Ahead of presidential elections in February 2019, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has been accused by critics of failing to get tough with ethnic Fulani herdsmen as ethnocentric violence in Nigeria ratchets up.

The criticism followed a mass burial in Makurdi, in the central state of Benue, on Thursday for 73 people killed in communal violence since the beginning of the year Reuters reported.

At least 83 people have died since the end of December, underlining the ethnic violence between thousands of semi-nomadic Muslim herdsmen from the Fulani ethnic group and Christian farmers.

The friction between the two groups has increased over the last few years with the Fulani moving southwards to escape spreading desertification in the north as the population increases and the amount of fertile land decreases.

At Thursday’s funeral feelings were running high as thousands of people, some of them dressed in black, lined the streets watching and waving wreaths as coffins on lorries passed by carrying the dead who were mainly from rural communities of Benue.

Some mourners held banners featuring pictures of victims and the words: “President act now: your people are killing us”.

“Something that is disturbing that I have heard about is linking those developments to the fact that a Fulani man is president and so, he is brooking such kind of evil acts,” said the president’s spokesman, Femi Adesina, this week, adding that such violence predated Buhari’s administration.

Clashes in the last few months have occurred in parts of the north-west and south-east, but the middle belt – where differing religious, ancestral and cultural differences frequently ignite conflict – has been worst hit in the latest flashpoints.

Around 80,000 people have fled the herdsmen attacks and are living in four refugee camps across Benue State.

The herdsmen in return accuse the farmers of instigating violent attacks over the last few years.

However, despite the ongoing intra-ethnic violence the majority of Nigerians live peacefully with the country roughly split evenly between Christians and Muslims from around 250 different ethnic groups.

During Buhari’s 2015 presidential campaign a key promise of his was improving security.