ABUJA - At least 60 people were killed Saturday, December 31, in ethnic violence in eastern Nigeria, adding to the pains of Africa's most populous country.
"Up to 60 people died in the violence, Onyekachi Eni, spokesman of the eastern state of Ebonyi, told Reuters.
It is difficult to give the exact figure because when we visited Ezilo community, which was the scene of the incident today ... villagers were still bringing out corpses.
"Fifty corpses were shown to us."
Officials say violent clashes erupted between rival Ezza and Ezilo group in Ishielu district in eastern Nigeria.
"We heard sporadic gunshots and we began to run, Chioma Oke, an Ezilo who survived the violence, said.
They burned our houses. They said they were retaliating for an attack on them last year," she said.
Police have sent more troops into the area to quell the ethnic violence.
"Mobile police have been sent there and the inspector general has directed more to come," State Police Commissioner Adeola Adeniji said.
Nigeria, one of the world's most religiously committed nations, is divided between a Muslim north and a Christian south.
Violent disputes over land are common in Africa's most populous country because the majority of its 160 million people are subsistence farmers living in rural areas with few means of arbitrating disputes.
Hundreds of people are killed every year in such clashes, many going unreported because of a lack of reliable information about them.
The ethnic violence occurred shortly after President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in northern Nigeria following attacks by a radical Islamist group.
"The crisis has assumed a terrorist dimension," Jonathan was quoted as saying by Reuters.
"I therefore urge the political leadership (in northern local governments) to give maximum cooperation to ensure that the situation is brought under control."
He listed the northern local governments affected by the emergency, including a part of Niger state near the capital Abuja, the northern half of the conflict-prone city of Jos, and parts of Yobe and Borno in the remote, semi-arid northeast.
Nigeria also ordered closure of its borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger in the northeast.
"The temporary closure of our borders in the affected areas is only an interim measure designed to address the current security challenges and will be resumed as soon as normalcy is restored," he said.
He added that his chief of defense staff had been instructed to take other "appropriate" measures, including setting up a special counter-terrorism force.
The measures were taken following a series of attacks against churches in northern Nigeria by the radical Boko Haram group.
The bombings by the northern-based movement have strained Nigeria's already fractious north-south divide.
Jonathan, a Christian from the south, upset many northerners by running for and winning the presidency in April, which in the eyes of many tore up a tacit deal to rotate the top job between a northerner and a southerner every two terms.More than 500 people were killed in post-election violence in the north after Jonathan's victory, reflecting long-standing northern grievances about perceived alienation and exclusion by the central government from the fruits of national oil riches, concentrated in the south.