ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Gunmen killed at least 50 villagers over two days in Nigeria's north-central Plateau state, survivors said Thursday, prompting a 24-hour curfew and calls for authorities to end violence between nomadic cattle herders and farming communities.
No group took responsibility for the killings that took place in remove villages over a two-day period, the second such attack in less than a month in the state where more than 1 40 people were killed in December.
Gunmen stormed villages in Plateau’s Mangu district on Monday and Tuesday firing on residents and setting fire to houses, the Mwaghavul Development Association community association said. Reports of the attacks were delayed because of difficulty in accessing the area.
More bodies were recovered Thursday and many were missing or seriously wounded, according to Mathias Sohotden, a community leader. Amnesty International’s Nigeria office said it estimated a death toll much higher than the 30 it has so far confirmed.
The violence angered many in Nigeria and pressure mounted on the country’s leader, Bola Tinubu, who is in France on a private visit. Tinubu was elected president last year after promising to tackle Nigeria’s deadly security crisis but observers say the situation has not improved under his government.
Plateau Gov. Caleb Mutfwang imposed a 24-hour curfew Tuesday in Mangu in response to the attacks. However, that did not stop the violence, locals said.
Sohotden said the gunmen returned and attacked one of the villages, Kwahaslalek, raising the total casualty figure there to 35.
“Within the town itself, that is where bodies are being recovered, but there are places we cannot enter at the moment,” said Sohotden, who spoke from a local hospital where more than a dozen people were being treated for various injuries.
Locals blamed the attacks on herders from the Fulani tribe, who have been accused of carrying out such mass killings across the northwest and central regions. That's where the decades-long conflict over access to land and water has worsened the sectarian division between Christians and Muslims in Africa’s most populous nation.
The affected communities in the latest fighting were alerted of the impending attack but did not receive any assistance from security agencies, according to Lawrence Kyarshik, spokesman for the Mwaghavul Development Association community group. Such claims are common in conflict-hit Nigerian communities.
“The MDA (Mwaghavul Development Association) frowns at the activities of some of the military personnel who appear to be complacent in carrying out the constitutional duties they swore to protect all citizens of the country irrespective of tribe and religion,” Kyarshik said in a statement.
Nigerian authorities and security forces often fail to provide a clear account of such attacks and have also failed to investigate them and ensure justice for victims, said Anietie Ewang, Nigerian researcher with Human Rights Watch.
“It is this continued failure of the authorities that is producing mass casualties, destruction of entire communities,” Ewang said.