At least 50 people were killed in clashes with bandits in northwest Nigeria, which has been riven by cattle rustling and kidnapping, the state government said on Friday.
The speaker of Zamfara state parliament, Sunusi Rikiji, told reporters the deaths happened on Tuesday in Sakajiki village, in the Kauran Namoda area of Zamfara state.
“We received reports that members of the (civilian militia) mobilised people… and confronted the bandits in the forest, which resulted in the killing of at least 50 people,” he said after returning from a visit to the area.
The victims were the militia themselves and other local residents they mobilised to help them, he added, condemning the vigilante force for confronting the gangs alone.
The bandits have long been a scourge of rural communities in Zamfara, raiding villages, stealing cattle, burning homes, looting food, and kidnapping for ransom.
Civilian militia groups comprising local people were formed as protection, given a lack of security personnel in hard-to-reach areas.
But the vigilante forces have only exacerbated violence and tit-for-tat attacks after being accused of extrajudicial killings of suspected bandits.
The state government outlawed the militia groups and deployed troops instead to curb unrest but with little success.
Last December an 8,500-strong militia force was reconstituted to assist the military and police in fighting the gangs, amid wider concerns about the rise in violence.
Nigeria faces a number of security challenges, including attacks from an Islamic State-backed Boko Haram faction and renewed clashes between nomadic herders and farmers.
That has left the military overstretched and seen President Muhammadu Buhari criticised for failing to protect lives and property.
In Zamfara, an influential traditional chief called on the government to arm the vigilantes with assault riffles to defend themselves against the well-armed bandits.
Last month motorcycle-riding bandits gunned down 32 militia members outside Kware village in the Shinkafi district of Zamfara, according to the police.