Nigeria’s North-east could suffer further criminality and insecurity, if the federal government fails to invest in exit programmes for thousands of vigilantes who have helped in fighting Boko Haram insurgents, the International Crisis Group (ICG) has warned.
In a new report titled Vigilantes: Double-edged Sword in African Counter-insurgencies, based on field research in Nigeria, Uganda, South Sudan and Sierra Leone, the Brussels-based think tank observed that Nigeria’s CJTF (Civilian Joint Task Force) and similar vigilantes in these other countries have assisted governments in providing local security.
According to a press statement issued by Nnamdi Obasi, Senior, Adviser, ICG, on Nigerian CJTF vigilantes, the report observed that by participating in efforts to counter Boko Haram, they ‘‘acted as a bridge between civilians and security forces, helping the state regain a measure of local legitimacy while protecting the local community.”
However, the report warned that Nigeria and these other countries also run risks in sub-contracting counter-insurgency security functions to vigilante groups, especially if group members are not properly catered for after the conflict.
For Nigeria in particular, the report noted that government’s promises and programs for CJTF members have, thus far, ‘not produced significant results.’
It warned that if these promises do not materialise, ‘‘Nigeria may be left with another angry armed group in the troubled north east’’, some of whose members ‘‘may move further into extortion, drug trafficking and other organised criminal activity.’’
It also alerts that neglecting the vigilantes could increase political risks in the region, including election-related violence.
It observed that ‘‘some CJTF members allegedly now work for state politicians, who are known to employ thugs to attack opponents.’’
The report also warned that ‘‘as the threat from Boko Haram declines, the political risk posed by the CJTF could well increase.’’
The ICG recommended that governments engaging vigilantes to fight insurgents should set ‘‘clear objectives and mandates’’ when enlisting them, and also guard against ‘‘mission creep.’’
It further urged that the Nigerian and other governments ‘formulate and implement policies and programmes for returning vigilantes to normal life, as conflicts end.’
Such policies, ICG added should include investing in programmes for their proper demobilisation, reintegration into civilian society, as well as employment in private enterprises or security services.
‘‘Giving former CJTF members a sense of purpose and responsibility in community policing roles, in a close working relationship with state institutions, could help prevent them from becoming a long-term security headache’’, Crisis Group recommended.
The North-east region has been rocked with an unnerving insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and displaced many others.
The region, still highly militarised, however, has enjoyed a measure of peace but with sporadic attacks on soft targets by Boko Haram insurgents who are seeking to carve out an Islamic territory there.
The insurgents have suffered huge losses in recent months partly due to a reinvigorated military supported by local vigilante groups.