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Vigilantism in Nigeria
Vigilantes and other self-defense groups currently operating in Nigeria have roots that reach deep into the country's history. In the pre-colonial era, some-though not all-independent local communities, especially in the south-east, maintained their own standing army to defend their territory against the threat of invasion from neighboring communities. Although there was no equivalent of a modern-day state structure at that time, some parallels can be drawn between these groups which were created by local communities for their own protection, and the more recently formed self-defense groups. Local conflicts were also fought between members of warrior cults; a clear link can be traced between these secret societies and contemporary vigilante groups in Nigeria, including the Bakassi Boys.

Even though these local armies and warrior groups were superseded by the colonial state which claimed a monopoly on the use of force, they continued operating across large parts of Nigeria. Since Nigerian independence, some of the formal political structures established under colonial rule have disintegrated, and Nigerians have adapted historical precedents to the new environment created by large-scale urbanization and breakdown of stable social structures. Local communities across Nigeria, as in many other countries in Africa and elsewhere, have created their own informal or sometimes formal structures to try to ensure the security of the population. These groups have usually been composed of individuals from the local community. They have derived their credibility, and unofficial authority, from the community in which they serve. One of the main purposes of these initiatives has been to complement the police in identifying and handing over criminal suspects to the appropriate judicial authorities. They have also sometimes tried to settle other conflicts between individuals in the community. Local leaders have on occasion abused their power and used these groups for other purposes.

Village or community guards have existed in Igbo communities in the south-east of Nigeria for many years; the roots of the more recently-formed vigilante groups can be traced back in part to these traditions. Since at least the late 1980s, local forms of vigilantism have been common in south-eastern Nigeria. Most villages have some form of watch or protection, either through organized systems of night guards or through more informal networks to monitor the local situation. Throughout the mid-1990s, state authorities, the police, and traditional rulers called upon villages to set up vigilante patrols; these often involved contests for rights and privileges and negotiations between young men and their elders, as well as the formal judicial bodies.

In more recent years, mounting frustration with the steady increase in violent crime in Nigeria, exacerbated by the inefficiency and widespread corruption of the police force, has led to the formation of a new type of vigilante group, exemplified by the Bakassi Boys.5 These groups, while not entirely removed from the longstanding traditions of vigilantism in the region, differ from other forms of citizen involvement in policing in that they are usually not composed of members of the local community. They tend to be based in the large urban centers, rather than in the villages, although their operations are gradually extending into the rural communities. When they first set themselves up, they promised to deal with armed criminals ruthlessly and definitively. Within a short time, it appeared that they were no longer accountable to anybody and had become virtually impossible to control.

A combination of political, economic and social factors in Nigeria-including high unemployment, poor relations between the police and local communities, widespread corruption, and absence of confidence and trust in the state and its institutions-has meant that it has been easy to recruit people to these vigilante groups, and for these groups to flourish. The situation has been aggravated by influential political figures, including several state governors, who have sought to rely on armies of thugs who are on standby to intervene when events do not go in their favor. In general, state governments have tolerated if not encouraged these vigilante groups, and have been unwilling to take decisive action to dismantle them or call their backers to account. It is not a coincidence that groups like the Bakassi Boys emerged at a time when the political balance between federal and state governments shifted: the power of state governors has increased significantly in relation to the federal center since 1999, as increased revenue has been distributed to state and local government levels. Political posts, with the opportunities for self-enrichment and patronage that they present, became ever more highly prized and vigorously defended.

The term "vigilante" is used loosely in Nigeria to refer to a range of different groups, each with different motives. The term has been applied to groups such as the Bakassi Boys, who were initially set up with the purpose of fighting crime without an explicit political agenda, as well as to others such as the O'odua People's Congress (OPC), a Yoruba ethnic militia active in the south-west of Nigeria. The OPC was initially created to advocate for autonomy for the Yoruba people, then extended its activities to fighting alleged criminals.6 In some of the northern states of Nigeria, there are other groups, also referred to as vigilantes, which are used to monitor and enforce observance of Sharia (Islamic law); some of them have administered instant punishments to those caught violating Sharia. A variety of other armed groups, many of them formed along ethnic lines in different parts of the country, are also described as vigilantes.

