Nigeria land feud victim bears scars of attack

MAKURDI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Peter Zion has been unable to hold his infant son since attackers wielding machetes cut him so badly that his hands lost their ability to grip.

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He was attacked in January by nomadic herdsmen in the central Nigerian state of Benue, caught in the crossfire of a violent feud with local farmers over land rights that has killed hundreds in the country’s Middle Belt this year.

As a member of the Livestock Guards, a state government backed rural security force of 4,000 unarmed officers, he was guarding a farm when the attackers staged a dawn raid. Some 73 people were killed in that and other attacks in the first days of 2018.

Zion - who first spoke to Reuters from his hospital bed in the days following the attack - was cut with a machete across his face, torso and arms, and was shot at close range in his right thigh. Ten months later, his face scarred, he moved slowly with a crutch and was unable to move his hands.

“If I want to pick my baby they will come and drop the baby in my lap,” said the 32-year-old.

“My wife feeds me. If I want to go to the toilet she also supports me,” he said.

Zion couldn’t move from his hospital bed for two months after the attack and was eventually discharged after a six-month stay that was followed by another two months convalescing in his village.

The father of two sold his yam farm and a fish farm to pay his hospital bills. He is no longer able to do his job with the Livestock Guards and cannot afford the physiotherapy he needs.

About 15 Livestock Guards were killed in the attack that crippled Zion, But they continue to patrol Benue, calling in the police or military at the first sign of danger. Zion said their work remains vital.

“The job is important because there is a crisis in land in the state,” he said.

Editing by Giles Elgood