Youths in Borno State have formed a vigilante group to hunt suspected Islamic militants, majority of who have been forced to flee their enclave in the wake of the ongoing military onslaught that followed the declaration of state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States.
The youths were emboldened to embark on the hunt following the relative peace in the state because of the military expedition.
The anti-terror war has forced some 6,000 refugees to flee the North-east, according to a report Tuesday by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Called “Civilian JTF”, the youths go from street to street and house to house arresting identified Boko Haram members and handing them over to the operatives of the Joint Task Force (JTF).
Some of the “Civilian JTF” members seen on the streets of Maiduguri, were carrying cutlasses, iron bars and wooden batons.
Members of the group who are mostly between the age of 17 and 25 years, told journalists that they decided to hunt down Boko Haram members because they had brought untold hardship on residents and jeopardised their future.
“We are tired of this and we want to put an end to it. Since the soldiers don't really know who the Boko Haram members are, then we who live with them and know them have no option than to help fish them out,” said a leader of the group who goes by the pseudonym MK.
He added that the decision to fight the insurgents started when youths in Hausari ward of Maiduguri, a notorious den of the Islamic militants, started to reveal the identity of the sect members. After that, those in Gwange ward and Bolori area joined in the hunt.
Another member of the group, who identified himself as Isa Musa, told journalists that: “We are into this to salvage our people from the Boko Haram who had killed our people, security operatives and destroyed our economy; we are not afraid of them because we are doing a just cause and God is by our side.”
Abubakar Malum, another leader of the group, explained that they did not need guns or sophisticated rifles to catch the deadly Boko Haram insurgents, adding that their will and the support of everyone in the town were enough.
“All we want is prayers from the people and their cooperation; we are working together with the JTF soldiers. We want government to assist us with more weapons like cutlasses, iron batons and axes.
“We have lost count of how many Boko Haram we have caught and handed over to the soldiers and we are going after more of them. We have caught one recently and when he was investigated, the security operatives found huge amount of money in his bank account,” Musa said.
The UNHCR however noted that the military offensive to dislodge the Boko Haram insurgents from the North-east has forced more than 6,000 refugees to flee to neighbouring Niger.
The report said the refugees were mostly women, children and the elderly.
“Those UNHCR has spoken to say they escaped for fear of being caught in the government-led crackdown,” notes from a UNHCR briefing in Geneva said, adding that they had reported air strikes were continuing near Lake Chad, where Nigeria borders Chad, Cameroun and Niger.
Although the military was not immediately available for comment, a statement last Friday by defence spokesman, Brigadier-General Chris Olukolade, denied a report that Nigerian refugees were "pouring into" Niger.
The UNHCR said Niger had received 2,692 Nigerians, with another 3,544 originally from Niger but who were living in Nigeria, and 94 people of other nationalities, mainly Chadian.
They are “putting a strain on meagre local food and water resources. Niger … itself struggles with food insecurity due to years of drought,” the U.N. agency said.
The military are engaged in a four-week-old operation to regain territory from the Islamic militants and they claimed to have destroyed key bases and arrested more than 150 suspected insurgents in the three states under emergency rule.
Separately, two Boko Haram suspects were shot dead on Sunday in the Gwange area of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, while trying to escape detention, two witnesses and a military source said.
Boko Haram militants have dispersed since the raids began, raising fears they could re-arm and return.