More than 100 people, including women and children, remain missing in Nigeria’s northwestern Zamfara state over a week after being abducted by unidentified bandits who raided four villages in the region, according to reports.
Over 40 people were abducted from Kanwa village in Zurmi Council, another 37, mostly women and children, from Kwabre village in the same council, and 38 people from Yankaba and Gidan Goga villages in Maradun Council, Nigerian newspaper The Guardian reported.
“Kanwa village is deserted, the bandits divided themselves into two groups and attacked the community. They kidnapped children aged 14 to 16 and women,” a villager was quoted as saying.
While kidnappings for ransom are frequent in northern Nigeria, local officials said the gunmen would use the abducted civilians as human shields against air raids from the military.
Nigeria has dealt with significant internal violence for years at the hands of several entities, including Islamic extremist groups like Boko Haram, radicalized Islamic Fulani herdsmen and localized gang violence.
“Tens of thousands have been killed or abducted by these groups, and hundreds of thousands have been internally displaced,” the United States-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern reports. “Christians in Nigeria are especially vulnerable to this violence, which is largely religiously motivated, and have suffered greatly over the last few years as the level of jihadism has risen in Nigeria.”
According to a recent study from the Anambra-based International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety), an estimated 10 million people had been uprooted in northern Nigeria, where extremist violence was most severe, from July 2009 to July 2021.
Taking note of the security situation in Nigeria, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom warned in September that religious freedom was also deteriorating because of rising violence by non-State actors, and “poor governance” was driving and aggravating that violence.
“In recent years, nonstate actor violence has increased in most parts of Nigeria, and this violence has yielded devastating humanitarian and human rights consequences, including but not limited to violence based on religion and other violations of Nigerians’ rights to freedom of religion or belief,” USCIRF said in a report on violence in Africa’s most populous country.
The commission added that Nigeria was battling several concurrent security crises and the militant Islamist groups that originated in the northeast region had expanded their territory west and south.
“In several regions, criminal armed groups target civilians and infrastructure to enrich themselves and expand territorial control. In areas of the northwest, northcenter and south, resource conflicts and population movements have heightened group tensions and yielded deadly cycles of retaliatory identity-based violence.”
Many have raised concerns about what they perceive as the government’s inaction in holding terrorists accountable for the rising number of murders and kidnappings, which some groups warn have reached the level of genocide.