By Faith Nyasuguta
Some 18 worshippers were killed by gunmen who attacked a mosque in northern Nigeria during early morning prayers Monday, local authorities and police have confirmed.
The attack took place at the Mazakuka village in Mashegu local government area of the nation’s Niger state.
The attackers, who are believed to have been ethnic Fulani nomadic herders, managed to escape.
The ethnic violence that has seen the death of hundreds this year alone, springs from a decades-long conflict over access to water and land.
A few of the Fulani caught up in the conflict have taken up arms against local Hausa farming communities.
“The gunmen came around the mosque and started shooting them,” Alhassan Isah, the chairman of Mashegu local government area, told the AP. He revealed that another four people were wounded.
Bala Kuryas, the Niger police commissioner on Monday said the attack was tied to the conflict between the villagers and the Fulani herders.
This latest attack is a reflection of the worrying security situation in most states in Nigeria’s northwest and central regions. The northwest has in particular been witnessing a jump in deadly violence.
Witnesses indicate that the affected communities are in hard-to-reach areas including the Mazakuka area, which is some 270 kilometers (167 miles) away from Niger, the capital.
Further, the gunmen often outnumber security operatives in those communities. The minimal police presence coupled with poorly armed security personnel often result in attacks that last long hours before the arrival of any help.
Days ago, assailants attacked a rural area in northwest Sokoto state for over 12 hours, killing about 40 people and displacing many more.
Security analysts say that large swathes of land with little or no government presence have turned into assailant hideouts and that the government has shown a lack of will to address the problem.
Regarding the latest violence in Niger, state police commissioner Kuryas admitted that the “very difficult” terrain in Mashegu made it difficult for the police to swiftly respond to the security alert. “It is not accessible by road,” he said.