Governor Orji Kalu of Nigeria’s southeastern Abia State on Wednesday vowed to revive a controversial vigilante group, the Bakassi Boys, which has operated in the region in the past two years but was recently disbanded by the federal government.
State-owned Radio Nigeria reported the governor as saying the passage by the state legislature of an enabling law creating the group indicated their operations had popular support.
"Nobody has the power - unless they want to cause problems - to stop us from having the vigilante services," Kalu said on the radio.
He said when reconstituted in the state, the Bakassi Boys would not engage in extra-judicial killings and would cooperate with the police authorities.
The vigilante group was first set up by traders in the main Abia State trading town of Aba in 1999 in response to apparent inability of the police to contain unprecedented levels of violent crime, especially armed robbery. Kalu, who was elected governor of the state in the same year as Nigeria ended more than 15 years of military rule, quickly provided the group
Another southeastern state, Anambra, also adopted the services of the Bakassi Boys the following year under the official name of Anambra Vigilante Services. The group appeared effective in quickly curbing violent crime, but critics and human rights groups were alarmed at their unorthodox methods, including public beheadings and burning of suspected criminals.
Amnesty International estimates that more than 1,000 people were summarily executed by the group in two years at Onitsha, the main city in Anambra State. The group has also been blamed for the brutal murder early in September of lawyer, Barnabas Igwe, president of the Onitsha branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, and his wife - both well-known critics of the group and the Anambra State government.
In recent months the police authorities have raided the offices of the vigilante groups in Abia and Anambra States, arresting their operatives, confiscating their weapons and freeing scores of detained people.
But the latest stance of the Abia governor indicates a continuing conflict in Nigeria between local and federal laws, which has seen states in the south passing laws to create vigilante groups, while those in the mainly Muslim north have passed laws for strict Shari’ah law prescribing punishments including stoning to death for adultery and amputation of limbs
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