President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday publicly blamed former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi who was killed seven years ago for the ongoing killings across central Nigeria.
The killings have long been linked to herdsmen, and some herders of the Fulani ethnic stock have claimed responsibility for some attacks.
But the president said Mr. Gaddafi, a dictator swept away by an uprising in 2011, was to blame for the alarming dimension the attacks have taken in recent years.
Mr. Gaddafi was killed in October 2011 following weeks of violent uprising across Libya, ending his 42-year reign. He was 69.
In London with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby on Wednesday, President Buhari said the arms Mr. Gaddafi provided to his supporters had filtered into Nigeria where they are now being used to fuel killings across the north-central.
“The problem is even older than us,” President Buhari said of killings. “It has always been there, but now made worse by the influx of armed gunmen from the Sahel region into different parts of the West African sub-region.”
“These gunmen were trained and armed by Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. When he was killed, the gunmen escaped with their arms. We encountered some of them fighting with Boko Haram.”
“Herdsmen that we used to know carried only sticks and maybe a cutlass to clear the way, but these ones now carry sophisticated weapons,” Mr. Buhari said.
He once again dismissed claims that the attacks might have tribal or religious undertone because they largely occurred at Christian-dominated and minority tribes areas, saying those propagating the assertion are doing so for political gains.
“The problem is not religious, but sociological and economic. But we are working on solutions,” President Buhari said.
The president has faced criticism from for his response in combating the crisis headlong.
Former Nigerian leaders Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida have criticised Mr. Buhari for not demonstrating the capacity to contain the killings, asking him not to run again in 2019. They had also been joined by Theophilus Danjuma, a former chief of army staff, who admonished citizens to defend themselves rather than wait for security agencies.
Mr. Danjuma said the Nigerian security agencies are complicit in the killings, saying many tribes may be wiped out if they wait for federal authorities to protect them.
Both Mr. Buhari and the military have separately issued statements condemning Mr. Danjuma’s remarks and imploring Nigerians not to arm themselves.
The killings, especially in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba States, have resulted in over a thousand deaths this year alone. They have also caused humanitarian emergencies in those states, with each of them running camps for hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons.
Mr. Buhari has long implied that the attackers are foreigners and not herdsmen, contrary to the accounts of villagers who insist they are being killed by herders.