Niger’s soldiers stand at Bosso military camp following attacks by Boko Haram fighters in the region, on June 17, 2016. ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP
Report 245 / Africa

Niger and Boko Haram: Beyond Counter-insurgency

The struggle against Boko Haram in south-eastern Niger is increasingly sharpening local conflicts over access to resources. There is no military solution to this insurgency, and the authorities should instead put the emphasis on demobilising militants, solving local conflicts, reinvigorating the economy and restoring public services.

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Executive Summary

For the last two years, Niger has been at war with Boko Haram. The conflict has disrupted this poor country’s development, especially public finances, and destabilised the south east, the main scene of armed clashes. In this region, located some 1,350km from the capital and faced with an economic collapse, the battle against Boko Haram has stoked up local intercommunal tensions and exacerbated violence over access to resources. Despite direct support from Chadian troops since 2015 and improved collaboration with the Nigerian army, Nigerien forces have been unable to put a stop to attacks by insurgents, some of whom have links to the Islamic State (IS). The military option has produced results but has also shown its limits. The war effort must be accompanied by an approach that would allow demobilisation of the movement’s militants and promote a political solution to the tensions that have stimulated its local spread. The government must also prioritise economic revival and public service provision to bring relief to an exhausted population, whose suffering fuels the insurrection.

Despite alarmist scenarios, Boko Haram has failed to extend its influence beyond the south-eastern Diffa region. This relatively wealthy territory has a special relationship with the Nigerian state of Borno. Close historical, religious, and economic ties explain the resonance of the message spread by Mohamed Yusuf, the Nigerian founder of Boko Haram. Many Nigeriens, especially young men, became his supporters after they travelled to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno, only 425km away from Diffa, in search of religious training or business opportunities. When Nigerian armed forces massacred more than 1,000 of his Nigerian followers in July 2009, many members of Boko Haram found refuge in south-eastern Niger. The movement has long avoided conducting military operations in the country to build up Diffa as a refuge and a place to seek funds, supplies and recruits.

Nigerien authorities initially responded to the Boko Haram threat by keeping the movement under surveillance. They believed that it was essentially a Nigerian problem. This attitude changed in 2014, when the threat became more pressing. Boko Haram’s territorial expansion toward the Niger border was accompanied by a new push to recruit hundreds of young Nigeriens. Persuaded by its regional and international partners to become more actively involved, Niger joined the military efforts of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF). The war effort has since proved to be a burden on the national budget and the judicial system and kindled tensions between the government and the military hierarchy.

The Diffa region is suffering from both Boko Haram attacks and counter-insurgency measures taken by the Nigerien authorities, such as the extension of the state of emergency introduced in February 2015 that includes a ban on some commercial activities. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people only survive thanks to foreign aid. Recourse to local vigilante committees and reprisals by Boko Haram against anyone who collaborates with the army have created a difficult atmosphere in which local score-settling, collective fear and informants are all ingredients of a dangerously toxic brew.

On the shores of Lake Chad, in the extreme east of Diffa region, Boko Haram’s presence has aggravated intercommunal tensions, which have degenerated into deadly conflicts since May 2016. Mediation between communities by the authorities since June 2016 is a welcome initiative but has yet to dissipate all of these tensions. On the lake’s islands, a group of combatants who have broken away from the Boko Haram faction led by Abubakar Shekau, head of the movement since the death of Mohamed Yusuf, is exploiting these local tensions. This group is currently trying to take root more permanently and allegedly has close ties with IS.

Faced with Boko Haram’s resilience, the Nigerien government can no longer restrict itself to an approach solely based on military operations and commercial restrictions. In December 2016, the establishment of demobilisation sites signalled a change in the policy of repression that had prevailed since 2015. The government is also drafting a special plan for the resolution of the crisis in the Diffa region. With the support of regional and international partners, it must continue in this direction and expand its counter-insurgency strategy that goes beyond a mainly military response. This is all the more important given that some insurgents have rejected the excesses of Abubakar Shekau and may try to regain the support of the local population by avoiding the targeting of Muslims. The government must also increase cooperation with its neighbours and make contingency plans for the possible disengagement of international partners, whose public finances are deteriorating and who could opt for more isolationist policies in the months to come.


To reduce violence by going beyond the security response

To the government of Niger:

  1. Discourage the development of armed community militias.
  2. Pursue and strengthen the efforts to mediate between communities on the shores of Lake Chad started in June 2016.
  3. Ensure equitable and fair access to the lake’s resources, including, if necessary, through a thorough reform of the system of chiefs in the lake area.
  4. Propose quickly a plan for resolving the crisis in south-eastern Niger, prepared in close partnership with civil society and elected representatives in the Diffa region, and paying particular attention to reconciliation, the reintroduction of public services and economic revival.

To ease the pressure on the judicial system and prepare for the reintegration of Boko Haram militants

To the government of Niger:

  1. Formulate demobilisation and reintegration policies for former Boko Haram combatants, especially those who have not been involved in serious crimes, while consulting Boko Haram’s victims and their representatives to avoid a cycle of score-settling. The recent establishment of demobilisation sites is welcome but the reintegration of former insurgents is a sensitive issue that requires skilful handling and major long-term investment by the government and its partners.
  2. Increase the resources allocated to the judicial system to ensure improved treatment of Boko Haram-related cases, including those dealing with suspects of involvement in serious crimes, which are currently clogging up the country’s courts.
  3. Insist that the security services make a strong case to justify the transfer to Niamey prison of people who have been arrested on the basis of intelligence provided by informants.

To Niger’s partners:

  1. Provide advice and human resources to boost the resources allocated to the judicial system.

To suspend economic restrictions linked to the state of emergency and launch a plan to revive the economy of the Diffa region as early as possible

To the government of Niger:

  1. Redirect suspended economic flows by channelling them through the town of Diffa and encouraging exporters to use more secure roads toward Nigeria until the southern Komadougou area becomes stable again.
  2. Build the capacities of the public administration to provide the population with tangible judicial, health and education services, encourage the recruitment of local civil servants and the granting of temporary bonuses to civil servants working in the regions affected by the insurrection.

To supervise more effectively the security forces and their budgets

To the government of Niger:

  1. Encourage the High Authority for the Fight Against Corruption (HALCIA) to investigate the use of funds allocated to the war effort.
  2. Provide the armed forces on the ground with the resources they need to conduct counter-insurgency military operations, while tightening supervision of the armed forces and requiring that military personnel found guilty of abuses and other crimes against civilians are held accountable.
  3. Supervise the vigilante committees to limit their role to the collection of intelligence; prepare policies immediately for their complete or partial demobilisation if the insurrection’s decline is confirmed.

Brussels/Dakar, 27 February 2017

I. Introduction

Niger, located at the heart of an area subject to intense geopolitical turbulence, remains a weak link in the Sahel. The March 2016 re-election of President Issoufou provided some political stability but the country has yet to deal with the immense economic and demographic challenges it faces. Pointing to the cross-border threats from Mali, Libya and Nigeria, the government has focused on security rather than the Renaissance socio-economic plan put forward by President Issoufou when he was first elected in 2011.

For the last two years, Niger has been waging open war against Boko Haram, a jihadist insurrection founded in north-eastern Nigeria that has spread to neighbouring countries. The government has mobilised the armed forces and adopted a harsh policy aimed at depriving it of its economic resources that has curbed the movement’s advance in Niger. But counter-insurgency operations have deeply disrupted the Diffa region, located in the south east, where the conflict is raging. Boko Haram is certainly on the back foot in Niger but that does not mean it has been defeated. In any case, this insurrection, joined by hundreds of people, has generated a conflict that will leave a lasting mark on the country’s south east.

This report analyses the dynamics of Boko Haram’s penetration into Niger and assesses the authorities’ response. It describes the different stages of this process and highlights the local circumstances that the jihadist insurrection is taking advantage of. It is essential to understand these dynamics to ensure lasting stability in the Diffa region. The report therefore calls on the authorities and their partners to develop a strategy that goes beyond the current military response. It is based on interviews with a wide range of political, religious and community leaders and eyewitnesses, including militants and former Boko Haram supporters met in detention or in the Diffa region, conducted during two research visits to Niger in 2016. It forms part of a series of Crisis Group publications on the jihadist threat in the Sahel and Lake Chad basin.

II. South-eastern Niger: Fertile Soil for Boko Haram

Diffa’s geographical and cultural proximity to Maiduguri, the cradle of Boko Haram in Nigeria, makes it particularly vulnerable to the movement’s ideas. The teachings of its founder, Mohammed Yusuf, had a special resonance there. Inevitably, the fierce war Boko Haram leaders and the Nigerian authorities started to fight in July 2009 affected south-eastern Niger.

A. A Region Leaning Toward Nigeria’s North East

In terms of geography, Niger’s south east is very specific. Diffa is the regional capital most distant to Niamey (more than 1,300km by road). Along with Agadez, it is the country’s most sparsely populated region, but its population is growing the fastest. It consists of three unequally populated areas. Most of the population, estimated to be 591,000 (less than four per cent of the country’s population), is concentrated in two different border areas: one on the banks of the Komadougou River, which delineates the Niger-Nigeria border, and includes the town of Diffa (48,000 inhabitants), and another around Lake Chad, which Niger shares with its neighbours Chad and Nigeria.[fn]Socio-demographic indicators in Diffa region are a cause for concern but slightly better than in other parts of southern Niger. For example, the child mortality rate is 41 per 1,000 while the average in the country’s rural areas is 163 per 1,000. The fertility rate is 6.4, compared to the national rate of 7.6. “Niger. Enquête démographique et de santé à indicateurs multiples”, Institut national de la statistique (INS) and ICF International, 2012.Hide Footnote The region’s interior is almost a desert and mainly inhabited by nomadic Fulani, Tebu and Arab herders.[fn]Statistics confirm the region’s specificity. The human development index there is lower than the national average (0.302 compared to 0.324 in 2011), but this is mainly because of low school attendance. The primary school enrolment rate is 35 per cent, compared with the national rate of 49 per cent in 2012. Conversely, the poverty rate in Diffa region (34 per cent in 2011) is lower than the national average (42 per cent). “Annuaire statistique du Niger, 2008-2012”, INS, 2013.Hide Footnote

However, the Diffa region is not poor, at least in comparison to the rest of Niger. It combines the natural resources from the Komadougou River and Lake Chad with its proximity to the large Nigerian market. Until the conflict interrupted trade, Nigeria was by far the main consumer of its agricultural products (peppers and rice from the Komadougou area, livestock from the interior and fish, livestock and corn from the Lake Chad area), and in return supplied it with manufactured goods and smuggled fuel. The Diffa region is also located on long-distance trade routes that lead to Chad, Libya and Sudan, often bypassing Niamey.

Nigeria, especially Borno state, holds great sway over the Diffa region. The Nigerian currency, the naira, is widely used in the area and competes with the official currency, the FCFA – “[Diffa] uses the naira; the FCFA is used by officials and [development] projects”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, prisoner originally from the Diffa region, May 2016.Hide Footnote The region’s inhabitants are often less familiar with Niamey than with the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, which is closer (175km) and therefore more accessible.[fn]Maiduguri has experienced strong population growth since 1967, when it became the capital of a vast federated state in north-eastern Nigeria, now Borno state. Jean-Pierre Magnant, “La troisième mort de l’empire du Borno”, Centre d’étude d’Afrique noire, Travaux et Documents no. 23, p. 22.Hide Footnote

These ties are rooted in history and culture. The Diffa region in its current boundaries and north-eastern Nigeria were part of Kanem-Bornu, a political entity that started shaping the area in the eighth century. The language (Kanuri), identity and old religious tradition (“Kanuri Islam”) long enjoyed much prestige as indicators of affiliation to a powerful political and economic entity. The latter influenced and attracted surrounding groups to various degrees, sometimes incorporating them.[fn]See Zakari Maïkoréma, L’islam dans l’espace nigérien. De 1960 aux années 2000, Tome 2 (Paris, 2009).Hide Footnote The fall of the last sovereigns of Bornu at the beginning of the twentieth century, the division of the area by the French and English empires and then independence movements have not weakened the links between south-eastern Niger and north-eastern Nigeria.

Islam from northern Nigeria therefore spread quickly to Niger and even beyond Kanuri territory. A major commercial centre, Maiduguri is also a sub-regional crossroads for Islamic education, which attracts many Nigeriens. The reformist Islamic movement Izala, where Mohammed Yusuf received his education before turning away from it and fighting it, is very influential in Niger, especially around Diffa. It controls two of the towns’ six main mosques.

B. The State in South-eastern Niger

Relations between the Komadougou area, where the Kanuri are dominant, and the Nigerien state are paradoxical and to state that the government has marginalised the area would be simplistic. Despite being far from the capital of Niger and having much more in common with Nigeria, the Kanuri are well represented among the political and military elite in Niamey. Former president, General Mamadou Tandja, is from Maïné Soroa, in Kanuri territory, and President Issoufou’s administration includes many Kanuri.[fn]Among the most prominent figures are the education minister and former vice president of the National Assembly, the general secretary at the defence ministry and President Tandja’s former private chief of staff.Hide Footnote

Relations with the state are different in the more ethnically diverse Lake Chad area, which has long resisted government projects, including those from Kanem-Bornu. In addition to the Kanuri, there are large Buduma, Arab, Tebu and Fulani communities. This diversity is all the more significant because the lake’s natural resources – fish, pastures for livestock and alluvial basins for agriculture – have for decades attracted migrants from the rest of Niger and even from other African countries. Unlike the Kanuri, these population groups are unequally represented among the Nigerien political and military elite. Although members of the Tebu community have had a role in the state administration since their rebellion in the 1990s, the Mohammedan Arabs, who arrived from Sudan during the last third of the twentieth century, and the Buduma communities are not so well represented in either Niamey or local government.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Kanuri, Fulani and Buduma leaders in Diffa region, Niamey and Diffa, May, October 2016.Hide Footnote

Many factors fuel tensions in this region: the population movements that accompany the lake’s changing water levels; the importance of transhumance; disagreements between local government administrations (chefferies) and locally elected representatives, who play a role in regulating access to natural resources; the resentment felt by people who consider themselves to be natives of the region, notably the Buduma, and do not have the financial and political capital to profit from the growing sectors of the economy.[fn]As elsewhere, there is a debate around the lake about who is and who is not indigenous. Some Kanuri intellectuals dispute the indigenous character of the Buduma on the Nigerien shores, noting the absence of Buduma toponyms there and claiming they are of Chadian origin. Crisis Group interviews, Kanuri and Buduma leaders, Niamey and Diffa, May 2016.Hide Footnote Moreover, the area has been the scene of intercommunal conflicts and even outbreaks of armed rebellion.[fn]For more on the Democratic Front for Renewal (FDR), a Tebu movement active in the Manga area in the 1990s, see Chekou Kore Lawel, “Rébellion touareg au Niger: approche juridique et politique”, PhD in political science, René Descartes-Paris V University, 2012. For more on the conflicts surrounding the presence of Mohammedan Arabs, see Steve Anderson and Marie Monimart, “Recherche sur les stratégies d’adap­ta­tion des groupes pasteurs de la région de Diffa, Niger oriental”, International Institute for Environment and Development, 2009. For more on conflicts in the fishing sector, see Hadiza Kiari Fougou, “Impacts des variations du niveau du lac Tchad sur les activités socio-économiques des pêcheurs de la partie nigérienne”, PhD in geography, Abdou Moumouni University, Niamey, 2014.Hide Footnote The lake is a border area that the government finds difficult to control: it is endowed with rugged topography, a place where four countries meet, a pioneering front, an area where smuggling and trafficking is common and a migratory melting pot.

The state has not displayed much interest in this distant region, whose economy is more integrated with that of neighbouring countries. It lacks resources to invest in the area, but it is not completely absent. The state has acquired expertise in conflict resolution in the course of the crises that have afflicted the northern Tuareg areas, but also the southern Diffa region.[fn]In the 1990s, the Tebu rebellion led by the Democratic Front for Renewal (FDR) ended with a peace accord signed in 1998 in N’Djamena. The combatants, including the Fulani and Arab militians opposed to the Tebu, were reintegrated quite effectively.Hide Footnote The High Authority for the Consolidation of Peace (HACP), created in October 2011 to take over from the High Authority for the Restoration of Peace (created in 1994), and which reports directly to the presidency, is the institution that has and uses this experience.[fn]This change in name reflects the desire to prioritise an approach based on socio-economic development rather than on strict adherence to the 1990s peace agreements between the government and the rebel movements. Crisis Group Africa Report N°208, Niger: Another Weak Link in the Sahel?, 19 September 2013, p. 32.Hide Footnote Under the leadership of a senior Tuareg official, it administers a range of programs on everything from intercommunal dialogue to the demobilisation and reintegration of former combatants and development projects aimed at promoting cohesion and peace in various regions.

The government does not enjoy particularly strong popular legitimacy and the political elites do not hesitate to manipulate ethnic and regional loyalties at election time, but these elites are relatively united and mixed as inheritors of nationalist sentiment and great sociability.[fn]For more on the links between ethnicity and politics in Niger, see Idrissa Kimba, “Ethnicité, politique et démocratie au Niger”, Sociétés africaines et diaspora, no. 45, 1997.Hide Footnote In the field of religion, many observers consider the Nigerien state’s support for pluralism and secularism to be a decisive factor.[fn]“Violent Radicalisation in Northern Nigeria: The Macro Regional Context”, Nigerian Office of the National Security Adviser, 2015. Ibrahima Yahaya Ibrahim, “Niger in the Face of the Sahelo-Saharan Islamic Insurgency. Precarious Stability in a Troubled Neighborhood”, Sahel Research Group Working Paper no. 4, August 2014.Hide Footnote But Islam’s hegemony in Niger might as well make it less divisive, unlike in Nigeria, where competition between Christianity and Islam generates tensions.

