Police say attackers killed at least 16 people and burned down 20 houses in a northern Nigerian town with a history of sectarian violence.

The Bauchi state police chief told The Associated Press on Friday that the attack took place around dawn near Tafawa Balewa town.

Amanam Abakasanga said most of the victims are of the Sayawa ethnic group comprised mainly of Christians.

The Sayawas are in the majority in the town and its surrounding villages, but their traditional rulers have been of the predominantly Muslim Fulani ethnic group.

The Sayawas have demanded a separate traditional ruler, which has led to attacks and counterattacks over the past two decades.