Gunmen have killed at least 48 people in attacks on three villages in northwest Nigeria’s Zamfara state, a local official and residents said.
Dozens of gunmen on motorcycles entered the three villages in coordinated attacks, shooting people as they tried to flee, Aminu Suleiman, administrative head of Bakura district where the villages are located, said on Sunday.
“A total of 48 people were killed by the bandits in the three villages [Damri, Kalahe and Sabon Garin] attacked Friday afternoon,” Suleiman said.
The worst hit was Damri, where the gunmen killed 32 people, Suleiman told AFP. The victims included patients at a hospital.
“They burned a police patrol vehicle, killing two security personnel.”
Since 2010, gangs of bandits have run riot in vast swaths of northern Nigeria, but only in the last few years has the crisis ballooned into national prominence in Africa’s most populous country.
The term “bandits” is a catchall for the criminal gangs masterminding frequent bouts of abduction, maiming, sexual violence and killings of citizens across northern parts of the country.
Data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project shows that bandits were responsible for more than 2,600 civilian deaths in 2021 – many more than those attributed to rebel groups Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province in the same year – and almost three times the number of victims in 2020.
Troops deployed in the three villagers raided on Friday by bandits engaged the attackers in a gun battle, forcing them to withdraw, Suleiman said.
Abubakar Maigoro, a Damri resident, said the gunmen who attacked his village went on a shooting spree before looting livestock and food supplies.
“We buried 48 people killed in the attacks,” Maigoro said.
Nigerian police did not respond to requests for comment.
The criminals have recently stepped up their assaults despite military operations against their hideouts.
The so-called bandits maintain camps in a vast forest, straddling Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and Niger states.
In the past two months, they have attacked a train travelling between the capital Abuja and Kaduna city, kidnapping dozens of passengers; massacred more than 100 villagers; and killed a dozen members of vigilante groups.
In early January, gunmen killed more than 200 people in Zamfara state.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, a former army commander, has been under intense pressure to end bandit violence before he leaves office next year at the end of his two terms in power.
Buhari called on security forces to “do all that can be done to bring an immediate end to the horrific killings”.
“The rural folk in Zamfara and elsewhere must be allowed to have peace,” he said in a statement on Sunday.
Officials in Zamfara say more than 700,000 people have been displaced by the violence, prompting the opening of eight camps to accommodate them.
The escalating violence has also forced thousands to flee to neighbouring Niger, with over 11,000 seeking refuge in November, according to the United Nations.