The emergence of vigilante groups in the south-eastern states
The rise of vigilantism in its current form in the south-east of Nigeria can be traced back to the explosion of violent crime which rocked the city of Aba, in Abia State, and its surroundings in 1997 and 1998. This commercial town, which hosts the large Ariaria market, was gripped by insecurity and lawlessness as armed robbery and other forms of violent crime reached unprecedented levels. Robbery and extortion by armed gangs, the most prominent of which were known as the Mafia, became a daily routine and began to affect more than just the population of Aba, as traders from all over the country, who used to come to Aba to transact business in the Ariaria market, began staying away from the town, out of fear. Traders in Aba estimate that around two hundred people were killed by armed robbers between 1997 and 1999. Aba, and the broader south-eastern region, saw a dramatic increase in the possession and use of firearms: residents of Aba estimated that one in ten adults in the town owned a gun, either for self-defense or for criminal purposes.7

Frustration and anger at the insecurity and intimidation suffered at the hands of criminals in Aba exploded when armed robbers killed a pregnant woman near the market in Aba in October 1999. Market traders mobilized people to hunt down the perpetrators and three days of violence and destruction ensued as the traders clashed with the alleged criminals. This incident prompted the shoe makers' association in Ariaria market to decide to organize a vigilante group to defend themselves against criminals. The vigilante group then unleashed its own killing spree, unprecedented in the history of Aba, killing and burning suspected criminals and their accomplices, tracking some of them down in their home towns and villages far from the city. After this revenge, the violence subsided. Economic activities gradually resumed and customers began patronizing the Ariaria market once again.

Having "succeeded" in defeating the armed robbers, the traders set about turning their vigilante group into a more permanent institution. They provided them with a building to use as their headquarters and began paying them regular salaries. The vigilantes abandoned their normal occupations to become full-time members of the group which became known as the Bakassi Boys.

The ascent and huge popularity of the Bakassi Boys in Aba was closely watched by other cities in south-eastern Nigeria which were experiencing similarly high levels of violent crime. Their "success" in ridding the Ariaria market of criminals and their mythical invincibility led to clamours for the Bakassi Boys to extend their operations to other cities, including Umuahia, the capital of Aba State; Owerri, the capital of Imo State; and Onitsha, the large market town in Anambra State.

Onitsha, whose market is reputed to be the largest in Nigeria, was the second major city where the Bakassi Boys made their mark. Like Aba, Onitsha was a center for traders from all over Nigeria and the large volumes of cash which changed hands in the market on a daily basis had been a magnet for organized, violent crime. In the 1980s, the Onitsha Amalgamated Traders' Association (OMATA) had set up a vigilante group known as OMATA security. Initially created to maintain security inside the Onitsha market, it sometimes operated in other parts of the city too. The OMATA security group was eventually replaced by another group, the Onitsha Traders Association (OTA), which became the precursor of the Bakassi Boys' operations in the city. Officially set up on September 25, 1999, with the support of the Anambra State governor, OTA used extremely brutal methods in its mission to drive violent criminals from the city. Like the Bakassi Boys who followed them, they arrested people arbitrarily, on the basis of little or no evidence, tortured them and summarily executed them, often in public. Although there are no reliable records of their activities, residents of Onitsha, including human rights activists, lawyers, and others, estimate that OTA was responsible for hundreds of deaths and that many of their victims may have been innocent. OTA also intervened in civil cases, including disputes over land, rents and property, and regularly extorted money from Onitsha residents.

