President Muhammadu Buhari has blamed politicians for taking advantage of violent clashes between cattle herders and farmers and escalating the conflict for political gain.
The president said this in the wake of the gruesome killing of at least 86 people in Plateau State on Saturday, June 23, 2018, when herdsmen allegedly attacked people in 11 communities in the state.
Even though eyewitnesses have reported a death toll of well above 120, the state's police command said on Sunday, June 24, that 86 people were killed in the wave of violence with 50 houses also reported to be burnt.
The attacks took place in Xland, Gindin Akwati, Ruku, Nghar, Kura Falls and Kakuruk in Gashish District, as well as Rakok, Kok and Razat in the Ropp District, leading to subsequent retaliation by locals who reportedly targeted Muslims in some communities.
In a statement released by the president's Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, on Monday, June 25, the president is quoted as remarking that politicians are using the conflict for political gain.
He decried how increasingly cheap human life has become in the country as allegedly "desperate people" are pursuing their quest for instability and chaos in the hopes that it would give them an advantage in the upcoming elections.
He said, "We know that a number of geographical and economic factors are contributing to the longstanding herdsmen/farmers clashes. But we also know that politicians are taking advantage of the situation. This is incredibly unfortunate.
"Nigerians affected by the herdsmen/farmer clashes must always allow the due process of the law to take its course rather than taking matters into their own hands."
Shehu further noted that information available to the presidency indicated that about one hundred cattle had been rustled by a community in Plateau State, and some herdsmen were killed in the process.
He said this led to the state governor, Simon Lalong, having to invite the aggrieved groups to plead against further action while the law enforcement agents looked into the matter. He said violence broke out less than 24 hours later.
Shehu also alleged that local thugs hijacked the situation and turned it into an opportunity to extort the public, and to attack people from rival political parties.
He reported that there were reports of vehicles being stopped along the roads in the state, with people being dragged out of their cars and attacked if they stated that they supported certain politicians or political party.
Shehu also said Lalong had to dismantle a number of illegal road blocks set up by the thugs on his way back to Jos after attending the national convention of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Abuja.
Herdsmen killings are political - FG
During an interview on Arise TV on Wednesday, June 20, President Buhari's Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, blamed the federal government's political opposition for escalating killings allegedly carried out by herdsmen all over the country for political gain.
He said political detractors of the current administration have hijacked the conflict and sponsored attacks to discredit Buhari's achievements in strengthening security in the country.
Shehu made a similar accusation in April 2018 when he revealed that the federal government has evidence that most of attacks are being sponsored by politicians who are trying to blackmail the government.
Just days later, the Defence Headquarters also blamed the rise in the spate of killings carried out by suspected herdsmen as the handiwork of certain unnamed sponsors.
The Director, Defence Information, Brigadier-General John Agim, said, "The military is strategising on how to go after the herdsmen and their sponsors. We will get both the herdsmen and their sponsors. We want to say this to the killers and their sponsors that the military is coming for them. We are going to get both the killers and their sponsors very soon."
More recently in May, President Buhari himself alleged that the spate of killings in Nigeria was being sponsored by certain individuals to start a war in the country for selfish reasons. He further remarked that attacks on locations like places of worship is an attempt to stoke conflict and turn Nigerians against one another on the basis of religion.
Herders and farmers have clashed for years over the battle for resources as roaming herdsmen tend to graze their cattle on farmlands, leading to tension and sometimes violence that leads to deaths of people on both sides.
Ever since herdsmen were blamed for the death of 73 people in attacks launched in Guma and Logo local government areas of Benue State in the opening days of January 2018, hundreds of people have been killed in similar attacks with Taraba and Benue bearing most of the brunt.