ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — The death toll from an attack by dozens of gunmen in north central Nigeria’s Plateau state has reached 80, local authorities said Thursday, with survivors still searching for bodies days after the incident.
The gunmen targeted several villages in the remote Mangu district of Plateau during the attack that started Monday and lasted till Tuesday, according to residents. Burials continued on Thursday in parts of Mangu located 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Jos, the state capital.
The police told The Associated Press seven suspects had been arrested. It was a “situation of sporadic shooting across a vast area of different villages,” said Alabo Alfred, the command spokesman.
The security crisis in the north-west and central regions of the country has stifled Nigeria’s development, despite its status as Africa’s largest economy and one of its top oil producers.
After decades of conflict, current and former pastoralists from the Fulani tribe took up arms against farmers over limited access to land and water. The attacks are sometimes reprisals and are mostly in remote areas where security forces are outnumbered and outgunned.
As of Thursday, families in Plateau’s Mangu district are unable to retrieve the bodies of victims in areas that remained volatile, said Philip Pamshak, who has been assisting with the mass burials. “The place is still bad, so we had to run,” he said.
Quoting the local chiefs he spoke to when he visited the affected areas, Plateau Deputy Gov. Sonni Tyoden said in a statement that at least 10 villages were targeted in the attack. Local residents said it was carried out by herdsmen after a resident complained that his banana plantation had been destroyed by their cattle.
Survivors told the AP the assailants arrived in large numbers and scattered across the villages, setting houses ablaze while shooting at people.
“There was tension everywhere. They macheted some and (killed) some with guns,” according to Yaputat Pokyes, one of the survivors. Many residents have fled the area while the injured are being treated in different hospitals, he said.
Residents also said security forces only arrived a day after the attack began, echoing criticisms from analysts that security forces are sometimes slow to respond when violence breaks out.
Confidence MacHarry, from the Lagos-based SBM Intelligence security firm, said Nigerian security forces are not able to prevent or respond fast to such attacks because their early warning system was not effective and they lacked the firepower and personnel to prevent such attacks.
“For the early warning system to work, we are supposed to have reports of the pending attack and the response mechanism to prevent the attack from taking place,” said MacHarry.
Meanwhile, police investigating a separate deadly attack in the southeastern Anambra state said two suspects have been arrested. Tuesday’s attack on a U.S. convoy is suspected to have been carried out by violent separatists in the region.
The death toll has also increased from four to seven, including three U.S. Embassy staffers and four police officers, said Echeng Echen, the police chief in Anambra.
“The state police command and other security agencies are working round-the-clock, in concert with the Government of Anambra State, to find and rescue (two) missing officials” with the embassy, said Echeng.