At least 62 members of a volunteer vigilante group in Nigeria’s northwestern Kebbi state have been killed by unidentified gunmen in the worst violence to hit the African country this year.

According to the head of the group and a police spokesman, the motorcycle-borne armed assailants ambushed the group on the night of March 6 and opened indiscriminate fire at them.

Many restive northwestern states in the country have groups of vigilante volunteers who defend villages and towns from the marauding groups, including the Daesh and Boko Haram.

According to Usman Sani, who heads the “Yan Sa Kai” vigilante group in Kebbi, the Nigerian volunteers had planned to attack bandits in the Sakaba area on the night of March 5 before they came under attack.

Graphic: MGN Online

“They circled us and opened fire from different directions,” said Sani, a retired soldier. “At least 62 people have been killed by this group who hid their motorcycles in the shrubs.”

Kebbi police spokesman Nafiu Abubakar confirmed the incident but said he had no exact details on the number of casualties from the shootout.

In January, a group of gunmen on motorcycles ravaged a village in Kebbi, killing more than 50 people.

These armed gangs have spread a reign of terror across the northwest over the years, carrying out kidnappings of hundreds of school children and villagers.

Northwestern states of Nigeria have long been battered by violence, including clashes over land between rival communities, attacks by heavily armed criminal gangs, and reprisal killings by vigilante groups.

Gangs of thieves and kidnappers have long been terrorizing communities in the region, where they raid schools, mosques, and markets, besides killing and burning buildings after looting them.

The gangs have been infiltrated by Boko Haram and other terrorist groups. (