At the small mosque in Luggere, nestled in an ethnic Fulani village surrounded by rolling green hills, an unusually large crowd has gathered for Friday prayers.
Luggere’s population has doubled in recent days to accommodate people who fled two neighbouring villages that were attacked by armed men early last week.
The attacks on the Fulani appeared to be reprisals for the June 23 massacre, where more than 200 ethnic Berom people, mostly Christian farmers, were killed.
“On Monday we were at home when people came and started shooting and burning our houses, food stores and shelters,” said Harira Ibrahim, 35, who fled with her husband and 10 children.
“We have nothing there, our brothers gave us some mattresses and clothes. We can’t even go back home because the militias are still around.”
Over the past week, nearly 500 people have arrived in Luggere and have been sleeping in the classrooms of the school.
Police confirmed the attack although they did not give a death toll but the influx has been largely ignored by Nigeria’s media, which instead has focused on the weekend massacre.
The attack is part of an increasingly bloody cycle of violence between two communities over access to resources throughout Nigeria’s central belt: Christian farmers, who claim indigenous privilege, accuse Muslim herders of ransacking their crops with their cattle and trying to grab land.
Meanwhile, the herders say that the farms are encroaching on their traditional grazing routes that they need to access in order to survive.
In the Pleateau region, many of the cattle herders are semi-nomadic, raising livestock as well as farming, and claim years of service on the fertile land where corn, yams and all kinds of fruit and vegetables grow.
– ‘Out of control’ –
Adam Musa, 52, was born in Luggere, just like his father and grandfather before him.
“I don’t understand what is going on. When I was young, the Berom gave us their children for rearing because of unemployment,” said Musa.
On the potholed road leading to Luggere, several Berom villages were abandoned in a hurry.
In the yards of burnt-out houses, strewn with broken glass and plastic, the only occupants are a handful of chickens and frightened dogs.
Fulani faces drop at the mention of the attacks against Christians. No-one says they know the identity of the assailants.
The attack was brutal: the perpetrators torched homes with families inside and killed very young children, according to multiple witnesses interviewed by AFP.
According to one local official of the main Nigerian livestock union, the attack happened after a series of assaults on the Fulani since April.
“Not less than 500 cattle were rustled by the Berom and from the ambushes and killings of our herdsmen in the bush (…) we are looking for almost 70 people dead, all of them have been killed,” said Abubakar Gambo, of the Miyetti Allah Breeders Cattle Association of Nigeria (MACBAN).
“This is how the situation started and how it went out of control.”
The Fulani are often described as invaders who come to “Islamise” the Christian areas of Nigeria, especially by newspaper columnists with reference to Usman dan Fodio, a Fulani jihadist who founded the Sokoto empire in the 19th century.
– ‘Discrimination’ –
With the election of President Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim Fulani, in 2015, the stigmatisation has worsened.
Detractors blame northerners and the Fulani of pursuing a secret programme to eclipse the predominantly Christian south.
Buhari’s slow response to condemn the killings, which have steadily been increasing across the country for the last year, as well as the inability of security forces to protect lives, has fuelled frustration and resentment.
He has been criticised for having appointed mainly Hausa and Fulani people to key positions in the army and police, which has encouraged impunity.
“In fact the herders are being seriously discriminated (against),” said Gambo, adding that the community feels marginalised and children have difficulty accessing education.
At the end of the 1980s, the government set up “nomadic schools” in rural areas to combat illiteracy.
Yet all that progress is under threat as a result of the latest outbreak of violence, Gambo said.
“Luggere school, it is the community that gathered and built it, not the government,” he said.
“We need good, fully qualified teachers but with the crisis, they stopped coming years ago.”