The president of Nigeria appealed for calm late on Sunday following violent clashes between mostly Muslim herders and Christian farmers in the central state of Plateau that left an estimated 86 people dead.
Describing the deaths as "deeply unfortunate killings," President Muhammadu Buhari said that "no efforts will be spared to bring the perpetrators to justice" and prevent further violence.
While the government has yet to confirm the death toll, various members of the Plateau Police said that 86 people had been killed and 6 injured and that 50 houses were destroyed in the clashes.
The violence was the latest to occur as part of a long-term battle between predominantly Muslim herders from the north of the country and Christian farmers who live in the south.
The ongoing fighting, in which members of herding and farming communities alternately attack one another in what has become a familiar pattern that authorities seem unable to stop, is considered by many analysts to be Nigeria's biggest security threat, surpassing the Boko Haram Islamist militia that has left at least 20,000 dead since 2009.
Fighting a political challenge
The fighting is also a challenge for Buhari, who faces an election next year. A former military ruler, Buhani is ethnic Fulani and Muslim, like the herders, and has been accused of failing to act to stem the violence.
Few details were available in the aftermath of Sunday's attacks. Local media reported that the attacks began Saturday shortly before midnight and lasted into early Sunday morning, and that the violence was carried out by gunmen.
Earlier in the day the governor of the Plateau State, Simon Bako Lalong, imposed a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew saying in a series of tweets that he had woken up to the "shocking news" of the "horrible situation."
The violence between herders and farmers has manifold motivations, including ethnic, religious and political allegiances, and also increasing pressures for natural resources.
Climate change, as well as Boko Haram activity in the northeast of Nigeria, has forced herders to move further southward to find grazing lands in areas populated by Berom and Bachama farmers, who hold Christian beliefs.
President Buhari has proposed establishing cattle ranches to prevent further tensions over grazing. Farmers strongly oppose this initiative and describe it as a move to carve up their land.
cmb/se (AP, EFE, AFP)