The Borno State government has begun a new round of recruitment of local hunters to join the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency that entered its eleventh year in July.
Governor Babagana Zulum said he was seeking alternative approaches to ending the long-running conflict.
Sources in the state government and the Civilian-JTF told PREMIUM TIMES that the government plans to recruit 10,000 men with voodoo powers and hunting skills for the campaign. About 2,000 of them have already been enlisted from across northern Nigeria and neighbouring countries, the sources said.
“The hunters are the “Yan-Tauri (die-hards) who have spiritual protection against gunshots and other kinds of firepower,” said one of the sources who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak to journalists on the development.
“It is supposed to be a secret exercise but it cannot remain underground for long because the governor targets at least 10,000 potent hunters and the influx of such a number into the state will attract public attention.”
A PREMIUM TIMES reporter at the weekend observed the movement of strange civilians into Maiduguri, the state capital. Armed with hunting rifles, knives and amulets, they rode into the city in many vehicles, leaving residents wondering about their mission.
A state government source said the governor “is tired of the conventional means of prosecuting the Boko Haram war that seemed not to have provided the needed solution in the last 10 years.
“Even the military has been calling for civil-military cooperation to end the Boko Haram insurgency. We all have appreciated the role the Civilian-JTF is playing in assisting the military to fight Boko Haram.”
Another source explained to PREMIUM TIMES why the hunters were being drawn from the northern states.
“The majority of the hunters are sourced from states of northern Nigeria because of the obvious reasons like understanding the terrain and the culture of the people,” the source said.
“Over 2,000 of them have arrived in different batches and are enthusiastic about moving into the forests, with the military of course.”
PREMIUM TIMES learned that the hunters were screened and profiled by the military before they were enlisted.
“Once they are cleared, the government immediately provides them with allowances and brand new patrol vehicles to commence their operation with the support of the soldiers.
“More are still coming because some of them are called up from as far as Taraba, and Yola. Many of them came in from the northwestern states; some from far away Niger State. They are to join our colleagues here in Borno and Yobe.”
On Friday, Governor Zulum in Saudi Arabia enlisted about 30 Ulamas who are “devotees of the Ka’aba” (the Muslim holiest mosque) to offer daily prayers for an end to the Boko Haram insurgency and return of peace to Borno and Nigeria in general.
A PREMIUM TIMES report quoted the governor as promising to continue to “combine different approaches that include sustained support for the Nigerian Armed forces, aggressive mass recruitment and equipping of more counterinsurgency volunteers into the C-JTF, hunters, and vigilantes, as well as socioeconomic approach in enhancing access to education, job opportunities and providing other means of livelihoods through social protection initiatives.”
Earlier in January, the state government had also recruited 500 hunters to join the military in the fight against Boko Haram. The recruitment came many years after the government first consented to local hunters going into the Sambisa forest to fight Boko Haram.
Governor Zulum in June, during a courtesy call by the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, requested the military to train local hunters and vigilantes willing to join the fight.
Mr Buratai had in response said the idea was welcomed as long as the government can vouch for the characters of those being enlisted.
Borno government declines comments
The spokesman to the Governor, Isa Gusau, would not speak on the matter because of its “security nature.” But he said Governor Zulum has decided to “aggressively combine conventional and unconventional approaches to addressing the Boko haram crisis.”
“Borno has for ten years been faced with a desperate situation. Given that, Governor Zulum has, with the consent of key stakeholders that include elders and traditional rulers, decided to aggressively explore every lawful means necessary in trying to put an end to the insurgency.
“The governor will continue to support our armed forces. He has increased the monthly allowances of civilian JTF, hunters, and vigilantes involved in fighting the insurgents. The governor has also acquired and deployed close to 200 surveillance vehicles to fighting the insurgency and he is doing more.
“He is combining the coercive means with massive investment in education, creation and social protection and you have seen all of these happening. Zulum is applying mixed methods and he intends to be aggressive.”
He also defended the governor for soliciting prayers from the group of Nigerians operating around the Ka’aba in the Muslim holy land.
“Those Nigerians are helping free of charge. Their prayers do not mean that prayers cannot be answered from Nigeria. But as people of faith, we all know that there are categories in places of worship. People travel to Jerusalem to offer prayers.
