Attackers, including some wearing military uniforms, have killed 10 members of the same family, with half the victims under the age of six, the military and an official said Friday.
Central Plateau state, where the attack occurred late Thursday, has seen waves of violence that has killed thousands in recent years, in part due to tension between mostly Muslim herdsmen and a mainly Christian ethnic group.
“A family of 10 were … murdered,” said Pam Ayuba, the governor’s spokesman. “Five little children including a two-month-old child were slaughtered.”
Ayuba said he visited the family’s compound after the attack and spoke to several witnesses who described the massacre as being carried out by Muslim Fulani herdsmen armed with guns and machetes.
Several eye witnesses said the assailants were dressed as soldiers, according to Ayuba.
The military spokesman in Plateau, Lt. Kingsley Amos, provided the same details, but assured that no soldiers were involved in the attack.
“Somehow, some hoodlums and criminals gained access to our old uniforms…but I can assure that none of our people were involved,” he told AFP.
Members of the mostly Christian Berom ethnic group, who consider themselves the state’s indigenes, have previously accused the military of perpetrating violence on behalf of the Fulani.
Egbo said soldiers who tried to access the village after the attack “were met with stiff resistance by the locals,” citing past allegations against the military as the potential cause.
Plateau lies on Nigeria’s so-called Middle Belt, where the mainly Christian south meets the predominately Muslim north in Africa’s most populous country and top oil producer.
Berom leaders have accused the Fulani of trying to appropriate wide swathes of land from what they claim are the state’s original settlers.
Fulani leaders as well as Hausas, who are also mostly Muslim, counter that the state’s primarily Christian political leaders have deprived them of basic rights.
The victims of the latest violence were from a Christian Berom family, the military and Ayuba said.
Extremist Islamist group Boko Haram, which has waged a deadly insurgency in north and central Nigeria that has killed hundreds since 2009, has been blamed for past violence in the state.
But most of the unrest is thought to be fuelled by the still-bitter grievances between the Berom and the Fulani.
A number of peace initiatives have been launched in recent years to pacify the state, which has seen intense violence interspersed with periods of relative calm.
A recent flare up occurred in July when a weekend of unrest blamed on Fulani gunmen left an estimated 100 people dead.
One of the attacks occurred at a graveside as residents attempted to bury those killed on the previous day.