Forty-six bodies have been found after gunmen attacked a rural village in central northern Nigeria, local government officials said, the latest in a series of deadly assaults in the region.
The attack happened on Wednesday in Umogidi in Benue state, where tit-for-tat clashes are common between nomadic herders and settled farmers competing for land and resources.
“The 46 casualties were from the bodies of victims found and retrieved. Many people are still missing, so the number of those killed may be higher,” Paul Hemba, security adviser to the Benue state governor, told.
He blamed herdsmen, who he said had been attacking local communities over the past month. “Soldiers have been dispatched to the area, so the situation is a bit calm now,” he added.
The motive for the attack was not clear but Benue has been one of the hardest hits by clashes between farmers and Fulani herders they accuse of destroying farmland with their cattle grazing.
Baba Usman Ngelzarma, chairman of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, a union of Fulani herders, warned against blaming herders without investigation. “There is a deliberate campaign of demonisation of Fulani herders, which started in Benue and spread to other parts of Nigeria,” he said.
“We are not exonerating Fulani herders from involvement in some of the attacks, but the way they are always blamed for every attack is unfair and prejudiced.” He called for an investigation to find the real perpetrators.
Bala Ejeh, the local government chairman in the town of Otukpo, said the gunmen attacked on Wednesday afternoon when people were mourning three others killed a day earlier. He also said 46 bodies had been recovered so far, including that of his own son and two relatives.
Communal violence is just one of the security challenges facing president-elect Bola Tinubu, who won a February presidential ballot that was marked by delays and accusations of vote-rigging.
Security forces are also battling a 14-year-long jihadist conflict and attacks by separatists.
Intercommunal violence has spiralled into broader criminality in the north-west and centre of the country, where heavily armed bandit militias ransack villages and carry out mass abductions for ransom.