Gunmen kill 17 villagers in central Nigeria

Nigerian soldiers

Nigerian soldiers patrol in the town of Banki in northeastern Nigeria. About 17 villagers have been killed in Nigeria's Benue State by suspected Fulani herdsmen.  

Photo credit: AFP

Suspected Fulani herdsmen have killed 17 villagers in two separate attacks in central Nigeria's Benue state, officials said Monday, in the latest violence in the restive region.

Benue is part of Nigeria's Middle Belt region which has been troubled by deadly clashes between nomadic herders and local farmers over land, grazing and water for years.

The conflict is an additional challenge for the nation's security forces who are battling on several fronts -- a more than decade-long jihadist insurgency in the northeast, criminal kidnap gangs in the northwest and a separatist militia in the southeast.

The herders killed 15 villagers, most of them farmers, in a dawn attack on Monday, while two were killed on Sunday in Gwer West local government area of Benue state, officials said.

"The armed herders attacked Tijime where they killed 15 persons and burnt down the community," said Ken Achabo, an aide to the state governor, while two more were killed in "another attack along the Naka-Agagbe road".

People displaced

"The people have all moved to Aondoana which is a nearby community," he added.

"The development is so painful because it has forced the people out of their homes and communities when they are supposed to be preparing to move into the farms to cultivate their produce," he added.

The head of Gwer West local government area, Grace Igbabon, reported the same death toll.

"The herdsmen sneaked into these communities, killed 17 of our people, including women, children and even the elderly, for no reason whatsoever," she said.

She said many people were also injured while houses were razed in the assaults.

"The development has left us with a huge humanitarian crisis because the people have deserted their ancestral homes, most of which have been razed," Igbabon added.

State police spokeswoman Catherine Anene confirmed the attacks, but refused to give details.

Benue has been wracked by herder-farmer clashes that have claimed thousands of lives in recent years.

Last week, seven people were killed and nine injured when suspected herders attacked an camp for displaced people in the state.