Self-help vigilante groups are reshaping security against Boko Haram

The Conversation


Local vigilantes patrol communities in north east Nigeria to repel attacks by Boko Haram militants. EPA/Stringer

Boko Haram militants have killed more than 20,000 people and displaced more than 2 million others in north east Nigeria since 2009.

Chukwuma Al Okoli Lecturer/Resident Researcher Department of Political Science, Federal University Lafia
Disclosure statement Chukwuma Al Okoli works for Federal University Lafia, Nigeria . He receives funding from TETFund, Nigeria. Partners

At the height of its activities between 2009 and 2015, the insurgents attacked a range of targets leaving death and destruction in their wake. These include churches, mosques, schools, universities, markets, police stations and even military installations. They bombed locations, attacked with guns, raped women, killed children, took hostages and occupied territories.

The militants left government and its security forces looking powerless and people in the region helpless. No place was safe.

Under siege, communities in the north east were faced with three options. They could flee, join the insurgents, or risk being killed. Many took the first option and fled to safer destinations. Those who stayed were compelled to either join Boko Haram or risk being slaughtered.

But a fourth option emerged – self defence. People began to organise into emergency community vanguards to defend themselves. Community vigilante movements were born in several communities across the region.

One of the first Civilian Joint Task Force was formed in early 2013 in Adamawa State in north east Nigeria. It was made up of community vigilante formations, including neighbourhood guards and hunters guilds. The task force carries out community policing through reconnaissance. The members watch over the community and accost any strange or suspicious people that enter. They operate in cells and carry a combination of traditional and modern weapons. They mount road blocks, conduct area patrols, mount guards at entry points and borderlines of their communities.

Generally, the involvement of vigilantes in counter-insurgency operations in Nigeria has been a subject of contentious debate. It’s apparent that they have contributed to improving security for some communities. But there are also concerns that in the long run they could pose a threat given their heavy-handed approach. Examples include extra-judicial killings, violation of human rights, extortion and criminal impunity.

What they have done

The vigilante groups are based on three models. The first is communal neighbourhood guards, the second the village hunters’ guild, and the third is the government recognised Civilian Joint Task Force. Communal neighbourhood guards are village based vigilante outfits dedicated to community defence. Hunter’s guild is the vanguard of traditional hunters and warriors that intervenes to reinforce the operation.

Since their emergence, vigilantes have contributed a great deal in the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency. They have reinforced and complemented the efforts of Nigeria’s Armed Forces, particularly in the areas of grassroots reconnaissance and intelligence.

Their cooperation and partnership with the military contributed to the finding of the first abducted Chibok Girl to escape from the militants in May 2016.

Despite their laudable achievements, there are legitimate concerns about the activities of vigilante groups. These include fears that their unguarded deployment could be counter-productive in the long run.

While they may be important in the short term in disrupting Boko Haram activities and serving as local partners in a successful counter terrorism strategy, arming militias is not a long-term policy. This is particularly true if unintended consequences are to be avoided.

Already there have been allegations of forced recruiting, child and woman soldiering and extra-judicial killings of suspected insurgents. In addition, there are fears that the vigilantes could degenerate and proliferate into mercenary militias.

But that’s not all. Vigilante activities often give rise to reprisal attacks on communities by the insurgents. The loose organisational and leadership structure of vigilante groups makes them susceptible to infiltration and internal sabotage.

For and against

The government and military have acknowledged the apparent successes of volunteer vigilantes in the fight against Boko Haram. But critics contend that vigilantes operate illegally, and argue that giving them a front line role in counter-insurgency operations implies that the state is abdicating its primary responsibility of ensuring sustainable national security.

Despite these misgivings, the justification for the vigilante approach to counter-insurgency can’t be disputed. Vigilante groups are uniquely poised to contribute to local security for a number of reasons. These include the fact that they are formed in response to specific issues and conditions. They are staffed by local volunteers who have knowledge of the area and trust of the local community.

So what should be done?

If vigilantes are going to continue in counter-insurgency operations in a way that’s fruitful and sustainable they must operate within the law and established rules of engagements. Their activities must be properly regulated and coordinated through legal and institutional procedures to prevent impunity and other excesses.

The government can institute policy and institutional mechanisms that absorbs the groups into community policing systems, existing paramilitary structures or institutionalise them into a national reserve force dedicated to emergency mobilisation.

These measures would optimise the gains made and help manage abuses inherent in vigilante operations.

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Security Council expresses concern over the threat of terrorism in West Africa

The Security Council on Monday welcomed recent positive political developments in some West African countries, but expressed concern over the threat of terrorism in the region.


The Sahel: Mali’s Crumbling Peace Process and the Spreading Jihadist Threat | Crisis Group

“The Security Council strongly condemns all terrorist attacks carried out in the region, in particular in Northern and Central Mali and the Lake Chad Basin region, notably by Boko Haram and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL),” said the Security Council President for the month of July, Liu Jieyi, in a presidential statement.

Mr. Liu expressed particular concern over attacks on civilians, the primary victims of terrorist violence, while underscoring the importance of a holistic approach to degrade and defeat the terrorists in compliance with international law.

