The deadly militia group popularly known as Ombatse on Tuesday killed at least 46 police officers in an ambush, 10 kilometres from Lafia, the Nasarawa state capital.
According to police spokesman Sergie Ezegam, “Forty six police officers were killed about 10 km (6 miles) from Lafia by members of a militia who had ambushed them on their way to an operation to arrest the leader of the militia group.”
The report by Ezegam is contrary to the figure given by the state police commissioner, Abayomi Akeremale, who said 20 police officers died in the ambush.
Akeremale, who spoke with newsmen on the attack, said the large contingent was on a mission to raid the shrine.
He said: “We decided at the State Security Council meeting, because of the frequent attacks on churches and mosques by this particular group, who are forcing people to swear an oath at the shrine, that we carry out an operation and arrest the perpetrators for prosecution; less it turns into a religious crisis.
“The people; some called them Ombatse, but they call themselves cultural people; ambushed our men and opened fire”, Mr Akeremale said.
“The policemen were on operation to raid the place and make arrests, particularly of the chief priest, and other leaders, who have been torturing worshipers in churches and mosques to force them to swear an oath of allegiance to Ombatse.
He said the worshipers had tortured and compelled an inspector of police, to swear allegiance to Ombatse, but added that the officer has been freed, and returned to his duty post.
“We are still after the persons “administering the oath forcefully on people. We will make sure we bring the perpetrators to book.”
It was not clear if the militants in Tuesday’s attack were linked to Islamist sect Boko Haram, which has waged an insurgency in northern Nigeria for three years. Boko Haram and other Islamist groups usually operate further north than Nassarawa.