Senior police officers have told our correspondents that the ambush on a police team in Zamfara State on Thursday ended with the loss of dozens of police officers.
The account, which was also corroborated by civilian sources near the scene of the incident in Zurmi Local Government Area, contradicted an official account provided by police on the attack Friday afternoon.
Police spokesperson Mr Jimoh Moshood said in Abuja Friday that officers repelled the ambush, killing 104 bandits in the process. He also said 50 hideouts used by the bandits were razed by officers, and stolen cattle and sheep recovered.
Birnin Mogaji, an agrarian community where Moshood said the incident occurred at about 4:00 p.m., and surrounding communities, has become a regular target of bandits who have been undertaking a series of robberies in the state in recent years. The bandits often target herders for their livestock, farms for their produce and even kidnap persons for humongous ransom.
Moshood, an acting deputy police commissioner, said normal activities had been restored to the communities as of Friday afternoon. He also said Mr Habila Joshak, deputy inspector-general in charge of operations, had been dispatched to oversee police operations in the troubled state.
Moshood later sent the names of 16 suspects, who range from 18 to 59 years to PREMIUM TIMES Friday night, saying they had been paraded for their alleged involvement in the ambush and banditry in Zamfara. Arms and ammunition allegedly recovered from them were also shown to the media.
But “that was not everything that happened,” a senior police officer said. “What was in the official statement is different from the reality being faced at Force Headquarters.”
The officer said a series of emergency meetings have been held over the matter, amidst concerted schemes to contain the aftermath of the large-scale losses.
“DIG Operations was hurriedly sent to supervise security over there. They would not do that if it was only a police officer that was killed,” the senior police officer added.
The officer preferred not to be named because he was not authorised to speak to journalists.
Civilian sources close to the community also said the word had already circulated around the area that dozens of police officers were killed in the shootouts with bandits on Thursday.
“We have heard of it, but because it is a security matter, we are being careful on what to say,” a resident said under anonymity to avoid being traced and victimised by security agents.
It was not immediately learnt the specific number of officers killed by the bandits, or whether their bodies have been recovered. They were amongst the 1,000-strong police contingent sent to the state in a fresh redeployment on November 9, police said.
Apart from hundreds of civilians killed, police and Nigerian Army have suffered casualties in Zamfara since security agencies were deployed to regain control of the state from bandits.
As of August 2018, an estimated 3,000 people have been killed and thousands of homes destroyed in the attacks in recent years, according to the state government. Thousands fleeing the crisis have been settling in neighbouring states, triggering humanitarian emergency.
Nigerian Air Force has carried out regular aerial bombardments of the bandits’ positions throughout 2018, a response that has helped impose normalcy in many troubled parts of the state.