Over 20 killed in Nigeria in latest attacks by Fulani herdsmen

Men march along the truck carrying the coffins of people killed by Fulani herdsmen, in Makurdi, Nigeria January 11, 2018.REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

There are fears of unrest in Nigeria's Benue State after a string of attacks this month left 20 people dead.

Fulani militants attacked the villages of Tse-Tema Dula, Tse-Ugor, and Tse-Jabu in the Gwer West Local Council area of Benue State on March 4. 

One witness named only as Reuben told International Christian Concern that the attackers killed the villagers using guns and machetes. 

'It was bad. They killed over 20 people. Some were killed by gunshots and some by machete hacks,' he said, adding that many people had been displaced as a result of the violence.  

Three more people were killed in another attack several days later in the nearby village of Tse-Ikyo Mke.  Local pastor Rev Ajoh said the father of a member of his church had been killed, while another church member had lost a son-in-law.  ICC said the victims were all married with children. 

Fulani herdsmen, who are nomadic, have been blamed for numerous deadly attacks on rural communities in Benue State in a battle over land for cattle grazing. 

The situation had been relatively calm over the past year and during the presidential elections, but the fresh attacks have sparked concerns of a return to violence in the state. 

One witness told ICC that the Fulani had left the area during the presidential election, possibly to allow for the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari, as the Fulani and the president both share the Muslim faith. 

'Before the presidential election, they moved away, but they are now returning in their hundreds,' the unnamed source said.

'They don't like the current governor, and don't want him to return, so they would want to disrupt the state elections. Buhari has not been happy with him because he refused to cede land for 'cattle colonies".'

A senior aide in the Palace of the Tor Tiv, the paramount ruler over the Tiv tribe, said: 'Recently, they (herdsmen's militia) resumed attacking simultaneously in three areas now that their man has won the presidential election.'

He added, 'Some are still missing in the bush and the search is ongoing.' 

Pastor Ajoh said he was praying for peace. 

'The church in Benue is praying and we know that our God will never disappoint us,' he said. 

While the attacks are spurred by cattle grazing rights, the Global Terrorism Index says there is a religious dimension as the Fulani are largely Muslim while many communities that have suffered attacks are Christian. 

Bishop William Amove Avenya, of Gboko Diocese, recently appealed to Nigeria's leaders and the international community to do more to stop the attacks, saying they posed a much greater threat to Nigeria's Christian community than Islamist terrorism.

He told Aid to the Church in Need that the attacks were a 'forgotten tragedy' but 'no one is doing anything about it'.