MAIDUGURI, Nigeria: A gruesome massacre against farmers in north-eastern Nigeria killed at least 110 people, the United Nations has said, raising tolls initially indicating 43 and then at least 70 dead.
The killings took place in the early afternoon of Saturday in the village of Koshobe and other rural communities in the Jere local government area near Maiduguri, the capital of the conflict-hit Borno state.
“Armed men on motorcycles led a brutal attack on civilian men and women who were harvesting their fields,” Edward Kallon, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, said in a statement on Sunday.
“At least 110 civilians were ruthlessly killed and many others were wounded in this attack,” he added, noting that several women are believed to have been kidnapped.
“The incident is the most violent direct attack against innocent civilians this year. I call for the perpetrators of this heinous and senseless act to be brought to justice,” Kallon said.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack, but the armed group Boko Haram and its splinter faction, the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), have carried out a series of deadly assaults in the area in recent years.
Both groups are active in the region, where fighters have killed more than 30,000 people in the past decade during an armed campaign that has displaced some two million and has spread to neighbouring countries including Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who took office in 2015 promising to fix the security crisis, denounced the latest massacre.
“I condemn the killing of our hard-working farmers by terrorists in Borno state. The entire country is hurt by these senseless killings,” the president said via his spokesman.
But security analyst Sulaiman Aledeh said many in the country are growing frustrated with the authorities’ inability to contain the conflict.
“If you’ve seen [what happened to] Niger, President Mahamadou Issoufou had to sack his security chiefs when 89 soldiers were killed. So Nigerians are asking why are you keeping these people,” he told Al Jazeera from Lagos.
“The problem here has to do with the government of the day seems to be rewarding loyalty over professionalism. They [Nigerians] think by now the government should’ve tried a few good other men to get them out of this mess.”
Earlier on Sunday, Borno Governor Babaganan Umara Zulum told journalists that at least 70 farmers were killed. He was speaking in Zabarmari village after attending the burial of 43 people whose bodies were recovered on Saturday.
Zulum urged the federal government to recruit more soldiers, Civilian Joint Task Force members and civil defence fighters to protect farmers in the region.
He described people facing desperate choices.
“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.