Over the last decade, community militias have played key roles in the conflict in northeast Nigeria, protecting civilians from a range of threats including attacks, abduction, sexual and gender-based violence, and extortion. At the same time, these groups have been responsible for harm against civilians – increasingly so as the conflict has worn on.

Despite their size and contributions, little is known about community militias and their operations, particularly outside Maiduguri, the Borno state capital. There are a number of community militia groups operating in Borno state, including the hunters (kungiyar maharba), yan baga (vigilantes), and kesh kesh (Shuwa vigilante), which date back to two or three generations ago. Unlike these groups, the yan gora, or Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), emerged in Maiduguri in mid-2013 as a direct result of the violent conflict in northeast Nigeria.

CIVIC’s report, “To Defend or Harm?: Community Militias in Borno State, Nigeria,” takes an in-depth look at the role of community militias in the conflict in northeast Nigeria, capping off research CIVIC has been conducting since 2016 and building on knowledge CIVIC has developed through engaging with community militias on civilian protection and civilian harm mitigation across Borno state. The report also provides recommendations – in collaboration with the North East Security and Peace Network – for federal and state governments, donors, and NGOs to mitigate harm to civilians in the present and encourage the successful reintegration and social cohesion of community militia members.


Additional Research: In 2019, CIVIC published a policy brief on community militias, including some preliminary findings that went into this research.  In 2018, CIVIC published research on civilian perceptions of the yan gora (Civilian Joint Task Force) – one of the major community militias operating in Borno state – based on a literature review. Read the 2018 report here.