At least 50 people were killed in clashes between two neighbouring communities in Nigeria's southeastern Ebonyi state, a government spokesman said Sunday.
"Upwards of 50 people were killed when a group of people from Ezza community attacked residents of neighbouring Ezilo community over a land dispute," the Onyekachi Eni told AFP by telephone. He said the clashes were not linked to the wave of bloody attacks by the Boko Haram Islamist sect, which prompted President Goodluck Jonathan to declare a state of emergency in some areas late Saturday.
Ineffective Governor of Ebonyi State
"The dispute between the two communities, which started in 2008, was believed to have been settled until the latest conflagration. A group of people from Ezza invaded Ezilo and attacked them, killing over 50 people there," he said. Ebonyi state police spokesman, John Elu, estimated the death toll at around 40.
"We estimate that between 38 and 40 people, including a senior police officer going to work, were killed in the clashes, although we don't have an accurate figure for those killed because some of them were hacked to death in the bushes," he said, adding "the death toll could be higher."
He said the gunmen who are yet to be identified also destroyed houses and other property. No arrests have been made yet, he added. He also confirmed that a land dispute had existed between the two communities for several years. State-run Radio Nigeria said the attackers set fire to many houses, shops, offices, petrol tankers and a mill.
The Ebonyi state governor, Martin Elechi, and the state police boss visited the scene Saturday to see the extent of the tragedy, the governor's spokesman, Eni, said.
Dozens of riot policemen have been deployed to the two communities to restore law and order, he added.Violent and deadly communal or ethnic clashes over land are frequent in Nigeria between neighbouring communities on the one hand and between farmers and herdsmen on the other. Land ownership is a sensitive issue because of commercial or traditional values attached to it. Most Nigerians in rural areas derive their means of livelihood from subsistence farming.
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