BAKASSI BOYS: The Rise And Fall Of The Bakassi Boys
It all started in 1999 when a group of shoe deals in the popular Bakassi line, which is a main feature of the famous Ariara main market in Aba, Abia State, decided to take their destiny into their own hands. Their mission was to put a stop into the incessant incidents of armed robbery attacks, which had almost grounded commercial activities in the Enyimba City (Aba). The traders, mostly indigenes of Abriba, a town noted for its prowess and dexterity in the use of cutlass and machetes among the Igbo nation, went to their shrines to gather enough “spiritual and diabolical powers”. Backed by this and financial support from among top traders in Aba, the Bakassi Boys went into action and they took the fight to the robbers den and secret hideouts. The result of the onslaught was an instant success, as Aba was totally cleansed of all sorts of crimes ranging from the minor pick pocket activities to pilfering and the more horrendous organized robbery and kidnapping, which before now was the order of the day.
After recording a massive success in the city of Aba, this group would later spread to other cities like Onitsha, Owerri and Nnewi, but something terrible would later happen.
The Bakassi Boys were created in 1998 by traders in the Nigerian city of Aba who wanted to protect themselves from “armed robbers” and “hoodlums”. Having had success in reducing crime in Aba, the Bakassi Boys became “in high demand” and their activities spread to other cities in the Igboland.
Members of the Bakassi Boys were primarily of Igbo ethnicity. They were generally “young, able-bodied men in their twenties nor thirties”, although there were reportedly some members under the age of eighteen. Members were usually drawn from traders of various commercial markets, these commercial markets were divided into zones “from which six vigilantes are selected”. New members receive two months of training on the rules of the Bakassi Boys prior to participating in the group’s operations.
Members of the Bakassi Boys join the organization voluntarily. Formal recruitment generally takes place at the age of seventeen, although many members were involved as an informants at around the age of sixteen. The Bakassi Boys at first had about 500 members, but would later grow to approximately 3,500 members.
Member of the Bakassi Boys had “magical” powers and charms that made them “invincible”. They also use “magic” to determine the guilt of alleged criminals. The “most infamous” of their techniques involves a machete “imbued with powerful magic charms”. The machete is placed of the suspected criminal’s body and turns red if the person is guilty of the accused crime. The Bakassi Boys were known to mutilate, dismember or decapitate, and burn their victims.
According to publications by various Nigerian media houses, their greatest metaphysical power was their ability to be immune to gunshot wounds, even when shot multiple times at close range, they wouldn't flinch nor sustain any injuries. This metaphysical power was referred to as Odeshi amongst the Igbo people of Nigeria. Odeshi is an Igbo word that means "It does not leak" or "it would not leak", which meant if anyone shot them with a gun it wouldn't pierce their skins hence their blood would not leak.
There were several reports of the Bakassi Boys carrying out extra- judicial killings, arbitrary arrests, and torture of suspected criminals. They mostly killed suspected criminals rather than turning them over to police. Hence, making most of their killings extra judicial and illegal.
In August 2005, the Bakassi Boys allegedly “round-up” thirty-seven suspected criminals in the city of Aba, Abia State and detained them in an “illegal and poorly ventilated cell”. Twenty-seven of detainees reported died of suffocation. In November 2005, the Bakassi Boys were suspected in the “extra-judicial murder” of twenty- people in Aba. The victims were allegedly “butchered to death” by members of the vigilante group. At a point, the Bakassi Boys were now used by politicians to “target perceived political opponents”. They became responsible for numerous human right abusers, many of them unreported including many executions and unlawful detention, hundreds of people were killed by the Bakassi Boys.
In 2002, the Bakassi Boys were allegedly disbanded following a federal government move to prohibit vigilante groups. However, state governments continued to "covertly condone" their existence, allowing the Bakassi Boys to carry on their operations. In Imo, Abia, and Anambra, the state government has provided the Bakassi Boys with salaries as well as offices, uniforms and vehicles, bearing the names of the vigilante groups. In January 2006, the governor of Abia State passed into law a bill to legally recognize the operations of the Bakassi Boys, despite the earlier federal legislation prohibiting such vigilante groups.
The relationship between the Bakassi Boys and the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) has been described as "tense", given the "conflicts of interest" and "competition" between the two groups. The Nigerian police have also been "almost powerless in curbing the excesses of the Bakassi Boys, and even less effective in re-asserting their authority over them". Nonetheless, there were reports in 2005 and 2006 of members of the Bakassi Boys being arrested and tried for vigilante activities.
In August 2005, the Nigerian police arrested and "put on show" seventeen alleged members of the Bakassi Boys for suspected "vigilante involvement" in the deaths of twenty-seven persons in Abia State earlier in the month.
In December 2005, fourteen suspected members of the Bakassi Boys were brought before a federal high court on charges of "unlawful killing" and "illegal possession of firearms". The men allegedly killed a trader in Abia State in November 2005.
In February 2006, four members of the Bakassi Boys were sentenced to death by hanging by the Umuahia High Court for the 1999 murder of two persons suspected of being armed robbers. The two victims, including a police officer, were dismembered and burnt.
A panel of the Supreme Court was created by the Nigerian federal government in 2005 to investigate the extra-judicial murders of twenty persons in Abia State by suspected members of the Bakassi Boys. The Attorney-General of the Federation, on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria, disclosed that the Federal Government would henceforth deal ruthlessly with all ethnic militia and lawbreakers, engaging in multifarious human rights abuses in the country, in the name of vigilante groups.
No further information on the treatment of members of the Bakassi Boys by the Nigerian authorities could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
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_____. 2 February 2006. Donald Andoor. "FG Urged to Declare Abia Disaster State." [Accessed 3 Feb. 2006]
_____. 30 August 2005. "Bakassi: Self-Help Policing." (Factiva)
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_____. 3 December 2005. Ise-Oluwa Ige. "FG Arraigns 14 Bakassi Boys for Murder." (Factiva)
_____. 18 November 2005. Ise-Oluwa Ige. "AAGM: Bakassi Killings: Supreme Court Intervenes in Abia, FG Feud." (Factiva)