(Adds police statement, details throughout, background)
By Joshua Inuwa
JOS, Nigeria, June 27 (Reuters) - More than 200 people were killed over the weekend in violence in central Nigeria’s Plateau state, the state governor said, making it one of the bloodiest clashes in the months leading up to an election.
Police previously said 86 had been killed.
There has been a spike in communal violence since the start of the year, which has led to hundreds of people being killed. Security concerns have become a major political issue for President Muhammadu Buhari, who has said he plans to seek a second term in elections scheduled for next February.
Late on Wednesday, the Nigeria Police Force said in an emailed statement that it was sending a special force to Plateau state to bolster security, which would include two police surveillance helicopters, five armoured personnel carriers and extra officers from other states.
“The deployment of the personnel of the Police Special Intervention Force will equally cover communities, towns, villages, vulnerable settlements, government and private infrastructures and facilities in all the affected areas,” it said.
Plateau state governor Simon Lalong, speaking at a press conference with Buhari on Tuesday, called the attack “very disturbing and alarming because it has left behind a painful loss of over 200 people.”
The governor said the country was facing a humanitarian challenge “confronting thousands of displaced persons, whose houses and crops have burnt and completely destroyed.”
Communal violence, such as what occurred over the weekend, is broadly attributed to a decades-old cycle of conflict between farmers and semi-nomadic herders that is partly due to competition for arable land.
It has taken on ethnoreligious tones, with violence often attributed to herders from the Fulani ethnic group, most of whom are Muslim, and Christian farmers from other tribes.
Earlier this month, Nigerian lawmakers issued a list of demands to the president, largely related to security.
Buhari, a retired general and former military ruler who took office in 2015 after vowing to improve security, visited Plateau state on Tuesday.
He held talks with the heads of the upper and lower houses of parliament on Wednesday to discuss the spike in violence.
Yakubu Dogara, speaker of the House of Representatives, which is the lower chamber, said Buhari had briefed lawmakers “on what he saw first hand when he visited Plateau yesterday and measures he is putting in place to ensure that we do not have a relapse or a recurrence”. (Additional reporting by Ardo Hazzad in Bauchi and Felix Onuah in Abuja Writing by Paul Carsten and Alexis Akwagyiram Editing by Toby Chopra, Toni Reinhold)