The youth group had evolved, and has been embraced by the security agencies, to restore peace in Borno State, where Boko Haram is believed to have greater presence. Speaking at a ceremony for graduating Cadets Assistant Superintendant of Police (ASPs) and Cadets Inspector course at the Nigeria Police Academy, Wudil in Kano State, Mr Okiro emphasized the need to put the youths under the organized supervision of local police command for the protection of their lives and environment. His call came on the heels of appeals by members of the group to the Borno State government to facilitate payment of monthly allowances to them.
The Civilian JTF became prominent after three states in the North East-Borno, Yobe and Adamawa- were placed under a state of emergency because of the activities of Boko Haram. The members often go round city wards in Maiduguri metropolis, identifying those believed to be Boko Haram followers sect members and handing them over to the military-led Joint Task Force (JTF). Because of their knowledge of people and the terrain, some measure of confidence was reposed in the youths’ conduct not veering into a witch-hunt. But, as expected, they soon became targets of Boko Haram sect members.
Okiro’s comment followed a recent attack on them by heavily-armed Boko Haram, apparently disguised in military uniform, killing 24 stick-wielding Civilian JTF members in an ambush near Monguno; 36 of them are still missing.
It was always going to be an unequal match, a danger that the security agencies should have foreseen and discouraged the youths from getting into harm’s way in the first place. Addressing the problem now does not lay in providing arms and combat training to what are essentially children that should be in school, not under arms. There is a clear danger that having been involved in the bloody hunt to dislodge Boko Haram, members of the Civilian JTF could easily step into void and constitute a nuisance of their own. The history of the emergence and consequence of Yan-kalare in Gombe and Sara-suke Bauchi, or Anambra Vigilante Group, in Anambra states, among others, should serve as a sobering lesson to Okiro and others who think, wrongly, that the answer to violence is to empower others with instruments of violence. Mr Okiro’s proposal is all the more surprising given that there is a regional committee set up to curb the proliferation of small and light arms in West Africa, and a presidential panel on the same issue.
If the youths must be involved in security operation, what they would need are communication gadgets to alert JTF operatives promptly to where and when their professional intervention is required. The Borno State government did the right thing in providing the vigilante youth group with logistics equipment; but their role should be clearly defined. Where some of them prove their competence, they should be recommended to the conventional police force for recruitment instead of paying them monthly allowances that may become a source of permanent dependence.
For a country that is far behind the recommended one policeman to 10,000 persons, the present practice where, as revealed by former chairman of the Police Service Commission Mr Pary Osayande, that over 100,000 of the 330,000 policemen in the country were attached to “a few fortunate” individuals to carry handbags for their wives, is unacceptable. The use of policemen as personal aides and guards has become a status symbol in the country that should be discontinued forthwith. Worse, these officers are sometimes used for personal vendettas and in settling political scores or grudges against others. The policy statements made by all past IGPs and the current IGP Mohammed Abubakar to withdraw police officers from such unwholesome duties have never gone beyond empty pledges. Now is the time to redeem them.
The authorities must begin to plan now for the vigilante youths’ future before the current battle against insurgents is over. A post-conflict management strategy should be evolved to take care of that.