Eventually, public outrage at OTA's methods led to calls for their dissolution. In July 2000, the traders themselves protested against their activities and called on the Anambra State governor to disband OTA. On July 8, the Bakassi Boys came in to take over from OTA, to great public acclaim. In the words of one human rights activist, "the day the Bakassi arrived in Onitsha, everyone was celebrating. It was like the arrival of the Messiah."8 The Bakassi Boys were recognized by the Anambra State government on July 12 and in August 2000, a law was passed, officially establishing them under the name Anambra State Vigilante Services.9 On August 9, Chuma Nzeribe, security adviser to the governor of Anambra State, wrote to the Bakassi Boys' chairman informing him that their application for registration as a vigilante group had been granted and that they should report to Government House for their inauguration on August 14.10

A power struggle for control of the Bakassi Boys developed between the Anambra State governor and the traders' association. According to independent sources in Onitsha, the traders wanted to run and finance the Bakassi Boys as an independent vigilante group. However, the governor said he would provide the funding and inaugurate the group. He was responsible for changing their name to the Anambra Vigilante Services and ensured that the legislation provided for the governor to appoint the chairman and three other members of their committee. When the traders delivered a resolution to the governor saying they were not satisfied with these arrangements, the governor ordered the arrest of several of the traders, including the chairman of their association; they were detained for about one week.11

The transition from OTA to the Bakassi Boys was marked by violence. Fighting broke out between the two groups when the Bakassi Boys ousted OTA to take over their functions. The Bakassi Boys killed five members of OTA and beheaded them in the market, close to their headquarters. An eye-witness said the Bakassi Boys cut off the legs of their victims and made a fire under their bodies; blood was gushing from their heads. A crowd of onlookers clapped. The police were reportedly present, but only watched and did not intervene. The Bakassi Boys claimed that they had killed the five men because they were armed robbers masquerading as OTA members.12 Although the original reason for the dissolution of OTA was people's anger at the way the organization had exceeded its mandate and was engaging in systematic violence, the Bakassi Boys who replaced them have used similar and equally brutal methods. In late 2001, the Bakassi Boys in Onitsha were said to include several former members of OTA, chosen by the state governor.

Since they were first created in Aba, there have been increasingly serious divisions among the Bakassi Boys operating in different states, particularly between those in Abia and Anambra states. As the Bakassi Boys spread from Abia to Anambra then Imo states, those from Abia became known as the "original" or "authentic" Bakassi, while those in the other states were sometimes described as "not authentic" or "fake" Bakassi. Former detainees who witnessed or overheard exchanges between the different units of the Bakassi Boys indicated that those from Aba seemed more committed to their original crime-fighting function. The Bakassi Boys from Aba have sometimes criticized their counterparts in Anambra for getting too involved in political cases, for extorting large sums of money, or even, on occasions, for their brutality.13 Nevertheless, the groups in both states have been responsible for very serious abuses.

By mid-2000, the Bakassi Boys had become an accepted part of daily life in the large cities in the south-east. Throughout the rest of 2000 and 2001, they were regularly seen patrolling the streets and the markets, and standing outside their offices, heavily armed, in full view, usually wearing black uniforms and caps, sometimes with red bandanas, and with their own official vehicles. One man who was detained by the Bakassi Boys in Onitsha said they were wearing badges with the picture of the Anambra State governor pinned to their shirts.14 They are mostly made up of young, able-bodied men in their twenties or thirties. Local residents have reported that they also include some boys under the age of eighteen.

The Bakassi Boys' leaders have repeatedly denied that their members carry weapons, especially firearms-despite abundant evidence to the contrary. When Human Rights Watch and CLEEN asked the chairman of the Anambra Vigilante Services (AVS), Camillus Ebekue, about their use of weapons and use of force, he said he did not know about any use of force and denied that they had any weapons, saying "they just have one or two matchets." Just before their meeting with Camillus Ebekue, Human Rights Watch and CLEEN researchers had seen him arriving at the state government office in Awka in a vehicle with several AVS men openly carrying guns. When we told him we had seen this with our own eyes, he continued to deny that they ever carried weapons.15 Likewise, the chairman of the Abia Vigilante Services, Onwuchekwa Ulu, told journalists: "If you have [seen guns], then your eyes are deceiving you."16 In an interview with CLEEN, Onwuchekwa Ulu also denied that his members carried arms and said that they just used cutlasses bought in the market.17 The Bakassi Boys claim that all their members are carefully recruited and vetted to ensure that they have a "clean" record and have not engaged in criminal activities in the past. Under the circumstances, it seems unlikely that this is the case; even if it is, the process is clearly not sufficient to weed out individuals likely to use inappropriate and excessive force.

