At least five people were killed travelling on a road in central Nigeria’s Benue state, an area wracked by deadly sectarian violence between herders and farmers, officials said on Sunday.
“The travellers were attacked by unknown gunmen on Saturday when their vehicle broke down. The police has recovered five bodies,” said Tahav Agerzua, spokesman for the state governor, Samuel Ortom.
He said the government has launched an investigation into the incident that happened at Yelwata town along the Lafia-Makurdi highway. The governor condemned the killings in a statement on Sunday, describing the perpetrators as “hoodlums” and called for thier prompt arrest.
The chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Danladi Chiroma, said those killed were ethnic Fulani herdsmen.
“The victims were Fulani herders who were from Awe in Nasarawa state. They were travelling on Saturday evening to attend a naming ceremony in another location,” when they were attacked, Chiroma said.
“Unfortunately, the vehicle which the deceased persons were traveling in developed a problem at Yelwata, and it was at the process of trying to fix the fault that the hoodlums believed to be Tiv youths pounced on the victims and killed them,” he said, referring to ethnic Tivs who are farmers.
Chiroma also indicated a higher death toll, claiming 10 people were killed with six bodies recovered. Benue state lies in Nigeria’s so-called Middle Belt that separates the predominantly Muslim north from the largely Christian south.
The area has long been a hotbed of ethnic, sectarian and religious tensions between indigenous farming communities, who are mainly Christian and the nomadic Hausa/Fulani cattle herders, who are Muslim. Tensions have boiled over access to land and resources, escalating into a rift that has deepened along nominally religious lines.
On Thursday at least 10 people were killed in Tse-Adudu and Enger villages in the Gwer West area of Benue state. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, an ethnic Fulani Muslim from the north, is under intense pressure to end the killings that have claimed hundreds of lives since January.