C. Mohammed Yusuf’s Nigerien Militants

In the 2000s, Mohammed Yusuf’s preaching had an impact on the Diffa region. Many of the thousands of Nigerien men and women who went to study or work in Maiduguri heard Yusuf’s message and some attended his mosque.[fn]Crisis Group interview, detainee, member of Yusufiyya, May 2016. For an analysis of the movement, see Crisis Group Africa Report N°216, Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): The Boko Haram Insurgency, 3 April 2014, p. 19. Crisis Group interview, Islamic leader, Diffa, 17 May 2016.Hide Footnote Back in Niger, they disseminated his thoughts in electronic format but also more directly: Yusuf’s assistant and future successor as Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, reportedly has family contacts in the area and preached in Diffa before 2009.[fn]According to the Nigerian authorities, Shekau’s parents were Nigerien and lived in the Nigerian village of Shekau, Yobe state. Crisis Group Report, Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): The Boko Haram Insurgency, op. cit., p. 19. Crisis Group interview, Muslim leader, Diffa, 17 May 2016.Hide Footnote From the start of the 2000s, some of Yusuf’s Nigerian supporters formed an isolated sectarian community in Kannama village, on the border with Niger. They were violently dispersed by Nigerian forces in October 2003 after they entered into conflict with the local authorities and population, and some found refuge in Niger.[fn]Crisis Group interview, gendarmerie officer, Niamey, December 2014.Hide Footnote

In either 2007 or 2008, a small movement formed around Diffa’s central mosque, influenced by Yusuf and sharing his interpretation of Islam.[fn]This group is sometimes called “sake guere haram” (shaving is prohibited). See Marc-Antoine Pérouse de Montclos, “Boko Haram and Politics: From Insurgency to Terrorism”, in “Boko Haram: Islamism, Politics, Security and the State in Nigeria”, African Studies Centre (ASC), 2014, p. 217.Hide Footnote It mainly comprised young people who had broken with the Izala current, which had gradually been establishing itself in Diffa since the start of the 2000s, especially among traders. Yusuf’s young followers adopted a more radical attitude than Izala members. In particular, they condemned Izala for only criticising the state’s corruption while maintaining its links with the government.[fn]For example, an important member of the group persuaded his elder brother, a police officer who was close to Izala, to leave the public service. He also criticised an Izala scholar for attending the Islamic university of Say in Niger, which he regarded as an impious institution. Crisis Group interview, Izala member, Niamey, February 2017.Hide Footnote They also made contact with the faithful near places of worship, urging people to join them.

The Yusufiyya opened its own place of worship in October-November 2008 in the district of Diffa Koura, in Diffa, with financial support from El Hadj Kakabuno, a prosperous young Kanuri trader whose business network extended to Maiduguri and Kano, northern Nigeria’s great metropolis. He acted as leader of the community in Diffa, helped by a young Fulani preacher, Sayedi, a native of Fulatari (a pastoralist zone in the interior of Diffa) who had also been an assiduous visitor to Maiduguri.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, security officer, detainee and Yusufiyya member, May 2016; and Izala member, Niamey, February 2017.Hide Footnote As tension increased in Maiduguri in July 2009, most of Yusuf’s Nigerien supporters in Diffa sold their belongings, some of them divorced their wives if they baulked at accompanying them and joined their mentor with the idea of “starting a jihad against the Nigerian government”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, detainee, originally from Maïné Soroa, Kotoukalle, May 2016.Hide Footnote

D. Diffa, Boko Haram’s Support Base

The situation started to deteriorate in 2009, as the escalating confrontation between the Nigerian security forces and Yusuf’s supporters led to massive violence in Maiduguri and other towns in northern Nigeria. Yusuf was arrested and killed in detention by the police. Some of his Nigerian and Nigerien supporters found refuge in Niger, either to distance themselves from Boko Haram or, on the contrary, to sustain the violent strategy of its new leader, Abubakar Shekau.[fn]On their return to Diffa, Yusuf’s followers were more inclined to join the Tidjanes than Izala. Many doubt their sincerity and believe they conceal their real loyalties. Crisis Group interview, Izala member, Niamey, February 2017.Hide Footnote For example, about twenty militants returned to Maïné Soroa in 2009. They formed the basis of a cell that has counted up to a hundred members.[fn]Crisis Group interview, detainee originally from Maïné Soroa and former Boko Haram member, May 2016.Hide Footnote

The Diffa region became a place to raise funds and stock up on petrol, weapons and food supplies. Boko Haram sold some of its looted goods. This economy created a network of people who benefitted from the insurrection without necessarily joining it or even sharing its ideology – suppliers, dealers, and transporters.[fn]Some members of the security forces in the area reportedly conducted business with jihadists. Crisis Group interview, detainee originally from Diffa region, May 2016.Hide Footnote Boko Haram sometimes used violence to control its network.[fn]In May 2014, a report noted Boko Haram’s recruitment of urban gang members in Diffa. “BBC meets gang ‘paid to join Boko Haram’ in Niger”, BBC, 22 April 2014.Hide Footnote For example, it is generally acknowledged that the killing of the president of Diffa’s Chamber of Commerce in May 2015 was related to the fact that the movement subjects the region’s major businessmen to extortion.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, traders, Diffa, 18 May 2016.Hide Footnote

Boko Haram has used its funds to recruit members, combining its call to jihad with practical material benefits: credits to open small businesses or buy vehicles, money when combatants enlist, promises of wages and motorcycles and prospects of marriage. The latter is particularly attractive in a cultural context where marriage is an essential characteristic of identity. In the villages of Komadougou, starting in 2014, young Nigeriens tried to identify, persuade and escort young women from Kanuri villages to areas held by Boko Haram on the other side of the border.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, former detainee, Bagara, October 2016. See also Crisis Group Africa Report N°242, Nigeria: Women and the Boko Haram Insurgency, 5 December 2016.Hide Footnote Meanwhile, the ostentatious prosperity of combatants on their return from Nigeria, rich from looting and the rewards granted by the movement, has attracted new recruits.[fn]Crisis Group interview, detainee, Kotoukalle, May 2016.Hide Footnote Between several hundred and a few thousand young Nigeriens have reportedly joined the organisation, some out of conviction but a growing number out of opportunism and greed.[fn]It is difficult to provide more precise figures and the lists compiled are not necessarily reliable. An initial calculation, made on the basis of information provided by local government officials, identified several hundred individuals who had joined the insurrec­tion since the start of 2015, when the first clashes between the Nigerien forces and Boko Haram started. In December 2014, a senior Nigerien officer familiar with the region estimated their total number at less than 200. Shortly after the attack on Bosso, the authorities made a new estimate of the number of Nigerien members of Boko Haram: “We made a secret list using information supplied by the chiefs. They gave us about 4,000 names after the attacks in February, but there were some false accusations”. Crisis Group interviews, Nigerien officer, Niamey, December 2014; senior government official, Niamey, May 2016; and regional government official, Diffa, May 2016.Hide Footnote

III. Niger at War

A. From Surveillance to War

Niger’s initial response to Boko Haram was “an approach that combined relative tolerance, surveillance of preachers and targeted actions”.[fn]Niger had adopted a similar attitude toward the Maitatsine religious movement in the 1980s, the Nigerian community of “talibans” inspired by Yusuf in Kannama in 2003 and the Sake guere haram movement. Crisis Group Report, Niger: Another Weak Link, op. cit., p. 44.Hide Footnote At that time, the authorities viewed Boko Haram as a Nigerian problem which was not a direct threat to the country, though they needed to monitor its impact on Nigerien soil.[fn]Crisis Group interview, member of Niger’s National Security Council, Niamey, May 2016.Hide Footnote Some security sources said there was a non-aggres­sion pact between the Nigerien authorities and Boko Haram before 2014, but it is difficult to confirm this.[fn]Crisis Group interview, senior Nigerien official, Niamey, May 2016.Hide Footnote True or not, it did not stop the Nigerien security services from making arrests in areas that supported the insurrection in and after 2010.[fn]These arrests mainly took place in Maïné Soroa, where Boko Haram had about one hundred followers. Crisis Group interview, Nigerien security officer, Niamey, December 2014.Hide Footnote Moreover, their concern increased after the jihadist advance in Mali at the start of 2012 and the arrest in the following months of Nigerien and Nigerian supporters of Boko Haram who were linked with northern Mali.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Nigerien security officer, Niamey, December 2014. In May 2013, an attack on Niamey central prison, for which the jihadist movement al-Mou­r­a­bitoun, led at the time by the Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar, claimed responsibility, allowed several Boko Haram members to escape. That same year, other suspects were discreetly arrested in Maïné Soroa after having sought weapons, apparently for use against the Nigerien authorities. Crisis Group interview, detainee, originally from Maïné Soroa, May 2016.Hide Footnote

Collaboration with Nigeria was then minimal. It was limited to the extradition of a few suspects at the request of the authorities in Abuja and joint border patrols that produced little results.[fn]Crisis Group interview, detainee originally from Diffa, former supporter of the Yusufiyya, May 2016. The Nigerien justice system apparently limited the number of extraditions of Nigerian suspects, partly because it believed the Nigerian authorities had not presented enough evidence. Crisis Group interview, Nigerien security officer, Niamey, May 2016. In October 2012, Niger and Nigeria agreed to launch joint border patrols but they had a very limited impact on the ground because of a lack of resources and poor coordination. Crisis Group interview, Western security officer, Niamey, December 2014.Hide Footnote Despite the conflict’s growing impact on Niger, notably the influx of tens of thousands of people fleeing the fighting and finding refuge in the Diffa region, the Nigerien elites remained divided about whether to take a more active stance against the movement.[fn]There was some confusion in the higher echelons of government. In February 2014, the head of the Nigerien army, General Seyni Garba, said Islamists were getting ready to attack markets and other crowded places in Diffa to take revenge for Niamey’s firm policy against extremists in the region. “Le Niger déjoue des attaques de Boko Haram visant les marchés”,, 17 February 2014. The following month, the defence minister said: “Boko Haram does not pose an imminent threat and remains focused on Nigeria. We will not provoke them, but they will regret it if they attack us”. “Niger fears contagion from Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists”, Reuters, 19 March 2014.Hide Footnote Senior military officials concerned about the extension of fighting to Nigerien territory advised Niger to remain neutral or offer to mediate between the movement and the Nigerian government.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Niger Armed Forces senior officer, Niamey, December 2014.Hide Footnote Many officials believed they should focus on gathering intelligence and maintaining public order rather than mobilising the military against Boko Haram.[fn]See Crisis Group Africa Report N°227, The Central Sahel: A Perfect Sandstorm, 25 June 2015, p. 13.Hide Footnote

Many officials believed they should focus on gathering intelligence and maintaining public order rather than mobilising the military against Boko Haram.

Niger decided to go to war with Boko Haram in 2014. There were two reasons for this: first, it was pushed in this direction by an international context that favoured the constitution of a regional military force, the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF). The regional military option was revived in 2012 by the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC), which comprises Niger, and important international actors – the U.S., France and the African Union (AU) – supported it in 2014.[fn]Created in 1964 by the four Lake Chad countries (Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon), the LCBC’s main mission is the sustainable and equitable management of the lake and its basin. It later set up a security component and created a joint multinational force in 1998, initially to deal with cross-border crime and, more recently, to combat Boko Haram.Hide Footnote Ever since he was elected in 2011, President Issoufou, who had maintained his stance as a reliable ally of the Western countries in the fight against the increasing terrorist threat in the Sahel, remained faithful to his commitment.

The increasing threat was the other core factor in Niger’s military involvement.[fn]Crisis Group Report, The Central Sahel, op. cit., pp. 6-7.Hide Footnote In 2014, Boko Haram conquered a vast area in northern Nigeria and thus began to represent a direct threat to neighbouring countries.[fn]Since March 2014, Boko Haram has carried out attacks on Cameroon territory, confirming that it is capable of carrying its fight beyond the Nigerian borders. In the second half of 2014, it launched an offensive to the north of Borno state, getting closer to Lake Chad and the border with Niger. In November, Boko Haram seized the Nigerian towns of Damasak and Malam Fatori along the Komadougou, which marks the border with Niger. See Crisis Group Africa Report N°241, Cameroon: Confronting Boko Haram, 16 November 2016.Hide Footnote Moreover, in a video dated 21 January 2015, Shekau threatened the presidents of Chad, Cameroon and Niger and criticised the latter for offering support to the French president after radical Islamists attacked the satirical periodical Charlie Hebdo in Paris.[fn]Shekau menace Déby, Biya et Issoufou”, Jeune Afrique (online), 21 January 2015.Hide Footnote Boko Haram stepped up recruitment in the Diffa region in 2014: all along the Komadougou River, hundreds of young men and women, most of them Kanuri, joined the movement, attracted by its successes and the prospects of making easy money.[fn]As a senior official from the Diffa region recognised, the ones joining Boko Haram “are our children”. Crisis Group interview, senior official, Diffa, May 2016. According to estimates, between several hundred and several thousand individuals left Niger in this period to join Boko Haram. Crisis Group interviews, senior officer and Nigerien security force officer, Niamey, December 2014, May 2016.Hide Footnote In June 2014, the army mounted a defensive operation, codenamed Ngaa (which means shield in Kanuri), to strengthen its military position on the border with Nigeria and gather intelligence.

B. Military Action in a Stalemate

Although the Nigerian authorities were expecting a short war against people who Issoufou described as “amateurs”, the conflict escalated and military operations ended in a stalemate in 2015.[fn]In April 2015, President Issoufou said that “the number of Boko Haram combatants has been overestimated. That is because the movement won many victories against the Nigerian army. But after its first encounters with our forces, we quickly realised that they were amateurs”. “Le président du Niger sur Boko Haram: ‘Des amateurs’”, Le Journal du Dimanche, 12 April 2015.Hide Footnote At the start of 2015, the president authorised Chadian troops to enter Niger in their capacity as part of the MNJTF while on 6-8 February, Boko Haram launched violent attacks against the towns of Bosso and Diffa. In a way, the regionalisation of both the threat and the military response fed each other. For many months, the front stabilised along the border with Nigeria.

In April, Boko Haram carried out a successful attack on Nigerien positions on Karamga island, which was the first reliable indicator that it had established itself in the northern part of Lake Chad. In July, its combatants attacked Diffa prison but failed to release any prisoners. Meanwhile, Nigerien authorities supported the creation of vigilante committees, not so much to undertake combat but rather to monitor the movements of combatants and try to prevent surprise attacks. Local public figures and village chiefs were asked to identify suspects. Suspicion and denunciations became pervasive and were accentuated by the killing of people suspected of collaborating with the army. Some civilian and military authorities were tempted to give the committees a greater military role and a few committees did indeed do more than gather intelligence, arresting suspects and building roadblocks.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Nigerien official, Niamey, September 2016; member of vigilante committee, Diffa, September 2016.Hide Footnote From its positions on the Nigerian side of the border, Boko Haram continued to launch raids into south-eastern Niger, particularly against villages close to the Komadougou River that had set up vigilante committees.

After the presidential election in February and March 2016, which took place in relative calm in Diffa, the MNJTF prepared a new offensive in north-eastern Nigeria. Boko Haram was one step ahead and took control of Bosso for a few hours, inflicting heavy losses on the Nigerien army. The latter was only able to maintain its positions thanks to reinforcements from the west and the return at the end of June of Chadian troops, who concentrated their operations on Lake Chad’s shores and islands. From July onward, the Nigerian army gradually redeployed along the Komadougou River and Nigerien troops mobilised to provide occasional backup at Malam Fatori and Damasak.

Although Boko Haram has been weakened, it has retained its strike capacity in Nigeria, as its attacks on Malam Fatori and Gashagar showed at the end of 2016. In Niger, in the communes of Gueskerou, Bosso and Toumour (extreme south east), Boko Haram combatants still cross the border freely to extort money from villagers and attack military positions, such as at Gues­ke­rou in 20 January 2017. In this area, the security forces, which retreated to the commune’s main towns, are a long way from eliminating the enemy. In rural areas, the population is “caught in the crossfire”: it lives in fear of attacks by Boko Haram, false accusations and arrests by the security forces.[fn]Crisis Group interview, official in Diffa region and member of the Buduma community, Diffa, May 2016.Hide Footnote

C. The State and the Burden of War

Niger is not alone in its fight against Boko Haram, but the authorities feel that their Western partners do not help them enough. Niger benefits from major military assistance programs, particularly from France and the U.S.[fn]It is difficult to give a precise estimate of the combined expenditure on the various military assistance programs. American military aid forms part of several bilateral and multilateral programs, notably the Security Governance Initiative (SGI) – Niger is one of five recipient African countries – and the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership Program (TSCTPP) – of which Niger, with $30 million between 2009 and 2013, is the third beneficiary. France has donated military equipment to Niger, including three Gazelle helicopters in 2012, and night vision spectacles in December 2016. The two countries have also provided training programs for the Nigerien military, for example, the French Reinforcing African Peacekeeping Capabilities (RECAMP) program, launched in 1998.Hide Footnote However, Western military aid and presence are more focused on the fight against jihadist groups in the Sahara than on the Lake Chad basin.[fn]Another example of the focus on the north is EUCAP Niger. This European Union Mission has provided Niger with training programs and material support for the fight against terrorism and organised crime since 2012, but is focused on Niamey and Agadez.Hide Footnote The French and American military are present in Diffa but in smaller numbers than in Niamey and the Agadez region.[fn]The French are present in Niger as part of Operation Barkhane, with personnel deployed mainly in Niamey and the Agadez region, in Aguelal, near Arlit mining site where American Special Forces are also stationed and most importantly in Madama, close to the Libyan border. “Dossier de presse sur l’opération Barkhane”, French defence ministry, December 2016. The Americans, also present at Niamey air base, are building another air base at Agadez, from where they will deploy drones. “U.S. building $100 million drone base in Central Mali”, Reuters, 30 September 2016. Canadian Special Forces are also present in Niger as part of a training program based in Niamey and Agadez. Crisis Group interview, Canadian military officer, Niamey, May 2016 and “Western Troops in Niger: Controversial Presence, Usefulness Still to Be Demonstrated”, Briefing Note, Group for Research and Information on Peace and Security (GRIP), 7 November 2016. Five French military personnel and about twenty American military personnel coordinate and support intelligence gathering and analysis at the Diffa military base. Crisis Group interview, Western military officer, Diffa, May, September 2016. In 2014, the annual Flintlock training exercise, a U.S. initiative involving African, European and North American military personnel, also took place in Diffa.Hide Footnote Niger also receives financial aid as part of the MNJTF military operations against Boko Haram. But disbursement of some of this aid, which is managed by the AU, is slow and has had very limited impact on the ground.[fn]The MNJTF is funded by the Americans, the British and the Europeans. The EU allocated €50 million through an AU-managed mechanism that is very slow. Starting in February 2015, the AU and EU took many months to negotiate this financial assistance and the delivery of military equipment has only just begun at the time this report is being finalised. Crisis Group interview, international official, Addis-Ababa, November 2016. During a visit by the AU Peace and Security commissioner on 17 February 2017, the AU delivered vehicles and generators funded by the UK. Security document seen by Crisis Group, February 2017. Hide Footnote

Nigerien officials complain that they have to bear the bulk of the financial burden of the war against the insurrection.