While the traders' associations initially financed the Bakassi Boys, state governments have since taken over this role. However, the traders still contribute significantly to their upkeep, through a monthly levy. Businesses, local governments, and other institutions are also all asked to contribute a tax towards the Bakassi Boys; many complain that this is extorted under duress and intimidation. The levy varies from state to state. According to a source in Onitsha, in late 2001, the monthly levy requested for the Bakassi Boys there was 2,000 naira (approximately U.S.$15) for offices, 10,000 naira (approximately U.S.$76) for schools and hospitals, and 50,000 naira (approximately U.S.$385) for banks; okada (motorbike taxi) drivers had to pay 20 naira daily. Some businessmen in Anambra were also approached individually to contribute to the Bakassi Boys. However, a representative of the Onitsha market traders told Human Rights Watch and CLEEN: "There has never been any levy on anyone to finance the AVS. But because of the success of the AVS, people would like to do it if it's done properly. But I am not aware of any plan to do it."18 In Aba, each store is asked to pay 250 naira (approximately US$2) and is given a receipt marked with the Bakassi Boys' symbol. The chairman of the Abia Vigilante Services, Onwuchekwa Ulu, stated in a newspaper interview that their funding came in part from the Abia State government and in part from donations and levies which they collected from the public.19 There is no reliable information as to how much the Bakassi Boys receive in terms of salary or direct payments. The chairman of the Anambra Vigilante Services, Camillus Ebekue, claimed that his members were paid just "a token amount."20

The role of state governments
In all three states where they currently operate- Abia, Anambra, and Imo-the Bakassi Boys have enjoyed the support of their state government, who have provided them with offices, uniforms and vehicles, as well as paying their salaries. Their offices and vehicles bear the names, or initials, of the vigilante groups, their inscriptions and sometimes their mottos, making them easily recognizable.

Some vigilante leaders have tried to deny their close links with the government. For example, when Human Rights Watch and CLEEN met Camillus Ebekue, the chairman of the Anambra Vigilante Services, he stated bluntly "there are no AVS in government house," even though we were meeting him in government house and the AVS have a clearly-marked office in the government compound in Awka, the capital of Anambra State.21 Others have been more candid. The chairman of the Abia Vigilante Services, Onwuchekwa Ulu, told journalists who asked him about their relationship with the Abia State government: "We have a cordial relationship. It is just like a father and son business [...] We have a very good relationship with the governor. [...] We always obey him because he who pays the piper dictates the tune. He pays us and we always try to obey him."22

The government of Anambra has gone the furthest in terms of open support for the Bakassi Boys by introducing to the state assembly and ensuring the adoption of a law in August 2000 which officially established them as the Anambra State Vigilante Services. The law outlines the functions and powers of the vigilante group as follows, effectively making them a fully-fledged law enforcement agency:23

      The vigilante group shall augment the maintenance of security in their various community and shall in particular render all lawful help and assistance to the police in-
      a) the prevention and detection of crimes;
      b) making available relevant information on criminals;
      c) taking measures to ensure that hoodlums do not operate in their communities;
      d) preserving law and order;
      e) protecting lives and properties.

      The group shall have the power to-
      a) arrest any person who commits a crime before them;
      b) patrol the streets or villages at any time of the day and especially at nights;
      c) maintain security barricades at nights in appropriate places;
      d) question and hand over to the Police any person of questionable character or of suspicious movement; and
      e) enter and search any compound into which a questionable person runs while being pursued.

