At least 200 people have been killed in multiple raids in northwest Nigeria over the past week, authorities said on Sunday, displacing thousands of people and dealing a heavy blow to authorities struggling to restore peace. order.
Herders and farmers in Africa’s most populous country have fought for years for access to land in northwest and central Nigeria, but some groups have turned into criminal gangs known as the “Bandits” who kill, loot and kidnap.
Humanitarian Affairs Minister Sadiya Umar Farouq called last week’s attacks in Zamfara state “gruesome and tragic”, giving the first official toll after details began to leak early on Saturday.
“More than 200 people were buried (…) due to the invasion of bandits,” she said on Sunday in a statement confirmed by her spokesperson Nneka Ikem Anibeze.
“We are also worried about the displaced people who are fleeing their communities by the hundreds,” added the minister, adding that relief material had been sent to Zamfara.
The minister said more than 10,000 people were displaced when “their homes were razed to the ground by bandits while dozens are still missing”.
On Saturday, four residents told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that armed men ransacked the neighborhoods of Anka and Bukkuyum for two days, killing at least 140 people.
Babandi Hamidu, a resident of Kurfa Danya village, said the militants were shooting “anyone on sight”.
Bello Matawalle, the governor of Zamfara state which borders Niger, downplayed the violence and said only 58 people were killed.
“The emir of Anka gave a list of 22 dead while the Emir of Bukkuyum gave a list of 36 victims,” a spokesman for the governor, Zailani Bappa, said in a statement on Saturday evening.
Matawalle imposed very restrictive measures for nearly three months last year, shutting down telecommunications, capping fuel sales and shutting down livestock markets in an attempt to weaken the bandits, but the attacks continued.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Saturday condemned the attacks as “an act of desperation by mass murderers”.
“We are fiercely determined to smoke and destroy these outlaws,” said the 79-year-old former army general, who is also fighting a decade-long terrorist insurgency in the northeast and a separatist unrest in the southeast.
The government officially labeled the bandits terrorists on Wednesday, saying it would help toughen sanctions, but analysts say the move is aimed at allowing the military to deploy more resources to the northwest.
The bandits made international headlines last year after kidnapping hundreds of students in a series of mass kidnappings at schools and colleges.
Students are often released quickly after ransom has been paid to bandits but 200 were still missing as of September, UN says
On Saturday, 30 students and a teacher were released after seven months of captivity in Kebbi state, a local official said. It was not clear if a ransom had been paid.
Military and police operations continue in the northwest.
The Nigerian armed forces said they had killed 537 “gunmen and other criminal elements” in the region and arrested 374 more since May last year, while 452 “kidnapped civilians were rescued”.
Abuja-based security analyst Kabir Adamu of Beacon Consulting Nigeria told AFP this week’s raids may be in response to recent military operations.
Last month, bandits loyal to notorious gang leader Bello Turji suffered heavy losses in ground and air raids on their forest camps.
“Angry by this, and maybe by the fact that they risked certain death, (they) decided to move to other places and in the course of that they seem to be carrying out these attacks,” Adamu told the ‘AFP.
Residents said the raids were a response to a vigilante attack on a convoy of bandits trying to resettle elsewhere in the state.
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