Villagers in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state buried more than 40 farmers and fishermen who were killed in an attack by suspected Islamist militants over the weekend, while security forces searched for dozens still missing.
The attack Saturday in a rice field in Garin Kwashebe came on the same day that residents were casting votes for the first time in 13 years to elect local councils, although many didn’t go to cast their ballots.
While there was no claim of responsibility, such massacres have been carried out in the past by Boko Haram or the breakaway Islamic State West Africa Province, who are both active in the region.
Boko Haram’s more than decade-long insurgency has left thousands dead and displaced tens of thousands.
Officials say Boko Haram members often force villagers to pay illegal taxes by taking their livestock or crops, but some villagers have begun to resist the extortion.
Ahmed Satomi, a member of the House of Representatives, said the farmers in Garin Kwashebe were attacked because they had disarmed and arrested a Boko Haram gunman on Friday who had been tormenting them.
“They later handed him over to the security. But sadly, the security forces did not protect the courageous farmers. And in reprisal for daring them, the Boko Haram mobilized and came to attack them on their farms,” Satomi, who represents the Jere Federal constituency of Borno told The Associated Press.
“Farmers and fishermen were killed in cold blood,” he said.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the killings. “The entire country is hurt by these senseless killings. My thoughts are with their families in this time of grief.”
Buhari said the government had given the armed forces everything needed “to take all necessary steps to protect the country’s population and its territory.”
In Zabarmari on Sunday, dozens of mourners surrounded the bodies, which were wrapped in white burial shrouds and placed on wooden pallets, as clerics led prayers for the deceased.
One resident and Amnesty International said 10 women were among those missing.
Governor calls for more protection
United Nations humanitarian co-ordinator Edward Kallon said he was “outraged and horrified” by “the most violent direct attack” against civilians this year.
The UN estimated that at least 110 people were killed across the Jere area of Borno state.
Borno state governor Babagana Zulum, speaking at the burials, called on the federal government to recruit more soldiers, Civilian Joint Task Force members and civil defense fighters to protect farmers.
“In one side, they stay at home they may be killed by hunger and starvation, on the other, they go out to their farmlands and risk getting killed by the insurgents,” he said.
Food prices in Nigeria have risen dramatically over the past year, driven by flooding, border closures and insecurity in some food-producing areas.