The fight against Boko Haram requires significant expenditure on domestic security and defence.[fn]Annual per capita military spending in Niger was $4.3 in 2012, three times less than in Mali and Burkina Faso, five times less than in Côte d’Ivoire. Total spending in 2012 was $73.1 million. “Military Spending and Arms Imports in Five West African Countries”, Briefing Note, GRIP, 15 June 2016.Hide Footnote Allocations made during preparation of the national budget have prioritised security over social services such as health and education.[fn]Crisis Group interview, representative of one of Niger’s funding partners, Niamey, May 2016.Hide Footnote At the Abuja conference in May 2016, President Issoufou emphasised that “operations against Boko Haram place a heavy burden on public finances: Niger has had to increase its military expenditure fifteen-fold since 2010. It now spends more than 10 per cent of its GDP on defence and security”.[fn]“En finir avec Boko Haram”,, 20 May 2016. In 2016, the budget for “defence, order and security” in Niger was FCFA207.55 billion, or 11.48 per cent of the total budget of FCFA1,807.22 billion. “Budget citoyen du Niger”, Budget Directorate-General, July 2016.Hide Footnote The government, which has to pay the premiums of soldiers deployed to secure national territory, finds it difficult to pay civil servants in other sectors. In 2016, the education and judiciary sectors went on strike in protest at lack of resources and wage arrears.[fn]In May 2016, judges took action against the deterioration in their working conditions. In September, students and teachers protested against accumulated arrears in the payment of grants and wages. “Niger: les universités en grève en raison des retards de paiement de salaires”, Radio France Internationale (RFI), 19 September 2016. Although this was nothing exceptional, these strikes indicated growing discontent among civil servants.Hide Footnote Like their Chadian counterparts, Nigerien officials complain that they have to bear the bulk of the financial burden of the war against the insurrection.[fn]

Niger’s involvement in the war against Boko Haram has also put a lot of pressure on the judicial system. The number of detainees held because of their links with Boko Haram increased from about a hundred at the end of 2014 to more than 1,200 in 2016 and close to 1,700 at the beginning of 2017.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, prison administration official, Niamey, May 2016; member of the security forces, Niamey, February 2017. Niger’s prison population was estimated at 7,116, including 3,845 awaiting trial in 2013 and 8,525, including 5,115 awaiting trial in November 2015. This increase was mainly due to arrests made in connection with the Boko Haram insur­rec­tion. The number of detainees in Kollo prison alone, one of the three main prisons used to detain suspects from the Diffa region, increased from 300 to 919 between April and September 2015. “Country Report on Human Rights Practices, Niger, 2013”, U.S. State Department, p. 3 and “Country Report on Human Rights Practices, Niger, 2015”, p. 2.Hide Footnote Faced with this explosion in the number of cases and the lack of financial and human resources, justice officials are unable to make progress with investigations. The great majority of detainees have been arrested based on information supplied by informants and the dossiers are often thin or empty.[fn]Some files contain only the names of detainees. Crisis Group interview, member of the security forces, Niamey, May 2016.Hide Footnote Some justice and security officials claim that most detainees have only tenuous links with the insurrection.[fn]Accusations of collusion with Boko Haram allow people to settle personal scores, get rid of troublesome neighbours, business rivals and even, in a case reported to Crisis Group, of a jealous husband. According to some security sources, most accusations are false. Crisis Group interviews, administrator, Diffa, and members of the security services, Niamey, May 2016.Hide Footnote This generates a lot of frustration among detainees and their families.[fn]The Buduma and others believe the arrests excessively target their communities. Crisis Group interviews, members of the Buduma community, Diffa and Niamey, May 2016.Hide Footnote

Detainees have little awareness of their rights and most of them do not have the means to cover the costs of their defence. The law on counter-terrorism allows the extension of preventive detention for up to two years.[fn]The law of 11 March 2011 detailed organisational measures and respective jurisdictions in the fight against terrorism. It defined terrorist acts, indicated the appropriate punishments and created a specialised judicial unit in Niamey. Official Gazette, Republic of Niger, 11 March 2011, pp. 505-510. The law was amended and clarified by a series of rulings, notably one in January 2016 on financing terrorism. However, no detainee suspected of having links with Boko Haram has yet been prosecuted even though some of them have been detained since 2012. Internal document of an international human rights organisation seen by Crisis Group, September 2016.Hide Footnote There is some concern that the explosive mixture of small numbers of hardcore jihadist militants and hundreds of wrongfully arrested people may turn prisons into a focus for radicalisation.[fn]Crisis Group interview, UN official, Dakar, April 2016.Hide Footnote The prison authorities, aware of this problem, have put under surveillance or in isolation some detainees suspected of preaching and recruiting other detainees.[fn]Crisis Group interview, senior prison official, Niamey, May 2016.Hide Footnote This policy of isolation is inadequate given the large and growing number of detainees.

There is some concern that the explosive mixture of small numbers of hardcore jihadist militants and hundreds of wrongfully arrested people may turn prisons into a focus for radicalisation.

The complicated and sometimes conflict-ridden relations between politicians and the military are not helping the war effort.[fn]Niger has experienced four coups and several mutinies since its independence in 1960. Crisis Group Report, Niger: Another Weak Link, op. cit., pp. 21-24.Hide Footnote The arrest of senior officers accused of organising a coup in December 2015, a few weeks before the presidential election, illustrated the recurring tensions.[fn]These arrests were partly related to operations against Boko Haram. One of the officers accused of organising a coup was responsible for deploying the air force. He reportedly refused to send helicopters to Diffa. Some said this was because of a lack of spare parts, other that it was because he was preparing a coup. Crisis Group interview, Western diplomat, Niamey, May 2016.Hide Footnote Although the government is allocating an increasing proportion of its resources to the defence and security forces, the army is troubled by rumours of poor administration, especially of funds allocated to efforts in the Diffa region. These rumours were reportedly behind the replacement of the former defence minister shortly after President Issoufou’s re-election.[fn]Crisis Group interview, member of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS), Niamey, May 2016.Hide Footnote They stir up resentment and frustration, especially among those on the front line of the fight against Boko Haram.[fn]Crisis Group interview, government official, Niamey, October 2016.Hide Footnote The army’s defeat in Bosso at the beginning of 2016 reportedly caused a wave of discontent against the military hierarchy, accused by the rank and file of misappropriating government funds.[fn]Several dozen officers and soldiers were reportedly removed from army registers for desertion or dereliction of duty during the Boko Haram attack on Bosso, or because they openly expressed their anger at the failings of the military hierarchy. Crisis Group email correspondence, security officer, July 2016.Hide Footnote

The war against Boko Haram has also highlighted Niger’s dependence on the Chadian army, without whose support the army would be finding it even more difficult to contain the advance of combatants. The Nigerien army has certainly strengthened its position in the Diffa region since the attack on Bosso but incursions attributed to terrorist groups from Mali in October and November 2016 prompted the redeployment of troops toward the north west.[fn]Since the fall of the Libyan President Qadhafi in 2011, Niger has increased the number of its troops in the north of the country, especially through Operation Malibéro. Crisis Group Report, Niger: Another Weak Link …, op. cit., p. 39 and the following sections.Hide Footnote Niger is having difficulties dealing with all the threats it faces on its borders.

IV. Diffa and the Lake: The Long-term Impact

Until now, the insurrection has affected Niger much less than Nigeria and Cameroon. The conflict remains limited to the south east and, in fact, to the southern part of this area, which is closest to Borno, the historic epicentre of the insurrection.[fn]Contrary to speculations in 2015 about riots in Niamey and Zinder provoked by President Issoufou’s attendance at a tribute to the victims of the attack on Charlie Hebdo weekly magazine, Boko Haram has not yet managed to extend its zone of influence beyond Maiduguri’s area of influence in Niger. There have been some arrests in Zinder and Maradi, but they probably targeted traffickers doing business with Boko Haram envoys, not militants. Crisis Group interview, security officer, Niamey, May 2016. The presence of presumed Boko Haram accomplices near Maradi, Niger’s third largest town, in the middle of Hausa country, arrested in February 2017, might indicate an attempt to extend the organisation well beyond its bases. “Madarounfa/Maradi: des présumés complices de Boko Haram mis aux arrêts”, Aïr Info, 4 February 2017.Hide Footnote The situation in this region is worrying and the population has been hit hard by two years of war.

A. A Continuing State of Emergency

The state of emergency declared in Diffa on 10 February 2015 is still in force.[fn]Parliament met in extraordinary session to authorise the Nigerien armed forces to pursue Boko Haram into Nigeria as part of the regional force.Hide Footnote It is accompanied by restrictive measures that seek to cut off the financial resources flowing to Boko Haram and prevent its expansion into Nigerien territory. The authorities banned the sale of peppers and fishing on Lake Chad after claiming that these resources were filling the movement’s coffers. The government imposed a curfew and banned motorbikes, which Boko Haram has used for lightning cross-border raids.[fn]Motorbikes are a source of income for the kabou-kabou (motorbike taxi drivers), usually uneducated young men with no other way of making a living.Hide Footnote The government also closed markets suspected of supplying the insurgents.[fn]

Chad and Cameroon have taken similar measures but later and in a less systematic and restrictive way.[fn]Crisis Group Report, Cameroon: Confronting Boko Haram, op. cit.Hide Footnote It is difficult to assess their effectiveness.[fn]Boko Haram attacks aimed at stealing food have provided evidence of some impact but such attacks have also happened in countries where prohibitions are less draconian.Hide Footnote They hit Boko Haram but also punish the entire region, leaving tens of thousands of people without occupation and without income, and dependent on foreign aid. They fuel resentment toward the authorities. If the government continues with this blockade, it risks pushing other young Nigeriens into the arms of Boko Haram, one of the few employers in the area.As in Gagamari, to the west of Diffa, near the Komadougou River, in May 2016 and in Kindjaidi, to the north east of Diffa closer to the shores of Lake Chad in October 2016.Hide Footnote

If the government continues with this blockade, it risks pushing other young Nigeriens into the arms of Boko Haram, one of the few employers in the area.

Moreover, the government has orchestrated massive displacement of people in the hope of cutting Boko Haram off from civilians who, whether voluntarily or not, support the insurrection.[fn]Since the influx of refugees fleeing the Boko Haram advance in the Nigerian districts of Mobbar and Abadam at the end of 2014, many villages along the Nigerien side of the Komadougou River have been evacuated and resettled along Route nationale 1 (RN1).Hide Footnote In May 2015, shortly after the Nigerien army’s defeat on Karamga island, the authorities brutally and hastily displaced the entire population living on the Nigerien islands and shores of Lake Chad, totalling 81 villages and hundreds of hamlets.[fn]Memorandum from representatives of the Kanuri and Buduma communities to the interior minister, Diffa, 16 September 2016.Hide Footnote Tens of thousands of people had to leave behind almost all their belongings, including thousands of head of cattle.[fn]“Déplacement forcé des populations des îles du lac Tchad au Niger. Rapport de la mission d’ob­ser­vation de la situation humanitaire et des droits de l’Homme à Diffa et N’Guigmi”, Alternatives Espaces Citoyens, May 2015.Hide Footnote

Near the Komadougou River, villages in areas suspected of collaborating with Boko Haram have also been displaced.[fn]As with seven villages in Chétimari commune, to the west of Diffa, in May-June 2016. Prominent local figures believe that the refusal of villages to be relocated indicates their support for Boko Haram, confirming the need for such a measure. Crisis Group interview, canton chief in the Diffa region, May 2016.Hide Footnote In theory, these relocations are voluntary, but the population does not really have a choice because of pressure from official announcements about the imminence of military operations. In September 2016, there were more than 300,000 displaced people in the Diffa region, including about 118,000 Nigerian refugees.[fn]“Niger Factsheet”, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), September 2016.Hide Footnote Most of them are spread over various spontaneous sites along Route nationale 1 (RN1) or refugee camps or are hosted by Nigerien relatives.[fn]The establishment of official camps, belatedly accepted by the Nigerien authorities, has not worked very well. Most displaced people and refugees have preferred to camp out along the RN1, within reach of both humanitarian aid and the Komadougou River or the shores of Lake Chad, in the hope of resuming their activities. Crisis Group interviews, aid workers employed by NGOs and UN organisations, Niamey, May, October 2016.Hide Footnote These displaced people move around in response to Boko Haram’s attacks or the availability of humanitarian aid.

In reality [the relocation of displaced populations] is also driven by political calculation.

Officially, for security reasons, the relocation of displaced populations aims to cut Boko Haram off from potential support from lakeshore communities. In reality though, it is also driven by political calculation, due to competition for access to the lake’s islands and their natural resources. Some actors, in particular community chiefs, who have land interests on the Lake Chad islands, encourage the relocation of the shoreline populations, especially the Buduma, to the camps close to Kablewa in the interior and to the official site at Sayam Forage.

Assistance to displaced populations poses major challenges to the authorities and aid agencies. Although the dispersion of most displaced people along the RN1 facilitates humanitarian initiatives, the high level of insecurity disrupts the targeting of aid and access to remote areas remains difficult (north east of Nguigmi, on the lakeshore, Toumour and Bosso communes). Moreover, the local authorities and many Diffa residents suspect some of the displaced population of supporting Boko Haram and even of diverting aid to the movement.

The distribution of aid takes place in uncertain conditions amid frequent rumours of misappropriation, especially in at risk and remote areas.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, humanitarian workers and members of civil society, Niamey and Diffa, May, October 2016.Hide Footnote The difficulty of distinguishing between the host population, Nigerian refugees, Nigerien internally displaced people and returnees poses problems for aid organisations, whose work is structured around fixed operational and technical categories. Aid workers have found it difficult to identify the beneficiaries. They have taken a pragmatic approach and decided against using such distinctions to concentrate on identifying and gaining access to the most vulnerable people, whatever their origin.

B. Beyond Boko Haram: Access to Resources and Intercommunal Tensions

The conflict increases the risk of intercommunal tensions and strengthens the tendency to create militias, especially in the Lake Chad area. The tensions between communities for access to local resources have recently become more acute as a result of Boko Haram’s arrival in the southern part of the lake basin in April 2015 and the counter-insurgency measures that followed. The massive population displacements organised by the authorities have exacerbated rivalries, especially with regard to the ownership of cattle.

On the one hand, Fulani and Mohammedan Arab herdsmen accuse the population groups living along the lakeshores, in particular the Buduma, of being allies of Boko Haram and stealing cattle (and abducting women).[fn]In a report on the pastoral situation in the Diffa region sent to the authorities in June 2016, the Association for the Revival of Livestock Farming in Niger (AREN), based in Diffa and close to the Fulani communities, wrote: ”the conflict brings the Fulani and Arab communities face to face with the Buduma, who are difficult to distinguish from Boko Haram. There is a lot of evidence to show that almost all members of the Buduma community are members of Boko Haram with who there can be no negotiations”. “Situation pastorale dans la région de Diffa”, p. 5.Hide Footnote The Fulani militia that fought alongside Nigerien forces against the Tebu rebellion in the 1990s began to remobilise in 2016, which led to deadly clashes in the lake basin.[fn]Crisis Group interview, member of the Fulani militia, Diffa, October 2016.Hide Footnote The Buduma and Kanuri communities accuse Fulani chiefs of manipulating the situation to create private militias and, on the pretext of supporting the security forces against Boko Haram, oust rival communities and seize the lake’s resources, notably by organising a profitable trade in cattle. In a memorandum to the justice minister in September 2016, Kanuri and Buduma representatives held Fulani and Mohammedan herders responsible for the death of 39 members of their communities and the theft of more than 3,000 head of cattle.[fn]Memorandum from representatives of the Kanuri and Buduma communities to the interior minister, Diffa, 16 September 2016.Hide Footnote

The local authorities initially tolerated these auxiliaries who were opposed to the populations of the lake suspected of links with Boko Haram. They “turned a blind eye”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, military official, Niamey, May 2016. The authorities reportedly initially tolerated and even encouraged the circulation of this militia on the lake and the creation of at least two bases on the lake, near the villages of Féféwa and Ngoréa. Crisis Group interviews, members of the Buduma community, Niamey and Diffa, October 2016.Hide Footnote The security forces and local leaders have even been accused of facilitating the acquisition of automatic weapons by these militias but there is no credible evidence to confirm this.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, security expert, Niamey and members of the Buduma community, Niamey and Diffa, October 2016.Hide Footnote Moreover, after violent incidents in May and June 2016, the authorities, especially the Diffa governorate, changed their approach, and have since tried to find a more peaceful way of resolving differences and to discourage the creation of militias.[fn]The governorate organised meetings between the communities and encouraged, or even forced the signature of an agreement at Kablewa on 9 July 2016. A peace caravan then worked its way around Buduma and Fulani lands to try to calm people down. However, the situation remains tense and there is some discontent over the administration’s failure to respect the commitments it made, notably the payment of compensation for stolen cattle and the prosecution of the perpetrators of violence. Crisis Group interviews, representatives of Fulani and Buduma communities, Diffa, October 2016.Hide Footnote The deployment of large contingents of Nigerien and mostly Chadian troops on the Nigerien shores of the lake at the end of June 2016 made the presence of a local militia less useful against Boko Haram.[fn]The Nigerien authorities planned to arm self-defence groups to keep Boko Haram at bay, especially after the attack on Bosso at the start of June 2016. With the resumption of military operations and the return of the Chadian army, they seem to have at least temporarily abandoned this plan, which is controversial among the political and military elite in Niamey. Crisis Group interviews, senior Nigerien official and army officer, Niamey, October 2016.Hide Footnote

If it does not take into account the local dimension of the violence, the fight against Boko Haram may be counterproductive and exacerbate intercommunal conflict or facilitate the development of radical forms of protests.

