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Can Nigeria's community vigilantes combat bandit gangs?

Shehu Salmanu in Katsina State, Nigeria
October 30, 2023

The lingering security problems in northern Nigeria have forced states in the region to think of community-based programs. This includes the recruitment of 2,400 youths in a vigilante initiative.

Nigerians protest against insecurity
Northwestern and central Nigerian states have for years been terrorized by gangsImage: Nasiru Salisu Zango

Nigeria's northwestern state of Katsina is the first in the region to inaugurate a Community Watch Corps in an effort to combat bandit gangs.

The heavily armed gangs operate in the Rugu Forest, which spans the Zamfara, Katsina and Kadina states in northern Nigeria. The area is under-policed, and authorities have struggled to root out the criminal activity. 

The criminals are notorious for mass kidnapping students from schools in recent years. In addition to abductions, the bandits also engage in murder, rape, cattle raiding and looting homes. 

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Why are vigilante groups needed?

Conventional security forces have failed to thwart the gangs, and Katsina is hoping that its new community-driven approach will yield more positive results. 

The Katsina state government also procured armored personnel carriers, motorcycles, and other security equipment in its effort to eliminate the threat from bandits. Katsina governor Dikko Umar Radda said that his state is leading the way in directly involving members of the public. 

''As 22 out of 34 local government areas faced severe security challenges, security has been the top priority of the administration and we have invested vast resources to ensure sustainability in our fight against banditry," Radda said.

He further pointed out that local residents have degenerated into poor living conditions, immense psychological trauma, and a complete demolition of the socio-economic development of Nigeria.

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New strategy

Security expert Dr. Yahuza Gesto said the establishment of community groups is very necessary as conventional forces have failed.

"The conventional system that we have that is the military, the DSS [the Department of State Services], the police, and all other formal organized structures of the security system architecture have failed to deliver and as a result of that the states are now coming with a new vision and a new strategy," Gesto told DW.

Nigerian officials have struggled to end the violence in the northwest and several peace deals and amnesties with the bandit militias have failed to work.

Although the bandits are motivated by financial gain with no ideological leaning, authorities and security analysts are worried by the increasing ties with jihadists waging a 14-year armed insurgency in Nigeria. 

This article has been adapted from a radio report that was broadcast on AfricaLink, a daily podcast packed with news, politics, culture and more. You can listen and follow AfricaLink wherever you get your podcasts

Nigeria under pressure over growing threat from 'bandits'