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Nigeria grapples with mob justice in farmer-herder clashes

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In the heart of Gboko’s main market, in Benue state, central Nigeria, stains still darken the dusty corners of the car park, where seven men were burned alive in broad daylight.

Their only crime was to have “light skin and look like Fulanis”, said a police officer, referring to the herders blamed for deadly violence against farmers in recent months.

For the last week, lack of street lighting has plunged Gboko into virtual darkness.

Residents have shut themselves away at home and nervous police on patrol threaten to shoot at any vehicle defying a 6:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew.

Near the scene of the crime, the faces of traders give away nothing and become hostile at approaches. They “weren’t there” that day, and know “nothing” about what happened, they say.

Early on January 31, a group of young men carrying sticks, stones and machetes attacked travellers waiting at the Gboko bus station.

The travellers were then set on fire, witnesses said.

“They were on their way to (neighbouring) Taraba state and were about to board on another vehicle when someone suddenly raised the alarm, shouting, ‘Fulanis have come to kill us!'” said the police officer.

“A mob of irate youths attacked them. We came to rescue them but before we could do anything they were set ablaze.”

– Spiralling violence –
The old door of the local road transport union is padlocked. Its president was arrested with 15 other people on suspicion of involvement in the violence.

The gruesome story says much about the ill feeling between the local, mainly Christian Tiv farmers and the Muslim Fulani cattle herders.

Cattle are moved every year from the arid north to the fertile pastures in central Nigeria, where they are accused of ruining crops.

What began as a competition for access to land has been aggravated by global warming and Nigeria’s demographic explosion.

Nigeria is currently home to some 180 million people — the most in Africa — and is expected to become the world’s third most populous country by 2050.

The herders-farmer conflict has transformed into a bloody conflict, with tit-for-tat attacks and communal clashes.

Amnesty International said on January 31 that 168 people have been killed in communal violence since the start of the year. More than 100 of them have been in Benue state.

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