Fr. David Tanko was helping to resolve issues in local ethnic dispute.
Longstanding ethnic tensions in Nigeria that have been relatively peaceful erupted this past April, and they apparently now have claimed the life of a Catholic priest in the country.
Fr. David Tanko was stopped by armed men on the way to the village of Takum in Taraba State Thursday. He was to on his way to a meeting to mediate a peace agreement between Tiv and Jukun populations. According to local sources, attackers—perhaps belonging to a Tiv militia— killed Fr. Tanko and set fire to his body and his car.
The Catholic bishop of Jalingo, Charles Michael Hammawa, condemned the killing and said, “We preached peace and made efforts to bring both sides to the negotiating table. … We pray that the perpetrators will be brought to justice.”
Bishop Hammawa warned against retaliation. “We do not want there to be retaliation,” he said. “That would only worsen the situation.”
According to Fides, the Vatican’s missionary news service, there have been a series of armed attacks in Taraba State, the most recent in the area of Wukari. Two people were killed while a police officer was injured in the attack.
“Furthermore, in the nearby Donga Local Government Area (LGA), a student of the ECWA Seminary School was killed in the early hours of 28 August,” Fides reported.
Fides said that the conflict between the Tiv and the Jukuns dates back to the 1950s. “According to some historical studies, the two populations lived in harmony until the advent of British colonization, when the colonial authorities favored the Jukuns to the detriment of the Tiv, planting the seed of discord which exists to the present day,” it said.
The conflict resurfaced on April 1, triggered by a dispute between a Tiv and a Jukun in the village of Kente in the Wukari area. It soon degenerated into a series of raids in the villages of the two populations, with deaths and looting. The violence also spread to the neighboring State of Benue. In July, the governors of Benue and Taraba launched an appeal for peace.
Fr. Tanko’s funeral will be held on September 2.