[CJTF] After defending Nigeria, what next? Demobilization, Reward or Radicalization?

Doing nothing has always been the best course of action…. But history was not made by those who did nothingBritish monarchy

Civilian joint task force (cjtf)

The names in this article have been changed for security reasons.

The Scourge of Boko Haram Terrorism

Since its inception, Boko Haram has killed about 20,000 people and displaced 2.7 million, causing the region to be in the brink of economic collapse.

Experts say if efforts are not made to curtail this menace, 1.4 million more people might end up in famine since all forms of agriculture practices have all but ceased in the region.

Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF)

In 2015, Boko Haram fighters were estimated by Amnesty International to have 15,000 members while the Chadian government claimed the group has up to 20,000 members. Since 2009, the group has been led by Abubakar Shekau after taken over from Mohammed Yusuf who was killed in the Nigerian police custody.

Boko Haram was ranked by Global Terrorism Index as the world’s deadliest terror group. The group have carried out all sorts of atrocities including mass abduction, summary execution, suicide bombings and kidnappings. BHT is known to use child soldiers as young as seven years old for suicide bombings, most of them are females.

Defense of the Homeland (Frontlines)
Following the devastating onslaught of Boko Haram Terrorists (BHT) and the inability of the Nigerian Military Forces to fully curtail the rampage, young men from affected communities rose up to protect their villages.

These scantily armed vigilantes have been instrumental in checkmating the rampage of BHT. They man checkpoints and guard sensitive areas like mosques, churches and gathering centres.

Even though the Civilian joint task force receives little or no training or logistical support from the Nigerian authorities, however it has continued its fight against the deadly Boko Haram group – acting as a solid bulwark between certain destruction and fragile peace.

The rank and file of the vigilantes are young men and women drawn up from the cities, villages and communities ravaged by violent extremism. They move in batches to the forefront of the battle leading security forces to suspected Boko Haram enclaves.

Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF)

“This is my country! Maiduguri is my homeland; I fight for my people and my freedom”. 

The Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) A.K.A Vigilantes is a militia group made up of civilians in Northern Nigeria to help push back Boko Haram fighters. The group is armed with basic weapons; women are also known to be among the fighters which enrage Boko Haram which preaches against women participation in men’s affairs.

The CJTF ranks have risen over the years to an army of 26,000, concentrated in Bornu state which is the epicenter of the counter-insurgency efforts.

Why the CJTF is so effective is primarily because it members knows the surroundings at the back of their hands. They know the radicalized individuals, the Boko Haram suspects, their sponsors and the regular innocent bystander.

The need for a vigilante group came as a result of the urgency to defend their host communities when the Nigerian troops fled the front-lines (a common occurrence). The CJTF are fighting side by side with the Nigerian Army, they usually take casualties and has since lost more than 600 of its members often to suicide bombers.

Even though less than 2,000 of its members receive salary – a paltry sum of just about N1,800 naira per month, they still fight bravely. For instance, in 2014 their efforts prevented the fall of Maiduguri when Boko Haram charged on the city. Maiduguri is home to more than 2 million people.

Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF)
Members of the CJTF celebrating after a successful anti-boko haram operation

Human Right Abuses of the CJTF 

Despite the CJTF’s efforts in curbing BHT, there still exist distrust between them and the Nigerian Military. The obvious reason being that there might exist saboteurs and “fifth columnist” between the vigilante’s ranks.

Even though they (CJTF) see their selves as the real defenders of the communities and villages, they have been accused by Amnesty International of various human right abuses which includes mass murder, diverting resources meant for the displaced, sexual violence in IDP camps and beatings.

A video released by AI in 2014 show them and the Army slaughtering men beside a mass grave. The CJTF is known to use child soldiers, a violation of the Geneva’s Laws of War and a war crime. Same crime being committed by Boko Haram.
Just recently, The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (UNICEF) welcomed the signing by the CJTF in ending its use of children as soldiers. 

Nigerian Army troop in pursuit of Boko Haram terrorist

After Boko Haram what next?

As the crises in the Northeastern Nigeria winds down, former vigilante members and CJTF fighters are going back to their former lives. A large percentage of CJTF members were either unemployed, small time traders or in poverty before joining the vigilante group. Unemployment is one of the reasons Boko Haram began in the first place.

Mallam Yusufu a seasoned fighter noted that “The state government has a lot of responsibility and can’t do it alone. Engagement should begin now because knowing Nigeria once the war ends we’ll all be forgotten.”

Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF)

After CJTF, these young men would demand for reward or some gratuity after their services to the country. If those are not met, they might feel disgruntled and abandoned – in a country where politicians usually use the teeming population of unemployed and jobless youths for their own dishonorable end. The unemployed former fighters might pose an existential threat to the stability of the Northern Nigeria in the long run.

Gambo Abduli a CJTF member told a news agency that “most of our members can operate AK-47s, since there’s no job or money what does the government plan for us? There’ll be trouble”.

The Nigerian Government recognizing the possible future threat confronting the nation has tried to absorb some of the vigilantes into its security services like the Army and the Department of State Security (DSS) however, the number of participant engaged is very small.

Even the governor of Bornu State is well aware of this new twist in the security of his state. He bluntly stated that…

Unless deliberate efforts are made towards addressing the issue of unemployment, illiteracy , hunger and extreme poverty, the CJTF will be a Frankenstein monster that might end up consuming us [sic] – Bornu State Governor Kashim Shettima. 

The Nigerian Government is never trustworthy or sincere – in 2009, it granted amnesty to former fighters for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) –  a group who took up arms to demand for a fairer share of the country’s revenue, the amnesty programme includes demobilization, money grants and training. However, till date barely a quarter of the former militants have access to this funds.

Already CJTF members have already started drawing comparison between their efforts and that of the MEND fighters – asking questions like “if they received payments and money, then why not us? Between us and MEND who deserves to be taken care of?”

Moshood a member of the CJTF based in Yobe asked “Government gave them (MEND) scholarships, jobs and billions of dollars. What about us who sacrificed our lives to defend and protect Nigerian integrity, lives and properties?”

Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF)
A CJTF unit stands guard.

In January, 2018 no fewer than 60 former CJTF fighters were arrested in Benue State with sophisticated small arms. Although the efforts of the gallant vigilantes is commendable, however only time would tell the form the CTJF might morph into if not checked and supervised, but the best course of action would be to be prepared.
As they say security is the responsibility of everybody.

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