Chaos descended on a Nigerian town at sundown when kidnappers attacked as people were preparing their evening meals last Friday. Residents rushed helter-skelter to escape.

“When the invaders came to town firing gunshots, I jumped on my motorbike and rode into the night,” a man from Kuchi told the BBC on condition of anonymity about the attack in the central state of Niger, west of the capital, Abuja.

It is thought that 10 people died and at least 160 people were kidnapped by the armed men in a raid that lasted several hours.

In the mayhem everyone’s reaction was to escape or find a hiding place.

“I left behind my wife, children and elderly parents,” the man said, explaining how he first acted to save his own life but was deeply worried about them.

He made it to the nearby city of Minna, and now knows that some of his family were not so lucky: “The invaders captured my wife and her elder sister.

“But my wife later managed to escape from them, while they were ferrying the hostages across the Shiroro River.”

His wife’s sister is still being held and the kidnappers have called relatives to demand a ransom for her.

Some quick thinking spared the rest of his family the same fate.

“My children and my parents ran into our goat house and hid among the animals there. Fortunately, they were not discovered,” the anonymous Kuchi resident said.

“After the attackers left, my parents and children ran into the bush and found their way to a neighbouring community.”

His wife called him a day after the incident having safely holed herself up in another village.

“I am now in touch with my wife, but we are not in the same location.”

Niger state’s security commissioner, Muhammed Bello, said his department, along with “various security agencies”, were investigating the abduction, although he disputed the number of people who had been kidnapped.

Local officials suspect the gunmen may have belonged to the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, because they carried jihadist flags during Friday’s attack.

Boko Haram fighters are usually based in north-eastern states but in the last few years some have also been active in north-western and central areas of the country where criminal kidnap gangs, known locally as bandits, operate.

The armed men who raided Kuchi spent more than two hours in the area cooking food, drinking tea and looting shops and homes, according to local government Chairman Aminu Abdulhamid Najume.

“There was no security intervention,” he told the BBC.

“Kuchi and neighbouring communities remain at the mercy of armed groups.”

The paying of ransoms was outlawed in 2021, but people say unless they are paid little is done by the security forces to rescue captives – or protect them in the first place.

In an act of desperation the Kuchi community had recently hired local hunters as vigilantes for protection, Mr Najume told the BBC.

But he bemoaned that he and other local government officials often lacked the necessary funds and power to act as such matters tended to be in the hands of regional governors.

Several communities in the state have been attacked in recent months by armed gangs killing residents or kidnapping them for ransom. In April, six soldiers were killed in an ambush in the region, while responding to a distress call.

Describing Friday’s attack, Mr Najume said that the gunmen “moved from house to house, picking their victims after killing 10 villagers, including five local hunters in gunfights.”

Three other residents were injured.

Most of the victims are women, children and the elderly.

There is now heightened tension and trauma in neighbouring communities, says Mr Najume, as residents of Kuchi mourn their dead and await information on those kidnapped.

According to another resident, the armed men returned to Kuchi on Saturday night and kidnapped more people, including the head of the village and his two wives.

Most people are now said to have fled Kuchi altogether.