The farmers had tried to fight back.
They were tired of Boko Haram extremists stealing their money and crops, a local official said, so when they saw a chance to capture one of their tormentors, they tied him up to face justice.
In response, gunmen on motorbikes stormed the village of Koshobe on Saturday, killing at least 110 people in one of the region’s deadliest attacks in years.
“The entire country is hurt by these senseless killings,” tweeted Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, whose office described the loss as “insane.”
No one has asserted responsibility for the bloodshed.
Grief surged in Nigeria’s Borno state, which has grappled with a relentless insurgency for more than a decade. Residents have long blasted leaders in the capital, Abuja, for failing to protect them.
Boko Haram has killed more than 30,000 people since 2009 and continues to stage regular attacks across Borno. Millions have been forced from their homes. The violence didn’t stop after Buhari declared the group “technically defeated.”
An offshoot, the Islamic State in West Africa, has since spread, assaulting military outposts and collecting taxes from villagers it intends to rule.
Both groups want to govern Nigerians with an extreme version of Islam. They have driven scores of aid workers and federal helpers out of the country’s remotest corners, leaving residents with little recourse.
The assailants who struck Koshobe this weekend – about an hour’s drive from Borno’s capital, Maiduguri – targeted people who worked on rice fields.
They tied up the victims and slit their throats, the local government said. Most were migrant workers who had come from the nation’s northeast. Then the suspected militants set fire to the land in an agricultural community that depends on it.
In addition to the 110 people who died in the ambush, many others were wounded, said Edward Kallon, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria. Several women were kidnapped, he added.
“The incident is the most violent direct attack against innocent civilians this year,” Kallon said.
Suspected Boko Haram militants killed 22 farmers working on irrigation fields in two separate attacks in October in Borno. A June attack near the village of Gubio left 81 people dead. Most were young adults who had been out fetching water to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Help often arrives too late, residents said at the time.
Buhari’s office pushed back against that assertion Monday, saying the victims of Saturday’s attack did not have permission to work in that part of Africa’s most populous country.
“Much of those areas have been liberated from Boko Haram, but there are a number of spaces that have not been cleared for the return of villagers that have been displaced,” the president’s spokesman, Garba Shehu, said in an interview with the BBC World Service.
People in Borno can’t wait for the government’s approval to return, said the state’s governor, Babagana Zulum.
“If they stay at home, they may be killed by hunger,” he told reporters Sunday. “If they go out to their farmlands, they risk getting killed by insurgents.”
The day before the attack in Koshobe, a lone gunman had been harassing farmers in the area, said Ahmed Satomi, a local politician.
The assailant had ordered them to cook for him. While some prepared rice, another group struck back. They tied up the attacker and called security forces.
“Boko Haram came back to retaliate,” he said. “They slit the farmers’ throats one by one.”
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The Washington Post’s Ismail Alfa in Maiduguri, Nigeria, contributed to this report.