At least 59 “bandits” were killed by a civilian defence force when they attacked a village in northwest Nigeria, security officials and locals told AFP on Thursday.
“We killed 59 of the bandits and we lost seven men in the fight, which lasted for almost four hours,” Bube Shehu, a resident of Danjibga village, said of the clashes on Wednesday.
Local reports said the death toll could be even higher, after a local government official said 15 other bandits were killed in the nearby village of Danmarke.
Shehu’s account was backed by a military officer in the state but there was no immediate corroboration from police.
The worsening security situation in the northwest — President Muhammadu Buhari’s strongest regional support base — is one of a number of challenges to his re-election, as voters go to the polls on Saturday.
Farming and herding communities in the region have suffered increasing attacks from criminal gangs who raid villages, steal cattle and kidnap for ransom.
The local official in Danmarke said villagers were frustrated at the lack of protection from security forces and had been forced to take matters into their own hands.
“It is high time people stand up against criminals who attack their villages instead of succumbing to them,” he said on condition of anonymity.
Danjibga is a commercial hub 35 kilometres (just over 20 miles) south of the state capial Gusau and has been repeatedly attacked.
The attacks have led to a mass exodus of residents to the town of Tsafe and even across into Buhari’s home state of Katsina, which neighbours Zamfara.
Earlier this month bandits killed 26 people when they raided seven villages in the Mada district, according to the police.
Last July, Amnesty International said Zamfara state was “at the mercy” of armed bandits who had killed at least 371 people in the first six months of 2018.
In December an influential traditional chief in the state urged authourities to allow vigilantes carry assault rifles to defend themselves against bandits.
Last month, information minister Lai Mohammed claimed that bandits were mobilised to carry out attacks and “provoke massive chaos before, during and after the elections”.
Security is an election issue, given Buhari’s pledge in 2015 to improve safety across the country, not least end Boko Haram’s Islamist insurgency.