Through its real or imaginary presence, Boko Haram perhaps offers the Buduma an opportunity to take historic revenge against other communities who are being forced to move away from the lake basin.[fn]This is Christian Seignobos’ hypothesis about the Buduma in the Cameroonian part of the lake basin. “Tout comprendre de la stratégie des terroristes de Boko Haram”, Le Monde, 20 April 2016.Hide Footnote Some Buduma leaders admit that some members of their community have joined the movement but refute any massive recruitment of their people.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Diffa, May 2016, Niamey, May 2016.Hide Footnote Young Buduma reportedly act as guides, boatmen, receivers of stolen goods and even as combatants for Boko Haram. However, prudence is required to avoid stigmatising the entire community, all the more so as it forms a small minority that has no control over local government and has little access to the authorities. If it does not take into account the local dimension of the violence, the fight against Boko Haram may be counterproductive and exacerbate intercommunal conflict or facilitate the development of radical forms of protests.[fn]Crisis Group Special Report, Exploiting Disorder: al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, 14 March 2016.Hide Footnote

In addition to the tensions between the Fulani and the Buduma, the current climate could fuel rivalry between communities to gain recognition. That is perhaps how to interpret the announcement, in September 2016, of the formation of the Movement for Justice and Rehabilitation of Niger (MJRN), in the north of Diffa. The MJRN claims to be the heir of the Tebu rebellion of the 1990s, denouncing the persistent negligence of the Tebu and threatening the authorities with armed revolt.[fn]A certain Adam Tcheke Koudigan emerged as the movement’s interim president and successor of the rebel Tebu chief Barka Wardougou, who in the 1990s led the first Tebu rebellion, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of the Sahara, and who died in July 2016. A source close to the Nigerien authorities said this was only a “publicity stunt”. “Un groupe armé inconnu menace d’attaquer le Niger”, Agence France-Presse (AFP), 7 September 2016.Hide Footnote Moreover, the development of Lake Chad into a permanent “grey zone” may provide opportunities for other political-military enterprises. Chadian deserters, including a senior officer, have reportedly established themselves on the Nigerien side of the lake and made an alliance of convenience with Boko Haram.[fn]Crisis Group telephone interviews, security analyst, Niamey, July 2016; source in the Chadian security service, N’Djamena, September 2016. Reports about the desertion of Chadian soldiers and the identity of the protagonists, including the officer acting as leader of the renegades, should be treated with caution.Hide Footnote

C. A New Jihadist Faction in the Lake Chad Basin?

Weakened by the Lake Chad countries’ offensive, Boko Haram is undergoing a transformation. Niger is on the front line in this process. Tensions within the organisation, long evident, seem to have resulted in a split. This probably occurred in May 2016, when Mamman Nur, a former close associate of Mohammed Yusuf, and Yusuf’s son Habib, who was for a time a Boko Haram spokesman under the pseudonym of Abou Moussab al-Barnawi, hastily left a meeting of the Shura, the movement’s executive body, in the Sambisa forest, in the middle of Borno state.[fn]Mamman Nur has a Kanuri father and an Arab Shuwa mother. Some say he is of Cameroonian or Chadian origin. He briefly studied at Borno State College of Agriculture and was a close associate of Mohammed Yusuf. According to the Nigerian and U.S. security services, he was involved in the attack on the UN in Abuja in 2011. Marc-Antoine Pérouse de Montclos, “Boko Haram et le terrorisme islamiste au Nigéria: insurrection religieuse, contestation politique ou protestation sociale?”, Centre d’études et de recherches internationales de Sciences Po, June 2012, p. 18; and “Boko Haram: l’hydre islamiste dans la tourmente”, Le Point Afrique, 25 August 2016. Crisis Group email correspondence, Izala leader who knew Nur in Maiduguri, 12 July 2016. Crisis Group interview, diplomat, Dakar, 28 June 2016.Hide Footnote

The wing led by Shekau, the movement’s historic leader, consolidated its position in the Sambisa forest and the Mandara Mountains, close to the border with Cameroon. Meanwhile, Nur and Barnawi won over or took control of a number of groups of Boko Haram combatants, including on Lake Chad and part of its shores as well as along the Komadougou River. However, the demarcation between the two factions is not clear, especially in the north west of Borno state, close to the border with Niger and on the lake, where Shekau reportedly has supporters and where the two factions have reportedly clashed.[fn]“Nigeria: Boko Haram déchiré par des combats entre factions rivales”, Jeune Afrique, 7 September 2016.Hide Footnote However, there is no doubt that the Nur/al-Barnawi wing has links with the Islamic State (IS). Recently, IS media have only covered this wings’ operations.[fn]“35 apostats tués et 70 autres blessés parmi les forces du Niger et du Nigéria au sud-est du Niger”, Communiqué of the Islamic State’s West Africa Province, Amaq (ISIS propaganda organ), 4 June 2016.Hide Footnote Barnawi was officially designated leader of IS in sub-Saharan Africa in August 2016.[fn]“Boko Haram in Nigeria: Abu Musab al-Barnawi named as new leader”, BBC News, 4 August 2016. The recent arrest of Barnawi is not yet confirmed. He may have been confused with a jidhadist of the same name, Khaled al-Barnawi, arrested in April 2016.Hide Footnote But after the defeat suffered in Sirte in Libya, the IS seems less able to provide decisive assistance to its allies on Lake Chad.[fn]However, a credible security source mentioned there were recent traces of money transfers from the Arabian Peninsula to the Nur/Barnawi faction, although the amounts were not mentioned. Crisis Group interview, Western security expert, Abuja, January 2017.Hide Footnote

Nur and Barnawi have largely explained their disagreement with Shekau. They criticised his non-obedience to IS, his greed, the failure of his strategy and his readiness to use violence against Muslims. They accused him of ordering the execution of critics within Boko Haram.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, individuals from Nguigmi and Maïné Soroa, Diffa, October 2016. “[Shekau] changed the religious precepts. For example, he said that if, in the event of force majeure, a Muslim finds himself on non-Muslim land, he de facto becomes an infidel. This was his response to Mallam Moustapha, who had asked him this question. This is the case of residents in some villages on our side where the flag of our organisation was put, who fled from attacks from some of our colleagues who were led astray”. Extract of audio recording attributed to Mamman Nur, translated from the Kanuri by Crisis Group, date unknown.Hide Footnote This faction, which is more cosmopolitan and aware of other jihadist movements’ difficulties, is apparently trying to rethink its combat methods and break with Shekau’s strategy of extreme violence. It has avoided attacking civilians and carrying out suicide attacks. In 2016, it conducted a series of audacious operations, notably the attack on Bosso in June and the counteroffensives against Mallam Fatori in September and Gashagar in October, which caused panic among MNJTF soldiers.[fn]Confidential military documents obtained by Crisis Group, October 2016.Hide Footnote This faction reportedly also made a new push toward the west, along the Komadougou, in the Nigerian state of Yobe. But like Shekau, who has been harassed by Nigerian troops in the Sambisa forest, it has suffered regular bombardments from the MNJTF.[fn]At the time of writing this report, the Force multinationale mixte (FMM) was actively preparing a major military operation to expel Boko Haram groups from the lake’s Nigerien and Nigerian islands. Security document consulted by Crisis Group, January 2017.Hide Footnote

A dynamic new group, capable of tactical innovations, has thus emerged around the lake, on territory that is difficult to control, conducive to trafficking and in Niger’s immediate neighbourhood. Moreover, its rhetoric, which is different to that of Shekau, could attract local people. Many of them are tired of Boko Haram excesses but remain open to its religious message, especially when it criticises corruption and calls for the introduction of the Sharia to clean up society.

V. Moving on From Counter-insurgency

The Nigerien government, with the aid of its partners, must ensure that its counter-insurgency strategy is able to deal with a crisis that is going to last for a long time. Boko Haram’s military retreat, although real, does not mean it has been defeated. The surrender of about fifty Boko Haram members at the end of December 2016 is encouraging.[fn]They contacted the Nigerien authorities near Gashagar, on the Nigerian border, around 21 December, and negotiated their surrender. Crisis Group email correspondence, security officer, 21 December 2016 and “Niger: des jeunes combattants de Boko Haram se sont rendus”, Jeune Afrique, 28 December 2016.Hide Footnote As in neighbouring Chad, dozens of the movement’s militants may follow this example, especially those who were forced to join the in­surrection or who saw it as a chance to get rich.[fn]Since October and November 2016, humanitarian sources have noted the surrender of small groups of insurgents in the Diffa region. Crisis Group email correspondence, humanitarian official, December 2016.Hide Footnote However, the most radical elements remain determined to fight, as demonstrated by the 31 December 2016 attack on the military post of Barwa, on the Lake Chad shore, 90km from Diffa.[fn]In January 2017, Boko Haram insurgents killed two civilian mediators in the Diffa region after pretending they wanted to negotiate their surrender. Crisis Group email correspondence, security officer, January 2017.Hide Footnote

The jihadist insurrection, defeated or not, is going to have a lasting impact on the region. It has profoundly disrupted the economy, forced massive population displacement, changed intra and intercommunal balances of power and widened the gap between the government and some communities, especially those along the shores of Lake Chad. The government must start to develop an ambitious strategy that aims to consolidate its military advantages and remedy the conflict’s negative impact on the Diffa region.

A. A Security and Political Approach

A. Increased supervision of the security forces

The government should improve the management of the funds allocated to the fight against Boko Haram. It should encourage the High Authority for the Fight against Corruption and Assimilated Offences (HALCIA), created by President Issoufou, who chairs its consultative council, to investigate the use of these funds and take steps to prevent any wheeling and dealing by the military. Relations between political leaders and senior military officers are a particularly sensitive question in Niger, which affects the stability of the country.[fn]Crisis Group Report, Niger: Another Weak Link, op. cit.Hide Footnote Political leaders understandably hesitate to discuss this issue. However, they need to gradually extend their efforts to control the use of public funds to include the military, as the spending on defence is increasing. The credibility and consolidation of the Nigerien Seventh Republic depends on it.

In return for transparency, Niger’s partners should increase financial aid and contribute directly to lightening the burden of a war that the country cannot finance on its own. They should also encourage the AU to accelerate the disbursement of European Union aid to countries participating in the MNJTF. The defence forces would increase their credibility if they accepted greater supervision of their management. Troops deployed in Diffa could receive greater logistical support, notably in the field of war medicine and assistance to the families of soldiers killed in action.[fn]Several military sources highlight deficiencies in the Nigerien army’s care for war casualties. Crisis Group interviews, Nigerien and Western military officers, Zinder and Niamey, May and September 2016.Hide Footnote

The defence forces have committed abuses against civilians suspected of collaborating with the insurgents but, in the opinion of most specialists consulted by Crisis Group, the Nigerien army has behaved better than its counterparts in the MNJTF. The authorities must strengthen their supervision and combat these abuses by initiating disciplinary procedures in cases of violence and criminal procedures in the case of serious crimes.[fn]As was the case recently with the transfer of an officer who was in charge of Diffa prison. Crisis Group interview, official from Diffa, Niamey, October 2016.Hide Footnote The appointment in June 2016 of a civilian governor in Diffa region, who also has a PhD in law and is an expert on decentralised management, is a positive sign that indicates the authorities in Niamey do not want to leave Diffa only in the hands of the defence forces.[fn]There were misgivings in Diffa about the appointment of this governor, who is not from the region and is drawn from Niamey’s inner political circles. Crisis Group interviews, individuals from the Diffa region, Niamey and Diffa, October 2016.Hide Footnote

Moreover, although vigilante committees in Niger are not as widespread as in Nigeria and Cameroon, there is a real temptation to arm them in difficult times, such as after the attack on Bosso in June 2016. Niger security forces should resist this temptation and restrict the use of vigilante committees. They act as useful auxiliaries in gathering intelligence but should not play an active role in counter-insurgency operations. Efforts must also be made to ensure that these groups’ actions and the intelligence they provide do not increase tension either within or between communities. If it is confirmed that Boko Haram is losing strength, these groups should be demobilised, and some of their members could be integrated into local security forces. This would require the provision of professional training, as these committees are mainly comprised of untrained volunteers.

B. A political approach to local conflict resolution

The detention of hundreds of Nigerien residents and returnees who have supported Boko Haram in one way or another is not tenable in the long term. Just as it is not possible to eliminate the tens of thousands of Nigeriens who have expressed support for the movement at some point or another or have joined it under duress. Niger can take inspiration from the recent example of Chad and help citizens who want to leave Boko Haram to return to their country, by creating a demobilisation site and introducing reconciliation and pardoning policies for all those who are not suspected of involvement in blood crimes. Such a program is being prepared and could boost demobilisations, especially of those who joined Boko Haram in the hope of easy money. It would benefit from drawing on the intra and intercommunal dialogue developed by Diffa University with the support of regional authorities, government representatives and international partners.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Diffa University researchers and teachers, member of the Diffa regional council, Diffa, May, September 2016.Hide Footnote

On a visit to Diffa on 27 December 2016, after the surrender of about 30 insurgents, the interior minister, Bazoum Mohamed, announced an amnesty and reintegration program for former Boko Haram combatants.[fn]The minister said: “We will guarantee their security, we will not send them to prison, we will remove any threat of prosecution from them. And we will find a way of looking after them”. “Le Niger lance un programme d’amnistie pour les déserteurs de Boko Haram”, RFI, 29 December 2016.Hide Footnote Niger’s partners should support this step, especially the establishment and supervision of one or more of the transit camps announced by the minister. A well-designed and funded pardoning and reintegration policy could encourage a wave of demobilisation and disarmament of insurgents and help to heal wounds on a lasting basis.[fn]This policy should not be improvised. The first Boko Haram members who surrendered to the authorities in Diffa were reportedly accommodated in a house rented using funds provided by the governor of Diffa. If this is true, the central government and its partners should quickly take over. Security document consulted by Crisis Group, January 2017.Hide Footnote But it must not neglect the movement’s victims, who may feel frustrated if they see the government helping people who they view as aggressors.[fn]Child soldiers could be temporarily entrusted to host families whose costs would be covered by the government. Such a transfer of resources could facilitate local acceptance of those who joined Boko Haram as children.Hide Footnote The government must also ensure it maintains a coherent policy: it cannot pardon deserters from Boko Haram while continuing to detain hundreds of suspects who have only a tenuous connection with the insurrection.

Plans to demobilise Boko Haram militants should also take into account the diversity of the Diffa region. Along the Koma­dougou River, in Kanuri territory, where many young people joined the movement due to a taste for adventure and a desire for wealth more than conviction, it is necessary to put an end to the atmosphere of denunciation and suspicion that divides villages. The authorities should design demobilisation, pardoning and reintegration policies that make a distinction between individuals depending on the reasons why they joined the insurrection. They should involve local chiefs and religious leaders in the mediation and pardoning process and consult them on how best to implement it. Such a contribution would make them more valuable than gathering intelligence or informing on others.

A demobilisation plan will not be enough if it is not accompanied by measures to calm intercommunal tensions generated by conflicts over access to resources.

In the lake area, a demobilisation plan will not be enough if it is not accompanied by measures to calm intercommunal tensions generated by conflicts over access to resources. Boko Haram managed to establish itself by exploiting these tensions and has, in turn, exacerbated them, just as the counter-insurgency policies have done by turning a blind eye to the formation of ethnically-based militias. It is first necessary to support the governor’s mediation efforts, whose effects are hardly being felt on the ground.[fn]At the end of 2016, members of the Buduma and Fulani communities lamented the renewed tension in the lake basin that has emerged despite the mediation efforts undertaken a few months earlier. In fact, the fundamental issues, notably around the peaceful sharing of resources, were not addressed. Crisis Group interviews, members of the Fulani and Buduma communities, Diffa, October 2016.Hide Footnote

In the long term, the government must demonstrate its capacity to peacefully regulate the tensions that the coveted lands of the Lake Chad basin generate. To avoid any perceptions that it favours one group against another, it must not impose its vision in an authoritarian way, but offer a framework for peaceful mediation in which the communities concerned can discuss how to regulate access and share resources. It will then be up to the authorities to guarantee continuity and compliance.[fn]In August 2016, the announcement of a plan to lease 120,000 hectares of land to a Saudi company, decided without much consultation, provoked fierce criticism of the regional council and central government. Crisis Group interviews, members of civil society originally from Diffa, Niamey and Diffa, October 2016 and video consulted by Crisis Group.Hide Footnote They must reconcile the interests of different communities that require access to the lake’s resources. A reform of local governance could be considered to ensure representation of the Buduma.[fn]The creation of a new chefferie to improve representation of the Buduma would not be an end in itself but a way of helping to ensure access to resources; it should therefore be negotiated with all the communities involved in the management of the lake and should not exclude non-native populations to the advantage of supposedly indigenous groups. Pacifying the area and ensuring equitable access to natural resources will do more to reduce Boko Haram’s influence than policies to promote “deradicalisation” or prevent “violent extremism”.

B. Relieve the Pressure on the Justice System and Reintegrate Former Insurgents

The increase in arrests since February 2015 has put pressure on the judicial and prison system. In the prisons, where inmates await a hypothetical trial, suspects arrested on the basis of denunciation mingle with hardline jihadists. They may therefore become a recruitment hotbed for armed groups that reject the state’s authority. The authorities need to do more than isolate the most fervent preachers to counter this threat.[fn]In 2016, the prison administration placed at least one Boko Haram preacher in isolation. Crisis Group interview, prison official, Niamey, May 2016.Hide Footnote

Niger should increase the resources allocated to the judicial system to improve the processing of Boko Haram-related cases. In particular, judges must insist that the security services provide sufficient evidence before transferring to Niamey suspects arrested on the basis of an accusation. The government should increase the resources available to the services responsible for conducting investigations in the Diffa region and encourage civil society organisations and their partners to provide legal aid to detainees to ensure a quicker and more equitable treatment of their cases. This would speed up the release of wrongly arrested individuals and of those who have only committed minor offences, for example, small-scale smuggling deals with the insurgents.

Finally, while the government deserves support in its battle against Boko Haram, it must resist the temptation to indulge in the political manipulation of the tools used to fight violent extremism. The laws against terrorism should not be used to curtail the debate about the current situation in the south east and the impact on the population of the armed struggle against Boko Haram.[fn]In May 2015, the counter-terrorism unit arrested Moussa Tchangari, a leading member of the non-governmental organisation Alternatives Espaces Citoyens, which criticises the human rights violations that took place during the state of emergency in the south east. He was arrested while visiting detainees in the Diffa region, where he was born, and detained for about ten days.Hide Footnote

C. Revive the Region’s Economy

The restrictive economic measures introduced in February 2015 have had dramatic consequences for the population. Some people are tempted to return to the fertile areas that Boko Haram still controls on Lake Chad, while others must soon resolve to undertake a hazardous journey and migrate to Nigeria or Libya. However, the Diffa region has relatively good economic prospects. The authorities should quickly recognise the limits of the economic weapons they are using to curb the insurrection and suspend these restrictive measures. At the very least, they should authorise the conditional sale of fish as they have already done for peppers. They could take this opportunity to make Diffa a commercial crossroads for produce exported to Nigeria. The four main LCBC countries affected by Boko Haram, all of which are willing to launch development plans in the Lake Chad region, should share their plans and, for example, design a joint customs policy.

In Diffa, the authorities and aid agencies also face the classic dilemma of choosing between short-term aid and long-term development.

In Diffa, the authorities and aid agencies also face the classic dilemma of choosing between short-term aid and long-term development. In theory, all actors support the idea of a continuum from emergency aid to development. In practice, resources are limited and decisions have to be made about spending priorities. To respond to this dilemma, the government should not wait for the hypothetical end of the military phase and publish a strategic plan to end the crisis in the region. Although NGOs and Niger’s partners have an important support role to play, the government should entrust the management of the plan to specialised bodies like the HACP as well as Diffa’s regional and local authorities and civil society. These bodies and their partners should ensure the good management and equity of reconstruction plans, especially with regard to the delicate issue of access to land.

