Garus Gololo, a leader of Miyetti Allah cattle breeders in Benue state, says the new year attack in the state was a reprisal for the alleged theft of cows.
The assailants had attacked communities in Guma and Logo local government areas of the state between Monday and Tuesday, killing not less than 20 people, including nine livestock guards.
But Gololo said the herdsmen were only defending themselves from thieves.
Speaking with BBC Pidgin, Gololo said over 1000 cows were stolen at Nengere, a community in the state, when the herdsmen were moving out of Benue to Taraba state.
He added that the crisis broke out while the herdsmen were trying to protect and defend themselves and their property.
However, a Fulani socio-cultural association, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, has distanced itself from the attacks.
Yusuf Ardo, national publicity secretary of the association, said the group upholds peace and love.
“We are peace-loving people, we believe in love for one another. Any Fulani pastoralist that doesn’t believe in peace is not part of us,” Ardo said.
The group appealed to security agencies to arrest the perpetrators of the crime.
There have been a series of protests in Benue over herdsmen killings.
Earlier in the week, Samuel Ortom, governor of the state, was stoned while attempting to calm aggrieved protesters.
Ortom has suspended all political activities because of the crisis.
President Muhammadu Buhari sent a high-powered delegation led by Abdulrahman Dambazau, minister of interior, to the state to commiserate with the people and also find a lasting solution.
Buhari also directed the police to beef up security across the country.