The law also establishes the Vigilante Services Co-ordinating Committee which is to oversee their activities. It states that the committee operates from the office of the governor, that the governor appoints four of its seven members, and that the chairman of the committee will be the adviser on security matters.24 It specifies that part of the vigilantes' funding will come from subventions from the state government, and that "the purpose of the fund shall be for the purchase of security gadgets including vehicles, torch lights, whistles, matchets, guns and bullets; provided that appropriate licences are obtained for such guns."25

In practice, the provisions of this law bear little relation to the practices of the Bakassi Boys. The Bakassi Boys rarely if ever "render all lawful help and assistance to the police." The requirement that they should hand over any suspects to the police is systematically ignored. The coordinating committee appears to be purely a cosmetic measures and meets infrequently, if at all; the Commissioner of Police of Anambra State told Human Rights and CLEEN in October 2001 that it had never met.26 Human Rights Watch and CLEEN were informed that in addition to this law, a code of conduct to govern the activities of the Bakassi Boys had been drawn up. However, we were unable to obtain a copy from government officials, from the police, or from the Bakassi Boys' leaders themselves, despite repeated requests.

In Imo State, a bill establishing the Imo Vigilante Services was passed by the State House of Assembly in December 2000. The speaker of the House of Assembly was said to have been the main person calling for the introduction of the Bakassi Boys into Imo State. By early 2002, the state governor, Achike Udenwa, has so far resisted pressure to sign the bill into law. However, this has not stopped the Bakassi Boys from openly carrying on with their activities in Imo State, particularly in the town of Owerri. Although he has not provided them with legal recognition, the governor also has not taken any decisive action to stop their operations.

Governors of several neighboring states have come under significant pressure from large sectors of the general public to introduce the Bakassi Boys, on the basis of their perceived "success" in combating crime in Abia, Anambra, and Imo states. To their credit, some governors have resisted this pressure. The governor of Enugu, for example, has stated that he would not invite them to his state; he said that he was in favor of using the police force and assisting them with better facilities, and requested an extra police contingent from the federal government, which was deployed in late 2000.27 In other states, however, moves are underway to introduce the Bakassi Boys. For example in Edo State, a bill for the establishment of the Edo State Vigilante Services was before the state assembly in August 2001. In Ebonyi, a bill to set up the Ebonyi State Vigilante Services was passed by the state assembly. By the end of 2001, the governor of Ebonyi had not yet given his assent, on the basis that-like his counterpart in Enugu-he preferred to place his confidence in the police and would try to ensure that they were better equipped to combat crime. However, in March 2002, he announced that he was preparing to sign the bill. At the time of writing, the bills have not been passed into law in either Ebonyi or Edo states.

    In one of the most alarming developments in the rise of vigilantism in the southeast of Nigeria, some state governments have used the Bakassi Boys to target and intimidate perceived political opponents. Human Rights Watch and CLEEN documented several cases, described below, where senior state government authorities were clearly aware of and in some cases personally involved in human rights abuses by the Bakassi Boys. Those targeted were usually well-known figures, viewed as political opponents or otherwise seen to be posing a threat to the authority of the state governor.

    The involvement of government authorities was particularly striking in Anambra State. Human Rights Watch and CLEEN interviewed many people who described the Bakassi Boys as the private army of the governor of Anambra State, Chinwoke Mbadinuju.28 One of the senior officials most closely implicated in their activities, according to the testimonies of victims, has been Chuma Nzeribe, former security advisor to the governor. As detailed below, several former detainees and relatives of people detained and killed by the Bakassi Boys testified to Chuma Nzeribe's close links with the Bakassi Boys and his personal knowledge of specific cases of arrests, torture and killings - for example the abduction and killing of Eddie Okeke and Chief Okonkwo, and the abuction and torture of Ifeanyi Ibegbu, all described in this report.29 They reported that on several occasions, the Bakassi Boys appeared to be acting under Chuma Nzeribe's instructions and were consulting him in the course of their actions.30 A local human rights activist described Chuma Nzeribe as effectively in charge of the Bakassi Boys since the beginning.31 Human Rights Watch and CLEEN made repeated attempts to meet Chuma Nzeribe in October 2001 but he did not grant us a meeting.

