At least 10 people were killed in several days of violence between herdsmen and farmers in eastern Nigeria, police said on Monday, but the cattle drivers gave a higher toll.
Clashes broke out in a number of remote herding villages in the Mambilla district of Taraba state last Thursday and continued throughout the weekend.
The violence is part of a wider series of clashes between largely nomadic cattle herders and farmers in central and southern Nigeria that has put pressure on the government to act.
“So far we have established the deaths of 10 people in the violence between herders and farmers in the Mambilla area,” said state police spokesman David Misal.
“Security personnel have succeeded in restoring normalcy in the area and there is ongoing security operation to consolidate peace.”
According to herders, Mambilla militia armed with machetes and spears stormed five herding settlements of Nyiwa, Yerimaru, Wuro-Mogoggo, Leme and Gagarum between Thursday and Saturday.
“From our records, 19 people have been killed and 23 injured in the unprovoked attacks in these five villages by armed Mambilla tribe militia,” said the head of the Nigerian herders union MACBAN, Mohammed Keruwa.
Nyiwa was worst hit with nine herders killed by the attackers who also “killed 318 cows, stole 38 cows, 158 sheep and 308 fowls,” he added.
Mambilla lies on Nigeria’s border with Cameroon and is a herding and farming hub reputed for fertile land, lush vegetation and abundant water.
Tensions have been running high for many years between herders and farmers over land and water rights.
The herders are Muslim and the farmers are largely Christian, which adds an ethnic and religious dimension to the tensions. Many herders have fled to northern Cameroon.
In January 2002, more than 20,000 herders fled the Mambilla plateau area into Cameroon following violence with farmers which MACBAN said at the time left 50 herders dead.
In June last year deadly clashes again broke out in the area. MACBAN claimed more than 700 herders were killed in the violence but the authorities gave a much lower toll.
The southern state of Benue has been a flashpoint in recent months after resistance to a new law banning open grazing for cattle.
In January, 73 people from the ethnic Tiv farming communities were buried at a mass funeral after a series of attacks blamed on Fulani herders