At least 83 people have been killed in communal violence in Nigeria since 31 December, government and police officials said, much of it involving clashes between cattle herders and farmers.
The killings endanger efforts by President Muhammadu Buhari to bring security and stability to Nigeria – a central pledge of his campaign for election in 2015.
The herdsmen, mainly of the Fulani ethnic group, and farmers often clash over the use of land in parts of the Middle Belt. The region is one of Nigeria’s most diverse, where religious, ancestral and cultural differences have frequently kindled conflict.
Terve Akase, chief press secretary to the governor of Benue, attributed 71 of the deaths from 31 December to 6 January in the state to killings by the Fulani. Reuters was unable to verify the figures.
“The attacks happened in very remote villages,” said Akase. “Now, with security operatives on the ground, villagers have been going about the bush to pick up more corpses.”
In neighbouring Taraba state, to the east, at least 12 people were killed in similar, ethnically-charged attacks in the Lau region on Friday and Sunday, a police spokesman said.
Residents of Lau told Reuters the number of dead was more than 30 people and said they had been given a mass burial.
Ibrahim Idris, Nigeria’s police inspector general, told reporters last week the country was secure, though more police would be deployed to Benue state to deal with the violence.
“What we should be praying for is for Nigerians to learn to live in peace with each other,” said Idris.
Nigerian armed troops have been deployed in more than 30 of the 36 states to tackle insecurity – something which has thrown a critical spotlight on the performance of the police.
In November, at least 30 people from a cattle herding community, including young children, were killed in a clash in the northeastern state of Adamawa.