Nigerian villagers say gunmen staged mass kidnapping

Gunmen known in Nigeria as “bandits” kidnapped no fewer than 52 people, including a local chief, in a northwestern village, residents said on Monday.

While police said that the raid resulted in the capture of five people, including the village chief, three residents of Lingyado in the Zamfara state maintained that 52 people were seized on Sunday.

The sources gave their names as Rabe, Bube and Lawwali, but declined to disclose their identities further, citing fears of potential reprisals.

They told AFP that a gang of motorcycle-riding assailants attacked Lingyado in the Maru district of Zamfara, firing in the air to scare people. 

Northwest Nigeria suffers from a chronic, deadly conflict involving armed groups, criminal gangs and jihadists. 

“The bandits took away 52 people from our village yesterday. Our district head was among them. Most taken were men, and a few boys,” said the resident who asked to be identified as Rabe.

“They came on motorcycles, three riding on each, and encircled the village before shooting continuously into the air.

“People were frightened and some ran out of their homes to flee, only to fall into the trap of the bandits and get kidnapped,” Rabe said. 

A second resident, who asked not to be identified, said: “We conducted a headcount and found that 52 people were kidnapped.”

Nevertheless, local police put the number of people kidnapped at only five, including the local chief, and said a rescue operation was underway.

“The police search and rescue team in collaboration with the military are in a nearby forest… to rescue the district head and the four other kidnapped victims along with him,” Zamfara state police spokesman Mohammed Shehu said.

Criminal gangs and cattle thieves often kidnap for ransom, prompting many residents to relocate to safer locations.

Nonetheless, more than 8,000 people have died in the region since 2011, and over 200,000 displaced, some into neighbouring Niger, according to the International Crisis Group.