Nigeria: At least 45 dead in ethno-religious conflict

The Fulani community are involved in a long-running dispute with Christian farmers in central Nigeria.Reuters

At least 45 people, mostly women, children and elderly people, were killed by gunmen in central Nigeria on Sunday, police have confirmed.

Local media reported that 80 people were killed in Egba village in Agatu, Benue state, and a survivor told Associated Press that he counted 95 bodies.

The perpetrators are suspected to be from the Fulani community, a group of nomadic cattle herders made up of mostly Muslims who are involved in an ongoing land dispute with local Christian farmers in the region.

Insurgents reportedly attacked the village at around 5am on March 15. A police official told AP that the area "has been volatile for some time".

Another local source told the Daily Independent that "the attackers who came in their hundreds killed scores and more than 80 corpses have so far been recovered."

Audu Sule, who represents Agatu at the Benue State House of Assembly, told the paper that attackers are known to cross over from Nasarawa State and kill without provocation. A resident of Egba village who was able to flee said that the attackers also burnt down almost all the houses in the area.

The long-running conflict has resulted in the deaths of thousands of people in recent years. A fresh outbreak of violence last year forced an estimated 50,000 people to flee in Benue state, contributing to the significant displacement in northern Nigeria already caused by Boko Haram.

There have been accusations that the Fulani people have links to more radical forms of Islam, and some attacks in the past have been considered to be religiously motivated. However, it is not thought that Sunday's attack was inspired by anti-Christian sentiment.