Gunmen from heavily armed criminal gangs killed dozens of people, including 11 security personnel, in separate attacks in northwest and central Nigeria, government officials said.
Northwest and central Nigeria have been terrorised for years by gangs who attack villages, loot and abduct residents, but the violence and kidnappings have become more widespread.
The weekend attacks came shortly after President Muhammadu Buhari called on the army to crack down on gangs, known locally as bandits, who were recently designated as terrorists by the government.
In the first attack on January 29 more than 100 motorcycle-riding gunmen stormed into remote Galadiman Kogo community in Shiroro district, Niger State Governor Sani Bello said in a statement.
“Terrorists, numbering over 100 are said to have invaded the community in broad daylight, killing about 11 Joint Security Taskforce members, several villagers and leaving many injured,” Bello said.
Scores of the attackers were also killed by security forces during the attack, he said.
Hundreds of residents were displaced from their homes and were sheltering in neighbouring communities.
“We have really ran out of patience with the terrorists and we’ll use every means possible to bring an end to this incessant bloody attacks on innocent people,” Bello said.
The governor announced impending “extensive military operations” approved by Buhari in three districts the bandits use as their enclave.
In a separate attack on January 30, bandits rode into Kurmin Masara village in mainly Christian Zangon Kataf district, killing 11 residents and burning more than 30 houses, Kaduna state internal security commissioner Samuel Aruwan said in a statement.
The gunmen also tried to ambush a team of air force special forces who deployed to the area to engage the bandits, but the attack was thwarted, Aruwan said.
In neighbouring Zamfara state, police said on January 31 they had rescued 32 kidnap victims who had been abducted in separate incidents in Niger, Katsina and Zamfara states, some held for as long as two months.
Buhari, a former army commander, has been under intense pressure to end bandit violence before he leaves office next year at the end of his two terms in office.
So far, measures including military operations, air raids and amnesty deals have failed to end the violence.
Last month the federal government officially declared the activities of bandits “acts of terrorism”.
Buhari on January 27 promised communities under siege that he was “more than ever determined to get rid of these outlaws”, claiming the military was “well equipped to effectively confront these enemies of humanity”.
Clashes between herders and farmers over land have plagued northwest Nigeria for years, but those tit-for-tat attacks have spiralled into broader violence.
Gangs over the last year have increasingly targeted schools to abduct hundreds of pupils for ransom. Most have been freed after months in captivity.
Analysts say there has also been growing concern over a tighter alliance between bandits and jihadists from the northeast who are waging a 12-year insurgency against the armed forces.