No fewer than 761 persons have lost their lives to cultism and clashes involving Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria between January and July this year, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.
Findings by Saturday PUNCH, which was based on reported cases of violence involving cultism and Fulani herdsmen in the media, revealed the information.
The analysis showed that out of the figure, violence involving the Fulani nomads claimed 621 lives across the country within the period, while that of cult clashes claimed the remaining 140 victims.
It should, however, be noted that some killings were unreported and the attacks also left several persons injured, some of whom could have lost their lives later.
Of the 621 who died in clashes involving Fulani herdsmen, more than half of the deaths occurred in Benue State, a major flashpoint of the crisis in the country.
In January, 27 persons were killed in violent incidents involving Fulani herdsmen. In February, 96 persons died in similar circumstances; 236 in March; 28 in April; and five in May.
One of the most deadly attacks in the state this year occurred in March, when on a Sunday morning, Fulani herdsmen attacked Egba village in Agatu Local Government Area, killing 90 persons.
Other major flashpoints in the country as regards clashes involving Fulani herdsmen include communities in Taraba, Kogi, Nasarawa, Plateau, Kaduna, Zamfara, Ekiti and Kwara states where scores of people were also killed.
In Taraba State, for instance, 47 persons reportedly died in similar circumstances in January, 15 in April, eight in May, and four in July.
Also, on Saturday, April 4, clashes between suspected Fulani cattle rearers and local youth vigilantes from rival Hausa ethnic group in Zamfara State left at least 72 persons dead.
In Kaduna, 11 persons died in similar circumstances in January and 13 in June, this year.
Lagos State is the major flashpoint for cult violence in the country with the state alone claiming at least 80 out of the 140 victims.
A senior police officer at the Lagos State Police Command recently said no fewer than 80 persons were killed in cult clashes in the state between January and June.
The police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity noted that the figure could be higher than 80 because not all cases were reported to the police.
He said, “We have had so many cult killings within the past six months. Most of the cases involved former university students who left school and decided to carry on with their cult related activities after school in their areas.
“The number of cases reported cannot be less than 80, and that is leaving out the number of unreported cases.”
Meanwhile in July, there were at least two incidents involving cult clashes in Lagos, each claiming at least one life.
In January alone, no fewer than 16 persons were killed in cult-related circumstances, while 17 others were killed in similar circumstances in February.
Major flashpoints of cult attacks in the state are Mushin, Somolu, Bariga, Ikorodu, Ketu, Onipanu, Bariga, and Igando.
Next to Lagos are Ogun and Delta states, where 21 and 15 persons were reported dead in cult clashes between January and July.
In Edo State, which was the next deadliest state as regards the number of casualties to cult clashes, 10 persons reportedly died in similar circumstances.
A United Kingdom-trained criminologist and Chairman, Puma Eye Security Services, Mr. Pedro Ayandokun, blamed the recent cult clashes in the country on youth unemployment, illiteracy, and poor police and parental control.
He, therefore, called on the government to encourage community policing and increase investments in vocational training to engage the youth.
He said, “There should be compulsory education for children and vocational centres in each of the local governments in the country.
“Community Development Associations should also live up to their responsibilities and work with the police to dismantle illicit youth gatherings and forestall these killings because they have to be stopped.”
On the clashes involving Fulani herdsmen, Ayandokun suggested that the government introduce a legislation to address the issue.
He said, “Such legislation should carve a way for the herdsmen to graze their cattle and spell out how and where they would graze.
“It should establish a task force to enforce the laws that are spelt out by the legislation. There should also be a process of reconciliation because there will be a need for sensitisation since the herdsmen believe that there is nowhere they cannot take their cattle to graze while community residents want to protect their farms.”
The Force Public Relations Officer, Mr. Emmanuel Ojukwu, did not answer calls to his mobile phone or respond to a text message sent to him.