With the tentative return of peace to Bwari, after the Christmas day violence that left some people killed and many others injured, Daily Trust on Sunday visits the FCT community to acertain what happened and efforts to re-establish peace.
The traditional heads in Bwari have been trading blames over the crisis that claimed three lives and led to the burning of the major market in the town.
Several shops and business places that lined the road where the Etsu of Bwari, Ibrahim Yaro and Sarkin Bwari, Awwal Muhammad Musa Ijakoro reside were also burnt.
The ruins of several motorcycles, other vehicles and shops still litter some parts of the hitherto peaceful community.
Though deployment of military personnel has doused the tension, there are strong indications that the last may not have been heard of the crisis.
In an effort to stabilize the situation, the Federal Capital Territory Administration has also imposed a curfew from 6pm to 6am in the area while heavily armed soldiers, Department of State Security officials are stationed at strategic locations and also patrol the area.
Mobile police officers also conduct stop and search routine on vehicles at several checking points especially at some entry and exit points to the community.
A fire truck was also stationed opposite the burnt market though smoke was still rising from the ruins on Thursday when our reporters visited. Everywhere was calm while traders attempted to pick the remains from their shops.
Three people were reported killed while about ten were injured with over 200 shops burnt and millions of naira lost to the crisis which started on Christmas Eve. The exact cause of the violence is yet to be ascertained though several people said it could be connected to a chieftaincy tussle in the area.
There has always been a cold war between the Sarkin Bwari and Etsu Bwari since the former was promoted to a second class chief during the Abacha regime.
At the demise of the Sarkin of Bwari, Alhaji Musa Ijakoro, on August 29, 2017, the Gbagyis had hoped the Etsu would be recognised as the substantive chief in the community, but the Federal Capital Territory Administration in November appointed the son of the late Ijakoro as the new sarki.
The 17th Etsu of Bwari, Ibrahim Yaro, said two of his subjects were killed in the violence.
“One of my sons was coming back from church when he was attacked and stabbed by a Hausa man. I was called and informed that that was what happened and I asked my people not to do anything,” he said.
Yaro said the violence escalated when relatives of the deceased were trying to bury the corpse.
“On Monday morning we wanted to go and bury the boy that was stabbed. As they were going, they were attacked around the General Hospital. That was how the crisis started,” he said.
He said the crisis was not between two rival cult groups neither could he confirm if it was related to the chieftaincy tussle.
“If it was the chieftaincy issue, we were the ones who are supposed to be looking for trouble and not them. As you know in Bwari, we have two kings in one chiefdom which is not supposed to be,” he said.
“I am not saying that it was the chieftaincy title that led to the crisis but people are just saying it was because of the chieftaincy that my son was stabbed to death but there is no way there will be two captains on one ship,” he said.
A resident, Aliyu Bala, alleged that one of the legislators at the area council of Gbaygi descent instigated the crisis, adding that the person was among those hurling stones at some Hausa residents in the area during the violence.
Bala alleged that the some thugs had, prior to the crisis, been going to the legislator’s house to drink some concoction and collect charms.
According to him, majority of the thugs that perpetrated the act were mostly strangers. He also accused the police of negligence as they were informed about the plan of some people to cause mayhem in the area.
He said the crisis has nothing to do with the chieftaincy tussle, but rather started when some Gbagyi youth allegedly attacked some Hausas, who knew nothing about what was happening.
Another resident, who simply identified himself as Garba, alleged that despite soldiers and other security being deployed, some of the thugs still went ahead with covert attacks on Hausa shop and property owners.
But the Etsu of Bwari refuted these allegations, saying, “I called my people and told them they should leave everything to God until they were attacked. Everything they said we did, it is a lie, they were the ones,” he said.
He said the Gbaygis only used stones as they tried to escape when they were attacked on Monday morning, adding that seven people of Gbaygi descent were injured in the violence.
No Connection to chieftaincy stool
Both traditional rulers have however appealed to their subjects to be peaceful adding that violence cannot help the situation.