Governor Mbadinuju himself has made no secret of his support for the Bakassi Boys and for their violent methods, announcing to a group of journalists in Awka: "I told them [the Bakassi Boys] to fish out all the armed robbers in Anambra State. And that if the robbers buried themselves, they should be exhumed, killed and buried a second time."32 In an interview with a foreign journalist in September 2001, he first said he had no confirmation of extrajudicial executions, then stated: "The armed robbers are in the business of killing innocent people. I don't know anyone who will complain if an armed robber is dead."33 In an interview in Newswatch magazine, in reply to a question about extrajudicial executions by the Bakassi Boys, he said: "Well, who killed who? The armed robbers have been killing us, innocent citizens on the streets [...] making nonsense of everybody. [...] They shot and killed 35 people at Onitsha going on their normal business [...] They killed them and these people they have killed, who tried them? Who condemned? What is the difference in extra-judicial killing, between armed robbers and other killers? We must face reality. I am not condoning evil, I am a lawyer, I like rule of law. I am a Christian, we should not kill according to the commandment. But, having said this, under which law did the armed robbers operate in killing us?"34

In another media interview, Chuma Nzeribe was asked about robbers being killed by the Bakassi Boys, their bodies being left lying on the streets and the absence of due process. Denying that the Bakassi Boys had been responsible for these abuses, he replied: "There are no corpses lying around the streets of Anambra state. Those that you saw were as a result of mob action by the traders. We have since passed that stage, and all known criminals have been apprehended and handed over to the police for thorough investigation [...]"35

The governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, has also denied any involvement in abuses by the Bakassi Boys. In July 2001, he was asked by a journalist to respond to accusations that he had used the Bakassi Boys to intimidate his opponents and that he was planning to use them as thugs for the 2003 elections. He replied: "I don't think so. I have no hand whatsoever in handling Bakassi. You see, the Bakassi in my state is the most quiet Bakassi. And what I have always said is that nobody will rig election in Abia. We don't need Bakassi to do that." He said he was calling for the Bakassi Boys to work in close partnership with the police. 36

The leaders of the Bakassi Boys have also denied any involvement in human rights abuses. When CLEEN met Gilbert Okoye, the former chairman of the Bakassi Boys in Anambra State, he denied all knowledge of extrajudicial executions. He praised the work of the Bakassi Boys in Anambra State and claimed that everyone was happy with them, with the exception of a handful of disgruntled politicians who were worried that the Bakassi Boys' success in dealing with insecurity would enhance the political future of the Anambra State governor.37 Likewise, Camillus Ebekue, who took over from him as chairman in May 2001, told Human Rights Watch and CLEEN that it was only detractors of the vigilante groups and of the government who tried to blame them for abuses. He claimed that the only purpose of the Anambra Vigilante Services was to fight crime. He refused to answer questions about how members of the AVS were recruited or trained.38 The chairman of the Abia Vigilante Services, Onwuchekwa Ulu, told CLEEN that they were purely a vigilante group with no interest in politics, that they did not usurp the functions of police or the courts but complemented them. He said they sometimes adjudicated between parties involved in disputes and tried to settle matters amicably. He denied that they had been responsible for killings and mutilations.39

Attitudes of the general public and the media
Public attitudes towards the Bakassi Boys have been characterized by contradiction and formed by a combination of fear, despair and helplessness. After suffering years of violent crime, abuses by the security forces, and government inaction, people appeared to have given up expecting the government or the police to provide protection or security. When the Bakassi Boys took on the task of fighting crime, they were hailed as heroes. The overwhelming feeling of many people was relief at being able to "sleep with both eyes closed"-an expression commonly used when describing the "post-Bakassi era." With the realization that the Bakassi Boys' methods were sometimes arbitrary, and often brutal, the relief gradually became tinged with fear; however, there is still very little public expression of indignation at the violence used by the Bakassi Boys. A sociology professor accurately summed up the public attitude towards the Bakassi Boys: "People's tolerance of vigilante groups is very high. It is frightening, even among reasonable people. They complain about extrajudicial executions, yet they support an organization totally dedicated to it."40

This general acceptance of the Bakassi Boys has permeated many sectors of society. A judge in Anambra described the situation in the following way: "No one challenges Bakassi, no one speaks up. People just talk about executions as if it were something normal. Even the judiciary are accepting the Bakassi; even some lawyers don't see what's wrong [...] The general attitude is: what about the rights of people killed by armed robbers? People are afraid to go against this attitude. Even when the Bakassi get an innocent person, people say no, he can't be innocent otherwise the Bakassi wouldn't have caught him. Anyone who is hunted by the Bakassi must be guilty. No one asks any questions."41

