Borno State Coordinator of the Volunteer Young Vigilance Group, also known as the Civilian Joint Task Force, Abba Aji Kalli, tells KAYODE IDOWU the challenges of the group and how to end the Boko Haram crisis among others
What was the motive behind the formation of the Volunteer Young Vigilance Group, also known the Civilian Joint Task Force?
What really happened was that we (the group) are a child of necessity. We ( residents) were not safe in the hands of the security operatives and we were not safe in the hands of the insurgents. If there was any bomb blast, if the security operatives came here, innocent people would be arrested; innocent people would die. We felt (this was so) because the security people were strangers to the town. We know most of the Boko Haram members because we are living in the same neighbourhood with them. Thus we started pointing them out.
Are you a founding member of the group and what post do you hold?
Yes. I am a foundation member and I am the commander in charge of Sector Five.
What were your contributions to the formation of the group?
The group was started by our President, Lawan Jafa’ar, and he was joined by other youths. We felt we should not operate without any guidelines, that is, rules of operation. Then we designed some guidelines. First, for anyone to join the CJTF, they must not be less than 18 years old and it is voluntary. After this, the youths would be assembled at the place of the ward, district or village head. When the individual is willing to stay, they swear an oath. If you are a Christian, we shall give you the Holy Bible to take an oath and if you are a Muslim we give you the Holy Quran to swear an oath. We have about 10 conditions. One, you will not accuse or implicate an innocent person who is not associated with Boko Haram because of whatever differences between you and them. Two, you must produce a member of Boko Haram, no matter how close they are to you; even if they are your family members or brothers. Three, you will not extort money from anybody or take anybody’s property. These are the three main conditions we put before any intending member.
We give these conditions because it is almost imposible to handle so many youths without conditions. One may expect them to do good things but some will turn around to do other things. So, with the oath, we control most of the members.
How did the public and the military accept the group?
When we came out, the military welcomed us hundred per cent and the community also supported us hundred per cent. When we started this movement, nobody was sponsoring us, nobody was giving us support but the members of the community were giving us things. Some would give us money to buy fuel, while others would give us bread from their bakeries and so on.
How and when did the state government come in?
The intervention of the state government was through His Royal Highness, the Shehu of Borno, who felt what the youths had been doing was very encouraging and they should not just be left on their own. He spoke with the governor and he (the governor) felt it was high time he moved in so that he could help the CJTF. From there, the governor provided for us. Also, the Borno State Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, Kaka Shehu Lawan, and the member representing Maiduguri Metropolitan Council in the House of Representatives, Rahis AbdulKadir, are some of our financiers.
What was the support from the state government and that of the Shehu?
The Shehu sometimes called and gave us financial assistance and at other times he gave us advice and everybody knows that the state government has taken up the burden of the CJTF. The state government provides us with mobility, free medical care and so on. The governor also created a scheme called Borno Youth Empowerment Scheme where about 1,800 of our members were trained and also given monthly allowance.
Do you have any agreement with the Federal Government over what it would do for you?
No, we do not have any agreement with the Federal Government.
You have been working with the military; what assurances or promises did they make to you?
We do not have any agreement with the military. We are working hand in hand with the military that are on the ground here. Sometimes, we make complaints but they have been writing such off. There is one thing I want the people to understand and that is, the fight we are fighting is not for ourselves; we are fighting to protect the integrity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. As such, the Federal Government must come in and assist the CJTF. The military have done their best for us because they have absorbed some of our members into the Nigerian Army. The Directorate of State Service has also absorbed some of our people; what about the other security agencies?
How many of the CJTF are in the Nigerian Army and DSS?
For security reasons, I cannot give you the actual number of our members that have been offered employment by the Army and the DSS, but I can tell you that over 200 CJTF have been employed by the Army and over 20 by the DSS. Though we never have any agreement with any military or security agencies to offer employment to our men, we expect them, especially the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps as well as others, to offer our men employment.
What were your contributions toward the rescue of the Chibok girls?
