A total of 71 people have been killed in a week of violence in Benue State, a government spokesman said on Monday, much of it involving clashes between Fulani cattle herders and farmers.
The killings endanger efforts by President Muhammadu Buhari to bring security and stability to Nigeria – a key campaign pledge when he ran for election in 2015.
Muslim herdsmen, mainly of the Fulani ethnic group, and Christian farmers often clash over the use of land in remote areas of the Middle Belt region.
The Chief Press Secretary to the Benue State Governor, Terve Akase, who spoke with Reuters, attributed 71 deaths from December 31 to January 6 to killings by the Fulani. Reuters was unable to verify the figures.
“The attacks happened in very remote villages. Now, with security operatives on the ground, villagers have been going about the bush to pick up more corpses,” Akase said.
The Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, told reporters last week that the country was secure, though more police would be deployed to Benue state to deal with the violence.
Meanwhile Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, on Monday, declared a three-day mourning for the 59 dead victims that were killed in recent attacks on communities in the Logo and Guma Local Government Areas of the state by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
Ortom stated that the mourning period would be from Tuesday (today) to Thursday this week and end with a church service for the victims at the IBB square in Makurdi, followed by a mass burial.
This was disclosed in a statement issued by Akase in Makurdi on Monday.
The governor directed that all offices must fly their flags at half mast within the mourning period while work would close at 1pm on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The statement added that Thursday had been declared a work-free day to enable workers attend the burial service and internment of the victims.
Also, a cross section of Benue women on Monday enjoined the wife of the President, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, to rise up as the mother of Nigeria to challenge her husband to reshape the nation’s security architecture that would guarantee the safety of mothers and children in their homes.
The women, who were led by a former Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development in the state, Mrs. Elizabeth Apedzan, said that they were in the Government House to commiserate with the wife of the Governor of Benue State, Eunice, over the killings.
Apedzan, who spoke on their behalf, stated that Benue women would not stop to cry until Buhari decided to do the needful by deploying adequate security agents to the state to avert further killings.
She condemned the killings, describing it as an ethnic cleansing and called on President Buhari to rise to the occasion by bringing it to an end.
She lauded the steps so far taken by Governor Ortom, assuring him that they would continue to pray and stand with the state government.
Mrs. Ortom thanked the women for identifying with such a good cause and promised to stand with them until justice was done and promised to take their message to Abuja.