The teenagers fighting Nigeria’s ‘bandits’ with knives and clubs

 Across northwest Nigeria, individuals are turning to self-help as Nigeria’s security forces remain acutely understaffed.

Tsafe, Nigeria – It was a sunny afternoon in March. Abdulrahman Yusuf was quiet as he lit a cigarette and drew heavily, puffing twice before passing it to a colleague. The stern eyes of the 17-year-old vigilante told a story of a child who had had to become a man earlier than he should have.

In his penultimate year of high school, Yusuf voluntarily joined a vigilante group to face criminal gangs in his hometown of Tsafe, Zamfara, northwest Nigeria. It was a mission of revenge after a close friend died in an attack by one of the gangs, locally known as bandits, in a nearby village.

“We used to do things together; eat food, go to school together and more,” he said. “I was very pained about his death.”

Across the region, banditry is rife. What began a decade ago as a tit-for-tat clash between sedentary Hausa farmers and nomadic Fulani herders over access to water and grazing land, has morphed into a ballooning crisis in recent years.

An estimated 12,000 people have died and hundreds of thousands more displaced across the northwestern states of Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna since the conflict escalated in 2011, according to [PDF] the Centre for Democracy and Development, an Abuja-based policy and advocacy think-tank.

In recent months, bandits have attacked a military training schoola train, shot down an air force jet and kidnapped students for ransom on multiple occasions.

Experts say the perpetrators are mostly ethnic Fulani herders who claim to have initially taken to banditry to protest mistreatment and marginalisation of the group in the predominantly Hausa area. Some say the bandits are terrorists, while others say they could be even worse, having no unified chain of command.

The criminal gangs have taken advantage of the porous borders to ferry in sophisticated arms and mastermind a roster of criminality that includes cattle rustling, looting and extorting from villages as well as kidnapping for ransom.

A volunteer force

Nigeria’s security agencies, acutely understaffed because of conflicts elsewhere in the country, are unable to adequately deal with the insecurity.

For example, authorities in Katsina, one of the worst-hit states in the region, say less than 3,000 police personnel serve its estimated 5.8 million residents. This translates to 52 police officers for every 100,000 residents –  four times lower than the global recommended average. The story is more or less the same nationwide

Source: The teenagers fighting Nigeria’s ‘bandits’ with knives and clubs | Armed Groups News | Al Jazeera

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