Bandits arrived in large numbers in the Anka and Bukkuyum local government areas of Zamfara state on Tuesday evening, shooting and burning down houses until Thursday, according to Abubakar Ahmed, a resident in Bukkuyum.
“They killed more than 100 people,” Ahmed said, adding that as many as nine communities were affected in the incident.
Resident Aliyu Anka, in Anka, also confirmed that the casualty figure was more than 100. In one village, “they killed people from 20 years and above,” he said. “Some have been buried, some were burnt and we are still looking for bodies.”
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack but blame quickly fell on the armed groups who have carried out thousands of abductions and killings in the northwest and central states of the West African nation.
Ibrahim Dosara, Zamfara commissioner for information, told AP they were awaiting more information about the incident including the number of casualties. As of now, a military aircraft has been deployed along with security forces as a manhunt for the attackers continues, he said.
Africa’s most populous country has been struggling to contain pockets of insecurity by such violent attacks especially in the troubled northern region but the latest incident is one of the deadliest in recent years.
It comes just as authorities in Nigeria claimed they were recording successes in the fight against the armed groups. The widespread banditry in Nigeria’s northwest is in addition to the Islamic extremist insurgency in the northeast that has lasted more than a decade.
Some of the bandits – whom Nigerian authorities have designated as terrorists – are now joining forces with the extremist rebels, security analysts and residents say.
The groups mostly consist of young men from the Fulani ethnic group, who had traditionally worked as nomadic cattle herders and are caught up in a decades-long conflict with Hausa farming communities over access to water and grazing land.
The problem remains that the Nigerian security personnel are outnumbered and outgunned by the assailants, according to Oluwole Ojewale of the Africa-focused Institute of Security Studies.
“We don’t have adequate security in Zamfara state but (in) some areas, we don’t have security at all,” said Yusuf Ibrahim in Gusau, the state capital.
Commissioner Dosara, however, blames informants for the persistent attacks. “One of the serious problems is that we have a lot of informants getting information to these people (the gunmen,” he said, a challenge which experts have said continues as a result of the extreme poverty in many affected communities.
“The moment you strategize, the moment the enemies also strategize”