In northern Nigeria, vigilante groups join fight against jihadis(Read article summary)
Civilian militias are springing up to fight the Islamist insurgency of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. But so far the jihadist group seems undeterred.
â€˘A version of this post first appeared on the blog Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own.Â
Very little coherent information is currently coming out of the parts of northern Nigeria under aÂ state of emergency. What information is available indicates that activity and violence continue under the cover of the media silence, though it is difficult to judge its degree.
In May,Â cell phones and satellite phones did not operateÂ in the affected areas. Those services are onlyÂ slowly being restored.Â Foreign mediaÂ are almost entirely absent, and domestic media appear to be highly restricted. Foreign diplomats do not travel there.Â Information seems to move from the Nigerian military and police Joint Task Force (JTF) to the civilian government in Abuja, and from there to the international media.
But there are numerous signs of incoherent churning. Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the group Boko Haram, earlier was reported to have beenÂ shotÂ andÂ deposedÂ by his followers because he opposes the governmentâ€™s offer of amnesty for his organization.Â However, he has nowÂ released a videoÂ reasserting his leadership and he claims responsibility for numerous recent attacks inÂ BornoÂ state,Â including those in the towns ofÂ Mallam Fatori,Â Konduga, andÂ Bama, that altogether have killed about 100 people.
In thisÂ latest video, Mr. Shekau claims the military is lying in their claims of success against his movement. He has also ramped up the anti-American rhetoric, alluding to Boko Haramâ€™s readiness to move from the "near" enemy to the "far" enemy.
There areÂ plausible suggestionsÂ in the media that the latest Boko Haram killings are reprisals against those cooperating with the security forces and the so-called â€śCivilian JTF" â€“Â a vigilante justice group operating against Boko Haram in the country's north â€“Â or that they target mosques and imams who haveÂ previously been critical of Boko Haram.Â The "Civilian JTF" is mostly unarmed civilian groups that denounce suspected Boko Haram operatives to the security services.Â
While the Civilian JTF groups have the support of the government, they appear to operate as independent vigilantes.Â Some observers suggest that the Civilian JTF includes young men imprisoned by the security services who are offered release in return for signing up. Others suggest that they are the nucleus of private militias that Nigerian politicians often form before elections, which are due in late 2014.
Others are said to be trying to rid their communities of Boko Haram, thereby deflecting attention from the security services. Still others claim that they lost their jobs and or family and friends because of Boko Haram and fight them to restore normalcy. Of course,Â the Civilian JTF could include all these motivations, and others besides.
The Nigeria media recently carried an all but incoherentÂ interview with an ex-militantÂ who claimed that there were many groups similar to but separate from Shekauâ€™s Boko Haram, including his own. His particular groupâ€™s focus was killing Christians, while Shekauâ€™s victims have usually had links to the government or to critical mosques. But this militant also claims links with Iran. He also describes practices â€“ drinking the blood of his victims to prevent being haunted by their ghosts and consumption of â€śspiritual waterâ€ť that engenders visions â€“ that are far from Salafi Islam and are anathema to Shekauâ€™s Boko Haram.
It is important to keep a perspective.Â The â€śshariaâ€ť states in the north may have seventy million people, while taken altogether â€śBoko Haramâ€ť and similar or associated groups and cults may number only in the hundreds, though those who support or acquiesce to what they do is doubtlessly larger. Nevertheless, it is also worth remembering that theÂ Irish Republican ArmyÂ and its splinters had probably no more than four hundred active service members at the height of its 1970s and 1980s insurgency against British rule in Northern Ireland. Yet they were able to tie down substantial British military resources, and relative peace was restored only through a political process.