Benue state governor, Samuel Ortom, has claimed that attacks by cattle herders have claimed the lives of at least 492 people in just five months.

The governor made this claim on Tuesday, May 22, 2018, at the mass burial organised for the two Catholic priests and 13 other worshippers who were killed by suspected herdsmen in Gwer local government area of Benue last month.

The two priests, Rev. Fathers Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha, were killed during a mass along with 17 worshippers when the attackers invaded St. Ignatius Quasi Parish Ukpor-Mbalom in Ayar-Mbalom community of Gwer East LGA on Tuesday, April 24, 2018.

Earlier this year, the bodies of 73 men, women and children were buried at a mass burial ceremony organised by the state government on January 11 after several attacks carried out by suspected cattle herders from the early hours of January 1.

Since the killings started in January, there has been a spate of similar killings that have also taken place in other states like Taraba and Nasarawa.

While speaking on Tuesday, Ortom, comdemned the killings and further called on the federal government to bring perpetrators to book. The governor has consistently blamed the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore for the killings, pointing to the several public threats the group has made against the state's Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law that outlawed open grazing in the state in 2017.

Ortom said, "We know our killers but they are not arrested or invited for interrogation; they have stated at several fora that they would reclaim their land."

Herdsmen crisis

The killings allegedly carried out by cattle herders have been attributed to be an escalation of lingering conflict between nomadic herdsmen and local farmers, especially in the Middle Belt, over the access and control of lands. Tensions between both parties have long ago resulted in the armed conflicts that have been coloured by tribal and religious sentiments that have worsened the problem.

On Tuesday, President Muhammadu Buhari alleged that the spate of killings in Nigeria is being sponsored by certain individuals to start a war in the country for selfish reasons.

"These senseless, unwarranted attacks on innocent civilians are utterly condemnable. And we will not rest until we bring all of these killers, who belong to the lowest level of civilization, to justice. Our security forces are on full alert, to checkmate these evil attacks.

"As I've said before, these persistent killings are not spontaneous; there are clandestine forces with a sinister agenda to instigate war in Nigeria for selfish purposes," he said.

The president further assured Nigerians that his administration is doing its best to improve security in the troubled states and Nigeria as a whole.