More than 200 people died in weekend clashes in central Nigeria between farmers and herders after attacks by “suspected militia herdsmen,” the governor of Plateau State said.
Simon Lalong spoke late Tuesday during a visit by President Muhammadu Buhari after military, police and counter terror units were sent to end the bloodshed in one of the deadliest such confrontations this year. Police late Sunday had put the death toll at 86.
The clashes between herders and farmers over resources are a growing security concern in Africa’s most populous country, which is roughly split between Muslims in the north and Christians in the south. By some accounts they have become more deadly than Nigeria’s Boko Haram extremist insurgency.
Lalong said authorities were concerned about the use of sophisticated weapons in the latest attacks, calling them “reflective of a terrorist invasion.”
Security is a major issue for Buhari, a Muslim former military ruler who won office in a democratic transfer of power in 2015, ahead of next year’s elections.
The threat from Boko Haram, which continues to carry out attacks in the northeast, has been cited as a cause of the growing tensions. Herders in search of safe grazing land, and feeling the effects of climate change, have been forced south into more populated farming communities.
The latest clashes began when about 100 cattle were rustled and some herders were killed, Buhari’s office said Monday. The president accused unnamed politicians of taking advantage of the chaos ahead of the elections, calling it “incredibly unfortunate.”
Dramatic weekend footage from Jos showed angry people waving machetes and sticks and shouting at passing security forces as they weaved around overturned and burning vehicles. Smoke rose in the distance. Women and children clutching overstuffed bags piled into the back of trucks, seeking a way out.
Buhari has warned against reprisal attacks.