Nigeria’s presidency says dozens of people have been killed in violence between farmers and herders in the country’s central Nasarawa state.
In a statement late on Tuesday, the office of President Muhammadu Buhari said at least 45 farmers were killed in the violence that erupted on Friday. Dozens more were wounded, it said.
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Buhari “expressed grief over the heart-wrenching” killings and said his government would “leave no stone unturned in fishing out the perpetrators of this senseless and barbaric incident, and bring them to justice”.
Local police said the violence broke out when armed Fulani herders attacked villagers from the Tiv ethnic group over the killing of a kinsman that they blamed on Tiv farmers. The unrest continued until Sunday.
The police initially gave a death toll of eight.
Nasarawa state police spokesman Ramhan Nansel earlier said military and police teams had deployed in the area to restore calm and arrest the perpetrators.
“We received a complaint on the killing of a Fulani herdsman but while the investigation was ongoing, a reprisal attack was carried out in Hangara village and neighbouring Kwayero village,” Ramhan Nansel,
“Eight people were killed in the attacks and their bodies were recovered by the police and taken to hospital.”
But Peter Ahemba of the Tiv Development Association said the death toll was higher.
“We recovered more than 20 corpses of our people killed in the attacks in 12 villages across Lafia, Obi and Awe districts where around 5,000 were displaced,” he said, adding that many people were still missing.
Deadly clashes between nomadic cattle herders and local farmers over grazing and water rights are common in central Nigeria.
The internecine conflict has taken on an ethnic and religious dimension in recent years. The Fulani herders are Muslim, and the farmers are primarily Christian.
The friction, which has roots dating back more than a century, was caused by droughts, population growth, the expansion of sedentary farming into communal areas as well as poor governance.
Violence by criminal gangs of cattle thieves among the herders, who raid villages, killing and burning homes after looting them, has compounded the situation.
The Governor of Nasarawa State, Abdullahi Sule, has promised to go after killers of Fulani herders and Tiv farmers.
“There was needless loss of lives of our citizens. Such act of violence is most unfortunate, condemnable, and unacceptable and will not be condoned by this administration,” he was quoted as saying by the Sahara Reporters news site.