ABUJA, Mar 17 (Reuters) - Cattle herders killed 82 people and wounded 25 in a village in central Nigeria over grazing rights, police said on Tuesday, less than two weeks before a national election in which political and ethnic tensions are running high.
Police went on Monday to investigate the attack by Muslim Fulani herdsmen on the mostly Christian Egba ethnic group at the weekend in the remote village Agatu Iga in Benue state, in the flashpoint “Middle Belt” of Africa’s most populous nation.
Hundreds have been killed in the past year in clashes between the semi-nomadic, cattle-herding Fulani and the more settled communities that practice a mix of farming and cattle rearing.
There was no indication the attack had anything to do with Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which has killed thousands in a six-year insurgency mostly in the far north of Nigeria.
“It is the longstanding issue over grazing rights and cattle rustling between Egba and Fulani people,” police spokesman Ezeala Austin said by telephone.
Fears are that tensions in the Middle Belt could be exploited by politicians if the presidential election on March 28 is disputed, triggering deadly unrest, as happened in 2011.
The vote pits incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south, against former military leader Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim.
However, Interior Minister Abba Moro told national radio on Tuesday, “The killings in Egba have nothing to do with the upcoming elections.”
Reporting by Anamesere Igboeroteonwu; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Tim Cocks and Louise Ireland