Lagos, Nigeria (CNN)Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has been summoned by the Senate over a spate of killings in the country's middle belt.
Nigeria's Senate summons President Buhari over church killings
The lawmakers are yet to set a date for the president's appearance but said violence in Nigeria's central states could lead to "serious crisis" in the country.
"We all know that the dimension this is taking can lead to serious crisis in this country. It means we need to take drastic action. We must say 'no'. These daily killings, have to stop," said Bukola Saraki, Nigeria's Senate leader.
Members of the country's lower parliament who had invited the President Wednesday also passed a vote of no confidence in service chiefs and security advisers, calling for their dismissal over their inability to protect Nigerians.
The lawmakers said could no longer watch "our people are murdered in cold blood" and urged government to increase security measures in affected areas.
"We also resolved to summon the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces President Muhammadu Buhari in order to answer pertinent questions concerning what the Executive is doing to put a decisive end to the spate of killings in different states of the Federation," said Yakubu Dogara, speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives.
Buhari's media aide did not immediately respond to CNN's request for a comment.
The president is currently on a two-day working visit to Bauchi State, in north central Nigeria, where he is commissioning road projects and an air force medical facility, according to local media reports.
In the latest wave of violence to hit the middle belt region in recent months, two priests and 17 worshippers were killed Tuesday when armed men attacked a Catholic church during early morning mass in a remote village in Benue state.
The attackers razed over 50 houses in an attempt to take over the community, state police said. State police spokesman Terver Akase told CNN the attackers were thought to be Fulani cattle herdsmen,
Bello Bodejo, head of the cattle herders association, Miyetti Allah, denied the group's involvement in the attacks.
He called on the police and security agencies to investigate and reveal the identities of the attackers to put an end to speculation about his group's involvement.
"We are condemning Tuesday's attack because it is not acceptable. But we want a thorough investigation because every time there is an attack in the middle belt, they say it is Fulani people that caused it," he said in a phone interview with CNN.
"Many Fulani herdsman are not educated or organized enough to speak out against these accusations and this is why socio-cultural organizations like ours are appealing to Nigerians to assist us to get to the root of these attacks."
The violence between the Fulani herdsmen, who are mostly Muslims, and farmers, who are predominantly Christians, in the central state dates back to 2013. According to the Global Terrorism Index, Fulani extremists killed over 2,500 Nigerians between 2012 and 2016.
Cattle herders have evicted farmers by initiating deadly attacks in Nigeria's middle belt, the report from the Institute for Economics & Peace, a non-profit think tank, said.
The expanding conflict between herders and farmers in the region led to the enforcement of anti-grazing laws by local governments , a move that has exacerbated tensions in affected states.
At least 72 people were killed in January following weeks of violence between nomadic herdsmen and farmers in the central part of the West African country.
Buhari, who is ethnically Fulani, has been widely criticized by Nigerians for his perceived silence over previous attacks in Benue state.
He visited the state in March to console families and communities involved and has vowed to bring those responsible for Tuesday's attack to justice.
"This latest assault on innocent persons is particularly despicable. Violating a place of worship, killing priests and worshippers is not only vile, evil and satanic, it is clearly calculated to stoke up religious conflict and plunge our communities into endless bloodletting," Buhari said in a tweet.
International Christian rights organizations have also spoken out about what they see as persecution of some Nigerians because of their faith.
David Curry, president of Open Doors Christian Rights group, condemned Tuesday's attacks and stated that Christians are being targeted in north and central states in Nigeria.
He urged US President Donald Trump to discuss these "religious attacks" during his meeting with Buhari later this month.
"President Buhari has done nothing more than issue empty words of condolence as villages have been burned and thousands of religious minorities have been slaughtered. His inaction has meant attacks by the Fulani are becoming more deadly and sophisticated," Curry said in a statement Wednesday.
Buhari will meet Trump in Washington April 30 to discuss ways of combating terrorism, promoting economic growth among other issues.