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There are signs that as the Nigerian army and the police continue to fail to meet the security needs of the Nigerian people, they will turn toward repression. In November, Chief of Army Staff Tukur Buratai called on all troops to put themselves in a “war mode.” An internal army communication obtained by the media exhorted Nigerian soldiers to treat all individuals in the region where Boko Haram is active as suspected jihadis until they are “properly identified.” The door is opening to yet more human rights abuses by the security services. Fears that the Buhari government may revive shelved legislation that would seek greater control over social media—including the death penalty for spreading “fake news,” as defined by the government—are also surfacing.
Meanwhile, the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), a civil society organization that focuses on the welfare of northern Nigerians, is calling on local communities to defend themselves against Boko Haram and “bandits” because the Buhari government is failing to protect them. Last week, before the resolution of the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolboys at Kankara, CNG’s national coordinator said “northern Nigeria has been abandoned at the mercy of various insurgents, bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers, rapists, and an assortment of hardened criminals,” with a “huge vacuum in the political will and capacity of government to challenge” such violent actors. Around the country, numerous state governors are organizing and supporting more-or-less informal militias, ostensibly in support of the army and the police. In the current climate, such groups are likely now acting independently more often than in conjunction with security forces.
Some evidence suggests that security service abuses contribute to the alienation of the population from the government, helping drive jihadi recruitment. With the growth of militias, the Nigerian state is losing an attribute of sovereignty: a monopoly on the legal use of violence. The government is also failing to fulfill its obligation to provide security for its people.