from Africa in Transition and Africa Program

Massacre in Northern Nigeria Involves Cattle Rustling, Jihadis, and Vigilantes

Cattle run as a helicopter flies overhead along the Komadougou Yobe river which separates Niger and Nigeria, outside Damasak, in Yobe state, which borders Borno state, on March 24, 2015.
Cattle run as a helicopter flies overhead along the Komadougou Yobe river which separates Niger and Nigeria, outside Damasak, in Yobe state, which borders Borno state, on March 24, 2015. Joe Penney/Reuters

June 10, 2020

Cattle run as a helicopter flies overhead along the Komadougou Yobe river which separates Niger and Nigeria, outside Damasak, in Yobe state, which borders Borno state, on March 24, 2015.
Cattle run as a helicopter flies overhead along the Komadougou Yobe river which separates Niger and Nigeria, outside Damasak, in Yobe state, which borders Borno state, on March 24, 2015. Joe Penney/Reuters
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According to Nigerian and international media, at least eighty-one people were killed in communities in Gubio local government area (LGA). One of the villages mentioned is Felo. This number was revised upwards from sixty-nine initially reported following the governor of Borno state’s visit to the area. Seven others, including the village head, were reportedly abducted. The town of Gubio is about fifty miles north of the Borno state capital of Maiduguri. The media also reports that between four hundred and twelve hundred cattle were stolen, a significant number. Though the attackers destroyed the village of Felo, media does not report the deaths of women or girls. Reporting of this episode across Nigerian and international media is sometimes unclear.

Though no group has claimed responsibility, some in the media are saying that the attacks was the work of the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), a Boko Haram faction with links to the Islamic State. The killings appear to have been especially brutal; some victims were run down by the attackers' vehicles. Many of the victims were tending cattle in open areas and so were particularly vulnerable, and bodies were found scattered over a large area. The media is drawing the implication that the attackers deliberately hunted down at least some of their victims, perhaps in reprisal, implying that they knew them. Villagers suspected that the attack was a reprisal for two “Boko Haram” members that vigilantes had killed in the past two months. According to locals interviewed, Boko Haram had been extorting them, and villagers had begun to resist, which has started to result in violent conflict.

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Nigeria

Islamic State

Boko Haram

Agricultural Policy

Sub-Saharan Africa

Villagers in Gubio LGA earn their livelihood through cattle rearing and they had been plagued by cattle rustling. In response, they organized a local vigilante group to protect their cattle that may have been augmented by the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF). The CJTF emerged in 2013 during the Boko Haram insurgency, effectively as a vigilante group or community militia. It has since become a more official part of the government-led effort to counter Boko Haram and is a loose umbrella organization of thousands of vigilantes. Vigilante bands are found elsewhere in Nigeria and have varying relationships with the federal government's security services—some are even paid by them, though most are not. The exact relationship between the CJTF and the local vigilantes is unclear.

It is plausible that, as some in the media reported, the atrocity was carried out by ISWA in revenge against the local vigilantes or the CJTF for informing on them to the security services or killing their members, even if cattle were also taken. That’s what some villagers report. The possibility also remains that the operation was purely or primarily criminal without ties to a jihadi faction. Cattle rustling is a problem in many parts of Nigeria. It is not uncommon for some local communities to assume responsibility for their own security, organizing vigilante groups that often have only tenuous connections to the regular security services.

More on:

Nigeria

Islamic State

Boko Haram

Agricultural Policy

Sub-Saharan Africa

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