Six police officers were killed in northeast Nigeria, police said on Monday, in an attack blamed on cattle herders following deadly clashes with farmers over land.
“We lost six policemen in an ambush by suspected Fulani herdsmen,” Othman Abubakar, a spokesman for the Adamawa state police, told AFP.
“The police were on their way to Dowaya village, outside Numan (district), with the intention of disarming Fulani herders, who reports said were carrying arms.”
No arrests had been made in connection with the ambush, which occurred on Friday, but it comes as the state is on heightened alert because of rising tensions between herders and farmers.
On November 20, at least 30 people were killed when farmers from the Christian Bachama ethnic group stormed four settlements of the Muslim Fulani herders in Numan district.
Herders representatives gave a higher death toll and said women and children were among those killed as they tried to flee.
Jaura Hammayidi, a herder in the area, said he did not know who was responsible for the ambush but claimed it followed a police attack on the community.
“After the attack on four villages, our people were left with no option but to relocate to other areas,” he said.
“Duwaya village was one of the villages our people moved to and they began the 40-day mourning of the slain women and children.
“Surprisingly, the police came attacking and they shot two people dead.”
Nigeria’s central states have been riven for decades with ethnic, sectarian and religious violence linked to tensions between farmers and herders over land and water.
But groups tracking the conflict say the unrest is spreading and non-Fulani communities have set up civilian militias because of the absence of effective law enforcement.
“This pattern is repeating itself across the country on both sides of the River Niger,” SBM Intelligence said in a recent report.
“If nothing is done urgently, it is going to get worse.”
The International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based think tank, said in September that some 2,500 people were killed and tens of thousands were forced from their homes last year.
Such attacks were “becoming as potentially dangerous as the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast”, it added.