Homemade weapons, machetes, sticks and stones hardly seem like weapons anyone uses to fight terrorists; however, vigilante Nigerians fighting the Boko Haram beg to differ. Volunteers from the Civilian Joint Task Force in northeastern Nigeria are resourceful and contributing significantly to the fight against religious terror.
Borno’s capital Maiduguri, in northeastern Africa is the breeding ground for Boko Haram terrorists and has attacked helpless citizens since 2009. In a city of more than a million people, tens of thousands have formed local groups to fight a civilian war, since the army is nowhere in sight when the people need them. Alexis Okeowo knows what the JTF is doing in Nigeria for these people. Her extensive article in the New York Times magazine on what they do made for an interesting read.
Okeowo documented her conversation with Abba Aji Kalli, the 50 year old leader of an 8,000-man unit in Maiduguri, Nigeria. Accompanying the leader on his patrols, Okeowo describes the JTF as a loose network of disparate sectors that work surprisingly well with each other. In an up close and personal observation, Okeweo noted that the different units gathered information on any suspicious activities in each other’s areas and dispatch youth volunteers, a central part of the Civilian JTF, to apprehend someone or investigate these reports.
For Kalli, a devout Muslim father and an established state auditor, the Boko Haram’s terrorist activities pushed him to take control. Fed up with the relentless bombings, attacks and further kidnapping incidents, Kalli decided to take some corrective action after his brother was killed by the terrorists. The helpless feeling of unrest and insecurity in the people, unwarranted arrests and the rise of vigilante attempts to fight the Boko Haram forced Kalli’s involvement with the JTF.
Borno State and northeastern Nigeria needed military protection to bring order. Since declaring the region a state of emergency in 2014, the military has protected the region; however, surprise attacks and the subsequent lack of military support forced Kalli and many others to join the JTF. The civilian militia outfit always worked outside the law, but positive results forced the Nigerian military to cooperate with the JTF. The military now trains the JTF and assists them on rescue or tracking and capturing missions.
In what can be perceived as both a blessing and a curse, the Nigerian military does not have any sophisticated weaponry. Makeshift weapons limit vigilante activity, and the Nigerian army faces the Boko Haram with outdated weapons, causing detriments to the safety in the region. They are getting adept at finding the Boko Haram insurgents in their communities and reportedly hand them over to the military.
Despite the lack of modern weaponry, the JTF and the military round up suspects often lynching them to death, taking the law in their own hands. Amnesty International allegedly has collected proof of Boko Haram insurgent executions, however what remains to be seen is if international aid will reach them sooner than expected, but until then the JTF is the answer to helpless victims and survivors in the region.
By Rathan Paul Harshavardan
Photo by Jordi Bernabeu Farrús – Flickr License