The HACP has taken the initiative and is currently preparing a plan to end the crisis in Diffa. It has the advantage of long experience in post-conflict areas, which could be useful to everyone. However, the authorities must recognise that Diffa needs specific responses and that solutions implemented in the north will not necessarily work there. The approach should be participatory, with the local population playing a role to design a plan that takes account of their needs, according to their age, gender and social origin. Unless this happens, the region’s inhabitants could feel that the local elites, or worse, the Niamey elites, are trying to get their hands on the aid.

Such a plan, driven by the aim of stamping out the Boko Haram insurrection, should not use development initiatives to try to prevent violent extremism, which would impose blinkers on reconstruction policies. Similarly, development cannot be considered a miracle solution. It must be accompanied by a political process designed to reconcile communities affected by the insurrection and make a precise assessment of the reasons why people turned against the state and, sometimes, their own society. Otherwise, development plans will flounder, miss their targets and may even foment new tensions and frustrations.

In this context, the central and local authorities, community chiefs and civil servants must recognise their share of responsibility for the crisis. The Diffa region will not be able to make the most of supplementary funding if the authorities do not first show their capacity to peacefully and equitably regulate the many conflicts over access to agropastoral and fishing resources. The government must also demonstrate its utility by guaranteeing more equitable access to social services (education, health, justice) in a region that has more in common with Nigeria. Local recruitment of civil servants and the temporary payment of bonuses to civil servants deployed in the regions affected by the insurrection could help revive basic services.

However, all that has a cost. If the war against Boko Haram went on for a long time, the government could face an even more difficult budgetary situation. Niger’s partners, especially those who have encouraged it to play a role in the fight against Boko Haram, should help the government to avoid having “to prioritise security spending to the detriment of those who are building the country’s future”.[fn]This risk was mentioned in an analysis by the African Development Bank in February 2015. Facinet Sylla, “Boko Haram: A Threat for the Future and a Threat to Development”, 24 February 2015.Hide Footnote The year 2016 was an election year, which also put a lot of strain on public finances. The fight against Boko Haram does not of course explain all the current cash flow problems and cannot exempt the government from a good management of public expenditure.

VI. Conclusion

In the fight against Boko Haram, the Nigerien government must go beyond the military approach that it has taken so far. Niger, which initially viewed Boko Haram as a Nigerian problem, went to war with the jihadist movement a little more than two years ago. With the support of its allies and not without suffering losses, it has contained the war in the south of the Diffa region, which has been under a state of emergency since February 2015. But the military option places a heavy burden on the stability of the government, public finances and the army. Although the economic restrictions imposed on Diffa and the Lake Chad region have weakened the logistics of the jihadists, they have also had a major impact on the population, especially young people. The increase in intercommunal tensions and the temptation to create militias around Lake Chad give cause for concern.

There is no easy or short-term solution to the crisis provoked by Boko Haram: time will be needed to restore a lasting peace to the Diffa region. The reconciliation and reintegration policies announced by the government at the end of December 2016 following the first surrenders of insurgents were an encouraging sign but the authorities must continue to make progress in the months to come. Above and beyond these efforts, the attention focused on this long-neglected region must be the occasion for the government to take greater responsibility for its role as protector of the population and peaceful regulator of local conflicts. Niger’s partners, who encouraged it to take action against Boko Haram, must also provide practical assistance so that it is better able to deal with the threat.

Brussels/Dakar, 27 February 2017

Appendix A: Map of Niger

Map of Niger UN Map No.4234. December 2004.
Local hunters known as Vigilantes armed with locally made guns are seen on a pick up truck in Yola city of Adamawa State in Nigeria before they move to border region between Nigeria and Cameroon to support Nigerian army fighting with Boko Haram militants ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP
Report 244 / Africa

Watchmen of Lake Chad: Vigilante Groups Fighting Boko Haram

Regional armies in the Lake Chad basin deploy vigilantes to sharpen campaigns against Boko Haram insurgents. But using these militias creates risks as combatants turn to communal violence and organised crime. Over the long term they must be disbanded or regulated.

Executive Summary

Vigilante groups in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad play a major role in the fight against Boko Haram, but their presence raises concerns. They make military operations less blunt and more effective and have reconnected these states somewhat with many of their local communities, but they have also committed abuses and become involved in the war economy. In Nigeria in particular, vigilantism did much to turn an anti-state insurgency into a bloodier civil war, pitting Boko Haram against communities and leading to drastic increases in violence. As the conflict continues to evolve, so will vigilantes. They are enmeshed with high politics, especially in Nigeria, and in local intercommunal relations, business operations and chiefdoms. Their belief that they should be rewarded will need to be addressed, and it is also important for the Lake Chad basin states to address the common gap in community policing, particularly in rural areas. To ensure vigilantes are not a future source of insecurity, these states will each need to devise their own mix of slowly disbanding and formalising and regulating them.

Vigilantism, the recourse to non-state actors to enforce law and order (of a sort), has a history in the Lake Chad region. Colonial powers there relied, to a substantial degree, on local traditional chiefs and their retinues. The multi-faceted crisis in governance and decline in services among the Lake Chad states since the 1980s gave rise to new vigilante groups. The law and order challenges vigilantes tried to address were a factor in the formation and growth of Boko Haram, itself an attempt to provide regulation and guidance.

The vigilante fight against Boko Haram started in 2013, in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital and the insurgency’s epicentre, under the twin pressure of mounting jihadist violence and security force retaliation. The Joint Task Force (JTF), led by the Nigerian army, quickly realised the vigilantes’ potential as a source of local knowledge, intelligence and manpower and set out to help organise it, with the assistance of local and traditional authorities. Operating under the unofficial but revealing name of Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), vigilantes were essential in flushing Boko Haram out of the city, then began replicating throughout the state. The official use of vigilantes to fight the movement spread further in Nigeria, then to Cameroon in 2014 and Chad in 2015, where the groups are known as comités de vigilance. Niger has been more cautious, partly because of past struggles with armed groups and because it has not needed them as much.

Vigilantes have played many roles, from mostly discrete surveillance networks in Niger to military combat auxiliaries or semi-autonomous fighting forces in Nigeria. For the region’s overstretched and under pressure militaries, they have somewhat filled the security gap and provided local knowledge. They have made the military response more targeted and more efficient, but their mobilisation also provoked retribution by Boko Haram against their communities and contributed to the massive levels of civilian casualties in 2014 and 2015. Paradoxically, this, too, has favoured regional governments’ strategy of pushing civilians away from the jihadists.

… the time has come to measure the risks posed by such a massive mobilisation of vigilantes …

As the insurgency splinters and falls back on more discrete guerrilla operations and terror attacks, however, the time has come to measure the risks posed by such a massive mobilisation of vigilantes (they claim to be about 26,000 in Borno state alone). Their compensation demands will have to be addressed, especially if authorities consider offering deals to Boko Haram militants to lay down their weapons. In the longer term, vigilantes may become political foot soldiers, turn to organised crime or feed communal violence. Vigilantism can be a powerful counter-insurgency tool, but there is a compelling need to confront the immediate concerns it raises, notably in terms of impunity, and to begin planning for its long-term post-conflict transformation.


To protect civilians, limit risks to vigilantes and improve accountability

To the governments of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger:

  1.  Abstain, as much as possible, from creating additional standing vigilante units and focus instead on building intelligence and communication networks through which civilians can obtain state protection when needed.
  2.  Ensure that as many civilians as possible have access to functional communication networks and can call on regular security forces, especially where risks remain high.
  3. Encourage, when necessary to maintain vigilante forces, their formalisation, including registration, and systems for internal oversight and external accountability, and include community oversight in accountability mechanisms.
  4. Supply assault rifles only to select groups of better-trained CJTF and for mission-specific purposes, such as when they serve as auxiliaries, while ensuring that those weapons are registered and remain security-service property.
  5. Synchronise CJTF accountability mechanisms with those of the federal Nigeria Police Force.
  6. Hold to account those vigilantes suspected of abuses, notably for sexual and gender-based violence, and ensure transparent and fair investigation of all suspects in accordance with domestic and international law, while publicising any judicial decisions.
  7. Provide vigilantes training programs that mix practical skills (eg, intelligence, first aid, handling of landmines and improvised explosive devices) and instruction in applicable national and international laws, while involving the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and relevant human rights groups (eg, in Nigeria, the National Human Rights Commission) in the latter.

To donors:

  1. Adjust legal guidelines to permit assistance in building justice and accountability mechanisms.

To acknowledge the contribution of the vigilantes and manage expectations

To the governments of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger:

  1. Combat stereotyping that certain entire ethnic communities, notably the Kanuri, support Boko Haram by highlighting vigilante efforts from those groups.
  2. Respect vigilantes publicly and give sufficient and standardised assistance packages to those wounded or killed in the line of duty and their families.
  3. Set expectations for compensation transparently through public announcements on what is being offered and to whom, who is not eligible and when it will end, so as not to motivate more vigilantism.

To prepare for a transformation of the vigilantes and prevent the emergence of mafias and ethnic militias

To the governments of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger:

  1. Plan to transform vigilante units when the situation stabilises further, with each country following its own pace according to its security situation and according to the extent and role of vigilantism, notably by:
    1. planning demobilisation processes for the majority of vigilantes that include small grants to help them go back to their former occupations, complete their education or develop businesses;
    2. creating, given the likely continuation of some form of lower-level jihadist activity and rural unrest, particularly in Borno and Adamawa states, a temporary auxiliary body under the army or Police Mobile Force, drawing on the vigilantes who have received weapons training and served directly with security forces; and providing for their potential integration into the security forces if they meet the educational and other requirements and undergo retraining;
    3. combatting police and vigilante corruption vigorously, so it does not undermine professionalism, and improving ties with local communities; and
    4. selecting, vetting, retraining and equipping a number of vigilantes with the help of local civil society organisations, so that they feed reports and early warning into both police and civil society networks.
  2. Prepare a disarmament plan that focuses exclusively on taking functional automatic weapons out of circulation.

To donors:

  1. Support programs for vigilante demobilisation and to professionalise the police and their capacity to monitor and regulate temporary auxiliary forces.

Dakar/Nairobi/Brussels, 23 February 2017


I. Introduction

The insurgency launched in 2009 by Boko Haram, a radical revivalist Islamist movement established earlier in Borno state, in Nigeria’s north east and adjacent to Lake Chad, is now regional, affecting the border areas of Chad, Niger and Cameroon. In 2014-2015, it gained control of large swaths of territory in north-east Nigeria. Since 2015, Nigeria and its neighbours have progressively developed a stronger military response. Boko Haram has mostly been forced into enclaves on Lake Chad, the hills along the Nigeria-Cameroon border and forested areas of Borno state. It has reverted to suicide attacks and guerrilla war. Military pressure, importantly aided by vigilantes, has aggravated its internal divisions.[fn]For background, see Crisis Group Africa Reports N°s 213, Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): The Boko Haram Insurgency, 3 April 2014; and 168, Northern Nigeria: Background to Conflict, 20 December 2010; on recent counter-insurgency progress and its limits, see Briefing N°120, Boko Haram on the Back Foot?, 4 May 2016. The organisation has two rival factions, Abubakar Shekau’s Jama’tu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad, JAS) and Abu Musab al-Barnawi’s Wilāyat al-Islāmiyya Gharb Afrīqiyyah (Islamic State in West Africa Province, ISWAP), affiliated to the Islamic State (IS). This report uses the term “Boko Haram” (“Western education is forbidden”, in Hausa) for clarity and given its wide recognition, though supporters reject it as derogatory.Hide Footnote

This report describes how the vigilante groups were born, their connection with state agencies and institutions, how they function and their role in the conflict’s evolution. While special attention is paid to Borno, one of Nigeria’s 36 federated states and the heartland of the insurgency, it also analyses vigilantes’ operations elsewhere in the north east of the country and in Niger, Chad and Cameroon. It assesses vigilantism’s long-term impact and risks. As Boko Haram splinters and morphs into more discrete guerrilla forces, with renewed emphasis on terrorist attacks, it is timely to rethink the role of vigilantes and their governance and prepare for their transformation.

Analysts working on all four affected countries were involved in preparation of the report, which feeds into Crisis Group’s larger research on curbing violent religious radicalism.[fn]Crisis Group Special Report N°1, Exploiting Disorder: al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, 14 March 2016.Hide Footnote Desk research was followed by interviews in the region’s capitals with state and military officials, intelligence officers, international military advisers and senior politicians. Research was also done in Maiduguri and Yola, the capitals of Nigerian Borno and Adamawa states, in Maroua, Mokolo, Makari and other localities of Cameroon’s Far North and in Niger’s Diffa region and Chad’s cities of Bol and Baga Sola, on Lake Chad. Researchers interviewed vigilantes, local state and security and non-governmental organisation officials, human rights activists, journalists, academics and citizens to investigate their understandings of the situation and their perceptions of peace, law and order.

II. From Vigilantism to the CJTF

A. State and Vigilantism: A Tale of Four Countries

Law and order in the Lake Chad basin bears the imprint of pre-colonial and colonial times, when massive disruption occurred as states formed and disappeared due to a fast-changing regional economy increasingly shaped by global connections.[fn]Bawuro Barkindo, “The early states of the Central Sudan: Kanem, Borno and some of their neighbours to c. 1500 AD”, in J. Ajayi and M. Crowder (eds.), History of West Africa (Harlow, 1985), pp. 225-254.Hide Footnote Slave-raiding, banditry and cattle rustling fed local forms of self-defence. After often violent conquest, and frequently in alliance with local warlords, colonial states maintained relative peace, but particularly in rural areas they habitually relied on decentralised forces, the retinues of chiefs.

Much has been made of the differences between colonial administrations, France’s Jacobin “direct rule” and the British tradition of “indirect rule” and reliance on pre-existing aristocracies.[fn]Nigeria was a British colony; Chad, Niger and Cameroon were part of the French empire.
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They should not be overstated: the colonial state relied everywhere on a strata of chiefs and their followers to levy taxes, mobilise labour and suppress dissent. The presence of local forces that are not part of the police or the army but are involved in providing law and order thus has a history in the region.

This tradition became increasingly important as insecurity increased around Lake Chad from the 1980s, due to many factors, including population growth, the states’ budgetary problems, the resulting “structural adjustments”, urbanisation, the crisis in pastoralist societies (notably the Fulani) and the influx of automatic weapons and battle-hardened men from vanquished armies in Niger’s and Chad’s wars. Insecurity ranged from banditry (the kwanta kwanta in Nigeria and zargina in Cameroon) to all-out armed rebellion (most recently the Chad civil war, 2005-2010, and the Tuareg insurgencies in Niger in the 1990s and 2007).[fn]See notably Issa Saibou, Les coupeurs de route: Histoire du banditisme rural et transfrontalier dans le bassin du lac Tchad (Paris, 2010); Christian Seignobos, “Le phénomène zargina dans le nord du Cameroun. Coupeurs de route et prises d’otages, la crise des sociétés pastorales mbororo”, Afrique contemporaine, no. 239 (2011), pp. 35-59; Mirco Göpfert, “Security in Niamey: an anthropological perspective on policing and an act of terrorism in Niger”, Journal of Modern African Studies, vol. 50, no. 1 (2012), pp. 53-74; Mohammed J. Kuna and Jibrin Ibrahim (eds.), Rural banditry and conflicts in northern Nigeria (Abuja, 2016).Hide Footnote The situation was made worse by deterioration in the security forces.[fn]Drops in budgets, an unreformed authoritarian mindset from colonial times, growing weaknesses in training and command, their instrumentalisation in internal politics, their factionalism and clientelistic turn combined to demoralise and sap the professionalism of the various corps supposed to maintain law and order. See for instance, Samuel Decalo, “Modalities of civil-military stability in Africa”, Journal of Modern African Studies, vol. 27, no. 4 (1989); Eboe Hutchful and Abdoulaye Bathily (eds.), The military and militarism in Africa (Dakar, 1998); Herbert M. Howe, Ambiguous Order: Military Forces in African States (London, 2001). For Niger, see Kimba Idrissa (ed.), Armée et politique au Niger (Paris, 2008); for Nigeria, see Crisis Group Africa Report N°237, Nigeria: The Challenge of Military Reform, 6 June 2016.Hide Footnote

Alternative local security structures were reactivated or created. In the Lake Chad basin, they have often drawn on brotherhoods of hunters (yan baka, in Hausa, the region’s lingua franca) typical of West Africa or on the traditional chiefs’ palace guards (dogari, in Hausa).[fn]Crisis Group interview, Adamawa state hunters’ association official, Yola, 30 October 2016.Hide Footnote Some scholars argue that contemporary vigilantism has also been influenced by U.S. and European promotion of community policing.[fn]David Pratten, “The politics of protection: perspectives on vigilantism in Nigeria”, Africa: The Journal of the International African Institute, vol. 78, no. 1 (2008), pp. 1-15.Hide Footnote In many cities, night watches appeared, paid for by traders’ consortiums or the town councils.

Each country’s history of war and rebellion has marked its response to Boko Haram.

