KADUNA Nigeria Jan 13 Hundreds of people have
died in a surge of ethnically-charged violence in Nigeria's
divided heartlands, officials said, piling pressure on a
government already facing Islamist militants in its northeast
and rebels in its oil-rich south.
Locals in remote villages in Kaduna state told Reuters
Muslim herders had clashed with largely Christian farmers
repeatedly in recent weeks, in the worst outbreak of killings in
the region since riots killed 800 after elections in 2011.
The fighting triggered by competition over scarce resources
has come at a particularly sensitive time for Kaduna city, which
is about to become the main air hub in central and northern
Nigeria, after the capital Abuja's airport closes temporarily
for runway repairs in March.
Farmer Ibrahim Sabo said cattle herders armed with assault
rifles raided his village Kalangai in southern Kaduna in
November, forcing him and his family to hide in surrounding
"We left everything we harvested and they took our cattle.
We have been running ever since," said the 75-year-old in Kakura
village where he took refuge.
The violence has focused attention on President Muhammadu
Buhari, a former military ruler who vowed to restore order in
Africa's most populous nation when he came to power in May 2015.
He held a five-hour session with senior security and army
officials in Abuja on Thursday on how to tackle the unrest.
Security agencies are already deploying extra forces to
secure Kaduna's airport and its highway to Abuja, a route often
targeted by kidnappers.
That all comes on top of an insurgency by Boko Haram
Islamists in the northeast, beaten back last year by a military
coalition of neighbouring nations, but showing signs of a
resurgence with a recent step-up in bombings.
Militants in the southern Niger Delta oil hub have said they
are ready to resume pipeline attacks, and there have also been
clashes between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims in Kaduna state.
Locals say the Kaduna violence grew out of festering
disputes over territory in October and November, then escalated
sharply, exacerbated by north-south, Muslim-Christian tensions
in a patchwork nation.
Details of attacks and precise figures are hard to come by
in the remote territory.
The national disaster agency NEMA said on Friday it had
recorded a total of 204 deaths since October in Kafanchan and
Chikun, two of the four municipal districts worst hit by the
violence, with no details from the others.
Christian leaders released a statement late December saying
808 people had died - an estimate dismissed by Kaduna state
police commissioner Agyole Abeh who did not give his own figure.
The authorities had already sent in reinforcements - 10
units, each with 63 police officers, using 20 armoured cars, he
Community group, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders
Association of Nigeria, said herdsmen had been "unjustifiably
accused and maligned" in the area and had also come under
attack, prompting a cycle of revenge.
There were few signs of the promised police or army
reinforcements outside the centre of Kaduna city.
Tarmac roads gave way to red soil dirt tracks leading to
Kakura, on the edge of the territory that has seen the worst
Another farmer, Yusuf Dogo, said dozens of armed herdsmen
burned houses in his village of Pasakori in three quick raids,
forcing 700 people to flee in October.
"They ran through our village and started shooting
randomly," he said. "Later, they brought their cattle and they
(Additional reporting by Garba Muhammad in Kaduna and Felix
Onuah in Abuja; Editing by Ulf Laessing and Andrew Heavens)