At least 63 vigilantes from five communities of Kebbi State have been confirmed dead after bandits ambushed them Sunday evening.
Traditional rulers of two of the affected communities told BBC Hausa that the vigilantes were ambushed while chasing the bandits who had attacked the communities.
But two additional sources spoken to by PREMIUM TIMES from Sakaba Local Government Area of the state said the number of casualties was higher.
The state police command also confirmed the killings to this newspaper but said the bandits were fleeing from military airstrikes in Niger State when they were confronted by the volunteers.
The Sunday attacks
The village head of Takita, who refused to provide his name, told BBC Hausa that the bandits had stormed villages in Sakaba local government area in Zuru Emirate, abducted people and rustled some cattle.
“Residents were running from the bandits. When the volunteer vigilante members were informed of the attacks, they mobilised and followed the bandits.
“You know how dangerous these bandits are. They know all the forest very well, so they decided to hide on the trees and allowed the volunteers to reach the ring after which they encircled them and started shooting sporadically. 63 vigilantes were killed because we counted them before we buried them in the evening. They were from five separate communities of the area,” he said.
The traditional ruler, however, said some of the bandits were killed, too.
The areas where the vigilante members were from include Takita, Magajiya, Rafin Zuru, Dabai and Sanci.
An anonymous vigilante leader in Zuru told BBC Hausa that after the evacuation of the corpses, they were taken to the police station where members of the vigilante groups of each village took those belonging to their people.
“The attacks affected every village in the Zuru emirate and we suffered a lot in evacuating the dead bodies,” he said.
Ahmad Umar, a native of Sakaba who lives in Birnin Kebbi, and Shehu Bello, a native of Zuru, told PREMIUM TIMES in separate interviews that those killed were more than 100.
“I can confirm that the number is more than that. Even yesterday (Monday), there were still corpses in the forest where the attack occurred. Those who went to evacuate the bodies couldn’t do that on that Sunday,” Mr Umar said.
The Kebbi police command spokesperson, Nafiu Abubakar, told PREMIUM TIMES that the police did not know the number of those killed yet.
“There is an ongoing military operation in Niger state. The areas affected (in Kebbi) share boundaries with Niger, so while the bandits were fleeing from military airstrikes, the volunteer vigilante members confronted them,” the spokesman said.
He said the state police commissioner has mandated officers of the command to launch an investigation to unravel the identity of those killed.
“They were among those complementing our efforts,” he said. “They were part of the security setting and helped us a lot in arresting bandits,” he said.