Suspected Fulani herdsmen killed at least 23 people in central Nigeria, the latest clash in a long-running battle with farming communities in the restive region, police said Tuesday. “There was an attack by unknown gunmen suspected to be Fulani herdsmen on three villages in Logo local government area, (Benue) state,” said police spokesman Austin Ezeani, referring to Saturday’s violence.
“As at yesterday, 23 people were (confirmed) killed,” he told pressmen. Benue is part of Nigeria’s so-called Middle Belt, where the mainly Christian south meets the predominately Muslim north. The Fulani, who are mostly Muslim, have been blamed for waves of attacks on largely Christian agrarian groups, with tensions high over access to land and other basic rights.
Fulani groups have accused farmers in Benue of stealing their cattle. Ezeani said the motive for the latest attack had not yet been established and that officers had been deployed to the targeted villages. “The people are still living under fear and panic but we have assured them of adequate security,” the spokesmen said.
Though often portrayed as the aggressors in central Nigeria’s sectarian strife, the Fulani receive inferior treatment under the law in Benue and neighbouring Plateau state. They are not considered indigenous to the area, meaning they have reduced access to land, education and political office, with most key positions held by members of Christian ethnic groups.
The Fulani are repeatedly accused of encroaching on farmland that belongs to so-called indigenous people but some Fulani have lived in central Nigeria for decades, or longer. The fighting has typically been cyclical, with one incident capable of sparking a series of reprisals. Ezeani said ethnic Tiv farmers in Benue had accused herdsmen of “destroying their farmlands and raping their women”. He did not say if there was any evidence to support such accusations.