Each country’s history of war and rebellion has marked its response to Boko Haram. Chad and Niger view vigilantes with peculiar concern because of their recent revolts.[fn] Nonetheless, Chadian authorities occasionally encouraged vigilantes to fight against bandits in the past.[fn]In south-west Chad in 2007, for instance, the interior minister explicitly called on villagers to form comités d’auto-défense to combat a kidnapping epidemic. “Délégation gouvernementale à Pala en mars 2007”, on file with Crisis Group.Hide Footnote For Niger, neighbouring Mali, where the army has long abandoned its pretence of a monopoly in use of force and communal militias have gained influence, is a powerful counter-model. Nevertheless, Nigerien vigilantes, such as the dan banga, were recently patrolling the market areas in the cities of Diffa and Mainé Soroa, and the governor of Niamey tried to mobilise similar groups a few years back.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, state officials, Niamey, May 2016; NGO protection officer, Diffa, 14 October 2016; Göpfert, “Security in Niamey”, op. cit. In Diffa, the dan banga disappeared after a European Union (EU)-funded program created local police in 2015. Dan banga is Hausa pidgin for “vanguard”, initially used to designate Nigerian political parties’ youth wings. This suggests a Nigerian model spreading to Niger.Hide Footnote

Cameroon has long relied on vigilantes. Groups controlled by chiefs played a strong part in the fight against the left-wing Union des Populations du Cameroun from the 1950s to the early 1970s. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the state cooperated with comités de vigilance against bandits in northern regions. However, in 2001 it created a well-armed elite force, the Bataillon d’Intervention Rapide (BIR), now at the forefront of the fight against Boko Haram. But vigilantes have always been part of the picture, for instance to combat cotton smugglers.[fn]Cameroon cotton farmers were required to sell crops to the state firm, SODECOTON, often well below Nigerian prices, leading to big illegal exports. Crisis Group interview, Cameroon academic, Paris, 29 March 2016. On vigilantes fighting bandits, see Saibou, Les coupeurs de route, op. cit. In 2009, a Catholic official called for vigilantes to fight human trafficking. “Catholic church fights tip in Cameroon’s North West”, U.S. embassy Yaounde cable, 23 April 2009, made public by WikiLeaks.Hide Footnote  The state is confident enough to mobilise the comités de vigilance on a large scale and feels it can control them through its territorial administration and local chiefs.[fn]The Cameroon authorities insist the comités are about “vigilance” not self-defence, thus affirming the state did not default on its obligations to defend its citizens. Crisis Group interviews, Far North, October 2016.Hide Footnote

In Nigeria, history provided both precedents and cautions. As elsewhere, vigilantes have long been involved in fighting bandits, usually without state coordination or official support.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, CJTF and civilians, Maiduguri, January 2017.Hide Footnote  However, they have a record of getting out of hand.[fn]See, for instance, Kate Meagher, “Hijacking Civil Society: The Inside Story of the Bakassi Boys Vigilante Group of South-Eastern Nigeria”, Journal of Modern African Studies, vol. 45, no. 1 (2007), pp. 89-115; Yvan Guichaoua, “Les mutations d’une milice ethnique sous le régime civil d’Olusegun Obasanjo. Le cas de l’Oodua People’s Congress”, Politique africaine, no. 106 (2007), pp. 92-109; Johannes Harnischfeger, “Ethnicity, Religion and the Failure of Common Law in Nigeria”, in Kirsch, T.G. and Grätz, T. (eds.), Domesticating Vigilantism in Africa (Woodbridge, 2010), pp. 51-78.
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 Some have become involved in violent local politics or have run protection rackets.[fn]Crisis Group Report, N°113, Nigeria: Want in the Midst of Plenty, 19 July 2006, pp. 27-28; Briefing N°79, Nigeria’s Elections: Reversing the Degeneration?, 24 February 2011, pp. 5-6; Daniel Jordan Smith, “The Bakassi Boys: Vigilantism, Violence, and Political Imagination in Nigeria”, Cultural Anthropology, vol. 19, no. 3 (2004), pp. 429-455; David Pratten, “The Politics of Protection”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  The massive communal violence in central Nigeria has also fed authorities’ suspicions of irregular local forces. And while the 1999 constitution makes policing a federal prerogative, many states have been forming quasi-police forces.[fn]Crisis Group interview, civil society police reform expert, Abuja, 17 January 2017. Section 214 (1) of the constitution provides that: “There shall be a police force for Nigeria, which shall be known as the Nigeria Police Force, and subject to the provisions of this section no other police force shall be established for the Federation or any part thereof”. Local police were disbanded after the 1966 military coup. On one such quasi-police force in Kano state, see Fatima L. Adamu, “Gender, Hisba and the Enforcement of Morality in Northern Nigeria”, Africa: The Journal of the International African Institute, vol. 78, no. 1 (2008), pp. 136-152.Hide Footnote

B. CJTF’s Birth: The Battle for Maiduguri

The quasi-official narrative on anti-Boko Haram vigilantism is that in early 2013 Baba Jafar Lawan, a trader from Hausari, a borough of Maiduguri, went after a Boko Haram militant with a stick, capturing and delivering him to the authorities.[fn]See, for instance, “Nigeria: Civilian JTF – Unsung Heroes of the Boko Haram War”, This Day, 4 October 2015. Variants to the story say it was another man, by the name of Modu Milo, who did the capture, and Baba Lawan, with prior ties to the security forces, possibly as an informant, put Milo in touch with them. An international NGO official suggested Lawan was the victim of a racket by Boko Haram supporters and mobilised youths to fight back, a version CJTF leaders rejected. Crisis Group interviews, Maiduguri, January 2017; Crisis Group email, human rights worker, 8 April 2016.Hide Footnote Others, the story goes, started patrolling Hausari with him. Little by little, offshoots sprung up throughout the city. Several suspected Boko Haram members were handed over to the authorities; others were brutally killed by crowds. By June 2013, some 500 vigilantes were manning city checkpoints, armed with sticks and cutlasses.[fn]“Nigeria deploys vigilantes against Boko Haram”, Deutsche Welle, 9 July 2013.Hide Footnote They became known as the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), indicating they operated as a counterpart to the Joint Task Force (JTF) that coordinated the police, army and other security units fighting Boko Haram in Borno state.

There was more to this than a spontaneous, popular resistance to a bloody and fanatic jihadist insurgency. Boko Haram’s violence was certainly hard on people in Maiduguri. Security officers, Islamic clerics critical of Boko Haram and civilians otherwise associated with the Borno state or the federal government were threatened and assassinated, and the wealthier members of the communities were extorted by the jihadists. But the security forces, too, were brutal, as they implemented collective punishment strategies, especially when soldiers and police were killed, including the burning of homes and mass arrests of male youths.[fn]“Spiralling Violence. Boko Haram Attacks and Security Force Abuses in Nigeria”, Human Rights Watch, 11 October 2012.Hide Footnote Commanders’ unwillingness to curb these abuses provoked mounting tensions in Maiduguri. In addition, a state of emergency, from May to December 2013, that included a shutdown of phone services, fuelled economic problems for city traders.

Many Maiduguri inhabitants felt their community had to fight Boko Haram so as to deflect security forces’ suspicion and retaliation.

Many Maiduguri inhabitants felt their community had to fight Boko Haram so as to deflect security forces’ suspicion and retaliation. CJTF leaders confirm that many people joined because they feared both the jihadists and that if they did not isolate Boko Haram members, “they would be killed [by] soldiers who could not distinguish them from other youth and were killing indiscriminately”.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, CJTF members and leaders and civilians, Maiduguri, October 2016, January 2017. See also “Youth vigilantes set another suspected Boko Haram sect member ablaze in Maiduguri”, Information Nigeria, 27 July 2013.Hide Footnote

Professor Mohamed Kyari, a noted analyst of the insurgency, has argued that the army’s retaliations were part of “a strategy aimed at compelling residents to cooperate with troops in exposing Boko Haram insurgents”, and that the CJTF included “repentant members of Boko Haram who were recruited by the military”, a textbook counter-insurgency move. Whatever the truth, CJTF members acknowledge that the security forces, and particularly the army, which had the JTF lead, were quick to appreciate the potential of a vigilante response in Maiduguri. The JTF organised the groups along its own lines of command, with Maiduguri divided into ten sectors. JTF officers were also involved in the selection of CJTF leaders, a chairman and a secretary for each sector, with whom they worked closely. A number of JTF checkpoints were handed over to the CJTF.[fn]“Civilian vigilante groups increase dangers in northeastern Nigeria”, IRIN, 12 December 2013. Crisis Group interviews, CJTF leaders, Maiduguri, 18 October 2016, January 2017. The JTF command (and its successor, the 7th Division), based in Maiduguri, seems to have been in charge. A committee was formed in September 2014 around the Abuja-based chief of defence staff to supervise the CJTF, but it seems to have never really functioned.
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Soon after, the CJTF formed links to the state’s major leaders, the Shehu of Borno, Abubakar Ibn Umar Garbai El-Kanemi, and Governor Kashim Shettima.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, CJTF leaders, Maiduguri, January 2017. The Shehu is the traditional ruler of the Borno Emirate, which was defeated in 1893 and subsequently integrated into the British colony of Nigeria. He is the ceremonial head of the Kanuri people and retains influence over much of Borno through a network of chiefs.Hide Footnote The army and Borno state government cooperated in structuring the CJTF further. A number of mid-ranking state officials took key CJTF positions. As early as September 2013, an “orientation program”, the Borno Youths Empowerment Scheme (BOYES), selected and screened young men, who then received some military training from the army. State authorities gave them uniforms, patrol cars and identification documents (IDs), as well as a stipend. It was eventually announced that BOYES would train up to 6,000, but it stopped at around 1,850, apparently due to the army’s uncertainty about training so many potentially unreliable persons. Some recruits, suspected of association with Boko Haram and of trying to get training or intelligence, were arrested.[fn]“War against Boko: Borno holds orientation for 800 ‘BOYES’ Civilian JTF”, NewsRescue, 28 September 2013. All who demonstrated unexplained prior mastery of automatic weapons during training were arrested. Crisis Group interviews, CJTF leaders and BOYES members, Maiduguri, 18 October 2016, January 2017.Hide Footnote

CJTF-military cooperation has remained very close. The army later provided standard military training to about 200 members to create a “CJTF Special Force”, with greater weapon skills and operational capability, that could be used in front-line operations. By late 2013, Maiduguri was largely purged of Boko Haram cells, and there have been few subsequent attacks in the city, other than suicide operations, often against refugee camps on its periphery. Most intra-city checkpoints have disappeared.[fn]Crisis group interview, member of CJTF special force, Maiduguri, 15 January 2017; observations, Maiduguri, January 2017.Hide Footnote

C. Spreading the CJTF Model

Nigerian security services and Borno state authorities cooperated to spread the CJTF model. First, Maiduguri CJTF elements began accompanying the army outside the city. In July 2013, they were involved in operations in neighbouring Jere Local Government Area (LGA), as well as in more distant localities like Dikwa and Dawashi. As the army defended or took back LGAs throughout Borno state, it encouraged the formation of CJTF units, and Baba Jafar Lawan toured the state to raise them. Where there was scepticism, military officers visited communities to insist this was the government’s wish.[fn]“Boko Haram hunters burn suspect alive in Maiduguri”, Daily Trust, 25 July 2013. Crisis Group interview, CJTF, Maiduguri, 14 January 2017.Hide Footnote The deputy governor publicly pressed the emir of Biu, a city in southern Borno where CJTF were not well received, to “encourage youth in his domain to form [a] vigilante group”.[fn]“Deputy governor urges Biu Emirate to form CJTF”, Daily Post, 5 July 2013.Hide Footnote Much like in Maiduguri, communities knew refusing would be suspicious.

The security services were closely involved in identifying local CJTF leaders. In a large northern Borno town, the CJTF chairman was a paid State Security Service (SSS) informant; in a small town close to Maiduguri, the appointee was a trader close to the authorities and security forces.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Diffa region, Niger, May 2016; Maiduguri, 15 January 2017.Hide Footnote CJTF leaders claimed to have recruited up to 45,000 members in Borno state, though the current leadership now speaks only of about 26,000, covering 22 of the state’s 27 LGAs.[fn]Crisis Group interview, CJTF leaders, Maiduguri, 18 October 2016; “Nigeria- La communauté se retourne contre Boko Haram”, IRIN, 11 August 2014.Hide Footnote

Vigilante forces have also emerged in the other north-eastern Nigerian states, at a pace and intensity largely dependent on the Boko Haram threat, but always in close connection to the security services and state authorities. Boko Haram’s threat in late 2014 to march on Yola, the capital of Adamawa state south of Borno, was met with a mobilisation of hunter brotherhoods.[fn]Multi-ethnic hunter brotherhoods, found in many West African areas, are particularly strong in Adamawa, a forested region with much game. There are hunters in Borno state, and some became vigilantes, but the CJTF did not follow the brotherhoods’ organisation. This may be because the Borno state CJTF initially mobilised urban youth.Hide Footnote  In addition to state authorities, several leading local political figures were essential in that, including former Vice President Atiku Abubakar (under President Olusegun Obasanjo), who has vast local investments; the then Senate Committee on Defence Chairman Jibrilla Bindow; Adamawa State House Representative Emmanuel Tsandu; and Federal House Representative Adamu Kamale.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Adamawa, October 2016.
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The local hunters played a major part in blocking Boko Haram and helped the army take back the cities of Gombi and Mubi in northern Adamawa.

Adamawa’s Kanuri minority formed its own 300-men CJTF in March 2013, in close collaboration with security forces, to help screen internally displaces persons (IDPs) fleeing Borno state. Many Boko Haram leaders and members are Kanuri, and this sought to show “both the public and security agencies … that not all Kanuri in Yola were Boko Haram” and to preserve trader livelihoods.[fn]Crisis Group interview, CJTF leader, Yola, 31 October 2016.Hide Footnote Civilian and security officials push less for organised vigilantes in Yobe and Gombe states, which were not so affected by the insurgency and where the security forces never seemed overwhelmed.[fn]Mobs reportedly lynched some Boko Haram suspects in these states. “Jungle justice meted out to man plotting to bomb bus station in Gombe”, Sahara Reporters, 18 November 2014.Hide Footnote

Community leaders from the north east based in other regions have extended the monitoring of suspected Boko Haram activities, notably in Abuja and Lagos, Nigeria’s political and economic capitals respectively. They have been reporting to security services and occasionally conducting citizen arrests, sometimes with the support of CJTF who would come from Borno state and take the prisoners to Maiduguri.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, CJTF officials, members, Maiduguri, 18 October 2016, 12 January 2017; “Wanted Boko Haram chieftain, five others arrested in Lagos”, The Guardian (Lagos), 11 July 2016.Hide Footnote

As Boko Haram stepped up activities in Cameroon and Chad, and the state and army realised their limitations, communities were called on to form self-defence groups.

The CJTF model has spread to Nigeria’s Lake Chad neighbours. As Boko Haram stepped up activities in Cameroon and Chad, and the state and army realised their limitations, communities were called on to form self-defence groups. In Cameroon, the Far North region governor, Augustine Awa Fonka, issued an arrêté regional (regional decree) creating the comités locaux de vigilance in June 2014. After suicide bombings in Maroua, the region’s capital, in July 2015, the authorities pushed even harder. All villages in the Far North now reportedly have comités; according to one source, 16,000 vigilantes are on duty.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, senior gendarmerie officer, sous-préfets, Far North, October 2016; journalist, December 2016. “Arrêté régional n° 19 portant création des comités locaux de vigilance dans la région de l’Extrême-Nord”, June 2014. “Tchad: vigilance accrue contre Boko Haram”, Xinhua, 21 February 2015.Hide Footnote Similarly, after Boko Haram’s first terror attacks in Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, in February 2015 the territorial administration minister called on local chiefs to “increase their vigilance”. During Chadian President Idriss Déby’s visit to Baga Sola in October 2015, authorities urged villages around the lake to create their own comités de vigilance.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civilians and vigilantes, Lake Chad region, April 2016; politician from the Lake Chad region, N’Djamena, September 2016; “Tchad: vigilance accrue contre Boko Haram”, Xinhua, 21 February 2015.Hide Footnote

Niger’s case is somewhat unique. Though the mobilisation of armed civilians, based notably on the example of Algeria’s war on islamists in the 1990s, was discussed in Niamey policy circles, fears of ethnic militias, concerns about the cost of their demobilisation and their potential for political instrumentalisation and the country’s fragility led President Mahamadou Issoufou to decide otherwise. The Nigerien defeat in Bosso in June 2016 revived the debate, but the idea was rejected again. When militias were formed in 2016 among the Peul and Mohamid Arabs, deemed loyal to the state (or, more precisely, hostile to other communities, such as the Buduma, suspected of supporting Boko Haram), the authorities gave them free rein only briefly and quickly tried to resolve ethnic tensions.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Nigerien officials, Buduma and Peul community leaders, Niamey, Diffa region, May 2016.Hide Footnote

The cautious approach may also be due to early problems with Nigerian refugees, CJTF members among them, who organised self-defence groups in fear pursuit from Boko Haram. Locals in Yébi and Bosso accused Nigerian vigilantes of abuses and disrupting profitable cross-border trade. Some were detained and sent back with the help of Nigerian authorities.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, NGO protection officer, Diffa, 14 October 2016; CJTF member, Maiduguri, 14 January 2017.Hide Footnote Instead of mobilising vigilantes, Niger has been using informant networks, though vigilante groups eventually formed in some of the more insecure areas, such as Bagara and Toumour.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local official from Toumour, Niamey, 11 October 2016; vigilante official, Bagara, 14 October 2016. See also “Au Niger, Baouchi Dao veut vaincre Boko Haram avec ses flèches”, Voice of America (VOA) Afrique, 21 June 2016.Hide Footnote

Officials in Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon recognise the vigilantes’ services. Senior officials have met with their leaders and handed out medals and prizes. Chad’s President Idriss Déby has visited vigilantes in the field (notably in Ngouboua on 4 June 2016), and then Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan once hailed them as “new national heroes” in July 2013.[fn]“North-east youths hunt insurgents”, Vanguard, 17 June 2013.Hide Footnote

III. Vigilantism, an Effective Counter-insurgency Tool?

A. Variations in Profiles and Structures

Depending on the country, vigilantes have been involved in a variety of missions. Nigeria has made the most intensive use of them, particularly in Borno state, where CJTFs have been carrying out intelligence, surveillance and protection missions in their communities, notably operating checkpoints and patrolling to check on newcomers in public spaces (mosques, markets and the entrances of villages and towns). As some communities were displaced, CJTF have followed, often continuing surveillance in their IDP camps or host communities. They perform arrests and deliver suspects to the security forces, and some have been closely involved as auxiliaries to those forces. They have also screened and interrogated suspects in detention centres. The army has asked them to join in long-distance operations, usually mixing CJTF familiar with the targeted terrain with groups from other areas. They have also been deployed away from their communities, to control newly captured towns or support local CJTF. In several instances, they have launched autonomous armed operations.[fn]Borno state Governor Shettima, for instance, “ordered mobilization of some 500 Civilian Joint Task Force elements to beef up security in areas Boko Haram had used as corridors to attack villages in Chibok”. “Boko Haram weakening, despite suicide bombings – Shettima”, Daily Trust, 30 November 2016. Crisis Group interviews, CJTF, Maiduguri, January 2017.Hide Footnote

Niger is at the other end of the spectrum, having made the most cautious use of vigilantes. After incidents with Nigerian vigilantes who had taken refuge in Niger, it banned civilians from manning roadblocks and bearing weapons, demanding that vigilantes work as an informant network with the army’s civil-military cooperation teams. Civilians, sometimes bearing crude weapons, have guided security patrols. As the conflict hit Niger harder, some front-line communities, such as Toumour and Bagara, eventually set up or remobilised classic vigilante groups for protection, often mixing local youth and IDPs. They man roadblocks and checkpoints, patrol and perform arrests.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local official from Toumour, Niamey, 11 October 2016; NGO protection officer, Diffa region, 14 October 2016; vigilante official, Bagara, 14 october 2016.Hide Footnote

Chad and Cameroon are between these two extremes. Chad, which has been less exposed to jihadist attacks, is closer to the Nigerien case. Cameroon, attacked early and intensely, is closer to the Nigerian response. For instance, its vigilante units have launched their own small-scale assaults against Boko Haram bands, sometimes pursuing them across the Nigerian border.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, vigilante leaders of Limani, Kerawa, Mora and Kolofata, Mora, October 2016; “Limani: 70 membres des comités de vigilance attaquent Boko Haram au Nigéria”, L’Oeil du Sahel, 3 May 2016.