“The Security Council encourages Member States and multilateral partners to lend their support to the MNJTF (Multinational Joint Task Force) to ensure its full operationalization, including the provision of modalities to increase the timely and effective exchange of intelligence to further the region’s collective efforts to combat Boko Haram, whenever possible and appropriate,” said the statement.

The Council underscored its commitment to work through the UN Office in West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) to strengthen cooperation in addressing cross-border security threats and curbing the spread of terrorism.

“The Security Council notes the collaboration undertaken between UNOWAS and the Peacebuilding Commission and encourages continued close and effective cooperation in support of sustainable peace in the region,” the statement stressed.


Diffa, the Niger’s poorest region, has been affected by the increased violence in Nigeria, conducted by the armed group Boko Haram, increasingly expanding and targeting the civilian population in Niger – and Diffa region in particular. More than 135 displacement sites have been noted along the border with Nigeria. Photo: UNICEF/ Cherkaoui

In tandem, it referenced the dire humanitarian situation caused by the terrorists’ activities in the Lake Chad Basin region and called the international community to “immediately support the provision of urgent humanitarian assistance for the people most affected by the crisis in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria,” including by fulfilling the UN appeal for the Lake Chad Basin region.

The Council also urged regional governments to facilitate humanitarian access and to work with the UN in developing aid delivery options.

Turning to Côte d’Ivoire, the Council welcomed the progress made on peace, stability and economic prosperity following the 30 June closure of the UN Operation in the country (UNOCI) and emphasized the importance of UNOWAS’ engagement during the transition period.

Concerned about piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, as well as the trafficking of humans, drugs and other illicit goods, the Council stressed the need to strengthen the fight against illicit activities in the sub-region.

The statement welcomed West African leadership in spearheading initiatives addressing terrorism challenges and encouraged collaboration between Member States, regional and sub-regional organizations, the UN and other stakeholders “to enhance social cohesion and to address challenges to good governance.”

It also welcomed positive political developments in several West African countries, particularly the free and transparent legislative elections on 6 April in the Gambia – commending the diplomatic efforts by ECOWAS Heads of State that resulted in the peaceful transition of power to the democratically elected President Adama Barrow.

The Council encouraged “bilateral and multilateral partners to provide appropriate support to the efforts of the Government of the Gambia to restore the rule of law, reconciliation, and development for the citizens of the Gambia.”

Nigeria: Buhari was very cheerful and has not lost any bit of his sense of humour

Governor Rochas Okorocha, who was among the delegation, said President Muhammadu Buhari, 74, was asked about the rumours swirling around his health and laughed them off.


Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari (centre) having lunch in Abuja House in London

The Imo State governor said president Buhari was completely unperturbed by the cocktail of lies. “He, instead, sent his best wishes to Nigerians,” he said.

Nigeria’s president traveled to the  UK for on 7 May for treatment while the Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo takes full powers to act as head of state.

His absence has led to some anxiety in Nigeria, with some speculating that he might have died. Others have worried he may not be able to return to duty –  myjoyonline

The delegation said the president “was very cheerful and has not lost any bit of his sense of humour”.


80 percent of Nigerian girls are potential victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation on their way to Europe

Amid political instability, poverty and increasing migration of people from Africa to Europe, IOM report says 80 percent of the younger girls from Nigeria are potential victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.

nigeria victims

IOM staff Italy, meeting with a migrant. Photo: UN Migration Ageny (IOM) 2017

According to IOM Italy, over the past three years, an almost 600 per cent increase in the number of potential sex trafficking victims arriving in Italy by sea, and that this upward trend has continued during the first six months of 2017, with most victims arriving from Nigeria.

This is one of the key findings of a new report published by IOM, the UN Migration Agency, Human Trafficking through the Central Mediterranean Route, which was released in Italian this week (21 July) by IOM’s Coordination Office for the Mediterranean in Rome. An English version will be available soon.

Among other findings, the report states that sexual exploitation increasingly involves younger girls – often minors – who are already subject to violence and abuse on their way to Europe. IOM estimates that 80 per cent of girls arriving from Nigeria – whose numbers have soared from 1,454 in 2014 to 11,009 in 2016 – are potential victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.

The report is based on data collected by IOM at landing sites and in reception centres for migrants in the regions of southern Italy, where the Organization carries out identification of potential victims and assists those who, once identified, decide to escape their exploiters and accept IOM support.

“Trafficking is a transnational crime that devastates the lives of thousands of people and is the cause of untold suffering,” said Federico Soda, Director of the IOM Coordinating Office for the Mediterranean. “This is a theme we have been working on for years, committing to protect, prevent and collaborate with the authorities dealing with organized crime.”

IOM Project Manager Carlotta Santarossa added: “The report describes the organization’s activities in the face of this phenomenon: the difficulties in protecting victims and the main vulnerabilities identified among several cases of people who were assisted by the Organization. We also wanted to tell some of the stories of people who have been assisted by IOM staff to highlight the true nature of this painful and hateful form of slavery. We also feel that it is increasingly urgent that data analysis be accompanied by an examination of the market these girls supply, and the growing demand for paid sexual services.”