Local vigilantes in northeastern Nigeria have played a key role in the fight against Boko Haram. Now, with the terror group on the run, some of the civilian volunteers are hoping to be integrated into state security forces.

Nigeria’s Borno state is where Boko Haram began about a decade ago, and a local militia has been pivotal in turning the tide against them.

The men, and a few dozen women, of the Civilian Joint Task Force have defended their communities and detained hundreds of suspected Boko Haram members to hand over to the military.  They also gather and share intelligence with the army.

Some say Boko Haram fears the Civilian JTF more than it fears the army.  Boko Haram certainly sought revenge, executing men in large numbers and razing villages, warning people about cooperating with the government.

But regional and Nigerian military offensives have weakened Boko Haram, and the Borno militia members are starting to wonder what is next.

CJTF state coordinator Abba Aji Kalli says Boko Haram has killed about 300 members and two weeks ago his home was attacked.

“They have protected the integrity of this country so they should not be dumped by the government.  Government should come in and help the members of CJTF,” said Kalli.  “We are facing a lot of risks, but up to now government has not considered us.  Government has not done anything to see that the welfare of the members of CJTF were protected.”

Some Civilian JTF members use makeshift weapons and traditional bows and arrows. Around the state they man official roadblocks and some fight alongside Nigerian troops.

In 2013, the Borno state government officially adopted the Civilian JTF, giving members uniforms and promising to pay them a monthly stipend of about $100.

Umar Muhammed, 32, is a member of the Civilian Joint Task Force, a volunteer group in Borno northeastern Nigeria that helps the counter-insurgency efforts against Boko Haram. (C. Oduah for VOA)

Umar Muhammed, 32, is a member of the Civilian Joint Task Force, a volunteer group in Borno northeastern Nigeria that helps the counter-insurgency efforts against Boko Haram. (C. Oduah for VOA)

But today, they say they are not getting paid and rely on handouts from the community.

CJTF members want to join the army and other security and law enforcement agencies, like customs and road safety.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari says he supports the idea.  In June, 350 members joined the Nigerian army, and last year the state security service accepted 30 members.

But the Civilian JTF counts as many as 26,000 registered members, according to Kalli.

Community leaders like Bulama Mali Gubio are worried.

“They now know how to handle arms and ammunitions. They are trained in the art of warfare. If after the insurgency you abandon them, then you are planting another seed of discord. They have sacrificed their lives. Many of them have died. Many have lost their limbs. So if you abandon them after the insurgency, then you will constitute another rage. That is why we have been arguing with the government to make sure that something is quickly put in place before the end of the insurgency,” said Gubio.

About 1,800 Civilian JTF members have received paramilitary training from the Nigerian army, and do not call themselves vigilantes. Rights groups have raised concern over their use of minors and possible abuses, but the people of Borno state hail the Civilian JTF.

“They organized themselves from each ward from the city and some of the major towns and started fighting their own friends, their own colleagues who were members of the Boko Haram,” said Bulama Mali Gubio, a leader in the Borno State Elders Forum.

“Some of them started at the age of 15.  Some started age 16, 19, 20.  They are all now able-bodied young men who are eligible bachelors.  They need to get married.  They need to raise their own families.  They do not have homes… The Boko Haram deliberately targeted them and their houses were burned down. If you give a Civilian JTF a 50 by 100 plot of land and 200,000 naira (about $700), you will build his heart inside.  He will get married and stay happy.  That is what I am suggesting.  It is not much,” he said.

But when the war ends, Haruna Issa wants to continue his education in computer science.

“I am a student and I know what I am doing in my life,” said Issa.

He hopes the government recognizes the volunteers once the fight is over.


SOURCE: Voice Of America