We have been involved in many efforts of the military in the ongoing war against the insurgents and the rescue of the Chibok girls is not an exemption. The whole world saw that the first girl to be rescued recently was rescued by our men before she was handed over to the military. We are still involved in the efforts at rescuing not only the Chibok girls but all those abducted by the insurgents. Initially when those girls were kidnapped we volunteered information to the Federal Government on their whereabouts, it was just that the information was not acted on on time and that was the reason behind the girls’ continued abduction. They could have been freed then if the Federal Government were active enough.
Have you lost hope in the rescue of the Chibok girls?
No, not at all. We have not lost hope. The recent rescue of the first girl by our men and the second one by the military has given us hope that the girls can still be rescued. The military’s efforts against the insurgents are still on and we believe that at a point during this operation the girls will be rescued and have the chance of reuniting with their families.
How would you describe the state and stage of the anti-terrorism war in the North-East?
For now, everybody knows that when this new government and new service chiefs came on board, things changed drastically. From my assessment, 80 per cent of Boko Haram has been defeated. There is no doubt about it. People will bear witness that this government is up to its responsibility to protect the lives of citizens and the integrity of this country. And let me commend the service chiefs, most especially Lt. Gen T.Y. Buratai because he has boosted the morale of the Nigerian Army. He has shown us that he is a leader that can lead and finish this war. We have seen so many service chiefs who when coming to Maiduguri would have the whole of the town sealed. But Buratai came by road; we were together with him. He took the Gamboru road — the hazardous road towards Maiduguri and then to Goza. He has boosted the morale of his group and he is always with them. The former and current General Officers Commanding have also done a wonderful job which we are satisfied with.
Can you say that Boko Haram has been defeated?
From the strength of Boko Haram now and before, in my assessment, if you say they are defeated, you are not wrong. If we have broken their backbone by 80 per cent, then they have been defeated.
What would you say have been the contributions of the CJTF, you have led, to the defeat of the insurgents?
Even if I didn’t say them out, our contributions can speak for themselves and the whole world can bear witness to what the CJTF has contributed to the anti-insurgency war. Nobody has done what the CJTF has done in the whole world. Nobody is paying these youths. They are sacrificing their lives. With their bare hands, cutlasses and sticks, they (CJTF members) are chasing people with AK47 and rocket launchers. We pushed the insurgents out of town and we were even following them into the bush. For now, we are going to the battle field side by side with the military. Thus, the CJTF has contributed a lot to protecting the integrity of this country.
How many causalities has the CJTF recorded or suffered in this anti-terror war?
We have many casualties. We have lost our loved ones. The comrades we lost are many. Unfortunately, I can’t give out the exact number of casualties we have. However, the government has the number we gave it, and we are waiting for its response.
Are you saying that the government has not done anything to compensate you on the loss of these people?
Only the Borno State Government has tried giving a little of what it has towards our fallen comrades. But up till now, we have not seen anything from the Federal Government and I think we are fighting this war for the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Are you saying there is no agreement, past or present between the CJTF and the FG?
Is there any agreement between the Federal Government and the militants in the Niger Delta? There is no agreement. But now the Federal Government has created a Ministry of Niger Delta. It has given them amnesty, they were taken abroad, they were trained, they were given jobs, and they are taking good care of them. Is there any agreement between them and those who are destroying the heart and the economy of this country? But in the CJTF, we are sworn to protect the integrity of this country. Between the militants and the CJTF, who is supposed to be taken care of by the government?
What then are you suggesting that the Federal Government should do for you?
The Federal Government, as a matter of urgency, should come in and mandate the security outfits to absorb and give automatic slots to members of the CJTF. It should also shoulder the responsibility of those who want to go for further studies. The Federal Government should also create a scheme where those who are uneducated will be empowered. They should be trained, given capital and allowed to become entrepreneurs so that they would be on their own. The Federal Government, as a matter of urgency, should also come and take care of the loved ones our fallen youths left behind. Some of the children of these youths have stopped going to school because there is nobody to take care of them.
Many have advocated for state police. What is your take?
It is a good idea but if they do it, they should absorb the CJTF youths too. In developed countries, there are modern, developed and sophisticated forest guards who are well equipped with modern communication and mobility. If Nigeria had had such forest guards in the first place, Boko Haram would not have had the chance to camp in Sambisa Forest. It is high time both the federal and state governments came together to do something like this. Our boys can be used as such; they can assist any security outfit on the trail of any criminal in that forest because they know the place.
