Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Boko Haram Continues Unabated; Nigeria's Northeast Sees Emergence of Vigilante Groups

A FEEEDS Series blog spot

FEEEDS Watch List: In Addition to Boko Haram, Now Rise of Vigilante Groups 

Following CEO-FEEEDS June 12, 2014, testimony to the U.S. House of Representative's Sub Committee on Africa, Global Health, Human Rights, and International Organization, the kidnappings and actions by Boko Haram have gone unabated and unchallenged, with 21 people killed in the country capital Abuja June 25; 60 people  kidnapped (married women, girls, and boys) 100 miles from Borno's capital Maiduguri on June 24, June 23 the bombing of the polytechnic university in Kano, Nigeria's second largest city; and, in late May another 20 women kidnapped about 9 kilometers from Chibook -- the original site of the #bringbackourgirls tragedy. However, there is another issue which needs watching on top of the bombings, killings, and kidnappings in Chibook and through the Northeast. The so-called "vigilante groups" which have cropped up in Borno state villages over the last 6-8 months should begin to be on the human rights community watch list as well.
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.

Thus, 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.