World News

45 Killed in Nigerian Village as Mass Killings Increase

Posted May 7, 2018 3:32 p.m. EDT
Updated May 7, 2018 3:36 p.m. EDT

ABUJA, Nigeria — Heavily armed men killed 45 people and wounded 12 in an assault on a village in northwestern Nigeria on Saturday, the latest in a wave of mass killings that have shocked the country, exposed serious gaps in its security and shaken its political foundations.

The gunmen, described by officials as bandits, entered the village of Gwaska, a rural community in Kaduna state, at around 2:30 p.m., killing indiscriminately before armed vigilantes drove them off. According to local residents, the nearest state police force, based far from the remote village, arrived hours after the killings had ended.

Attacks in northern and central Nigeria have left more than 1,500 people dead this year, according to human rights groups, undermining President Muhammadu Buhari, who was elected in 2015 on a vow to improve stability and security. Instead, conditions have deteriorated, but despite serious health problems, growing criticism and calls for him to step down, Buhari, 75, announced last month that he planned to run for a second term.

The country has been plagued by gangs of armed bandits preying on villagers, clashes between herdsmen and farmers, and the continuing Islamist insurgency of Boko Haram.

Witnesses described the attack Saturday as the worst in the area in years. The village of mostly farmers, potters and herders is surrounded by thick forest, and it borders a national park that has been a haven for bandit groups that are accused of kidnappings, armed robbery and stealing livestock from isolated communities like Gwaska.

Austin Iwar, the police commissioner in Kaduna, said the killings were part of a reprisal attack, after armed vigilantes who protect the village had attacked the bandits in their hideouts.

“Over the years there have been problems between these bandits and the vigilantes who consistently try to prevent these bandits from operating,” Iwar said. “Two weeks back, the vigilantes attacked the bandits in the thick of the forest, but because it happened in the forest we only learned of this recently.”

According to Iwar, police had released 200 mobile units to increase security in areas vulnerable to bandits.

On Monday, the president’s office released a statement describing the attacks as regrettable and promising added security, including more troops and police officers for the area.

Mass killings by armed herdsmen, amid clashes with farming communities in the central-belt region of Nigeria, have claimed the lives of hundreds of people. The government had increased security in affected states, but military spokesman Gen. John Agim admitted last month that there was no military presence in Benue, the state most affected by the clashes.

Chidi Odinkalu, a human rights activist in Abuja, said there had been a significant collapse of security in Nigeria.

“The government’s response in these killings in Kaduna, as in Benue, as in all these affected regions, has been to deploy soldiers,” he said. “But the military is stretched already so it is making other security challenges worse.” Moreover, officials are not trying to understand or resolve “the root causes of the problems,” he added.

Odinkalu said that the killings by bandits could only happen because of government failings. “Banditry occurs in ungoverned territory,” he said. “It’s in these rural areas with little or no cover. The territory is completely exposed, so at the heart of the issue is a crisis of governance.”

Buhari came to power promising to end the Boko Haram insurgency, which has left more than 20,000 dead, and millions displaced and in need of humanitarian aid. He and the military have repeatedly claimed to have defeated the terrorist group, but it has stepped up its attacks this year, killing hundreds of people at mosques, markets and other gathering places.

Last week, at least 27 people were killed when a suicide bombing ripped through a mosque and market area in Adamawa state. In February, Boko Haram militants kidnapped 110 schoolgirls from Dapchi Town, though they returned 104 of the girls less than a month later; five other girls died, and they continued to hold one, Leah Sheribu, a Christian who refused to convert to Islam.

On Monday afternoon, the Nigerian army said it had rescued more than 1,000 people, mostly women and children, who had been held captive by Boko Haram militants in the Bama area of Borno state. The military has in the past announced numerous rescues of people kidnapped by Boko Haram, but it generally offers few details about the operations and provides limited access to journalists seeking to independently verify the claims.

According to Amnesty International, thousands of men women and children have been abducted by Boko Haram during its insurgency.