Vigilantism fears in Nigeria’s conflicted north

ISIS Nigeria

Traditional rulers in Nigeria’s strife-torn north are warning that vigilante militias now forming to fight Boko Haram are a sign of a generalized social breakdown in the region. The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, told a public meeting in Kaduna that the new paramilitaries could themselves metamorphose into terror groups. “Governors must see that they do more to address insecurity, just imagine that there are over 50,000 orphans. They will be worse than Boko Haram if allowed to grow without proper care,” he said. Abubakar is chair of the Northern Traditional Rulers Council, but a youth-led Coalition of Northern Groups has emerged outside control of the traditional rulers, and launched a paramilitary network called Shege Ka Fasa to defend against the Islamist militias. (Sahara Reporters, Feb. 8)

On Feb. 10, two days after Sultan Abubakar spoke, Boko Haram militants attacked an encampment of travellers on the side of a road through Borno state, killing at least 30 people and abducting several women and children. The massacre came after Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi, successor to slain ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, issued a directive to followers in West Africa calling for an escalation of attacks on Christians in the region. (Sahara Reporters, Feb. 10)

Two weeks before that, four worshippers were killed in a suicide attack on a mosque in Gwoza, Borno state. (Punch)

Shege Ka Fasa (which roughly translates as “Stop the Bastards”) is also raising fears of ethnic conflict, as it appears to be mostly suported by members of the Fulani people. Chief Femi Fani Kayode of the Yoruba people, who is Nigeria’s former aviation minister, tweeted that Shege Ka Fasa “must not target or attack the children of Oduduwa or else they will plunge Nigeria into a cauldron of fire which will leave her in ashes. BE WARNED!” (PM Nigeria, Feb. 11) Oduduwa is the legendary culture hero of the Yoruba people, whose homeland is in the Nger Delta, far to the south of current conflict zone.

The Coalition of Northern Groups is also calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to implement the “RUGA” policy, which would create Rural Grazing Areas as reserves for the Fulani and other pastoralist peoples to prevent conflict with sedentary farmers. Buhari approved the plan last year, but it is meeting opposition from land-owners and some state governments in the north. (Punch, July 12; Pulse, July 1)