Abubakar Sani Bello, Governor of Niger State, North-central Nigeria, says the government would arm local vigilantes with guns and other sophisticated weapons in a bid to aid their counter-terrorism fight in the state.
The governor made this known on Tuesday, in a show-of-support meeting with the vigilantes in the Mariga Local Government Area of the state.
“I am here to thank the vigilantes, boost their morale and to offer more support from the state government so that they can continue to support the police and other security agencies in the fight against bandits and other criminal tendencies,” Bello said.
He reiterated that his administration would not engage in any form of negotiation with terrorists, known locally as bandits.
According to him, the state government would rather provide support for those willing to surrender their arms, emphasising that the support may not be monetary, as the terrorists were known from previous observation, to procure more arms with money obtained from dialogue processes.
To boost the morale of the vigilantes, the governor promised to provide them with automatic pump action guns and other sophisticated weapons to engage the marauding terrorists, adding that he would not disband the vigilante groups as was demanded by the terrorist commanders.
“We are not going to disband vigilante because, even when banditry stops, the vigilante will remain to form a kind of security within the community,” the governor said.
Bello also sympathised with the vigilantes over the loss of their members to terrorist attacks, adding that their families would be compensated.
Meanwhile, Idris Ibrahim, the chairman of the Mariga Local Government Area, had earlier commended the governor on his counter-terrorism fight in the state.
He added that the state government had recruited 50 vigilante members from each district in the local government and was working with members of the community policing committee.
Terrorists are fast taking over Niger State with incessant attacks and abduction of villagers including the recent abduction of secondary schoolboys from their school in the Kagara area of the state.
‘Not the best move’
A security expert, Yusuf Anka, in a telephone interview with HumAngle, has said that while the governor might mean well, his decision may not be in the state’s best interest.
Anka told HumAngle that the decision of the governor to arm local vigilante groups might backfire, as the group might not be well trained. The lack of training on the part of the vigilantes will lead to the targeting of specific ethnic groups, he warned.
“If for instance, the Fulani ethnic group, makes up the majority of a particular bandit group, these vigilantes would end up attacking a Fulani village, instead of launching an attack on the bandits themselves.”
Anka also said that the lack of training might lead to more crimes, citing misuse of firearms.
“Vigilantes can use these arms to rustle cows and forcefully collect properties of targeted villages, thereby leading to retaliatory attacks, which will only worsen the insecurity situation in the state, rather than reduce it,” he said.
He cautioned that regulating the conduct of the vigilante groups would be a challenge that the government would not be able to take on.
“It is hard for the government to appropriately control security agents like the police and the army, which are trained, how much more, these vigilante groups.”
“We often hear allegations of human rights abuses made against the police, and even members of the military and these are people who are well trained, how much more, those who merely have guns handed to them.”
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