Last week’s brutal attack on the town of Baga by Boko Haram militants has left the Nigerian government shocked. The particularly vicious attack in which hundreds are feared dead and 16 villages were destroyed, was in response to the activities of the town’s vigilante groups.
Although Boko Haram has been fighting the Nigerian government for more than 5 years now, such a violent attack has never been carried out by the militant group. The group is fighting the army to establish a strict Islamic regime according to the Sharia law in the northeast of Nigeria.
At the moment, the government has not revealed the exact number of casualties in the attack but has estimated them to be 150. However, local residents claim that hundreds or even thousands might have been killed in raid on Baga. A military base of the Multinational Joint Task Force was also attacked by the militants.
Last week’s attack on Baga is by far the worst one ever witnessed in Nigeria since the start of the Boko Haram insurgency but it was not the first one on the town. The town has been attacked in the past and this prompted the formation of vigilante groups called the Civilian Joint Task Force.
The vigilante groups were reportedly successful in countering the militants and after their formation, violence in the region was brought to a minimum. The vigilante groups were well equipped with weapons and had sufficient manpower which made them very strong. This might have caused the Boko Haram to launch an all-out assault on the town and completely wipe out the fishing community.
A senior security analyst said that that the raid on the town was very well planned by the extremist group. He pointed out that the militants deliberately razed the town and neighboring villages to make sure that the vigilante groups operating in the area were wiped out completely. The destruction might have also been done to avoid a strong military reaction to reclaim the town.
The Civilians Joint Task Force was not the only vigilante group resisting Boko Haram. In November last year, the town of Damasak was raided by the militants and 50 people were killed. The attack was carried out in retaliation to the actions of the town’s vigilante group.
The leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau has often threatened vigilante groups in his statements and it seems that the group is now more concerned on dealing with these civilian groups than the army. Unlike the soldiers who are paid to fight, these civilian groups are fighting to save their homes and are very motivated. Foreign analysts believe that the group will target more vigilante groups in the near future.