“We need all the prayers we can get given the task ahead. The governor means serious business. Some Nigerians, including Senator Shehu Sani, who hasn’t felt the heat of the insurgency, may enjoy the luxury of sending out tweets and joke over issues of life and death affecting the people of Borno,” Mr Gusau said.
Hunters’ leaders speak
Abdulkareem Umar, a 69-year-old hunter also known as Baba-Maigiwa, is the leader of the hunters’ group currently converging in Maiduguri.
Baba Maigiwa is reputed to have led the team of hunters who helped the government of former governor Isa Yuguda in Bauchi state to quell the uprising of Boko Haram in 2009.
He told a PREMIUM TIMES reporter who visited their camp that they had about 700 hunters there.
“We came about a week ago, and the majority of our men have returned to their various states and community to go and bid their families farewell and they are on their way back to Maiduguri as I talk to you now,” he said.
“On my own side, I have 5000 men that would soon be storming Maiduguri in the next days. I am talking of hunters that we have contacted from far away Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Niger Republic, Central Africa and many others from within Nigeria coming from different states.”
He said they were in Borno at the behest of the state governor, Mr Zulum.
“We are here because the governor is passionate about ending this madness called Boko Haram,” he said.
“About five years ago, we on our own came to Maiduguri with the intention of storming Sambisa forest to confront the Boko Haram, but we did not get the backing of the government and the military. As law-abiding citizens, we had to withdraw.
“But as this is happening now, it is now time, that is why the governor is calling on us to come in and help the soldiers and other security agencies.
“So far, I have received 10 Toyota Hilux vehicles that have been branded Mai-Giwa Hunters Group, from the Borno state government, which are going to be used in moving our troops into the hinterlands. But I have already told the government that we need 30 more Hilux vans because the number of hunters that are on their way here is huge.
“We have met and discussed with the state government and some of the military leaders. We have told them about our capacity and our strength, both physical and spiritual. And we have also made it clear to the authorities that the difference between the soldiers and the hunters is the military training and our knowledge of the jungle. But what unites us both is armament. So we need arms and ammunition, just like the soldiers. When that is done, the rest would be history, by the grace of God.”
He said his members are being fed by the state government.
“Since we arrived here, we have not lacked anything to eat and to drink; and our men, both young and old have been given tokens for their other vital day to day needs,” he said.
Maigana Maidurma, the hunters’ chief in Borno state, told PREMIUM TIMES they had mobilised hundreds of men and had been working for some months since the governor presented vehicles to them in Maiduguri,” he said.
“We are now going to team up with our colleagues under the Mai-Giwa camp to storm the forest and help our soldiers end this war together.”
Contributions of Civilian-JTF
At the height of the killings by Boko Haram within Maiduguri, in 2013, when the insurgents walked the streets of the city with smoking guns, a group of courageous young men, apparently pushed to the wall, conquered their fears and for the first time challenge the insurgents.
Armed with sticks, machetes and courage, most of the youth who had no military or hunting skills staked their lives to fight Boko Haram.
Hundreds of Boko Haram members who took control of parts of Maiduguri began to flee as the angry young men smoked them out of their hideouts.
Their efforts changed the game for the then exhausted military who at that time became frustrated because they could not differentiate between a Boko Haram suicide bomber and innocent citizens.
The C-JTF has since remained parts of the counterinsurgency war after the government recognised their contribution and sacrifice.
The Borno state government organised them, gave some military training for three weeks and officially recognise them as members of the Borno State Youth Empowerment Scheme (BOYES).
Due to their invaluable contributions, the federal and the military began to recognise and hail their sacrifices.
Over 1000 of the C-JTF members have been killed since 2013, most of them young men who left behind wives and children or parents.
It is 11 years since a group of Islamic extremists in Borno state picked up arms against the Nigerian state in June 2009, with the intention of replacing the Constitutional government with the Sharia legal system.
Members of Boko Haram, a name that means Western education is prohibited, have over the years inflicted death, pains on thousands of persons while displacing about two million others.
The Nigerian Army continued to claim victory over the group, even as military commanders failed to explain the continuous killing of troops in recent months and weeks.