Attacks by Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria’s central state of Benue have claimed at least 1,269 lives, a study by Premium Times magazine has shown.

On February 21, in an attack in Agatu, for instance, one of the most serious in Nigeria in recent years – over 500 villagers were reportedly massacred and over 7,000 displaced from 10 villages.

Out of 23 local government areas in Benue, herdsmen have invaded and occupied 14, and may invade the remaining nine unless urgent measures are taken, authorities said.

Clashes between herdsmen and farmers are increasingly common in some parts of the country as the struggle over grazing rights and access to water becomes more acute.

The long-running conflict is frequently framed in economic terms, but the current violence goes beyond the grazing issues, the Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Benue State told World Watch Monitor.

“This is another jihad like the one waged by Boko Haram in the north-east of the country,” said Rev. Augustine Akpen Leva. “The attackers carry sophisticated weapons, sometimes they even used chemical weapons on our communities. They just come, often overnight when people are sleeping. They attack defenseless people and go away. They clearly have an agenda: to wipe out Christian presence and take over the land.”

The violence also plays into politics, frequently divided along ethnic lines. President Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani, has been accused of turning a blind eye to the problem, sparking a public outcry.

Premium Times’ report compiles data obtained from local journalists, community leaders and the Movement Against Fulani Occupation, MAFO, showing a timeline of herdsmen attacks in Benue State between 2013 and July 2016.

BBC, Premium Times