The ancient town of Wukari, Taraba State, was a ghost town on Saturday, 24 hours after the eruption of a fierce sectarian violence in which the police confirmed 39 people dead.
Residents believe that as many as 130 lives may have been lost.
Thirty others were injured and about 70 houses and shops torched.
The Acting Governor, Alhaji Garba Umar, in a broadcast yesterday condemned the killings and destructions saying, “This is unacceptable. The killings must stop.”
A visibly saddened Umar, who imposed the 24-hour curfew in the area, described the killings as “very unfortunate.”
He noted that the government would do everything possible to protect lives and property, adding that perpetrators of the crisis must be punished.
The cost of the buildings, vehicles and other assets lost to the mayhem runs into billions of naira.
Security men have taken over the streets to restore order while the state government imposed a round-the-clock curfew on the town, forcing all residents indoors.
Locked in the bloody battle were the Jukun and the Fulani.
Eye-witnesses said the mayhem began during the burial procession of a high ranking Jukun Chief.
The mourners alleged that the Fulani, who are mainly Muslims, barricaded the road to the burial ground. The Muslims said they only gathered for the Jumat prayers.
Coming so soon after a similar confrontation in February in which 20 people died, an argument soon ensued between the two sides; temper rose until the situation got out of hand and pandemonium broke out.
Some fled the scene while others reached for daggers, axes, cudgels and even guns.
As news of the crisis spread, fighters mounted roadblocks along the Wukari-Jalingo Road where they attacked ‘enemies’ plying the road..
Thousands of residents fled Wukari, some of them taking refuge in Zaki-Biam, Kyado and Jootar in neighbouring Benue State.
The police moved in to quell the violence and clear the mess.
Government followed with a 24hour curfew.
At press time, the police said they had recovered 39 corpses which were deposited at the Yam Market on the Wukari-Jalingo Road.
Some of the bodies were headless. One of those beheaded was a pregnant woman. Also gone were her legs.
The private parts of some other victims were also removed. It was a gory sight.
The police said they have arrested over 30 suspected rioters.
They are working to prevent a spill over to neighbouring towns .
“We are now patrolling Wukari town -to maintain law and order,” Police Spokesman, Joseph Kwaji, an Assistant Superintendent of Police said.
Kwaji said the severely injured are receiving treatment at the General Hospital, Wukari.
An aid worker said:”We have recovered 20 bodies from the violence so far. We are still going round the town in search of more bodies,” he said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media about death tolls.
A woman, who also does not want to be named, said: “I slept in the bush to escape with these kids,” pointing to his three children-two boys and a girl.
The State’s Acting Governor, Alhaji Garba Umar is said to be shocked and saddened by the development.
Only 24 hours before the incident, he had inaugurated a seven-man Judicial Commission of Inquiry to investigate the previous crises in Wukari and Ibi local government areas.