Unquestioning acceptance of the Bakassi Boys has been accentuated by the attitude of some sections of the media. Some Nigerian newspapers and magazines have published extensive articles about the actions of the Bakassi Boys, illustrated with explicit photographs of their victims, and sometimes their execution. Much of the media coverage of the activities of the Bakassi Boys has been sensationalist. Journalists have both exposed and glorified vigilante violence, in a confusing mix of praise for the Bakassi Boys and revulsion at their methods.

Some of the articles have verged on propaganda for the Bakassi Boys, perpetuating the myths and fear surrounding their operations. For example, in an article in the Post Express on Saturday, a journalist who visited the Bakassi Boys' headquarters in Aba wrote: "Today, Aba, perhaps, has the lowest crime rate in Nigeria. While criminals, some of who were chased out of Aba by the ubiquitous Bakassi Boys, have virtually overrun the country, residents [of Aba] now enjoy the luxury of sleeping with both eyes closed. Indeed, one could drop a valuable article at a street corner all day long without it shifting from its position. Woe betide anyone who touches what does not belong to him. No matter where he might run to, the Bakassi Boys will fish him out and punish him accordingly. Punishment could be amputation at the wrist (long sleeve) or at the elbow (short sleeve) or outright death. That crime has taken a flight from Aba may sound unbelievable in the present day Nigeria, but that is the simple truth."42 Some magazines have also published letters from readers congratulating the Bakassi Boys on their successes.

On the other hand, other journalists have not shied away from exposing the involvement of politicians in the affairs of the Bakassi Boys and have addressed direct questions on this issue to state government authorities.43

Human Rights Watch and CLEEN tried to seek opinions from a number of journalists in the south-eastern states about the actions of the Bakassi Boys and attitudes towards them. Several of them reacted defensively to our inquiries. Reflecting, to some extent, the contradictory attitudes of the general public, their reactions could be interpreted as a mixture of genuine support for the Bakassi Boys, and fear of expressing disapproval of what they might privately consider to be abusive about their behaviour. Some claimed not to have any information about the specific activities of the Bakassi Boys, even though they had personally reported on individual cases for their newspapers, while others contented themselves with the standard pro-Bakassi Boys arguments. A typical response was that of a journalist in Onitsha who told us: "The Bakassi have been a good thing. Armed robbery was very bad and violent. Now people feel safe. There is no trust in the police [...] People want the Bakassi."44

4 This section does not attempt to provide a comprehensive history of vigilantism in Nigeria. A more detailed overview and analysis of the past and present activities of vigilante groups in Nigeria can be found in various publications of CLEEN, in particular Vigilantes and Policing in Nigeria, by Innocent Chukwuma, in the July-September 2000 issue of Law Enforcement Review (the quarterly magazine of CLEEN).

5 The term "Bakassi Boys" is used in this report to refer to the main vigilante groups operating in the south-eastern cities since around 1998, including the Onitsha Traders' Association (OTA), which preceded the Bakassi Boys in Onitsha, and the Bakassi Boys themselves. In the three main states where they currently operate, the Bakassi Boys are now officially called the Abia Vigilante Services, the Anambra Vigilante Services, and the Imo Vigilante Services, but are still commonly referred to as the Bakassi Boys.

6 Unlike the Bakassi Boys, the OPC has been banned by the federal government since 1999. However, it continues to operate in the south-west of Nigeria and enjoys the support of some state government authorities, including the governor of Lagos State. The OPC has been responsible for scores of deaths and is regularly involved in violent clashes with other groups, particularly the Hausa community, as well as the police.

7 CLEEN interviews in Aba, October 2001.
The proliferation of firearms was not due exclusively to the problem of armed robbery. A number of inter-ethnic clashes also gave rise to a situation where different groups began accumulating, and using, a range of arms and ammunition. Many of these weapons are still in circulation.

