Armed men killed 30 people in weekend raids on six villages in Nigeria's north, a region regularly hit by criminal violence and clashes between communities, local police have said.
Attackers on motorcycles "killed eight people in Raka, seven in Bilingawa, six in Jaba, four in Dabagi, three in Raka Dutse and two in Tsalewa villages," Ahmad Rufai, Sokoto police spokesman said in a statement received Monday.
However, residents from two of the affected villages said 36 people were killed in the attacks which they said were reprisals for their refusal to pay protection money to the bandits.
"They (bandits) were enraged by our refusal to negotiate with them and pay them protection money as other villages have done. That was why they attacked our villages," said Musa, a subsistence farmer.
'Killed by the bandits'
Kasimu Musa, a resident of Raka Dutse, told AFP the communities "buried 36 people yesterday (Sunday) who were killed by the bandits".
Mansur Abdullahi from nearby Gandaba village gave the same toll.
Bandits who terrorise the district launch attacks from their hideouts in nearby Tsauna and Kuyan Bana forests which stretch into neighbouring Niger, Abdullahi said.
"The governments of Nigeria and Niger need to work together to fight these bandits who have established hideouts in the two forests", Abdullahi said.
Communal violence is just one security challenge facing recently sworn in President Bola Tinubu who won a February presidential ballot marred by opposition accusations of vote rigging.
The area has for several years been wracked by deadly conflict between herders and farmers over grazing and water rights.
The conflict has spiralled into broader criminality with gangs of so-called bandits, comprising mostly herders, carrying out deadly raids on villages to steal livestock, kidnap for ransom and burn homes after looting them.
There has been an increase in tit-for-tat killings between the bandits and vigilante groups set by local communities in recent times, prompting the state authorities to attempt peace negotiations.
Authorities and security analysts have expressed concern over alliances between the so-called bandits, who are motivated by financial gains, and jihadists waging a 14-year-old insurgency in the northeast.
During the presidential campaign, Tinubu promised that he would "accelerate the reforms commenced" under former president Muhammadu Buhari "in building a more robust, re-energised armed forces."
He said he would "recruit, train and better equip additional military, police, paramilitary and intelligence personnel."
Violence has surged in Nigeria following a brief lull during elections earlier in the year.