By G9ija

Eighteen people, including two policemen, were killed in intercommunal violence between nomadic herders and farmers in Benue State, officials said Thursday.

Violence broke out early on Wednesday when herders stormed Gbeji farming village in Ukum district, shooting indiscriminately, Paul Hemba, security adviser to Benue state governor said.

Disputes between cattle herders and local farming settlements over land, grazing and water rights are common in central and northwestern regions of Africa’s most populous nation.

“From the latest report I received, 18 people were killed in the attack, two policemen and 16 residents of the village,” Hemba said.

“Security agencies were alerted and they deployed in the affected area which helped in stopping the attack, otherwise the casualties would have been higher,” he added.

Several other people were injured in the attack and were taken to local hospitals.

Benue state police commissioner Wale Abbas said the attack was a reprisal for the killing of five ethnic Fulani herders by locals in the area.

“The crisis started on Tuesday when five Fulani herdsmen were attacked and killed in three separate incidents and their cows rustled,” Abbas said.

He said he was preparing to summon a peace meeting between the herdsmen and the people in the area when he received reports that Gbeji had been attacked by herdsmen.

Abbas gave a lower death toll of 10, including a policeman, locals and herders.

“The dead policeman was hit by a stray bullet and died on the way to hospital,” Abbas said.

Security personnel were searching for the herders and locals accused of involvement in the clashes, he said.

Tensions between communities sometimes take on ethnic and religious dimensions in Nigeria which has dozens of ethnic groups and is almost equally split between the mostly Christian south and predominantly Muslim north.

Northwest and central Nigeria have also been hit hard by violence from criminal gangs called bandits by locals, who raid villages, killing and burning homes after looting them and carry out mass kidnappings for ransom.