By Rafiu Ajakaye
LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) - At least 168 people have been killed in clashes between herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria so far in January, while 549 were killed in 2017, according to Amnesty International on Tuesday.
The rights group said the government's response to the violence was unimpressive and that its deployment of soldiers to villages caught in the crisis had only worsened the situation because troops displayed "excessive force".
"Nigerian authorities' response to communal violence is totally inadequate, too slow and ineffective, and in some cases unlawful," Osai Ojigho, Amnesty International country director, said in a statement issued in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.
"Clashes between herdsmen and farmers in Adamawa, Benue, Taraba, Ondo and Kaduna have resulted in 168 deaths in January 2018 alone.
"Hundreds of people lost their lives last year, and the government is still not doing enough to protect communities from these violent clashes. Worse, the killers are getting away with murder," Ojigho said, and called on the Nigerian authorities to investigate these attacks and "where these investigations indicate criminal responsibility, prosecute those responsible and bring them to justice".
Nigerian officials could not be reached for comment.
But presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said in a statement last week that the government was committed to ending the crisis using multifaceted approaches: dialogue, security deployment and long-term plans.
He added that to find short-term and long-term solutions to frequent conflicts between farmers and cattle rearers, the Presidency was coming up with a conference of stakeholders on infrastructural and agricultural development to put in place a plan for immediate relief and long-term plan for the expansion of agriculture in the country.
"The conference will tap into experiences and best practices to draw up a planned development 20-30 years ahead based on population and development projections and will take into consideration environmental impacts," he said.
Violence between herdsmen and farmers has become a serious security crisis in Nigeria, especially in the mainly agrarian north-central or Middle Belt, with both sides often trading accusations.
Experts have blamed the crisis on the depleting Lake Chad and consequently scarce resources, leading to violent competition for land between farmers and herdsmen.