Boko Haram insurgents have taken over multiple communities in Nigeria's north-central Niger state, offering villagers money and incorporating them in their ranks to fight the government, a local government official and the state's information commission told Reuters.
The Islamist group is typically concentrated in the northeast of Africa's most populous nation, and its presence in Niger state, which borders the federal capital territory, could indicate a concerning spread at a time when the military says its counter-insurgency efforts are working.
Suleiman Chukuba, chairman of Shiroro local government area in Niger state, which borders Abuja, said Boko Haram fighters were now present in at least eight wards out of a total 25.
"Shiroro local government has an uncountable number of Boko Haram fighters," Chukuba said.
Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates as "Western education is forbidden," has waged an insurgency since 2009, joined more recently by its offshoot, Islamic State West Africa Province. The fighting has killed almost 350,000 and displaced millions, according to a United Nations estimate.
Shiroro has a population of 331,000 people and spans 4,700 square kilometers, according to Niger state's official website.
Niger state information commissioner Muhammad Sani Idris confirmed that Boko Haram fighters, who were initially thought to be armed bandits, had made inroads in the state. But Idris said that the state government and security agencies have been able to curtail the spread.
"We are doing whatever it takes as a state," he said. "And we will combine the methods of our security personnel and our local vigilantes."
The army said last month close to 6,000 fighters from Boko Haram had recently surrendered, attributing the development to the military's counter-insurgency efforts.
Chukuba called on the federal government to send more troops to the area to fight the insurgents.