Warri, Nigeri: Dozens of people have been killed in four Nigerian states, security officials and local sources said Tuesday, bringing the toll from a week of sporadic clashes to more than 100.
The violence coincides with chronic insecurity in the country’s northeast, where 2,000 people were evacuated on Tuesday ahead of an expected government operation against Boko Haram jihadists.
In the southeastern state of Rivers, eight people were killed early Monday when armed men attacked the village of Emohua in the Ogoni region, said local chief Sunny Odum.
State police spokesman Nnamdi Omoni said the attack was a “cult-related incident,” a term typically denoting gangs or criminals who are hired for political gain and often blend belief or black-magic rituals in their acts.
In the northern state of Katsina, 14 people were killed on Sunday in clashes between cattle thieves and a civilian militia armed by the government to support the security forces, police said.
The fighting took place in Tsamiyar Jino, in Kankara region, claiming the lives of seven rustlers and seven vigilantes, said Katsina police spokesman Gambo Isa.
“The volunteers went into the forest and engaged the bandits despite being warned by the police never to confront the bandits on their own… because of the sophisticated weapons the bandits have and their good knowledge of the terrain,” Isa said.
In contrast, village chief Jaafaru Bello told AFP 36 people had been killed by the thieves and people were afraid to retrieve the bodies.
Cattle theft is a chronic, and frequently violent, problem in the states of Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna and Niger, and thieves are acquiring more and more sophisticated weapons.
On April 2, at least 50 people were killed in Sakajiki village in Zamfara, the worst-hit state, the state government said last Friday.
– Anger –
After two police were killed at the weekend at Birnin Gwari, around 200 angry protestors on Monday blocked the road between Kaduna and Zamfara to demand better security.
“People are kidnapped on daily basis along this highway,” complained Isah Muhammad Galadima, the spokesman for the local chief.
“Thousands of IDPs (internally displaced persons) are still waiting to go home. Enough is enough.”
Separately, the Nigerian media on Tuesday reported that 20 people had been massacred in the region of Kajuru, in Kaduna state, in fighting between crop farmers and nomadic herders.
A state police spokesman confirmed the incident but declined to give further immediate details.
In the southwestern state of Ondo, a bank holdup late Monday turned bloody, leaving seven people dead, including a policeman, and five wounded.
The authorities have repeatedly said they are taking action.
The governor of Zamfara state has announced that 1,700 “traditional hunters” will be hired to strengthen local self-protection groups, in addition to 8,500 who were recruited in 2018.
These vigilantes have been criticised for lacking training and modern weapons and for abusing human rights.
On Saturday, newly-reelected President Muhammadu Buhari said “there is no issue that dominates my mind every 24 hours like security.
“(…) Protecting the citizens of my country is one of the primary functions of my administration,” he said.
On Tuesday, facing a mounting toll from attacks and reprisals, Buhari appealed for peace and condemned the culture of “an eye for an eye.”
– Boko Haram –
In the northeastern state of Borno, the authorities evacuated around 2,000 people from the village of Jakana and took them to the city of Maiduguri, the state capital, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) away.
They were taken “for their safety as a result of ongoing operations to flush out insurgents in the area”, said Abdulkadir Ibrahim, a spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
Evacuees told AFP that soldiers had come to their homes that morning and told them to get into trucks. They had no time to pick up their possessions.
Around 27,000 people have died since Boko Haram launched its bloody insurgency nearly a decade ago.
The jihadists have in the last few weeks been under assault from intensive air and ground offensives from coalition forces involving Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon against militant camps in Lake Chad, according to military sources and militia groups.