Suspected members of the Islamic militant group Boko Haram killed at least 40 rice farmers and fishermen while harvesting crops in Nigeria’s northern Borno state, officials said.
The attack took place on Saturday in a rice field in Garin Kwashebe, a Borno community known for rice cultivation, on the same day that residents of the state voted for the first time in 13 years to elect a city council, although many were unable to vote.
The peasants were reportedly rounded up and killed in summary by armed insurgents.
Malam Zabarmari, the leader of a rice-growing association in Borno State, confirmed the massacre against the Associated Press.
“Farmers were attacked at the Garin-Kwashebe rice field in the Zabarmari community, and according to reports reaching us since the afternoon, about 40 of them were killed,” he said, adding that the death toll could rise to 60.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari expressed grief over the killings.
“I condemn the killing of our hard-working farmers by terrorists in Borno State. The whole country is damaged by these senseless murders. My thoughts are with their families in this time of sorrow. May their souls rest in peace, he said.
Buhari said the government had provided all necessary support to the armed forces “to take all necessary measures to protect the country’s population and its territory.”
A member of the House of Representatives, Ahmed Satomi, who represents the Jere federal constituency in Borno, said at least 44 funerals took place on Sunday.
“Farmers and fishermen were killed in cold blood. More than 60 farmers were affected, but so far we have only received 44 corpses from the farms and we are preparing for their funerals today, Sunday by the grace of God, said the federal legislator.
Boko Haram and a leading faction, the Islamic State province of West Africa, are both active in the region. Boko Haram’s more than ten years of uprisings have left thousands dead and displaced tens of thousands. Officials say Boko Haram members often force villagers to pay illegal taxes by taking their livestock or crops. But some villagers have begun to resist the blackmail.
Satomi said Garin Kwashebe’s farmers were attacked for disarming and arresting a Boko Haram gunman on Friday who had tortured them.
A lone shooter, who was a member of Boko Haram, came to harass the peasants by asking them to give him money and also to cook for him. While waiting for the food to be prepared, the farmers seized the moment he went to the toilet to catch his rifle and tie it together, he said.
“They later handed him over to security. But unfortunately the security forces did not protect the brave farmer. And in retaliation for daring them, Boko Haram was mobilized and came to attack them on their farms. ”
Rebels also burned the rice paddies before leaving, he said.