Three people were shot dead in central Nigeria, police said on Friday, with suspicion falling on cattle herders after a wave of communal violence that has heaped pressure on the government to act.
Unknown gunmen opened fire on the men on Thursday evening in Anyiin, in enue state, where early last month more than 80 people were killed.
Benue state police chief Fatai Owoseni said the identity of the gunmen had not yet been established.
But given the location and similarity to previous attacks, suspicion locally immediately fell on herders.
Owoseni said officers sent to the scene at the sound of gunshots found that four people on two motorcycles had been attacked, with three others collecting water.
“Three survivors are still receiving treatment at the hospital. (They) happened to be those that were fetching water from the stream,” he said.
“The ones that were dead were those riding on the motorcycles while one of them survived.”
More than 168 people have been killed in communal violence between herders and farmers this year alone, with about 100 in Benue state, according to Amnesty International.
In 2016, some 2 500 were killed countrywide, the International Crisis Group has said, warning the conflict was becoming “as potentially dangerous as the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast”.
The long-running clashes began as a dispute over land and water but have escalated in recent years, stoked by ethnic, sectarian and religious differences.
The farmers are mainly Christian while the cattle herders are Muslim, accentuating deep-seated mistrust between Nigeria’s south and north.
Critics of President Muhammadu Buhari have accused him of failing to act because the herders are his kinsmen.
Buhari this week rejected claims a government proposal to create cattle ranches to contain herds was an attempt to “colonise” any part of Nigeria.
The army has announced it would deploy extra troops to Benue and neighbouring Taraba and Nasarawa state to try to stop the unrest.
Benue’s governor, Samuel Ortom, has criticised the police for not doing enough to protect people and property and this week urged people to use “any lawful means” to defend themselves against attack.