, Gombe State.
This was the scenario as armed soldiers, police and DSS men sent to keep the peace received a delegation of the Gombe State Government at the palace of the District Head of Nyuwar. The group of security operatives, community leaders and top government officials sat quietly unable to say a word for more than 10 minutes. The damage was massive and unbelievable particularly because it was a case of brothers attacking brothers.
At the centre of the semi-circle seating arrangement was the spokesman for the District Head, Yuhana Galmaka Pisagi spotting a caftan and armed with a dagger in his hand. His legs were shaking, almost uncontrollable and restless. Sitting beside him was the state Commissioner for Internal Security, Adamu Dishi Kupto who stretched forth his hand to tap the apparently furious Pisagi and ask him to calm down.
Pisagi had just lost his brother, who also was the elder brother to the district head in the attack on Nyuwar community by Waja youths who stormed the once bubbling community around 10 pm on Monday and unleashed untold horror, leaving blood, tears and fire behind.
The district head’s elder brother was not only killed, his attackers also severed his head and took it away. Ten other persons were killed in similar circumstance with their heads, wrists, feet and vital organs like the heart, kidney and private parts removed. Nyuwar community was devastated with more than 90 per cent of its structures torched by the attackers.
The attacks, which started with a mere statement by a certain man around 2019, snowballed into what has today claimed lives and properties in Nyuwar, the community that had produced the immediate past Secretary to the State Government and the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Gombe State.
For the state government, it was one attack too many. Hence Governor Inuwa Yahaya and his deputy, Manasha Jatau, immediately rushed to the scene on Tuesday evening only to find the entire town engulfed in smoke and raging fire as displaced women and children wailed over their losses.
Genesis of crisis
Recalling the genesis of the crisis, Pisagi said: “In 2019, a certain man named Shata said that the Wajas in Nyuwar were prepared to fight our people. We thought that he was joking because we were not expecting something like that.
“He came the second time and told us the same thing. When he came the third time, I reported him to the district head. The district head took up the matter and reported to the police and we got the man arrested.
“He was arrested somewhere around Gelemutu area, but as he was being taking away in the police van, the youths in Gelemutu, armed with bows and arrows, ambushed the police.
“Later, the suspect said he forgot something in the house and wanted to go and take it. The police allowed him and that was how he escaped through the backyard.
“He was later seen in a nearby village called Walhi and he spent three months there in 2019. That was how the matter was rested and we thought it was over.”
Pisagi said, however, that sometime in 2020, there was a tussle over a piece of farmland in Nyuwar and the village heads met and resolved the matter peacefully. “But in July last year, they (Wajas) invited people from Bambam, Dogoruwa, Makasi, Kulani, Degeri, Shaka and others. Before we knew what is happening all the hills surrounding us were full of people.
“We were all in panic because we didn’t really know what was happening, but the incident confirmed to us the statement made by Shata in 2019 that they were prepared to attack us.
“Somehow, God was so kind to us on that day, because there was a heavy downpour. It was so heavy that visibility was so poor and the river overflowed its bank, thereby preventing the invaders who had surrounded us from crossing to our side.
“The following day, there was a thick darkness everywhere that people found it difficult to move. That was how God saved us from the planned attack in July last year.”
“The attacks started on Monday night till around 11 am on Tuesday, and by Thursday, attacking youths were still hanging around on top of the hills despite the deployment of armed soldiers, police and DSS to restore normalcy.
“This morning, they still came, shouting and jumping around the hills before the soldiers started shooting to drive them away.”
Although peace has been restored in Nyuwar, normalcy was yet to be restored. It is believed that it will take more than 10 years of consistent investment from both government and the individuals for life to return to normal in the community.
Seventy-five years old Nancy Philemon was a victim of the intra-ethnic attack which claimed her house and those of her three children. Nancy, now homeless like many other women and children, is taking refuge in the ECWA Church in Nyuwar. Her children ran to the neighbouring village of Cham for safety.
The story was the same with Jerome Kunama Kahala, a retired teacher in Nyuwar, who lost everything to the incident. “All I have now is this clothe that I am wearing,” said Jerome who armed himself with bow and arrow.
He said the attack started around 10 pm on Monday when they started hearing strange noises from neighbouring villages.
He said: “I was in bed when my children woke me up and asked me to come and see what was happening. When I came out, I saw flames rising up to the sky. Soon, we saw the fire in another neighbouring village and then in Nyuwar here.
“We all came out with our children and started defending the community. It was a fierce battle which lasted till 11 am on Tuesday. By the time the police came, we had already repelled the attacks.
“They destroyed so many things as you can see—our houses, our animals, grains, ban, everything. They even stole my cattle.”
Jerome’s story was not different from that of Ziliyau Yuhana, except that in Yuhana’s case, he lost three of his family members to the incident. Ziliyau’s ban of grains and houses were also set ablaze. The grains were still burning as he struggled to salvage some of them for the remaining members of his family to have something to eat.
When the soldiers arrived, they packed the carcasses of human bodies into a mass grave near the checkpoint at the entrance of Nyuwar. At the end of the attack, 11 lives were lost, excluding those that were burnt inside their houses.
The Galadima of Jessu, Goma Jesmel, blamed the attacks on Waja youths who he said were high on drugs.
Jesmel said: “It was the hunting season, so a group of hunters from Jessu went into the bush to hunt. Hunting is our normal business during the dry season and we hunt normally on Jessu side, not Waja side.
“It was while we were hunting that some Waja people came into our territory through Heme. All of us are from the same territory, same chiefdom, same local government area and same state.
“What is shocking to us is that we did not have any previous conflict with Waja people. The conflict used to be between Waja tribe in Gombe and Lunguda from Adamawa.
“The attack started around 7 pm on Monday in Heme when we started seeing fire in the villages.”
According to him, 10 people were killed in the attack on Heme but they were not able to recover all the bodies.
Immediately the news of the attacks filtered into the state capital, Gombe, Governor Inuwa Yahaya convened a security meeting and ordered the deployment of soldiers, police, DSS and Nigeria Civil Defense Corps men to the venue. After his visit, he imposed a dusk to dawn curfew on Nyuwar and neighbouring villages.
Governor Yahaya condemned the incident and vowed to look into it and bring the perpetrators to book. He then led the Deputy Governor and other top government functionaries to the place.
Governor Yahaya said: “Let me extend my heartfelt condolences to you over the loss of precious lives and property as a result of this senseless act. Our thoughts and prayers are with you, and as a responsible government, we are conscious of our responsibilities of safeguarding the lives and property of our people.”
Immediately the governor left Nyuwar and Jessu, the Secretary to the State Government, Prof. Ibrahim Abubakar Njodi, announced a dusk to dawn curfew in the two communities.
According to the SSG, the curfew becomes necessary to douse the tension and restore peace and order in the affected areas. He said security personnel had been deployed to restore normalcy while the curfew would subsist until further notice.
The Commissioner for Internal Security, Adamu Dishi Kupto, who led the delegation to deliver the relief materials promised by Governor Yahaya, said he was still in shock over the incident even though he was there earlier with the Governor.
He said the level of trauma suffered by the people had affected them psychologically, adding that because of the way the attacks came, many of them were now living in fears and even finding it difficult to sleep.
“We are really shocked, we are disappointed and dismayed with the way the thing happened. It is so sad to see lives and properties destroyed like this,” he said.
Although peace has been restored, the displaced people, mostly women and children, are scattered in churches in neighbouring villages.