At least 60 people have been killed in a series of attacks on villages by armed gangs. Experts warned division in the region could give rise to jihadist groups as bloody violence continues to cause havoc.
Dozens of armed criminals on motorcycles raided a number of villages in the northwestern Nigerian state of Sokoto, killing at least 60 civilians.
Regional governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal said that the attacks late Wednesday, close to the border with Niger, came as a "rude shock" as security officials had recently visited the area to try to appease ongoing conflict.
"We recovered 25 corpses in Garki, 13 in Dan Aduwa, 25 in Kuzari, seven in Katuma and four in Masawa," Lawal Kakale, one of the witnesses, told French news agency AFP. The local traditional leader is from Sabon Birni district, some 175 kilometers (110 miles) from the city of Sokoto.
"People fled in all directions and were pursued by the attackers. So, the corpses were scattered," Kakale recounted, adding that the death toll had surged to 74 as more corpses were recovered in the villages.
Medics recount horror
Doctors at a nearby hospital said they initially received 60 bodies with gunshot wounds.
"All the bodies had bullet wounds, most of them were shot in the head," one medic recounted.
The army said "hundreds" had been killed but so far there has been no independent confirmation of the death toll. Security forces said there would be a press conference later on Thursday.
Last week, Nigeria's armed forces launched a series of bomb raids on camps in the northwest region in its latest attempt to curtail violence in the area.
In an apparent retaliation attack, armed gang members raided five villages in the Sabon Birni district on Monday, killing 18 people.
Rival communities in the region have been embroiled in years of violent conflict over land, with armed gangs and vigilante groups carrying out reprisal killings and ransom kidnappings.
Nigerian authorities have repeatedly conducted military operations and local reconciliation talks in a bid to end ongoing conflict but so far authorities have not been successful.
An estimated 8,000 people have been killed since 2011 and a further 200,000 displaced.
Insurgents on the rise
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) warned last week that jihadist groups - who have been establishing an insurgency in northeast Nigeria for the last ten years - are gaining influence as government and various rebel groups continue to clash.
According to the ICG, northwest Nigeria risks becoming a "land bridge" to jihadist groups across the Sahel region and called for stronger cooperation between Nigeria and Niger to prevent trafficking of arms on the border.
(AFP, Lusa, KNA)