As the Nigerian state wanes, civilian militias in are arming themselves. The Nigerian military has often struggled in the fight against Boko Haram, prompting volunteers to join the Civilian Joint Task Force, or J.T.F., as a way to combat the group. But as the New York Times reports, there exists a growing fear that the militias might find new targets within the country beyond Boko Haram:
“When we started this, everybody was chasing the insurgents,” Kalli said, recalling the chaos of the early days of fighting Boko Haram. “Later on, we decided to organize and divide into 10 sectors.” Splitting up the city this way allowed him and his fellow commanders to more effectively monitor different neighborhoods. The Civilian J.T.F. has always relied on residents for tips about insurgents who may be hiding among them. Most readily complied, but as the Civilian J.T.F. gains strength, residents are beginning to fear that the vigilantes are using their power not to fight Boko Haram but to intimidate personal enemies. Men and boys have reported being forced to join the group under threat of being beaten. The Civilian J.T.F., some say, could one day prove to be as dangerous as the insurgents.The Civilian J.T.F. works closely with Nigeria’s Joint Task Force — the military, the police and other security forces — which has been accused of indiscriminate killings in the counterinsurgency. After a March attack by Boko Haram on Giwa Barracks, a military garrison, troops killed hundreds of people, most of whom were unarmed suspects held there. In Maiduguri, thousands of boys and men have been detained on little to no evidence. Some are taken to Giwa Barracks, from which reports of torture and extrajudicial killings regularly emerge. Others simply disappear; sometimes their bodies turn up at the city’s morgues. In response, residents barricade streets with logs and tires to keep outsiders away. There are entire sections of the city that government officials are afraid to enter for fear of reprisal.
Nigeria already faces a terrible combination of problems: along with an Islamist group bent on state-building and in possession of an extensive armory, it must deal with the internal displacement of thousands of citizens, an upcoming election that may divide the country further along ethnic and religious lines, and a booming arms-trafficking corridor and terrorist network running through the Sahel. With civilians taking up arms when their government fails them, it gets more combustible still.Civil wars between militia groups are usually very nasty and brutal. This one doesn’t look like an exception to the rule, and it’s clear that Nigeria’s problems extend well beyond the threat that Boko Haram poses.