Some 60 “criminals” have been killed in clashes with villagers and militia in the state of Zamfara, northwestern Nigeria, security officials and residents said Thursday.
“We killed 59 bandits and lost seven men in the nearly four-hour battle,” said Bube Shehu, a resident of Danjibga village. The information was confirmed by a Nigerian army officer in Zamfara.
The toll could be higher, with a local official from the nearby village of Danmarke reporting the deaths of 15 bandits in his area.
The Nigerian police were not able to confirm these incidents immediately. The security situation in Nigeria has deteriorated sharply under the presidency of Muhammadu Buhari, who is seeking a second term in the presidential elections on Saturday.
In the north-east of the country, the jihadists of Boko Haram are reigning terror. In the center, the conflict between herders and farmers for access to land has left thousands of people dead in Nigeria’s fertile belt states.
And in the north-west, armed gangs of cattle thieves regularly terrorize the Zamfara people and also kidnap villagers for ransom.
Self-defense militias formed
The ongoing attacks have led many villages to form self-defense militias, which have sometimes been accused of summary executions of suspected bandits.
The violence also provoked retaliation by the armed gangs. For Danmarke residents, it was the inability of the security forces to protect them that led them to take up arms to ensure their own defense.
“It was high time for the people to stand up to the criminals who attack their villages, instead of submitting to them,” said the village official of Danmarke, who requested anonymity.
Danjibga, an important regional market, 35 km south of the state capital, Gusau, has been attacked many times, causing a massive exodus of its inhabitants.
In early February, gunmen killed 26 people in six villages in the Mada area, still in the state of Zamfara, the scene of operations by numerous criminal gangs.
In July 2018 Amnesty International said in a report that Zamfara State was “at the mercy” of armed criminal groups, “who have killed hundreds of people in the last two years”.