While both sides are at pains to explain that the crisis has nothing to do with the chieftaincy dispute, stock taking is going on.
The Etsu Bwari explains the steps being taken saying, “I am just returning from a peace and security meeting. Since this thing happened, I have not been myself because to kill a human being, regardless of our differences, it is painful. I feel sad.”
The Sarkin Bwari, Awwal Muhammad Musa Ijakoro, on his part, described the incident as unfortunate.
He denied the crisis had any link with the chieftaincy tussle, while he called on residents of the council to live in peace with each other irrespective of their tribal, ethnic and religious affiliations.
“It was unfortunate for such a thing to have happened, which is the first time in the history of Bwari. I want to state categorically that this incident has nothing to do with the chieftaincy matter,” he said.
The traditional ruler said security personnel were still investigating the incident, even as he regretted that the incident might have affected the usual homage being paid to chiefdom due to loss of property.
Our brothers were not cultists – deceased families
Meanwhile the families of the deceased have appealed to the police to allow them bury their dead as they do not have money to pay for mortuary fees.
Mercy Philips Gajere, elder sister to Wisdom, who was stabbed while returning from Church early Monday morning, said her brother was not a cultist as being speculated.
“Our annoyance is that some news outlets called my brother a cultist. If I have the resources, I would sue those people that said he was a cultist. We do not see any press in this house that asked what happened, you are the first people that came here. Why should they be saying that he was a cultist,” she said.
She described her brother as a good man who kept to himself and his wife was his only friend and he hardly spoke to anyone else. She too was at pains trying to situate the cause of the trouble.
“It was neither a cultist clash nor a religious one,” she said.
On the morning of his death, she said her brother had attended a service at the ECWA church in the community and was on his way back when he was accosted by some people and stabbed.
“One of my sisters that lives close to the area saw a crowd gathered and went to see. That was how she got to know that it was my brother and she called me,” Mercy said.
“He was stabbed and his intestines were outside [his body] but he was still talking when we got there. He said he was just passing when he was attacked. That we should help him so that he won’t die,” she added.
But even she conceded that since she had not been there, she could not say precisely what had happened that morning.
But she recalls that as her brother lay dying, only one woman came to their aide. The woman provided her wrapper, in which they gathered her Wisdom’s intestines and rushed him to a hospital.
“The first private hospital that we went to said the doctor was not around and we took him to Bwari General Hospital, where he died,” she said.
Wisdom was an orphan who had only spent three months in Bwari before his death. But even after his death, he did not find peace as his burial was disrupted by the outbreak of violence that followed, forcing them to keep the corpse in the family house before it was conveyed to the mortuary that evening.
But this move is costing the family money as well as grief. A relative, Joyce Yahaya said that the family had spent more than N40, 000 to keep the corpse at the mortuary.
“Since the mortuary bill is on us and we don’t have enough cash to keep him there, they should give us security to guard us to the cemetery so that we could bury the corpse,” she said.
But the death of Wisdom is also a huge loss because as Joyce said, the family, which was not large to start with is now facing the prospect of decline.
“We are nobodies in Bwari,” Mercy lamented, “My father and mother are late. We were just three, now there are only two of us left. They should leave us alone. We are not living large, they should leave us alone.”
However, the killer of her brother might be soon fished out because according to Mercy, while Wisdom was still at the hospital, some of her uncles and aunties reported to the police that Wisdom was calling somebody’s name. They have given the name to the police in their statements.
But her priority for now is that her brother should be laid to rest.
“They should give us the go ahead to bury him or the government should come and claim the corpse. We don’t have money to continue paying for mortuary fees,” she said.
But the tragedy of Wisdom’s death was one that birthed several others. One of the men that had gone to bury him was called Julius Dashe. He was killed that Christmas day, leaving behind a pregnant wife.
“He was shot at the front of the mosque while they were going to bury Wisdom,” a relative of the deceased who preferred to be called Titus said.
He said he was among the entourage accompanying the corpse of Wisdom to the burial ground before they were attacked, adding that he escaped by the whiskers. Julius was however unfortunate as he was said to have been shot in the neck.
