The director general of the Cross River State Emergency Management Agency has confirmed to the News Agency of Nigeria that a war between two adjacent villages during the last week in June resulted in 150 deaths and 14,000 internally displaced, now living in four camps. The fighting destroyed 1,233 houses, and farming and other economic activity appears to have largely been suspended. The state government is providing food relief and has appealed for help from the federal government, in particular the National Emergency Management Agency and the National Refugee Commission.
The conflict between two villages, Wanikade and Wanihem in the Yala Local Government Area in Cross Rivers state, involves people of the same ethnic group, the Ukelle, and, according to local Nigerian media, intermarriage among the residents of the two villages is common. Ostensibly, the conflict is over land and has been simmering since January, but Nigerian commentators acknowledge that the root causes of the carnage is unknown. However, it appears to be unrelated to the fighting in the north associated with Boko Haram, agitation in the oil patch over distribution of oil revenue, or to ethnic and religious conflict in the middle belt.
Initially, police spokesmen either denied or downplayed the reported casualties. Some local people are questioning why the carnage continued for three days before the police intervened. This episode illustrates the challenges that Nigerian federal, state, and local governments face. The police are a national institution—not a local or a state—and they are under resourced and often poorly trained. Furthermore, communication infrastructure is often poorly developed in rural areas, making it entirely possible that the police spokesman who was initially downplaying the carnage simply did not know what was going on. As for the causes of the conflict and bloodshed, villages in rural areas are often closed books to outsiders, even within Nigeria. Such factors make the provision of safety and security a major challenge for government. Such failure often results in popular alienation from government at all levels.