At least 25 people were killed when armed men raided two villages in a northern Nigerian state wracked by cattle rustling and kidnapping for ransom, witnesses and the police said on Friday.
Gunmen on motorcycles on Wednesday invaded the villages of Gidan Halilu and Gidan Kaka in Birnin Magaji district of Zamfara state, they said.
“We lost 25 people in the attacks, which were carried out by cattle thieves who have been terrorising us for years,” Usman Wadatau, a community leader in Gidan Halilu, told AFP.
“We lost 16 people in Gidan Halilu and nine in Gidan Kaka,” he said.
Four of those killed in Gidan Halilu were volunteers from nearby Nassarawa Godel who had mobilised to help fight off the attackers, Gidan Kaka resident Bube Mada said.
In the first attack, which occurred around 1:00 pm (1200 GMT), the bandits opened fire on farmers harvesting sweet potatoes outside Gidan Halilu, killing nine, Mada told AFP.
“The gunmen left after the attack on the farm but returned around 5:00 pm when we were preparing the bodies of the victims for burial and opened fire on the mourners, killing three people,” Wadatau said.
“Some people from our neighbours in Nassarawa Godel mobilised to help but the attackers opened fire on them and killed four,” he said.
“The gunmen moved to Gidan Kaka and shot dead nine residents,” said Mada who supported Watadau’s account.
Zamfara state police spokesman Mohammed Shehu confirmed the attacks but said only five people were killed.
“On getting to the scene, five corpses were recovered with one other person injured,” Shehu said.
It is common in Nigeria for security personnel to give lower casualty figures.
Farming and herding communities in Zamfara have been terrorised for years by cattle thieves and kidnappers who raid villages, steal cows, abduct residents for ransom and burn homes.
The frequent attacks have prompted villages to form local militia for protection.
However the villagers too are accused of carrying out extra-judicial killings of suspected bandits, leading to tit-for-tat violence.
In April, troops were deployed to Zamfara to fight the gangs and police banned the civilian militia in an attempt to curb the cycle of reprisals but the violence has continued.
Last month the police claimed to have killed 104 bandits in Birnin Magaji district during a clash in which 16 policemen were killed.
Early this month, an influential traditional ruler in the state called for civilian militia members to be given assault rifles to defend themselves.