Suddenly, gunshots rang out and Bala, 49, was forced to take cover in a nearby yam farm, where he hid behind a ridge from the attackers, suspected militia herdsmen who had previously targeted farming communities like theirs in the region, according to local government officials.
It was the second assault on the community in as many days.
Elias Manza, chairman of the Zango Kataf local government area in Kaduna state, told CNN that the region had been targeted by militants in at least three separate attacks across the last month, killing at least 27 people.
The shots came in from four different locations,” Bala recalled of the incident which happened in the Zikpak village, a semi-urban agrarian village in southern Kaduna, Nigeria.
“Everybody in the community was running to the farms and forest. I saw two of the shooters, they wore black all over,” Bala, a farmer told CNN.
Bala’s wife, who had delivered a baby just two days earlier, ran into the forest with the baby to keep safe, he said.
‘Shot in the back’
Ten people in total died in the Zikpak attack on July 24. The youngest victim was a 5-year-old boy named Joel Cephas, officials said.
One of those who died in Friday’s attack was Bala’s uncle, Luka Takum, who he says was shot in the back as he fled the attackers. He was a retired railway worker popularly known as Baba Odiyaga.
“They burnt his house and he was slaughtered like a goat,” Bala said.
Another of the victims was an 65-year-old woman known as Cecelia Auta, a teacher who was killed alongside her cousin, Didam Amadi, a retired soldier and the father of a prominent local musician Joel Amadi.
“They first shot my father in the back and then shot him three more times in the head, the killers were putting on (military) camouflage, they spent more two hours in the village,” Amadi told CNN.
Mass burials were arranged for the victims, who join scores of people killed in attacks in this northwestern Nigerian region, since January this year.
The sporadic attacks have gripped the region since January and caused the displacement of hundreds of residents, according to human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which has a base in Kaduna.
According to CSW, the attackers attempted to burn down a local church, but did not succeed as the flames were extinguished by falling rain.
“At least 27 people were killed within a 24-hour period between 19 and 20 July in attacks by armed assailants of Fulani ethnicity on communities in southern Kaduna state,” CSW said.
“The attacks are a part of a campaign of violence targeting communities in southern Kaduna which has been ongoing since January 2020, and is characterised by murder, looting, rape, abductions for ransom and forced displacement,” the group added.
In a statement, the chief operating officer of CSW, Scot Bower, warned that Nigeria’s “increasing security vacuum” could pose a threat to the entire region, with concerns growing over potential Boko Haram attacks.
“It is deeply disturbing that perpetrators continue to operate with impunity,” Bower said Wednesday.
“The failure or unwillingness of those in authority to address these and other non-state actors and to secure ungoverned spaces has not only allowed the violence to mutate but has also created an environment in which Boko Haram can extend its operations,” he added.
President Buhari has faced criticism about mounting insecurity in different parts of the country. Buhari also came under fire for attending a peace mission in Mali on Monday.
Musician Amadi said in a podcast interview, “It’s a shame that our President have abandoned us while these bad Fulanis are killing us and is in Mali to keep peace, that is a shame.”
The President has not spoken out about the recent attacks, but one of his media aides released a statement on July 21, condemning the attacks.
“The problem in Southern Kaduna is an evil combination of politically-motivated banditry, revenge killings and mutual violence by criminal gangs acting on ethnic and religious grounds,” Garba Shehu said.
Nigeria’s Inspector General of police has ordered police in Kaduna to fully enforce a coronavirus curfew imposed on June 11 by the state governor, Nasir El Rufai.
However, villagers said the curfews have not deterred their assailants, rather it has made them more vulnerable to the attacks.
Israel Bulus, a journalist who lives in Zikpak told CNN: “The thing is that all the people are held up in their homes because of the curfew. The attackers are just killing them easily.”
Bulus was among those who ran into the forest to hide when the attackers struck.
“I was conducting interviews with people whose relations were killed, we started hearing gun shots and ran again. All the mourners abandoned the dead bodies and ran,” he added.
Bala says the villagers are now terrified and everyone is viewed with suspicion among the heightened tensions.
“We cannot trust anyone, because we don’t know who is the real security soldier or policeman. We had to run and hide because we have no arms, even the police are afraid of the attackers because that have better arms than them.”