What do you think the Federal Government can do to prevent a future reoccurrence of the Boko Haram crisis?
The first thing is to tackle the problem of poverty. The second is education. The Federal Government should within its means make life easier. If there is a tip-off by the community on the existence of a suspicious place, the Federal Government should respond fast. This is because when Boko Haram started, the people alerted so many security outfits to their existence but the then government was adamant. If they had responded fast enough we wouldn’t have been in this position.
Some days ago you resigned your appointment with the CJTF. What informed your decision?
First of all, I stand with my colleagues, the gallant CJTF members, because we do not know what our fate is with the Federal Government. The state government has contributed its own quota but what is our fate with the Federal Government? We did not see any sign from the National Assembly or any other organ either. They have not spoken once on the issue of CJTF. Secondly, the Federal Government did not even bother to call the executive of the CJTF, sit down with them and ask of the challenges they are facing.
I see the children of my colleagues who had passed away not being able to go to school; no compensation, no nothing. I feel that if the government is taking care of those destroying the land, what about the CJTF? That was what informed my decision. But thank God, well meaning individuals in the society, elders and so on called and talked to me on the phone, the social media and other channels. As a leader, I have to take a decision. Hence, I reversed my former decision, returned to base and went back to duty because I am a Nigerian; I have no other country to call my own. But I am saying the Federal Government should come in and take good care of the CJTF. These boys have stood for this country. In fact, they should not turn them (CJTF members) away.
Are you saying you changed your decision because of the appeal from the people?
Yes. The stakeholders, elders and high-level personalities in the public had spoken with us. They said the points I had raised were very good ones and that they would contact the Federal Government and see what they could do to make the Federal Government call us and discuss.
If these stakeholders speak with the Federal Government but it still does not discuss with you, what would you do?
We will wait and see. We will not make a decision now. We will see that our desire was not met, then we will decide on the next line of action we shall take.
Are you the only dissatisfied person?
There are many (people). When I said I was leaving this job, many of my colleagues came to me and told me, ‘If you are going, we are going’. I said, ‘I know what I am doing. You people should go back. But the government must listen to us.’ The fact is many of my colleagues have the same pains that I have. But for me, my patience has run out. That was why I came out. Even after I left, those who didn’t know that we were bearing the same pain were still asking me why I did not consult them. They told me, we would fight but we would not fight the war from outside. Thank God I listened to them. I have listened to well-meaning people, I have listened to those who love the CJTF. Whatever it is, the CJTF must survive. Even if I die today, the CJTF must exist.
Apart from unemployment, what other challenges are you facing in the CJTF?
The challenges we are having in the CJTF are specifically unemployment and lack of compensation for those who fell and whose families are now in pain. But most importantly, my fear is, what next after the war? The war is going on; the war has come to an end, the Federal Government should start fixing up these boys somewhere else so that when the war ends, they would have something to do.
What gave you the courage to take up arms against insurgents who are well and better armed?
If you are living in Borno, whether you like it or not, one way or the other, either your relatives or loved ones must have been attacked by the insurgents. And the security outfits that are here in Maiduguri are strangers, they do not know the terrain very well. What gave me courage is that these people are just using the name of Islam to perpetuate evil because what they are doing is not Islamic. No religion tells you to kill your neighbours and destroy their properties. For me and others that sacrifice their lives that is what motivated us to come out.
Was there ever a time during the confrontation with the insurgents that you felt you were going to lose your life?
No, there was never a time not even in the last administration when there was sabotage in the operation. We have never shifted in our position even for a day. We are ready to die for this country. It is our own country.
How do you mean that there was sabotage during the last administration?
Everybody knows the difference between the past administration and this one. The difference is clear. If some service chiefs and the National Security Adviser who were given money to buy arms and others are now indicted, that is the sabotage I am saying.
What do you think should be the punishment for the people who sabotaged the efforts of your people then?
It is left to the concerned authorities to find out the type of punishment that should be meted to them. But in my opinion, for betraying their fatherland, they are supposed to be sentenced to death by firing squad. They betrayed the trust bestowed on them. They siphoned the money and many people died because of their action. We lost thousands of people because of their act of corruption.