Kano – Local authorities claimed on Tuesday that gunmen killed 34 people in northwest Nigeria’s Kaduna State, including two soldiers, in the latest incident blamed on heavily-armed criminal gangs.
In the attack on four communities in the Kaura local government region on Sunday, more than 200 homes were also burned, according to Kaduna State security commissioner Samuel Aruwan in a statement.
“Security agencies have informed to the Kaduna State Government that 34 individuals have been verified killed as a result of search operations and rigorous checks following Sunday’s attack in Kaura local government area,” he said.
“Among the 34 people slain were two military men.”
Criminal gangs known as bandits have terrorised northwest and central Nigeria for years, raiding villages, carrying out mass kidnappings for ransom, and stealing cattle, but attacks and abductions have increased.
On the same day as the attack on Sunday, 16 people were killed in a rural hamlet in Zamfara State’s northeastern region.
In attacks in central and northern Nigeria a week earlier, gunmen killed 11 security personnel, including seven police officers and four vigilantes.
Attacks on the basis of a tit-for-tat system
The gangs operate from camps hidden in a huge forest covering Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, and Niger states, where they were formally labelled terrorists by the government in January.
Security forces in Nigeria’s northwest face a number of challenges, including a 12-year jihadist insurgency in the northeast and separatist unrest in the southeast of the continent’s most populous country.
In skirmishes in northeastern Kebbi State earlier this month, gunmen killed at least 57 members of a local self-defense vigilante organization, prompting President Muhammadu Buhari to condemn their “brutal murder.”
Local villagers frequently organize Yansakai, or informal vigilante units, to protect villages from bandit incursions, though some governments have outlawed them after they were accused of extrajudicial killings. They are, however, frequently embroiled in tit-for-tat battles with bandits.
Security experts have warned that the gangs are increasingly forming connections with Islamists from Nigeria’s northeast, who are motivated by financial gain.
Authorities last year disrupted connectivity in various northwest states in a bid to disrupt bandit communications, according to security agencies.
Last year, criminal gangs in Nigeria’s northwest gained international headlines when they invaded a number of schools and kidnapped pupils in an attempt to extort more money from locals.
Nigeria’s bandit violence has its roots in land and resource disputes between farmers and nomadic cattle herders in the northwest, where tit-for-tat attacks have morphed into larger criminal activity.