Dozens of Christians Dead, Thousands Exiled in Nigerian Violence

Religious violence this week between Christian and Muslim ethnic groups in rural Nigerian communities has exiled 5,000 people from the area and left as many as 79 dead.

The Tiv ethnic group, who are mostly Christian farmers, clashed with Fulani nomadic herdsmen, who are mostly Muslim. The violence is yet another instance of religious battling in the middle region of the country, which stands as a dividing line between a number of ethnic and religious groups.

The fighting began when Fulani herdsmen found some of their livestock slaughtered, according to the state’s information commissioner Conrad Wergba.

"It is an occurring problem," Wergba told the AP. "There is this conflict each time their cattle destroy the Tiv farmland during grazing."

For the rural communities in central Nigeria, harvest is the most important time of year, as it dictates food and supply stock for the rest of the year for some families.

“This crisis is coming at a time people residing in these areas, who are predominantly farmers, are harvesting their crops,” Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly, David Iorhemba, told reporters.

“The harvest season has started, but quite unfortunately, the farmers in the areas have been displaced; their farms and homes have been completely destroyed with children and women suffering more than any other group,” Iorhemba said.

Refugees fleeing the area are piling into camps in nearby cities, where officials say supplies and aid are limited.

Iorhemba urged government colleagues to work towards an effective end to the violence. He recommended more troops be sent to the region, and an increase in aid for the exiled masses.

Despite concerns from some residents that violent sects have aided the fighting, police in the area say the situation is under control and the culprits are caught.

"For now the situation is absolutely calm and security forces have been deployed to ensure the problem does not escalate," Benue state police spokesman Ejike Alaribe said in a statement.

The death toll ranges from five to more than 80. The large range is attributed to the fact that rural communities rarely report deaths, and that the violence was spread out amongst a wide rural area.

"It's a remote area. Most of the things that happen, they don't feel like going to report them to the appropriate authorities. It could be more,” Alaribe said.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation. About half of Nigerians are Christians, who occupy the south, and half are northern Muslims. Violence in the middle region has occurred for decades, but has escalated in recent years.

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