8 Human Rights Watch interview, Enugu, October 7, 2001.

9 Law no.9 - Anambra State Vigilante Services Law, 2000, published in the Anambra State Official Gazette, Awka, August 4, 2000. For further details of the law, see Section III,3 below.

10 Letter from Chuma Nzeribe, State Security Adviser, to the Chairman of the Anambra State Vigilante Group, August 9, 2000.

11 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview in Onitsha, October 12, 2001.

12 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview in Onitsha, October 12, 2001.

13 See, for example, the case of Chief Ezeodumegwu G. Okonkwo, below. The Bakassi Boys from Aba told the victim's family that they had refused to obey instructions to kill him.

14 See Ifeanyi Ibegbu's written statement about his arrest and torture, entitled "An account of my ordeal at the hands of the `Onitsha Vigilante Services' also known as `Bakassi Boys'," August 28, 2000.

15 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview with Camillus Ebekue, chairman of the Anambra Vigilante Services, Awka, October 16, 2001.

16 "Nobody can bribe Bakassi Boys", in the Post Express on Saturday, September 29, 2001.

17 CLEEN interview with Onwuchekwa Ulu, chairman of the Abia Vigilante Services, Aba, October 19, 2001.

18 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview in Onitsha, October 11, 2001.

19 "Nobody can bribe Bakassi Boys", in the Post Express on Saturday, September 29, 2001.

20 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview with Camillus Ebekue, chairman of the Anambra Vigilante Services, Awka, October 16, 2001.

21 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview with Camillus Ebekue, chairman of the Anambra Vigilante Services, Awka, October 16, 2001.

22 "Nobody can bribe Bakassi Boys", in the Post Express on Saturday, September 29, 2001.

23 Law no.9 - Anambra State Vigilante Services Law, 2000, published in the Anambra State Official Gazette, Awka, August 4, 2000.

24 At the time, the governor's security adviser was Chuma Nzeribe, who was already reported to be closely involved in the Bakassi Boys' activities (see details below).

25 Law no.9 - Anambra State Vigilante Services Law, 2000, published in the Anambra State Official Gazette, Awka, August 4, 2000.

26 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview with Commissioner of Police Daniel Anyogo, Awka, October 12, 2001.

27 Human Rights Watch interview with Civil Liberties Organisation, Enugu, October 8, 2001.

28 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interviews with a range of sources, including victims and witnesses of human rights abuses by the Bakassi Boys, human rights activists, lawyers and others, in Onitsha, Enugu, and other locations, October 2001.

29 See in particular Section IV, 1 below.

30 This information was gathered by Human Rights Watch and CLEEN through detailed interviews with former detainees held by the Bakassi Boys and relatives of people killed by the Bakassi Boys. Interviews were conducted in several locations, in particular Onitsha, Awka, Nawgu, and Nnewi, in October 2001.

31 Human Rights Watch interview, Enugu, October 8, 2001.

32 Article in The National Interest, December 12, 2000.

33 See "Nigeria's vigilante justice," by Stephan Faris, published by, April 25, 2002.

34 Interview with Chinwoke Mbadinuju in Newswatch magazine (Lagos), May 14, 2001.

35 "Nobody can use Bakassi Boys for political moves - Nzeribe", in the Weekend Vanguard (Lagos), March 10, 2001.

36 Interview with Orji Kalu in Insider Weekly, July 16, 2001.

37 CLEEN interview with Gilbert Okoye, former chairman of the Anambra Vigilante Services, Awka, October 18, 2001.

38 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview with Camillus Ebekue, chairman of the Anambra Vigilante Services, Awka, October 16, 2001.

39 CLEEN interview with Onwuchekwa Ulu, chairman of the Abia Vigilante Services, Aba, October 19, 2001.

40 Human Rights Watch interview, Jos, October 6, 2001.

41 Human Rights Watch interview, Enugu, October 8, 2001.

42 "Three Hours in the Lion's Den," in the Lagos-based Post Express on Saturday, September 29, 2001.

43 See for example interview with Orji Kalu, governor of Abia State, in Insider Weekly, July 16, 2001.

44 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview in Onitsha, October 11, 2001.

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