Local officials and police in Nigeria have reported that at least 74 people were killed in two separate attacks by armed groups this week. The incidents took place in Benue state, which is located in the north central region of the country. The violence in the area has increased in recent years due to population growth, which has led to an expansion of farming land and left less space for open grazing by nomadic cattle herds.
According to Catherine Anene, a spokesperson for the Benue state police, 28 bodies were discovered at a camp for internally displaced people in Mgban local government area between Friday evening and Saturday morning. Witnesses reported that gunmen arrived and started shooting, killing several people. The attack followed a separate incident on Wednesday in the remote Umogidi village of Otukpo local government area, when suspected herdsmen killed villagers at a funeral. Paul Hemba, a security adviser to the Benue state governor, said that 46 bodies were recovered after Wednesday’s attack.
President Muhammadu Buhari released a statement on Saturday condemning “the recent bout of killings in Benue State in which tens of people were killed in Umogidi community” and directed security forces to increase surveillance in affected areas. However, many attacks in remote parts of Nigeria go unreported as thinly stretched security forces often respond late to distress calls by communities.
Benue is one of Nigeria’s Middle Belt states, where the majority Muslim north meets the predominantly Christian south. Competition over land use is particularly intractable in the Middle Belt, where fault lines between farmers and herders often overlap with ethnic and religious divisions. Benue has been one of the states hit hardest by years of disputes between nomadic herders and pastoral farmers who blame herdsmen for destroying farmland with their cattle grazing. Those conflicts have often spiralled into broader criminality and tit-for-tat revenge attacks between informal armed groups established to protect rival communities.
A spokesman for the national herders association this week urged officials not to blame herders for every attack before carrying out proper investigations. Separately on Saturday, gunmen abducted at least 80 people in Zamfara state, a hot spot for kidnappings for ransom by armed gangs targeting remote villages.
In conclusion, the violence in Nigeria’s Benue state highlights the ongoing conflicts between farmers and herders in the country. The situation is particularly complex in the Middle Belt region, where ethnic and religious divisions often overlap with land use disputes. The Nigerian government must take action to address the root causes of these conflicts and provide adequate security measures to protect vulnerable communities.