ABUJA, Nigeria -- At least 36 bodies have been recovered after gunmen attacked a village in northcentral Nigeria, officials said Friday, prompting calls for the nation’s government to license sophisticated guns for local guards.
The gunmen reportedly arrived in a large group in the remote Gbeji community of Benue state Wednesday and opened fire on villagers in the latest deadly violence in the West African nation's troubled northern region.
Two police officers were among those killed in the attack that left many injured, said Terver Akase, a spoeksman for the Benue state government.
Details of the incident remained sketchy Friday. Akase blamed the assault on herdsmen, while local media said it was a reprisal for herders in the community being targeted by an earlier attack.
Benue officials visited Gbeji on Friday and met with families of the victims, urging the national government to license sophisticated guns for the state’s local security force to defend residents.
“The security agencies have been overstretched. That being the case, our people have to defend themselves,” a government statement quoted Gov. Ortom’s representative as saying.
Gabriel Suswam, who represents the affected area in Nigeria’s Senate, said the Nigerian government “has failed woefully in the protection of lives and property.”
Such attacks are frequent in Nigeria’s middle belt and central regions where deadly clashes between local communities and herdsmen have continued for many years, defying government and security measures. At least 14 people were killed in a similar incident in another part of Benue a month ago.
The herdsmen are mostly young pastoralists from Nigeria’s Fulani tribe caught up in a decades-long conflict between host communities and herdsmen over limited access to water and land.
Attacks sometimes take a religious turn between Muslim and Christian communities amid Nigeria’s deep religious divide and it is common for authorities to not announce any arrests in many cases.