At least 200 people have been killed in several attacks carried out by armed men this week in Zamfara state in northwest Nigeria, a government official told AFP on Sunday.
North-west and central Nigeria have for several years been the scene of the activities of “bandits”, who attack, loot and kidnap residents, stealing their livestock and burning their homes.
“It is horrible and tragic. More than 200 people have been buried (…) because of the invasion of bandits”, declared the spokesperson of Sadiya Umar Farouq, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs.
“We are also worried about the displaced people who are fleeing their communities by the hundreds,” the minister said in a statement released on Saturday evening.
“More than 10,000 victims were also left homeless after their homes were razed by the bandits while dozens (other people) are still missing,” he added.
On Saturday, four residents told AFP that at least 140 people were killed by gunmen, known locally as “bandits”.
Hundreds of armed men who arrived on motorcycles launched attacks in ten villages in Anka and Bukkuyum districts from Wednesday to Thursday, shooting at residents, looting and burning houses, residents said.
A resident of Kurfa Danya village, Babandi Hamidu, said the men shot on “sight” at anyone they saw in the village.
– “mass murderers” –
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Saturday condemned the attacks he said were perpetrated by “mass murderers” who terrorize the populations of rural northwest Nigeria.
“Let me reassure these besieged communities and other Nigerians, this government will not abandon them to their fate because we are more than ever determined to get rid of these outlaws,” he added.
On Wednesday, the government officially branded the “bandits” operating in Nigeria as “terrorists” in order to toughen sanctions against perpetrators, their informants and their supporters.
In the official gazette, the activities of “Yan Bindiga” and “Yan Ta’adda” – terms meaning bandits in the local Hausa language – were classified as “acts of terrorism”.
“We called them terrorists (…) we are going to treat them as such,” President Buhari said on Nigerian television this week
The Nigerian armed forces said this week that they have killed 537 “armed bandits and other criminal elements” and arrested 374 others in the northwest since May 2020, while 452 “abducted civilians have been rescued”.
– multiple fronts –
President Buhari, a 79-year-old former army general, is struggling to curb widespread insecurity in the country.
In addition to the fight against banditry, the Nigerian army is deployed on multiple fronts, particularly in the northeast, which has been the victim of a jihadist insurgency for more than ten years, and in the southeast, agitated by separatist movements.
Since the end of 2020, criminal gangs have also started targeting schools, kidnapping more than 1,400 students and sparking international outrage. Most have since been released, but hundreds remain in the hands of their captors.
Kabir Adamu, of Abuja-based security analyst Beacon Consulting Nigeria, said this week’s attacks could be a response to recent military operations to dislodge them from their strongholds in Zamfara state.
“Most of them (the bandits), in revenge, and perhaps because they risked certain death, have decided to move to other areas and it is in this context that they seem carry out these attacks, “Adamu told AFP.