The death toll from a bloody clash between armed bandits and militiamen over the weekend in northern Nigeria has risen to 71, a traditional ruler told AFP on Tuesday.
More bodies were recovered after bandits overran a local militia protecting the village of Gwaska in Kaduna state on Saturday, putting the spotlight on the increasing violence in West Africa’s largest economy ahead of presidential polls next year.
“The death toll now is 71 with more bodies being evacuated,” said the Emir of Birnin Gwari Malam Zubair Jibril Mai Gwari II.
“We hope that the security measures being taken will curb the issue.”
In a statement on Monday, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres strongly condemned the attack, calling for those responsible to be “swiftly brought to justice”.
Kaduna state governor Nasir El-Rufai visited Gwaska on Monday to denounce the “terrorism of bandits and criminals who have been tormenting us.”
The government established a new army battalion and the creation of a police area command to protect the area, according to Kaduna state spokesman Samuel Aruwan.
The weekend killings follow the deaths of 13 people in prolonged clashes between cattle thieves and local civilian militia in the neighbouring state of Zamfara last week.
The attacks underlined the diversity of security threats in Nigeria that persist because of an overstretched army and security forces.
Rural communities in Zamfara have for years been under siege from cattle rustlers and kidnapping gangs, who have raided herding communities, killing, looting and burning homes.
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To defend themselves, villages and herdsmen have formed vigilante groups, but they too are often accused of extra-judicial killings, provoking a vicious cycle of retaliatory attacks.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has been criticised for failing to curb the violence, which is becoming a key election issue in the upcoming 2019 election.
The military and police are fighting Boko Haram jihadists in the north and militants and pirates in the oil-rich south.
There is further insecurity in the country with a simmering separatist movement in the east as well as an escalating conflict between herdsmen and farmers spanning the vast central region.