Because the states pushed for formation of vigilantes, they have exerted a degree of oversight, each in conformity with its habits and capacities. In Borno state, the few CJTF selected for BOYES training went through a vetting process, with the support of state authorities and security forces, including background checks and medical screening. The CJTF, though in a somewhat piecemeal fashion, issued IDs and compiled membership lists that were made available to the authorities. All BOYES trainees and some other CJTF received uniforms. Cameroon also tried to register vigilantes, as it had done in previous instances.[fn]Crisis Group email, human rights worker who visited the CJTF vetting and registration centre in 2013, 8 April 2016. Seignobos, “Le phénomène zargina”, op. cit. Chad, with a weaker bureaucratic tradition, has relied much more on the chiefs, delegating selection, identification and control to them. In Niger, existing vigilante groups have registered their own members and given lists to the civilian and security officials.[fn]No ID cards seem to have been distributed. Crisis Group observations, Diffa region, October 2016.Hide Footnote

In all cases, oversight falls somewhere between local military commanders, the territorial administration (elected governors in Nigeria, the sous-préfets, préfets and governors appointed by the territorial administration or interior minister in Cameroon, Chad and Niger) and the local chiefs who answer to the local governments. In all four countries, vigilante leaders reported having the phone numbers of relevant military and civilian officials, and newly arrived officials quickly link up with them. In Cameroon and Chad, chiefs have played a major role in recruitment. In Cameroon, they sign IDs along with the sous-préfets and forward membership lists to the administration and security forces.

In Borno state, both governor and army seem directly involved, to the point where they appear to give orders to CJTF.[fn]“Boko Haram weakening, despite suicide bombings – Shettima”, op. cit.Hide Footnote CJTF leaders, however, now insist they are independent. Symbolically, they have removed reference on their most recent IDs to the 7th Army Division and floated new unit names, probably to avoid too explicit links to the security services and Borno state. Significantly, the designation Borno State Youth Vanguard (BSYV) has now been replaced by Borno Youth Association for Peace and Justice (BYAPJ). But “CJTF” has captured the imagination and often remains on their IDs along with the new acronym.[fn]Committees to supervise the CJTF were created by the chief of defence staff in 2014 and the Borno state governor in 2015 but do not seem to have been operational. Crisis Group interviews, CJTF leaders, Maiduguri, January 2017. For a sample of a CJTF ID, see “#FallenHero: Mustapha was the 03 Sector Chairman of CJTF in Borno RIJF”,, 14 December 2016. CJTF has become so popular that other groups not fighting Boko Haram, for instance in Kaduna, have picked up the name.Hide Footnote

Attempts have been made to increase control over vigilantes, leading to some professionalisation.

In Borno state in particular, attempts have been made to increase control over vigilantes, leading to some professionalisation. The initial groups included many underaged youths, but CJTFs are less numerous, and leaders insist they mobilise only adults. This seems largely true, though children still act as informers or are part of crowds that occasionally rally behind vigilantes for arrests. There is also increasing use of women, who are better able to check and search women without creating too much tension in a context where women are playing a greater role in the insurgency. Women are also occasionally involved in patrol and combat roles in vigilante units.[fn]On the female part in the insurgency and female vigilantes, see Crisis Group Africa Report N° 242, Nigeria: Women and the Boko Haram Insurgency, 5 December 2016; also “Meet Aisha, a former antelope hunter who now tracks Boko Haram”, The Guardian, 8 February 2017. In a paradoxical confirmation of the patriarchal nature of societies in the Lake Chad basin, the female vigilante discussed in that piece derived her combat skills from her grandfather. In 2015, CJTF leaders reportedly admitted that children made up “nearly a quarter of the more than 10,000-strong” movement. Quoted in “The child soldiers fighting Boko Haram”, The Daily Beast, 3 July 2015.Hide Footnote

States have been cautious about weapons, equipment and training. Rather haphazardly, the civilian and military authorities, as well as non-state backers, have provided some non-lethal equipment, such as metal detectors, phones, radios and torchlights, as well as transportation ranging from four-wheel drive vehicles to bicycles. All have been wary of arming and training most vigilantes, in order to limit weapon proliferation in general and avoid creating what a Cameroonian officer called “uncontrollable militia”. That the Boko Haram-affected areas in all four countries are those with ethnic Kanuri concentrations has made the four cautious about arming that community.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria authorities, September 2016-January 2017. On the states’ reluctance to arm vigilantes (and the vigilantes’ frustration), see, for instance, Ngala Killian Chimtom, “Cameroon: volunteer vigilance committees call for more help in combatting Boko Haram”, African Arguments, 23 December 2015. There is little doubt that Boko Haram has roots among the Kanuri, but it is not an exclusively Kanuri rebellion, and the movement has never claimed to fight for that community in particular, despite the assertions of some commentators. See, for example, “Fulani, Kanuri behind Boko Haram, Archbishop says in Jonathan’s presence”, Premium Times, 12 January 2015.
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In Maiduguri, the vigilantes initially used mostly sticks and cutlasses. As the CJTF expanded into rural areas, they carried traditional weapons such as bows and arrows, spears and “Dane guns” (locally manufactured rifles) or shotguns. In Borno state, only the sector commanders were permitted to own a modern weapon, though the army lent assault rifles to the CJTF for specific operations.[fn]Similarly, only the head of the Adamawa CJTF unit received a licence to buy a gun for self-defence. Crisis Group interviews, CJTF leader, Adamawa, 31 October 2016; CJTF, Maiduguri, January 2017.Hide Footnote Cameroon does not officially allow vigilantes automatic weapons, though a few former soldiers who have joined the comités have kept their modern arms. In Niger, the few Peul and Arab vigilante groups reportedly have some automatic weapons, which many nomads obtain to protect their herds. The Adamawa hunters, who had their own weapons, were given ammunition and additional guns by state officials and local patrons.[fn]Crisis Group interview, official of Adamawa state hunters’ association, Yola, 30 October 2016.Hide Footnote Chad, more willing to rely on and trust traditional leaders, gave automatic weapons to chiefs and a dozen or so of their guards (the goumiers) in some threatened areas.

This reticence to provide weapons is resented. A CJTF leader, an ex-member of earlier, anti-banditry militias, complained they were only Yan Gora (people with sticks, in Hausa), a phrase Boko Haram used to mock them. A Cameroon vigilante leader similarly deplored that it would be difficult to “keep terrorists at bay” with their “rudimentary weapons”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Diffa region, Niger, May 2016. Chimtom, “Cameroon: volunteer vigilance committees call for more help”, op. cit.Hide Footnote Throughout the region, there are indications that some vigilantes are buying weapons, taking them from defeated Boko Haram fighters and getting them from sympathisers in the security services.[fn]“Nigerian violence spawns homemade responses”, The Wall Street Journal, 25 June 2014; Crisis Group interview, official of hunters’ association, Yola, 30 October 2016.Hide Footnote

B. Resourcing for Vigilantes

The Lake Chad states struggle with a dilemma: formalising the vigilantes would enable greater oversight but also cost, money that could be applied to other pressing needs, not least the humanitarian catastrophe triggered by the insurgency. It might also raise expectations and feed a sense of entitlement that could prove unsustainable, as well as create incentives that encourage the formation of more groups. Indeed, some vigilantes have been calling for “a permanent mechanism to help [them] provide the basics for [their families]”.[fn]Cameroon vigilante leader quoted in Chimtom, “Cameroon”, op. cit.Hide Footnote Vigilantes, especially when they are high up in the hierarchy, often insist they are not paid for their service and have to spend their own money on duty.

A variety of support systems provision and compensate vigilantes. The 1,850 Nigerian CJTF members formally recruited in the BOYES program are an exception, as they receive 15,000 naira (about $50) monthly, plus some health coverage. In Adamawa, hunters received a small state salary only during the tense moments when they were most needed. Otherwise, vigilantes have received haphazard financial support, gifts in cash or kind from state officials, local authorities, politicians, businessmen and military commanders. In Borno state, CJTF members participating in intelligence meetings or going with the army on operations may get per diem or a share of spoils captured from Boko Haram suspects and camps. In IDP camps, they often get a special share of the incoming aid.

Communities used to provide for pre-Boko Haram vigilantes, sometimes raising money to pay small salaries or providing necessities in kind. This still happens, but there are reports that some vigilantes “beg” at checkpoints, where the voluntary nature of “donations” is open to debate. There also are reports of ad hoc, uneven assistance being given to the families of vigilantes killed in action. Communities have sometimes been left to fend for their own casualties.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, CJTF, Maiduguri, January 2017.Hide Footnote

The same is true in the other three countries: vigilantes have been receiving some equipment and gifts of money and food from the presidency and military, as well as gifts in cash and kind from local notables and communities. Some form of “taxation” of communities has likewise been documented. In Cameroon, there have been several reports of Boko Haram’s loot being appropriated by the vigilantes, sometimes in association with the security forces.[fn]“Scandale autour du bétail saisi à Boko Haram”, L’Oeil du Sahel, 21 November 2016.Hide Footnote

C. The Vigilante Effect(s)

Assessing the vigilantes’ impact seems at first rather easy. In operational terms, there is little doubt they have been useful. Most soldiers, recruited from throughout their respective countries, often have little understanding of the local terrain (social or physical). Vigilantes have a better “sense of the normal and the abnormal” locally, which makes them apt to detect threats.[fn]Crisis Group, security expert, Maiduguri, 15 January 2017.Hide Footnote Many people insist that the military’s lack of local language skills is a big problem that has resulted in unnecessary casualties. In the Lake Chad basin’s varied geography, from the marshes of Lake Chad to the hills and caves in Gwoza and the Mandara regions, soldiers can have a hard time without local guidance. Local knowledge explains the contribution of the lightly armed hunters of Adamawa, when they faced a Boko Haram force comprised of many city dwellers.

Having witnessed the growth of Boko Haram groups in their communities, vigilantes often know some of the militants and their business partners, as well as who from their immediate environment is unexplainably absent. On many occasions, they have prevented suicide attacks or limited their impact by detecting suspicious characters early.[fn]In Cameroon, some vigilante units have a member endowed with charms and mystical preparation and tasked to run at and grab suicide bombers that have not been shot down. Crisis Group interviews, vigilante members, soldiers, local authorities, Mokolo, Tourou, Mora, Yaoundé, October 2016.Hide Footnote Overall, vigilantes have helped make the military response more likely to hit proper rather than collective targets. For all this, they have paid a price. The recent official toll for the Borno state CJTF alone was 600 dead.[fn]Crisis Group interview, CJTF officials, Maiduguri, 18 October 2016.Hide Footnote

Examining the broader impact brings more nuanced results. First, the decision by states to mobilise vigilantes has exposed them and their communities to Boko Haram retribution. As early as June 2013, a Boko Haram audio clip declared “an all-out war” on the youth of Maiduguri and Damaturu, “because [they] have formed an alliance with the Nigerian military and police to fight our brethren”.[fn]Audio clip, 18 June 2013, from Boko Haram spokesman Abu Zinnira quoted in “Civilian vigilante groups increase dangers in northeastern Nigeria”, IRIN, 12 December 2013. At one point, Boko Haram executed at roadblocks any male traveller from Maiduguri, to punish the city. Crisis Group interview, Maiduguri, January 2017.Hide Footnote Boko Haram has launched many attacks on vigilantes, the traditional chiefs associated with them and their communities. It frequently used suicide attacks against CJTF groups and their markets, mosques and transport terminals. Much of the 2014-2015 peak in casualties was due to such retribution.[fn]See, for instance, “Boko Haram weekend killing spree leaves at least 40 dead in Borno villages”, Information Nigeria, 29 July 2013; and “Au Nigeria, ‘Boko Haram élimine des villages entiers suspectés d’avoir collaboré avec le pouvoir’”, Le Monde, 18 March 2014. On a recent attack on the home of the CJTF chairman in Kaleri, Mafa LGA, see “Boko Haram suicide bomber attack home of Civilian JTF commander”, Sahara Reporters, 25 January 2017. On the body count of Boko Haram victims in Nigeria, see Appendix C below.Hide Footnote There is evidence of extreme Boko Haram violence in response to vigilantism in the other three countries. In Niger for instance, the communities of Lamana and Ngoumao, among the few to have set up armed units, were brutally attacked in June 2015, and 38 villagers were killed.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, IDPs from Lamana and Ngoumao, Ngaroua IDP camp, October 2016; “Niger: attaques meurtrières de Boko Haram dans des villages isolés”, Radio France Internationale (RFI), 19 June 2015.Hide Footnote

Promotion of vigilantism was a principal driver that turned the conflict from an anti-state insurgency into a messy civil war.

Promotion of vigilantism was a principal driver that turned the conflict from an anti-state insurgency into a messy civil war, pitting Boko Haram against communities. Early on, a CJTF leader in Maiduguri noted: “We have crossed the Rubicon, and there is no going back. Boko Haram have declared war on us and even if we stop hunting them down, they will still come after us, so we have to fight to the finish”.[fn]“Civilian vigilante groups increase dangers in northeastern Nigeria”, IRIN, 12 December 2013.Hide Footnote This forced ever more people to pick a side, when many would have preferred not to get involved. In at least one case in a small Borno town, the local traditional leader opposed forming a vigilante unit, lest it lead to retribution. When some Boko Haram members came to threaten the community, he mockingly referred the population to the vigilantes, who could only flee and hide when the jihadists returned in force to kill suspected opponents and loot.[fn]Crisis Group interview, CJTF leader, Maiduguri, 14 January 2017.Hide Footnote

Forcing communities to pick a side may well have benefitted the states, as most seem to have favoured their governments. Vigilante mobilisation and Boko Haram reprisals have helped recreate a link between the security services and substantial portions of the population, particularly in Borno state. An observer noted that Cameroon troops no longer detain those who volunteer information, assuming a Boko Haram connection, a habit that would scare off potential informers.[fn]Crisis Group interview, NGO worker, Yaoundé, December 2016.Hide Footnote

Vigilantism has been a way for some civilians to regain a form of control in a situation of extreme uncertainty and powerlessness. The material benefits have mattered, but perhaps even more important than these occasional profits has been the relative protection from security-service suspicions that vigilante membership affords. Indeed, the groups grew when it became clear they had official support. In the uncertainty created by blunt, abusive counter-insurgency operations, an official ID or being on a list of approved members can mean appreciable protection, a modicum of security that vigilantes can hope to extend to their kith and kin. Affiliation with a vigilante unit can also importantly make travel through government-controlled areas safer.

Vigilantism, however, is not without problems. Cooperation with security forces is not easy: there is considerable mutual suspicion and accusations, particularly in Cameroon and Nigeria. Security sources say that some vigilantes double as Boko Haram agents or resell goods stolen by the jihadists. Several Cameroonian chiefs and comités de vigilance members, as well as the CJTF chairman of one of Maiduguri’s ten sectors (along with some military personnel), have been accused and arrested.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local authorities, security forces and vigilante members of Amchidé, Kerawa, Limani, Fotokol, Far North, October 2016, January 2017; CJTF and civil society activists, Maiduguri, January 2017; “Cameroun: des membres de comités de vigilance complices de Boko Haram”, L’Oeil du Sahel, 7 December 2015.Hide Footnote Vigilantes also have occasionally accused the security services of double-dealing – selling weapons to Boko Haram, or being too lenient with suspects they handed over, sometimes releasing them within hours. In March 2014, CJTF captured five armed men in Maiduguri, whom the army later claimed were soldiers in civilian garb. This led to a clash, with angry youths chanting that “soldiers are the real Boko Haram; soldiers are masters of Boko Haram”.[fn]“Two killed, others injured in Civilian-JTF revolt against soldiers in Maiduguri”, Information Nigeria, 4 March 2014.Hide Footnote Two vigilantes were killed. At the least, this episode attests to a degree of mistrust between the army and some vigilantes.

The justice issue is particularly sensitive. Vigilantism, because it emerges from the weak state’s inability to maintain law and order and is frequently fed by a desire for revenge for personal losses, has a built-in bias for rough justice. There have been ample reports of abuses. In the CJTF’s early Maiduguri days, June-July 2013, several Boko Haram suspects were burned alive. The International Federation for Human Rights says “hundreds of summary executions” took place then. Subsequently, CJTF were reportedly involved, with the army, in rounding up and killing 600 prisoners who had escaped from the main military detention centre in Maiduguri, Giwa Barracks, in March 2014. According to one account, vigilantes paraded in the town of Biu in southern Borno in November 2014 with the heads of some 40 alleged Boko Haram militants on pikes. In June 2015, Amnesty International reported that Nigerian vigilantes and the army committed severe human rights violations, including torture and execution of Boko Haram suspects. CJTF officials admit to “tough measures” during interrogations.[fn]“Boko Haram hunters burn suspect alive in Maiduguri”, Daily Trust, 25 July 2013; “Nigeria. Les crimes de masse de Boko Haram”, International Federation for Human Rights, 10 February 2015, p. 9; “41 Boko Haram members beheaded in Biu after failed attack”, Daily Post, 31 October 2014; “Stars on their shoulders, blood on their hands. War crimes committed by the Nigerian military”, Amnesty International, June 2015. For another case, “How I escaped death in Maiduguri – Ex-Borno commissioner”, Vanguard, 25 March 2014. For a video account, see “Nigeria’s Hidden War: Channel 4 Dispatches”, Channel 4, 18 August 2014. CJTF officials denied their members were involved. Crisis Group interviews, January 2017; Maiduguri, 18 October 2016.Hide Footnote

Some observers suggest that the security services, particularly in Nigeria, have delegated suspect interrogation to vigilantes because of language skills and to keep as clean a human rights record as possible. CJTF says otherwise and seems to defer to the military on summary executions. In 2014, a CJTF reportedly knew it could not “render justice themselves”, so took suspects to the barracks, “where soldiers kill[ed] them”. A CJTF leader mentioned in an interview that he had handed over to the army his own nephew, who he knew was a jihadist militant, and that it had (rightly) executed him.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, human rights experts, Abuja, January 2017; CJTF, Maiduguri, January 2017; “Nigeria – La communauté se retourne contre Boko Haram”, IRIN, 11 August 2014; “Inside the vigilante fight against Boko Haram”, The New York Times, 5 November 2014.Hide Footnote

Several interviewees mentioned that some CJTF members were “pompous”, hinting that they derived an undue sense of self-importance and impunity from their power. Vigilantes also have engaged in other abuses, including sexual violence and extortion. Herdsmen in particular, as they circulate in the bush with valued cattle, have been targets. There are reported cases of vigilantes levelling false accusations against persons with whom they have personal feuds.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, NGO protection officer, Diffa, 14 October 2016; civilians, Maiduguri, January 2017; “Boko Haram: faut-il renoncer aux groupes d’autodéfense?”, Journal du Cameroun, 5 August 2016.Hide Footnote Human rights organisations have noted how those with a bit of power in IDP camps demand sexual services or money in exchange for favours, including the right to leave the camps or build a house there.[fn]Nigeria: Officials Abusing Displaced Women, Girls. Displaced by Boko Haram and Victims Twice Over”, Human Rights Watch, October 2016.Hide Footnote These include the CJTF, though a human rights specialist said that because vigilantes are usually from the IDP communities, they are somewhat less prone to commit abuses. In one instance at least, IDPs in a camp fought abusive vigilantes.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Maiduguri, 13 January 2017. “Boko Haram still controls Abadam, Mobbar in Borno –IDPs”, Daily Post, 22 January 2016.Hide Footnote

CJTF leaders assert that an organisation was needed precisely to curb abuses and insist they put in place a structure to monitor behaviour, with provosts and a disciplinary committee chaired by a member who is a lawyer. Sources verified that they suspended or dismissed several members and referred others to the police. The leaders also say civilians have filed abuse charges against a dozen members, though Crisis Group was unable to confirm this. Some CJTF leaders have received instruction in international humanitarian law. There is some understanding among the vigilantes and their state and army partners that abuses can reduce the efficiency of a mobilisation. The replacement of rough justice mobs by partly-professionalised vigilantes and recruitment of female vigilantes are attempts to address these concerns. It seems that community pressure is an important form of control, which is why in Maiduguri (after initial abuses) it was quickly decided that vigilantes would operate close to their neighbourhoods, where they would know and be known by people.

