Militants have been targeting southerners throughout Nigeria for decades, the prime minister of the self-proclaimed Biafran government in exile (BGIE) told IBTimes UK. Emmanuel Enekwechi, head of BGIE since its creation in the US in 2007, made the comments just days after dozens were killed in Enugu state, southeastern Nigeria, amid fears herdsmen from the Fulani ethnic group were behind the atrocity.

The killings occurred at a time when attacks attributed to Fulani militants are on the rise in Nigeria, where pro-Biafran secessionist groups have accused the Fulani herdsmen of targeting Christians and southerners in a bid to "Islamise the Christian-dominated region".

"We don't have the details yet, of what happened in Enugu, but for my experience, thousands and thousands of Biafans [who inhabit southeastern Nigeria] have been massacred in the north," Enekwechi said. "A very large percentage of Biafrans living in the north relocated to their homeland, but even then, you can see they are still being pursued and killed."

Ending attacks by herdsmen a national priority

President Buhari condemned the attack in Enugu and called on security forces to bring perpetrators to justice. "Ending the recent upsurge of attacks on communities by herdsmen reportedly armed with sophisticated weapons is now a priority on the Buhari Administration's agenda for enhanced national security and the Armed Forces and Police have clear instructions to take all necessary action to stop the carnage," Buhari's spokeperson, Femi Adesina, said in a statement.

"The President urges all Nigerians to remain calm and assured of his administration's readiness to deploy all required personnel and resources to remove this new threat to the collective security of the nation," he continued.

Not a sectarian conflict

Framing the Enugu and similar attacks as a sectarian conflict could further deepen violence, David Otto, CEO of UK-based global security provider TGS Intelligence Consultants, told IBTimes UK.

"It is not impossible for Fulani herdsmen to infiltrate Enugu to retaliate or defend their nomadic lifestyle and their cattle, but the danger lies in framing these attacks by so-called 'Hausa Fulani herdsmen' under sectarian terms or targeted killings against Christians or Biafrans, amounting to genocide attempts or ethnic cleansing," he said.

"It will only add fuel to the situation. These types of violent land disputes have existed for decades - caused primarily by the mere lifestyle of Fulani Nomads and their grazing land in the Sahel region. The disputes have increasingly become worse because of the current land degradation in the Lake Chad region, forcing migration of Nomads with their cattle from the North to the Middle Belt regions. It is not uncommon for individuals, politicians, criminal groups or Islamic movements like Boko Haram to take advantage of the situation to achieve their own goals."

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