Hundreds of people in the city of Jos, 350km northeast of Nigeria's capital, Abuja, have been buried in mass graves after machete-wielding intruders attacked residents at 3 a.m. (local time) on 7 March.
"There was a mass burial of the dead last night [7 March], organized by the state government under tight security. No resident was allowed near the mass grave during the burial, as the graveyard was cordoned off by soldiers," Fidelis Tawkek told IRIN.
"There is a heavy military presence in the area, with the deployment of three trucks of soldiers and two armoured cars to [prevent] escalation of violence," Shamaki Gad Peter, of the League for Human Rights, a local NGO, told IRIN on 8 March. He said villagers had counted 202 cadavers.
Peter said the attacks were "well-coordinated and indiscriminate, as they were launched simultaneously, and women, children and the handicapped were macheted and then burnt."
In the dead of night
"Hundreds of Fulani herdsmen [a primarily nomadic ethnic group] invaded our village [Dogo Nahawa] and two neighbouring villages of Zot and Ratsat. My wife and two children were killed in the attack," Peter Gyang told IRIN. "The attackers fired gunshots just to scare people out of their houses, and then hacked them with machetes before setting them on fire."
Another resident, Yusuf Alkali, told IRIN he thought the attacks were reprisal killings for violence in January, when hundreds of Fulani nomadic herders were killed.
"It is obvious that the attacks were reprisals for the raid carried out on Fulani settlements in the area during the January violence by Berom [ethnic group, mostly Christian] youth, in which scores of the nomads, including women and children, were killed and hundreds of cattle taken away," said Alkali.
A local NGO working to prevent desertification in northern Nigeria, Green Shield of Nations, said there were an estimated 15 million pastoralists in northern Nigeria.
Dwindling cultivable land, political gerrymandering and impunity have increased the risk of violence, making Plateau State vulnerable to recurring violence, according to the government and rights groups.
The perpetrators of sectarian violence are rarely prosecuted, according to Human Rights Watch. Local police said more than 300 people arrested after the January killings were still in police custody in Jos and Abuja in late February.
The government is still in the process of demarcating grazing reserves in the northern states of Katsina and Bauchi, in an effort to curb deadly clashes between nomads and farmers over shrinking cultivable pastures caused by poor seeds and soil.
When the northern state of Jigawa – long a focus of community violence – cordoned off livestock routes several years ago, conflicts dropped from an average of 20 per year to only three in 2009, the state's director of livestock services told IRIN in October 2009.
Most of the estimated 20,000 people displaced during the violence in January have started leaving the nine camps set up to house them in Jos.
Auwalu Mohammed, director of the Red Cross in Jos, noted that "The number of IDPs [internally displaced persons] in those camps has significantly dwindled, as we now have not more than 6,000 people in them."
Relief workers are now determining the number of people displaced by the violence on 7 March.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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