Armed bandits riding motorcycles operating in abandoned forest reserves are attacking communities in northwest Nigeria.
The groups are the last to join Nigeria's lucrative kidnapping for the rescue industry and are quite brazen in their operations.
In the past decade, more than 8,000 people have been killed in the states of Kebbi, Sokoto, Niger and Zamfara, according to the International Crisis Group.
But recent attacks on the president's home state, Katsina, where more than 100 people were killed in attacks between April and June, led to protests and called for his resignation.
On two separate occasions, the bandits attacked villagers who had received food from the government during the coronavirus blockade.
"They were about 200 on motorbikes, each cyclist carried a passenger and everyone carried AK47 weapons," Bashir Kadisau, an eyewitness, told BBC.
He said he climbed to the top of a tree when he saw the large number of motorcyclists entering the village of Kadisau and saw the attackers loot shops, steal cattle and grain and shoot people who were fleeing.
Climate change fuels conflict
The attacks are rooted in the decades-long competition for resources between ethnic Fulani herders and farming communities.
Most shepherds are nomadic and can be found on major highways and streets across the country herding their cattle, but they have been involved in deadly clashes with farmers in northwest and central Nigeria.
This is because these areas have suffered massive deforestation, due to the impact of the Sahara desert that spreads to the south, causing arable land to disappear and water scarcity.
"Persistent clashes have led to the formation of armed self-help groups, called vigilantes, on both sides for protection," security analyst Kabiru Adamu told the BBC.
& # 39; Kidnapping more profitable than herding cows & # 39;
Armed groups in the Fulani communities are being accused of resorting to crime.
"Pastors now see kidnapping and looting as more profitable than grazing.
"The largest cow would cost 200,000 naira, but a kidnapping would reach millions," said Adamu.
Nigerian Fulani pastors deny the charge.
The main Fulani cattle ranchers association, Miyetti Allah (Hausa for Thanks God), said that they are the most affected by the bandits' activities and that hundreds of members have been kidnapped.
"Our cows were rustling. The crooks are a bunch of criminals that cover all types of groups. We lost 30% of cattle in Nigeria in different types of crisis," Miyetti Allah's national secretary, Baba Othman Ngelzarma told the BBC.
He said the attackers in northwest Nigeria were "foreign pastors from neighboring countries".
Northwest Nigeria, an area almost the size of the United Kingdom, borders Niger and gangs cross the two countries, avoiding security.
& # 39; Pastors seek revenge & # 39;
The borders are porous and the vast forest reserves in the border regions have been transformed into operational bases for the bandits.
Police say the attacks in the northwest are being carried out by criminal gangs, as well as Fulani pastors.
"Suddenly, Fulani pastors realized that they now have weapons to protect themselves. But they are not only protecting themselves, but also harassing those who have offended them in the past," police spokesman in Katsina state told BBC BBC .
Rescue kidnapping is widespread in Nigeria, with victims forced to pay between $ 20 and $ 200,000 for their freedom.
At the height of 2017 and 2018, the main road linking the capital Abuja in central Nigeria, Kaduna in the northwest, had 10 hijackings a day, with 20 different groups operating on the route, the chief of police of a special unit of fighting kidnappers, Abba. Kyari, he told the BBC.
Peace agreement with bandits
Katsina state governor Aminu Bello Masari entered the bandits' hideout last year, negotiating a deal that would make them escape the prosecution in return for stopping the attacks.
But he caused shock among many Nigerians when he appeared in a photo alongside a thug with an AK-47 rifle.
Businessman Nasif Ahmad, who had been kidnapped in Katsina just a few days earlier, condemned the governor for making the deal.
"How a state government can come to terms with bandits who have no education, no sympathy or faith and behave like animals," he said.
Ahmad said he fought the bandits after they kidnapped him and spent the night in the forest.
"I felt very, very bad when I heard that the governor had reached an agreement with them," he told the BBC.
The governor said at the time that the talks were aimed at ending the "incessant destruction of lives and property" and were producing positive results.
But last month, Masari told reporters that the peace deal was closed because of continued attacks.
"These bandits arrive in the city, throw bullets, kill indiscriminately for no purpose and for no reason. How can a human behave in the way that an animal cannot behave?" he asked.
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Last month's street protests in Katsina saw angry protesters burn an old poster of President Muhammadu Buhari's campaign, the clearest indication yet that people in his home state had run out of patience.
Buhari, a retired army general, was elected in 2015 with a promise to solve Nigeria's various security challenges.
But in its time, a deadly Islamic insurgency continued to rage in the northeast, while criminal activities, along with clashes between farmers and ranchers, appear to have increased in the northwest and central states.
Nigeria's armed forces are currently conducting an operation under the president's orders to "sweep bandits and kidnappers" out of their home state.
Buhari also tried to resolve the reasons for the conflict by proposing grazing reserves for pastors.
But in a country divided on ethnic lines, many powerful state governors refused to participate in the project, accusing the president, a Fulani, of drawing up a plan to take land for his ethnic group.
It is increasingly clear that the lines between clashes between farmers and herdsmen and banditry are becoming increasingly blurred in the northwest, and as the governor of Katsina state learned, the bandits do not keep their word.