Nigeria will punish those behind an outbreak of deadly clashes between cattle herders and farmers, President Muhammadu Buhari said pushing back at accusations he failed to take action against members of his own ethnic group.
At least 83 people have been killed since the start of the new year in violence between mainly Christian farmers and semi-nomadic herders, mostly Muslims from Buhari’s Fulani ethnic group.
The outbreak of violence, mostly in Benue, has become increasingly political ahead of elections in February 2019, with Buhari’s opponents accusing him of failing to take action against the herdsmen.
“President Buhari said all those involved in the conflict that culminated in loss of lives would not escape justice, including illegally armed militia in the state,” said a statement released by Nigeria’s presidency, after Buhari spoke to a delegation of Benue political leaders.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is home to 250 ethnic groups, about evenly divided between Christians in the south and Muslims in the north. Central states such as Benue have seen violence over religious, ancestral and cultural differences.
Farmers caught up in the clashes say herdsmen, who roam in search of pasture and often travel in and out of Nigeria through porous borders, are armed with guns and cutlasses. Groups representing herdsmen accuse farmers of violent attacks in the last few years.
“I assure you the police, the Department of State Service and other security agencies have been directed to ensure all those behind the mayhem get punished,” Buhari told the delegation, according to the statement.
Those at the meeting in Abuja, included Benue state governor, members of parliament and traditional rulers. Buhari, a former military ruler who was elected in 2015 after vowing to improve security, has not yet said whether he will seek a new term next year.
Last week his spokesman said the suggestion Buhari was not taking action regarding the herdsmen because of his ethnicity was “disturbing”, adding such clashes predated Buhari’s administration.