Join us for a discussion with Nnamdi Obasi and Hans De Marie Heungoup of the International Crisis Group, authors of two recent ICG publications on the state of security and humanitarian responses to conflict in the Lake Chad basin. Watchmen of Lake Chad: Vigilante Groups Fighting Boko Haram traces the origins and evolution of vigilante groups in Nigeria and Cameroon and examines their role in the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency. The Humanitarian Fallout from Cameroon’s Struggle Against Boko Haram considers the plight of refugees and IDPs in Cameroon. The research will serve as the basis for a broader discussion on the challenges confronting the region as the fight against Boko Haram continues.
Challenges of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) vigilante group:
- CJTF membership is a status symbol. It empowers and gives authority to young men.
- What to do with them after their service against Boko Haram. Will the CJTF be demobilised?
- CJTF have a “sense of entitlement” and want the government to reward them by granting them scholarships to continue their education (many of them are young) or to employ them by incorporating them into state institutions.
- CJTF’s existence is not abnormal in the Nigerian context. There are vigilante groups all over Nigeria: many of them ethnically based.
- Anti Boko Haram vigilante groups exist in Nigeria and Cameroon. The Nigerian vigilantes (most of whom are aged 18-24) are younger than their Cameroon counterparts (most of whom are over 25 years old).
The Military and Civilians:
- The military and CJTF have been accused of human rights abuses. Civilians claim they are caught in the middle between Boko Haram and the military. After Boko Haram attacks, soldiers descend on and raid, communities that have been attacked and indiscriminately arrest all young men on suspicion of being Boko Haram members.
- This created a “push and pull” effect that both acted as a recruiting tool for Boko Haram, and pushed young men to join the CJTF as a means of making it clear that they have no allegiance to Boko Haram.
- Military launched “Operation Safe Corridor” which offers amnesty and rehabilitation for repentant Boko Haram members who surrender. The programme is deeply unpopular with civilians who have suffered Boko Haram atrocities. Such civilians demand punitive justice against Boko Haram members and argue that addressing their grievances should be prioritised above rehabilitating Boko Haram members. They feel that people who commit atrocities should not be treated so gently.
Boko Haram Evolution:
- Boko Haram offered socio-economic incentives to recruits such as money (up to 6 months salary), gifts of motorbikes, and offering wives. This latter category incentivised the kidnapping of women to give as “bride prizes” to Boko Haram members.
- Some others join Boko Haram for ideological reasons (Jihad, support for Salafi ideology).
- Boko Haram has factionalised into two groups: (a) one group in southern Borno State (close to the Cameroon border) led by Abubakar Shekau; and (b) a second faction in northern Borno State led by Abu-Musab Al-Barnawai (son of Boko Haram’s original leader Mohammed Yusuf).
- According to the Borno State governor Kashim Shettima, Boko Haram destroyed 30% of residential houses, and 700 municipal buildings (police stations, courts, council buildings etc) in Borno State.