There is evidence the human rights situation has improved somewhat under President Buhari, for a variety of reasons.[fn]eyond Buhari’s attitude, other factors include military commanders’ realisation they are under international scrutiny for possible war crimes, better organisation and oversight of the CJTF and decline in Boko Haram threats and violence as it was driven farther from Maiduguri.Hide Footnote International human rights organisations and civil society activists report changes in Maiduguri, including in the main military detention centre, Giwa Barracks.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, human rights experts and civil society activists, Maiduguri and Abuja, January 2017.Hide Footnote International focus on sexual and gender-based violence in IDP camps led to several arrests in December 2016 in Maiduguri, including of two CJTF members. But there is not much solid evidence to suggest vigilantes are often held accountable for human rights violations. Little is known about what goes on during operations in remote territory or the impact of any abuses on local communities and vigilante relations with Boko Haram or the state. Nevertheless, the bottom line for many civilians seems to be that vigilantes have done more good than harm.[fn]“Ten suspects arrested in connection with IDP sexual abuse scandal”, Sahara Reporters, 6 December 2016. Crisis Group interviews, civil society officials, traders, Maiduguri, January 2017.Hide Footnote

IV. The Possible Risks Ahead

Vigilantism is a symptom of the weaknesses of the Lake Chad states, especially their disappointing delivery of security and law and order. Almost as soon as vigilante groups formed, especially in Nigeria, a debate began on the risks they could pose for the future.[fn]See, for instance, “Civilian vigilante groups increase dangers in northeastern Nigeria”, IRIN, 12 December 2013.Hide Footnote State and security services understand some of these, as exemplified by caution over providing weapons, attempts at screening and the strong Nigerian army oversight of the CJTF. But the Lake Chad states have often struggled to control the risks resulting from reliance on vigilantes to fight Boko Haram. All these risks are more acute in Nigeria, where the conflict has been most intense, vigilantes are more numerous and active and the state faces bigger challenges and the difficulties of policymaking in a federal system.

A. The Handling of Claims

One of the most significant issues may be the handling of vigilante claims for service and sacrifice, particularly when economies are struggling at both national and local levels. The conflict has devastated the interlinked Lake Chad regional economy. Trade in cash crops is banned or severely depressed (often intentionally by the military to prevent Boko Haram from taxing it); many traders have fled, fighting has destroyed much of the physical and social infrastructure, and agricultural production is extremely low. Massive displacement has triggered a humanitarian disaster, especially in Borno state. All this makes it harder to address vigilantes’ demands.

Some vigilantes joined not only for protection or short-term material benefits, but also for the rights and prospects they felt membership opened for future state rewards. Many have post-war jobs, scholarship or demobilisation money in mind. Some CJTF members mention the Niger Delta Presidential Amnesty Program, under which insurgents were pardoned, put on the government payroll and given vocational training or education: “These rebels get something, so what should we get, we who have fought for the state?”[fn]Crisis Group interview, CJTF, Maiduguri, 12 January 2017. The Amnesty Program was set-up by President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2009. Due to end in 2015, it was extended to 2017.Hide Footnote Some vigilantes view their service explicitly as an advance against an expected reward. Through cooperation with the security services, particularly in Nigeria, vigilantes have become de facto apprentices, a classic path to a job, including a state job, in West African societies.

Vigilante leaders have sometimes been quite outspoken about their expectations from and frustration with the state, and some political leaders have begun to respond. The BOYES program was one such response. The Borno State Vigilantism and Youth Empowerment Agency Law voted in May 2015 was another, and in April 2016, Borno state Governor Shettima announced a program to create 20,000 jobs for CJTF members. In Borno, the army and DSS have absorbed 280 vigilantes into their ranks, but the actual demobilisation programs are only at the planning stage, which makes sense given the persisting security risks.[fn]Crisis Group interview, CJTF leaders, Maiduguri, 18 October 2016; “They’re defeating Boko Haram but are they Nigeria’s next security threat?”, IRIN, 22 August 2016.Hide Footnote

One of the tricky aspects in handling claims is their administration. There are several instances where previous rewards and incentives, for instance inclusion in the BOYES program, have created strong tensions and competition among vigilantes, with accusations of nepotism and favouritism. Denouncing how some leaders have gotten rich, secured homes in government housing projects or “privatis[ed]” cars, some vigilantes insist they have left the movement, refuse to register and will not become involved in an eventual demobilisation program.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, academic and CJTF, Maiduguri, 14 January 2017; vigilantes and state officials, Maroua, Mokolo, and Mora, October 2016.Hide Footnote The handling of vigilantes is even more important at a moment when states are pondering programs to encourage Boko Haram members to “exit”.[fn]Niger, Chad and Nigeria have all set up programs, though their functionality is not always easy to assess.Hide Footnote Several vigilantes expressed displeasure about these, some asserting bluntly that death should be the only way out.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, CJTF, Maiduguri, January 2017.Hide Footnote  This attitude is fed by vigilantes’ security concerns and memories of Boko Haram violence, but also by their sense of entitlement.

B. From Vigilantes to Political Thugs, Mafias or Ethnic Militias

Vigilantism’s downside and risks are well-known in Nigeria, where groups such as the Bakassi Boys and the Oodua People’s Congress have turned into major political forces in other regions.[fn]Crisis Group Report, Nigeria: Want in the Midst of Plenty, op. cit., pp. 27-28.Hide Footnote There are various ways in which vigilante groups can evolve, even as the situation which has given rise to them fades away – and the Boko Haram threat is still far from that.

The first risk, politicisation of vigilantes, notably around elections, is particularly acute in Nigeria, because votes for governors, who control opaque budgets funded by enormous oil revenues, can be extremely competitive and violent.[fn]Governors also get a “security vote” from the federal government, an undisclosed, unaccounted monthly transfer of money they can use as they want, ostensibly for public safety. Obiamaka Egbo, Ifeoma Nwankoby, Josophat Onwumere and Chibuike Uche, “Security votes in Nigeria: Disguising stealing from the public purse”, African Affairs, vol. 111, no. 445 (2012), pp. 597-614.Hide Footnote Gangs of thugs hired to attack opponents’ supporters and to provide security are common. Indeed, Borno ex-Governor Ali Modu Sheriff relied on a vigilante group, ECOMOG (named after the West African peacekeeping force), for his 2003 campaign. Some analysts argue that soon after his victory, he let most go and that some later turned to Boko Haram in disappointment. An internal source reported that when the CJTF formed, a number of ECOMOG thugs still backing Sheriff joined, but CJTF leaders prevented them from rising in the ranks, fearing they were political proxies.[fn]Crisis Group interview, CJTF, Maiduguri, January 2017; “Boko Haram: les monstres de Maiduguri”, Le Monde, 23 June 2014.Hide Footnote

Whether this is an indication of the CJTF’s neutrality or their own politicisation is open to interpretation. Some observers suspect current Borno Governor Shettima’s BOYES program is partially political clientelism, an attempt to turn the vigilantes into a political network using counter-insurgency funding. At least one episode suggests the vigilantes’ political potential: in 2013, CJTF burned the house of the Borno state chairman of the All Nigeria Peoples’ Party (ANPP), alleging he supported Boko Haram, but some suspect this had to do with an internal ANPP feud.[fn]Crisis Group interview, civil society official, Maiduguri, January 2017. “Our chairman is not a Boko Haram sponsor – Borno ANPP”, Premium Times, 5 July 2013; “Borno ANPP officials disown state chairman”, Daily Trust, 12 July 2013. Shettima was a party member at the time.Hide Footnote During the 2015 election campaign, many CJTF were seen at rallies of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Shettima’s current party. It is not clear how much control he has over the CJTF, but throughout the Lake Chad region politicians on all sides are keen on cultivating relations with these groups.

Vigilantism has potential to feed ethnic or ethno-religious cleavages, because its focus is the defence of a specific local community.

Vigilantism has potential to feed ethnic or ethno-religious cleavages, because its focus is the defence of a specific local community. In the Cameroon locality of Amchidé, for instance, the initial comité de vigilance was controlled by Christians and harassed Muslims. It was eventually dissolved by the authorities and replaced by a mixed comité.[fn]Crisis Group interview, vigilantes, Amchidé, March 2016; vigilantes and state officials, Mora, October 2016. For examples from other parts of Nigeria, see Harnischfeger, “Ethnicity, Religion”, op. cit.Hide Footnote

Vigilantism is often also in an ambivalent relationship with the established orders of chiefdom and patriarchy, particularly in rural areas. It can cut both ways, sometimes revalidating “decentralised despotism”, a two-tier state system whereby peripheral areas, usually rural, are governed on the cheap, through delegation to chiefs with dubious claims to legitimacy and fitness to rule.[fn]Decentralised despotism” is a phrase borrowed from Mahmood Mamdani, Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism (Princeton, 1996).Hide Footnote At other times, it can give some autonomy to the young men (and occasionally women) who are the muscle of the vigilante forces.

Finally, if vigilantes are not disbanded, they can become mafias that turn to protection rackets and organised crime. The question is what happens when those who have become accustomed to receiving salaries or “gifts” react when these cease. This is not a new phenomenon in the Lake Chad basin, where the distinction between vigilantes, regular security force members and bandits or rebels can be fluid. Some vigilantes have already been using their relative impunity to engage in crime, from small-scale drug trafficking to resale of stolen goods.[fn]Janet Roitman, Fiscal Disobedience: An Anthropology of Economic Regulation in Central Africa (Princeton, 2005); Debos, Living by the Gun, op. cit. Crisis Group interviews, CJTF and CSO officials, Maiduguri, January 2017.Hide Footnote

V. Marching on with Vigilantes

Given vigilantism’s size, the persistent insecurity and security forces’ overstretch, notably in Nigeria and Cameroon, neither neglect nor suppression is feasible.

A. In the Short Term, Improving Accountability

Niger’s choice to use vigilantes relatively modestly as surveillance networks is predicated on the ability of its regular forces more or less to keep Boko Haram at bay. This in turn has been possible in part because the jihadists’ assault has come later and been less intense, and because, having largely abandoned its portion of Lake Chad, the country’s remaining area is more easily watched. These conditions may well be changing, as Barnawi’s Boko Haram faction appears to be gathering strength on Lake Chad and along the Komadugu River, which delineates the eastern Niger-Nigeria border.[fn]A Crisis Group report on Boko Haram in Niger is forthcoming.Hide Footnote That there is now a full-fledged vigilante force in Toumour and some other sites may be a sign of the times.

Oversight and accountability improvements are much needed. The institutional mechanisms created by the Borno state CJTF, with provosts and a disciplinary committee, are welcome and could be improved and replicated elsewhere. It also would be useful to show that vigilantes are held accountable by making information publicly available on cases and decisions submitted to the committee, perhaps by a yearly report and periodic engagement with human rights entities.

In any case, the courts must examine allegations of grave human rights violations by vigilantes. Governments should devise a legal framework for their operations that holds members explicitly accountable, and the security services should give vigilantes instruction on human rights and legal obligations along with such practical skills as demining and intelligence work.[fn]The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) might supplement legal training.Hide Footnote The Lake Chad countries should acknowledge a responsibility to those they mobilise. Among other things, they should make sure all vigilantes have access to functional communication networks and can call in regular troops promptly when needed.

B. Symbolic and Material Rewards

There is need to acknowledge, including in national media, the effort vigilantes make. In societies where ethnicity can be very political, and the communities most affected by Boko Haram have come under suspicion as a whole, skilful promotion of some exemplary vigilante figures would be a good way both to recognise their commitment and courage and to contain stereotyping that links certain ethnic groups to Boko Haram.

Symbolic rewards also matter. Ceremonies, medals and diplomas have become standard and have some impact. Honouring those killed or maimed in association with some material attention to their families would also help, but action on this count has been too haphazard. Disbanding vigilante groups should be linked with some gainful sustainable employment and be supported by donors. If this is not fully practical, perhaps a distinction could be made, particularly in Borno state, between those who have stayed local and for whom militia service has been just one aspect of continuing lives, and those who have been displaced or chosen to move and become security-force auxiliaries. For those who have stayed in their community, governments, with donor help, should plan on some sort of association (as paid labour or staff) with the rehabilitation of damaged infrastructure that is featured in all post-conflict plans.

National security is the sector most often mentioned by vigilantes themselves with regard to jobs after their groups are disbanded. Nigeria has already taken small steps. This should only apply to a small fraction of vigilantes, however, because normal educational requirements need to apply so as to avoid further weakening the security institutions. This is particularly the case in Nigeria, where the constitution requires a balance between communities in public recruitment, according to the principle of the country’s “federal character”.[fn]On this issue, see, for instance, Abdul Raufu Mustapha, “Institutionalising ethnic representation: How effective is the Federal Character Commission in Nigeria?”, Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity (CRISE) Working Paper no. 43, June 2007.Hide Footnote To make it acceptable that not everyone can be taken, recruitment has to proceed in as transparent a manner as possible.

For the bulk of vigilantes, demobilisation must be carefully planned, with grants to help them go back to their occupations, finish education or develop businesses. Such programs are never fully successful, but they help motivate returns to normal lives. It is the least the countries can do, and partners should assist. It would also help kick-start a regional economy that is in ruins.

C. In the Long Term, Rethinking Community Policing

Throughout the Lake Chad basin, police are largely or exclusively national. Nigeria’s federal police is a dysfunctional, often brutal force, one reason why vigilantes have formed in the first place and Boko Haram has appeared. Some have suggested recreating local forces as a solution.[fn]For an analysis that views local police as an alternative to vigilantes, see Peter Ekeh, “A Review of HRW’s and CLEEN’s Report ‘The Bakassi Boys: The Legitimization of Murder and Torture’. On State Sponsored Vigilante Groups in Nigeria”,, 27 May 2002.Hide Footnote Given how tense state politics has become in Nigeria, a full-fledged police force at the governor’s command would be risky. At least as far as Borno state is concerned and given the likely continuation of some form of jihadist activity and rural unrest, it would make sense to create a federal body of auxiliaries under the army, State Security Service, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) or the mobile police to accommodate a portion of the CJTF, notably those with weapons training. Transparent recruitment is essential, and provision should be made for their potential integration, if they meet educational requirements and are retrained. This breach of the principle of Nigeria’s “federal character” would need national assembly approval.

With the help of local civil society organisations, other selected vigilantes might be retrained and redirected toward reporting and early-warning mechanisms linked to both the police and civil society organisations. This would build usefully on the fact that, particularly in rural areas, vigilantes have become important connectors to the state.

D. For a Reasoned Disarmament

The proliferation of weapons in the Lake Chad basin is part of the structural problems that have fed instability and allowed Boko Haram, at least initially, to portray itself as a provider of (religious) law and order. A disarmament program is necessary. States are already calling for it and have restricted access to gun licences in conflict areas. However, not all guns are the same. The program should be limited to functional automatic weapons and not spend money on decommissioning hunting rifles and locally produced guns, which are easily replaced and less lethal.

VI. Conclusion

Vigilantes have been essential in turning back the Boko Haram tide, but the jihadist group remains resilient. As the conflict continues to evolve, so will vigilantes. They are enmeshed with high politics, particularly in Nigeria, and local intercommunal relations, business operations and chiefdoms. Vigilantism is as much a long-term symptom of state weakness in the Lake Chad basin as a short-term solution to it. To address the drivers of armed extremism, Lake Chad countries must return state presence to the region, not least by reintroducing accountability and law and order. As part of this process, the CJTF and comités de vigilance will need either to be slowly disbanded or formalised and regulated. Getting relations and expectations right with their members should be an urgent aspect of rebuilding security in the region.

Dakar/Nairobi/Brussels, 23 February 2017

Appendix A: Map of the Lake Chad Basin

Map of the Lake Chad Basin Mike Shand/International Crisis Group, 2017

Appendix B: Glossary

ANPP: All Nigeria Peoples’ Party

APC: All Progressives’ Congress

BOYES: Borno Youths Empowerment Scheme

BSYV: Borno State Youth Vanguard

BYAPJ: Borno Youth Association for Peace and Justice

CJTF: Civilian Joint Task Force

CLEEN: Centre for Law Enforcement Education

HRW: Human Rights Watch

IDP: Internally Displaced Person

JTF: Joint Task Force

LGA: Local Government Area

NSCDC: Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps

SSS: State Security Service

Appendix C: Number of People Killed by Boko Haram 2013-2016

Number of People Killed by Boko Haram 2013-2016 References: Realtime 2016 All Africa File and Version 6 (1997-2015) dataset. Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), 2016; “Global Terrorism Index 2015. Measuring and Understanding the Im-pact of Terrorism”, Institute for Economics and Peace

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