For Yahaya Inuwa, 29 December started like any other day. Yahaya joined the Red Cross as a volunteer when he was just 7 years old. Now, he is a member of the emergency first aid team and has looked after many wounded people. On this particular morning, the 32-year-old father of five got up early and went to his office in the town of Bauchi, capital of the state of the same name, in northern Nigeria.
At 9 a.m., a call from the Nigerian Red Cross branch in Bauchi changed his plans for the day dramatically. Violent clashes had erupted in the village of Zango, on the outskirts of Bauchi. Yahaya rushed out of the office and drove to Zango.
As he approached the village, Yahaya heard gunfire and shouting crowds. "It was mayhem," he recalls. "There were houses on fire, casualties were sprawled on the ground and people were fleeing in all directions."
It had all started with a violent internal dispute between members of the Kala Kato sect. Police and soldiers sent to restore order came under attack from sect members armed with assault rifles, machetes, swords, daggers and other weapons. Meanwhile, villagers were still trying to get away from the fighting.
Dandana Ahmadu is a well-respected community leader who now volunteers for the Red Cross. As Yahaya dealt with events at the scene, Ahmadu was at the branch office calling up more volunteers. As soon as the situation allowed, 40 Red Cross volunteers began rescuing children, evacuating the injured and providing first-aid.
Sporadic clashes ensued for most of the day. By the time calm returned in the early evening, several people were dead or injured. Red Cross volunteers worked tirelessly into the night, delivering 40 bodies to the morgue and evacuating 16 seriously injured people to the nearby hospital.
Some 300 people sought refuge in a disused army barracks in the area. The Red Cross branch provided them with 200 blankets donated by the State Emergency Management Agency. They returned to their village the following day, after an uneasy calm had returned. Those whose homes had been destroyed went to stay with relatives and friends.
The Nigerian Red Cross and the ICRC provided blankets, sleeping mats, clothing, footwear and toiletries for 23 children who had become separated from their families and were now in protective custody, plus three adults detained by the police. A doctor checked on their health, and over the next few days, the Nigerian Red Cross worked closely with the ICRC to find their families, reuniting most of them with their relatives. Efforts to locate the remaining families are continuing.
The Red Cross helped 12 casualties contact their families from hospital, and the team is providing medical materials and drugs so their treatment can continue until they are able to leave hospital. At the request of the police, Red Cross volunteers and the ICRC helped the authorities and the local imam organize decent burials for the dead.