Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, May 19, 2014

Details on Nigerian vigilantes

Dr. Laura Seay, an Assistant Professor of Government at Colby College, offers some details on vigilantes in Nigeria.

How people in northeast Nigeria protect themselves
Faced with a government that cannot protect their property or lives, some Nigerians in the northeast are creating vigilante groups to do so themselves. Though they lack the same kind of formal accountability a police force would ideally have, vigilantes in Nigeria are not lawless mobs, but rather function as community-based police forces with varying levels of official and unofficial sanction from community members, leaders and the government.

Variation among vigilante groups operating in Nigeria is high on almost every metric. Some are officially registered with local police… Many vigilante groups operate under some form of accountability to local customary authorities, and as the membership in the vigilante groups are usually known to communities, they will be held accountable for any abuses by their fellow citizens as well. Other vigilantes operate on subscription-based models; if you have a problem with a crime committed against you and are a subscriber, you can call the vigilantes for help.

Vigilantism in Nigeria is an example of what scholars term hybrid forms of governance in weak states. These forms of governance are not fully undertaken by the state, but neither is the state completely uninvolved in regulating, overseeing or even partially providing the public services it cannot independently provide. The process of hybrid governance is seen in widely varying sectors around the world, from public trash collection by community organizations to public education systems run by religious actors…

[F]or communities that cannot count on the state to protect or provide for them, hybrid governance can be, as scholars… note, a “process through which state and non-state institutions coalesce around stable forms of order and authority.”

Hybrid governance’s contribution to stability both appeals to communities and poses challenges to the long-term process of state-building in places such as Nigeria…. Nigerian vigilantes at once cooperate with the state and customary authorities while demonstrating the state’s weakness in delivering a service the state is unable to provide… As both challengers, co-opters and necessary substitutes for or partners of the state, vigilante groups raise questions about what it means when we speak of Nigeria’s state, what states are normatively “supposed” to do, and what forms of governance might emerge in places where reality rarely works according to Western norms and ideals…

Nigerian vigilantes’ existence is a reminder that people the world over are not passive victims of their state’s weakness. The people of northeastern Nigeria will pool what resources and talents they have to protect themselves and their communities. There’s no predicting what forms of social organization might ultimately arise as a result.

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