Sylvanus Viashima, Jalingo
Thursday, 29, will go down in history as one of the most miserable days for the Catholic community in Taraba State and the entire people of goodwill as the people woke up to the sad news of the gruesome murder of Rev. Fr. David Tanko by unknown gunmen, who heartlessly burnt his remains and his car afterwards.
The sad news drew wide condemnations from all quarters and across all faiths, both within and outside the state.
The cleric was said to be on his way to Takum for a peace meeting with his fellow clergymen on how to resolve the lingering Tiv/Jukun crisis when he was ambushed, killed, and his remains burnt.
The Chairman of Takum Local Government Area, Mr Shiban Tikari, who confirmed the sad incident disclosed that after killing the cleric, the attackers set him and his car ablaze.
One thing that is perhaps most saddening about his untimely demise was the brutality with which he was killed.
In the wake of his unfortunate demise, however, there were accusations and counter-accusations as to who might be behind the dastardly act. One thing that seems obvious was that Fr. Tanko was the latest victim of the ongoing communal clashes between the Jukuns and Tivs in southern parts of Taraba State that has claimed over 200 lives and caused destruction to property worth hundreds of millions.
Mr Shiban Tikari, the Takum Local Government Area chairman alleged that the deceased who hailed from Wukari Local Government Area of the state was attacked by Tiv militias. (Rev. Fr. Tanko was Jukun by tribe).
According to Tikari, “this is what we are facing in this place. No one is free to move without the Tiv youths attacking him. They are the ones that attacked me the other time just recently. Now, they have taken it further to attack and kill a Catholic priest. Fr. Tanko was part of the priests in the area that have been working hard to ensure that there is lasting solution to this lingering crisis and in the end, he is consumed by the crisis. This is very unfortunate and sad”.
Tikari also blamed the Tiv militia for the attacks in the area that have paralysed economic activities and the social life of the people.
Meanwhile the Taraba Tiv Youths Forum has declared that the Jukun militias who blocked the Takum-Wukari highway to prevent the Hausa and Igbo traders from going to Amadu and Peva, (Tiv markets), mistakenly shot and killed Rev. Fr. Tanko of Amadu parish thinking he was Rev. Fr Iorbee of Takum Parish, since the duo use the same kind of vehicle.
The Spokesman of the forum, Mr Katyo, who made the revelation on Thursday in a statement made available to newsmen in Jalingo, described the killing of the clergy as barbaric, primitive, unfortunate and uncalled for.
He explained that the bereaved lived amongst the Tiv community in Amadu peacefully and was loved by the people in the area, warning the Jukun youths to desist from killing innocent people in their bid to ignite more violence against the Tiv people.
“We feel very sad and shock over the gruesome murder of Rev Fr Tanko who had lived peacefully with the people of Amadu community where he had been carrying out his pastoral job. We have been briefed by his parishioners how good he had lived with them and his efforts in mediating to ensure the crisis between Tiv and Jukun did not degenerate further.
“We stand to condemn this barbaric act perpetrated by Jukun youths in their plans to kill one Rev. Fr Iorbee, a Tiv man who is the parish priest of Takum.
“They shot Fr. Tanko to death unknowingly. He was not their target after they blocked the Takum-Wukari highway, preventing Hausa and Igbo traders from going to the Tiv markets of Amadu and Peva. It was in the same point (between Kasuwan Haske and Tortsee) that they killed this innocent and peace loving young clergy.
“We members of the Taraba Tiv Youths Forum unequivocally condemn this dastardly act and urge the security agents to be vigilant and ensure all the Federal roads are properly secured for the safety of all citizens. We observe that the trend in blocking the Jalingo Wukari high way by Jukun youths, fishing out Tiv commuters is being replicated on the Takum road too. To hide this dastardly act of the Jukun militia under the control of the Takum Chairman who is a known common criminal, he quickly rushed to address a press conference and shamelessly accused the Tiv people of being behind the killing of the Rev. Father. We want the whole world to note that the incident took place between Kasuwan Haske and Tortsee. This area has been long deserted by the Tiv as they have been chased away by the Jukun militia, and no single Tiv person is within the vicinity.
“Rather the Jukun militia has mounted a road block in that area killing freely just like they have been doing on the Wukari Jalingo road. If the Tiv wanted to kill the Rev. Father, they would have done that in Amadu where he has been with them since the crisis started in April, and not wait till he went to Takum. We urge the Chairman to retract that blunt lie and rather apologise to the parish and seek forgiveness from the Almighty God.
“They kidnapped and killed former House of Assembly member, Hosea Ibi, because he is a Kuteb man, and killed many Tiv people in Takum and we still wonder why they can’t be arrested and brought to face the law”.
While the back and forth continues, the Catholic Bishop of Jalingo diocese, Charles Hammawa, has wondered why any one would kill a priest who’s only preoccupation in the face of the crisis is to preach peace, and work for an amicable resolution of the crisis.
“Why will anybody want to kill a priest in the first place? By virtue of their work, they are supposed to bring us to God and that is why any religious leader, who is sincere in his responsibility will preach nothing other than the sacred message of peace, love and harmonious coexistence. The death of Fr. Tanko is a big blow to all of us and very saddening”.
The Police Public Relations Officer, DSP David Misal has assured that the command would do everything within its powers to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to book.
“You are aware that the IG has given the CP here a marching order to make sure that those behind this heinous crime are arrested and brought to face justice. For now, we have not made any arrest, but I can assure you that we would stop at nothing until justice is served,” Misal said.
The questions that beg for answer is whether Fr. Tanko is a victim of mistaken identity, a victim of communal hostility, a grand conspiracy to perpetuate violence, or even a victim of mere criminal elements prevalent in the area who in a desperate bid to hide their crime, also burnt his car and body.
These are questions that the people of the state hope the security agencies will provide answers to in the nearest time, even as his charred body will be committed to mother earth on Tuesday.