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ABUJA (Reuters) - A total of 71 people have been killed in a week of violence in Nigeria's Benue state, a government spokesman said on Monday, much of it involving clashes between Muslim cattle herders and Christian farmers.
The killings endanger efforts by President Muhammadu Buhari to bring security and stability to Nigeria - a key campaign pledge when he ran for election in 2015.
Muslim herdsmen, mainly of the Fulani ethnic group, and Christian farmers often clash over the use of land in remote areas of the Middle Belt region.
Terve Akase, chief press secretary to the governor of Benue state, attributed 71 deaths from Dec. 31 to Jan. 6 to killings by the Fulani. Reuters was unable to verify the figures.
"The attacks happened in very remote villages," said Akase. "Now, with security operatives on the ground, villagers have been going about the bush to pick up more corpses."
Nigeria's police inspector general, Ibrahim Idris, told reporters last week that the country was secure, though more police would be deployed to Benue state to deal with the violence.
"What we should be praying for is for Nigerians to learn to live in peace with each other," said Idris.
Nigerian troops have been deployed in more than 30 of the 36 states to tackle insecurity - something which has thrown a critical spotlight on the performance of the police.
In November, at least 30 people from a cattle herding community, including young children, were killed in a clash in the northeastern state of Adamawa.
(Reporting by Anamesere Igboeroteonwu; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Richard Balmforth)