While the identity of the attackers remains keenly contested, Joyce Yahaya thinks she knows those who had planned the attack. The Hausas, she said. She should have noticed something was off when she woke up on Monday morning and could not see any of her Hausa neighbours.
“Even my water vendor did not show up,” she said.
But the Hausas are pointing fingers the other way. Adamu Alhaji, a butcher at the Bwari market said it was the Gbagyis that started the violence and burnt the market.
“They were burning the market and we were trying to put off the fire but we were restrained by security operatives,” he said.
“The Gbaygi people carried guns and arrows and were stoning us but nobody died in the market,” he said.
Over 300 shops burnt, 2, 000 traders displaced
The chairman of the Bwari Market Elders, Mr. Isaiah Odoh, said he was returning from church on Monday morning when he saw a thick smoke billowing from the market. He and some traders ran to the market to evacuate some of their goods.
Over 300 shops were burnt down in the market, according to him, while over 2,000 traders have been displaced.
“In fact, we don’t know what we have done to this people that they just burnt down our shops inside the market. Our cry to the government is for them to come to our aid,” he said.
The leader of the traders at the market, Mohammed Shehu declined to comment on the issue saying they were working with the government to know the exact number of shops affected and the estimate of goods lost to the inferno.
A shop owner at T-Junction said he lost goods worth more than four million naira to the violence. “My shop was completely razed. The bigger of the two shops I have in Bwari,” trader Ikenna said.
He could only recover a bucket of juice from the shop, he said.
Shops that were not burnt were looted
But while the fire raged at the market, looters reportedly broke into some shops and made away with valuables.
Dr. Sunday Omale said his wife’s shop was not burnt but was looted as they could only recover the metal used as gate and some planks used in demarcating the shop.
“On the 25th of December, we heard that the market was on fire so I attempted coming out. We saw some dead bodies being rushed to the mortuary while some injured people were taken to the hospital. As a result of fear, we could not come to the market,” he said.
After security personnel had been deployed, they had rushed to the market to discover what had happened to the shop.
“Fortunately and unfortunately, my wife’s shop was not razed by the fire but some people had broken into the shop and packed things out all in the name of trying to help.”
He said the hoodlums carted away goods worth millions.
“We leave everything to God. The most important thing is that we are alive. Those that died can’t stand and start claiming property. I strongly believe that God will intervene and we will recover all that was lost,” he said.
Curfew takes toll on businesses as prices of goods skyrocket
The violence and curfew has led to an increase in prices of commodities as activities start picking up in the community. Goods like recharge cards come at a great cost while commercial motorcyclists were limited to some locations due to security checks.
A motorcyclists who pleaded anonymity said all their executives could not been found since their office in the market was razed by the fire.
He said they are now allowed to ply General Hospital, Zango and T-Junction areas because people passing there would have to raise their hands up while walking. Motorcyclists would also dismount and push their motorcycles while riding through these areas.
Abel Akwute, who sells phone accessories and recharge cards said he now closes by 5pm due to the curfew.
“You know this business booms at night so I do not make enough money anymore. In fact I don’t sell recharge card anymore because those printing it have stopped,” he said.
He said a recharge card of N500 is now sold for N550 as retailers buy from Dutse after recharge cards printers have fled the community.
A barber, Stanley Yusuf said he now makes about N400 daily instead of the thousands he used to make.
“Then I close at about 10p.m. but now by 5p.m I have to leave so that I get to my house before 6p.m.,” he said.
Also civil servants and those working in the city either leave for Bwari before 5p.m. or past the night with friends in the city.
People still live in fear
Though he crisis has been stemmed, some residents express fears that the last may not have been heard of the crisis.
A resident, Oba Clement, said there are still pockets of violence at some secluded areas not patrolled by security operatives.
“The security is not enough to cover some corners,” he said, adding that people still live in fear especially those from other ethnic background.
“One of the Hausas was attacked on Wednesday,” said Adamu Alhaji.
Until the root cause of the violence is identified and tackled, fears will remain about the impact of the tenuous peace in the community.