A new report on Thursday found that violence involving armed herdsmen was six times more deadly than Boko Haram in the first half of this year. The report then recommended urgent steps that the Nigerian government must take to stem further attacks.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) estimated 1,300 deaths linked to the farmer-herder violence within the first half of this year, adding that the dimensions of the attack have aggravated in recent months.
"What were once spontaneous attacks have become premeditated scorched-earth campaigns in which marauders often take villages by surprise at night," the non-profit think-tank said. "Now claiming about six times more civilian lives than the Boko Haram insurgency, the conflict poses a grave threat to the country's stability and unity, and it could affect the 2019 general elections."
The report recommended that President Muhammadu Buhari's approach to solving the crisis is acceptable but largely insufficient.
The government's "immediate priorities should be to deploy more security units to vulnerable areas; prosecute perpetrators of violence; disarm ethnic militias and local vigilantes; and begin executing long-term plans for comprehensive livestock sector reform," it said.
The report also found that the anti-open grazing statutes recently enacted by state governments in Benue and Taraba States also contributed to the escalation in latest attacks.
"The Benue State government should freeze enforcement of its law banning open grazing, review that law's provisions and encourage a phased transition to ranching," the ICG said.
Two spokespersons for Governor Samuel Ortom could not be reached for comments Thursday afternoon. But Mr Ortom has long argued that the grazing law in Benue was aimed at curbing the activities of potentially deadly herders and not to infringe on the rights of northern residents in the state.
Mr Ortom also argued that claims that the killings escalated as a result of the grazing law, which Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris and Defence Minister Mansur Dan-Ali have also made, were dishonest and dangerous.
The governor said scores of people were being killed in regular attacks since 2010, saying the law has nothing to do with the criminal intents of the attackers.
The agriculture minister, Audu Ogbeh, who is also from Benue, has also said the killing were not caused by the grazing laws.
In Plateau State, where Governor Samuel Lalong has been far more lenient towards herders, frequent attacks are still being recorded. Last month, over 200 people were feared killing in a weekend-long assault on villages in the state, a development that gripped the nation.
On the runaway armed banditry that is currently ravaging Zamfara, Sokoto, Kaduna and other northern states, the ICG blamed "government's failure to either punish perpetrators of previous violence or respond to distress calls," consequently emboldening the attackers.
Presidential spokesperson Garba Shehu did not return requests for comments.