Armed assailants have killed 53 people in northwest Nigeria’s Zamfara state, according to police and local residents, the latest violence to hit the restive region.
Many motorcycle-riding gunmen known locally as bandits on Thursday through Friday raided the villages of Kadawa, Kwata, Maduba, Ganda Samu, Saulawa and Askawa in the Zurmi district, AFP news agency cited the sources as saying on Saturday.
The gang shot residents, attacked farmers in their fields and pursued others who fled to escape the assaults.
Zamfara police spokesman Mohammed Shehu said 14 bodies had been taken to the state capital Gusau on Friday, and added that “policemen [were] deployed in the area following the attacks.”
Local residents said 39 more bodies had been recovered and buried in the neighbouring town of Dauran.
“We recovered 28 bodies yesterday and 11 more this morning from the villages and buried them here,” said Dauran resident Haruna Abdulkarim.
“It was dangerous to conduct the funeral there because the bandits are harbouring in the Zurmi forest and could return to attack the funeral,” said another resident, Musa Arzika, who reported the same death toll.
Villages in the Zurmi district have been repeatedly raided by bandits, and local residents blocked a major highway last week, calling on the authorities to end the attacks.
Northwest and central Nigeria have in recent years fallen prey to gangs of cattle thieves and kidnappers who raid villages, killing and kidnapping residents in addition to stealing livestock after looting and burning homes.
The criminals have begun to focus on raiding schools and kidnapping students for ransom.
More than 850 students have been abducted since December but most have been released after ransom payments.
In a broadcast on Friday, Zamfara state Governor Bello Matawalle urged residents to defend themselves against “killer bandits”.
Rising violent crime in the northwest has compounded the challenges faced by Nigeria in northern states, which are typically poorer than those in the south of Africa’s most populous country of about 210 million.
A decade-old armed campaign in the northeast has killed more than 30,000 people and forced at least two million to flee their homes, creating one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.
Nearly 700,000 people were internally displaced in northwest and northcentral Nigeria in February, including more than 124,000 in Zamfara alone, according to the UN’s migration agency, IOM.
Humanitarian agencies also warn that the spiralling violence has led to increased sexual violence, as gunmen assault some of their kidnapped victims.