Nigerian chief wants armed civilians to fight criminal gangs

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A traditional ruler in northern Nigeria has called for civilian militia members to be given assault rifles to defend themselves against armed gangs behind a spike in kidnappings and attacks.

"The only power these bandits have over us is that they have AK-47 rifles while we have nothing apart from the cudgels we sometimes bear in self-defence," said Anka Attahiru Ahmad.

"If the government can provide the vigilante force with AK-47 rifles, they should as well be given pump action guns and the official licence to possess and operate the weapons", said the chairperson of the Zamfara state traditional council of chiefs.

Ahmad's comments on Tuesday came as police and the security forces crack down on armed gangs involved in cattle rustling and kidnapping for ransom.

Last week, the police said they had killed 104 gang members who had been "terrorising and killing innocent people" in an operation on their forest hideouts.

Fifty camps were destroyed and officers recovered more than 500 cattle and 79 sheep. Sixteen police were also killed in the fighting.

National security is a major concern for President Muhammadu Buhari and his government, with threats ranging from Boko Haram Islamists in the northeast to militants in the oil-rich south.

At the same time, there has been renewed violence in the long-running conflict over land and resources between nomadic herdsmen and sedentary farmers in central states.

The security services, stretched by the scale of the unrest, have been unable to prevent violence on their own, leading to the creation of civilian militia.

But they have been accused of excesses against civilians. In Zamfara, vigilantes carrying muskets, machetes and clubs have been accused of abuses and extra-judicial killings.

That has fuelled reprisal attacks. Amnesty International said in July that nearly 400 people had been killed in Zamfara this year, calling it "Nigeria's forgotten conflict".

But Ahmad said arming the 8 500-strong civilian militia was "one of the best ways" of fighting the gangs besieging the state.

"We are in serious trouble as a people, things are worsening by the day. The criminals have changed tactics and the authorities must change their tactics too," he added.

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