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Given the security vacuum in Nigeria's Northeast with security forces still very much on the defense in their failed efforts to date to combat Boko Haram, a number
of village task force groups have cropped up in Borno State, which go by
several names: civilian joint task force, vigilante, or village security or watch groups.Thus, on our collective human rights “watchlist” we should be paying more attention to what these groups are doing, how they are operating, or more importantly the potential for what they might morph into. Yes, we all understand why they have developed – they fulfill a serious security
vacuum in their villages, and in the Northeast region. However, we have seen in several cases recently in Africa, how these groups, which start with the goal to seemingly filling a security vacuum, can quickly and easily become a security threat themselves. In the case of the Central Africa Republic (CAR) the emergence of the Christian-led anti-balaka
groups, which initially came into being in response to the violent Muslim-led Seleka coup leaders have become in some cases
just as violent and uncontrollable as the Seleka groups they wanted ousted from
CAR. What is now going on in CAR is considered by some "pre-genocidal" as a combination of Christian-on-Muslim, and Muslim-on-Christian violence continues with little end in sight.
In addition to CAR, another
example as to why the Borno vigilante groups should be on our human rights "watch list" is the situation in Libya today.
Some of the militia groups that the international community depended on so much
in the Libyan crisis have clearly morphed into something else with little-to-no control over them by the weak Central Government in Tripoli. In many cases (not all), they have become fiefdoms unto themselves, controlling their respective enclaves by their rules. Militia elements were used to protect the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and it remains unclear today whether any of them were involved in the attack on the Consulate. Thus, the Libyan militia have added another dimension to an existing stability crisis in the country as they see themselves as power units, sometimes becoming equally as lawless as the leaders or individual (as in the case of Lybia’s Muammar Gaddafi) that initially spurred their creation.
Clearly, "vigilante" groups, as the word itself implies, require monitoring and watching, and we need to add the groups in Borno to our watch lists. Although there has been little reporting on them, and the reports so far have not indicated that the negative morphing is happening or has happened, we cannot let their existence go without paying more attention to what they are doing and how they are doing it to avoid the CAR anti-balaka or Libyan militia situations.
the international community needs to put these new forces or Borno-based vigilante
groups on its radar screen to monitor so that they do not become yet another
instance of a negative unintended consequence in an already difficult security
environment in Northeast Nigeria.