Nigeria’s Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF): what next?

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 nothing – the British 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 on 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.

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 the Global Terrorism Index as the world’s deadliest terror group. The group has 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.

Defending Nigeria (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 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 centers.

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 who 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 its members know 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 have since lost more than 600 of its members often to suicide bombers.

Even though less than 2,000 of its members receive a 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.

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 exists distrust between them and the Nigerian Military. The obvious reason being that there might exist saboteurs and “fifth columnists” 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 shows them and the Army slaughtering men beside a mass grave. The CJTF is known to use child soldiers, a violation of Geneva’s Laws of War, and a war crime. The 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 Northeastern Nigeria wind 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.”

After CJTF, these young men would demand rewards or some gratuity after they served 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 dishonorable end. The unemployed former fighters might pose an existential threat to the stability of Northern Nigeria in the long run.

Gambo Abdul 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 participants 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 a fairer share of the country’s revenue, the amnesty program includes demobilization, money grants, and training. However, to date barely a quarter of the former militants have access to these funds.

Already CJTF members have started drawing comparisons 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?”

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 are 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.
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