Armed groups have killed at least 160 people in central Nigeria in a series of attacks on villages, local government officials said.
The toll on Monday marked a sharp rise from the initial figure reported by the army on Sunday evening of just 16 dead in a region plagued for several years by religious and ethnic tensions.
“As many as 113 persons have been confirmed killed as Saturday hostilities persisted to early hours of Monday,” Monday Kassah, head of the local government in Bokkos, Plateau State, told the AFP news agency.
Military gangs, locally called “bandits”, launched “well-coordinated” attacks in “not fewer than 20 different communities” and torched houses, Kassah said.
“We found more than 300 wounded people” who were transferred to hospitals in Bokkos, Jos and Barkin Ladi, he said.
A provisional toll by the local Red Cross reported 104 deaths in 18 villages in the Bokkos region.
At least 50 people were also reported dead in several villages in the Barkin Ladi area, according to Dickson Chollom, a member of the state parliament.
He condemned the attacks and called on the security forces to act swiftly.
“We will not succumb to the tactics of these merchants of death. We are united in our pursuit of justice and lasting peace,” Chollom said.
The attacks, which started in the Bokkos area, spilt into neighbouring Barkin Ladi, where 30 people were found dead, according to local chairman Danjuma Dakil.
On Sunday, Plateau State Governor Caleb Mutfwang condemned the violence, calling it “barbaric, brutal and unjustified”.
“Proactive measures will be taken by the government to curb ongoing attacks against innocent civilians,” said Gyang Bere, the governor’s spokesperson.
Gunfire could still be heard on late Monday afternoon, according to a source from the region, which is on the dividing line between Nigeria’s mostly Muslim north and mainly Christian south.
Markus Amorudu, a resident of Mushu village, said people were sleeping when shots rang out.
“We were scared because we weren’t expecting an attack. People hid, but the assailants captured many of us, some were killed, others wounded,” he told AFP.
Amnesty International criticised the government in the wake of the attacks, saying, “the Nigerian authorities have been failing to end frequent deadly attacks on rural communities of Plateau state,” in a post on X, formerly Twitter.
Plateau is one of several ethnically and religiously diverse hinterland states known as Nigeria’s Middle Belt, where inter-communal conflict has claimed hundreds of lives in recent years.
The violence is often painted as an ethnoreligious conflict between Muslim herders and mainly Christian farmers.
Competition for natural resources between nomadic herders and farmers, intensified by rapid population growth and climate pressures, has also exacerbated social tensions and sparked violence.