“Young people have no alternative but to come together to seek ways to be safe”

Yusuf, a youth activist in Maiduguri, speaks to TAP on the ways in which young people are working independently and in tandem with security forces to combat the insecurity in Borno State. He makes interesting observations on the difference in youth-security dynamic in Borno and Yobe States, and the ways in which women contribute to intelligence gathering. You can listen to the interview below. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Some of the major issues for young people is obviously safety, but I’m interested in exploring the ways in which young people have been resisting the armed groups.

Now, as young people are under pressure, I think the rest of them that are remaining [in Borno] have no alternative but to come together to seek ways to be safe. You can see young people under the Youth Vanguard willingly submitting their own energy and time to checking the influx of people and looking into the nooks and crannies of their neighborhoods to ensure there are no threats. This gives them the confidence to find people who are partaking in heinous activities that contribute to the insecurity will be exposed.

Are these civilian JTF or smaller, vigilante-like community watch groups?

They have allegiance to other youth in the community even though they are not part and parcel of the main youth volunteer group, but they can still use the opportunity to share information with the Youth Vanguard. They have now dared to give their time and expose anything that is a threat to their community.

How are they managing to share information? Are they using ICT or are they using other methods?

They are using other methods, not solely ICT. It happens at different levels, since they have different political wards. It has been decided that youth residing in a particular political ward should have their leadership structure. With that, the leader will have control over monitoring, checking vehicles and individuals passing on the streets, for the safety of people. They normally monitor 24/7 to make sure that within their own area, nothing wrong happens. If there is any suspicious behavior, you find them exposing things that were not even imagined by even the security forces.

Whats the relationship between these youth groups and the military? In places like Yobe, some interviews that we have people say that they don’t trust the military or police. What’s the level of trust?

The composition of Youth Vanguard is very much focused on Maiduguri, rather than in Yobe. They have civilian JTF very much focused in Borno, but in Yobe the synergy of communication [between youth and security forces] exists between those who have a relationship with the military. The military has ways and means of gathering intelligence from the young ones. But no, the physical presence of civilian JTF does not exist as much in Yobe.

That’s interesting. does the existence of a civilian JTF make intelligence gathering easier for security forces?

That’s for sure.

What’s the role of women in intelligence gathering?

In our environment, there are cultural and religious values that guide the behavior of people, so the role of women cannot be done openly, inasmuch as information that is important and factual is concerned. Women have the opportunity to share their information with people who they know can act on that information. You do not see them featuring so prominently. But there are women who are part of the civilian JTF. There was a religious injunction that women cannot be checked by men, so the cars in which women drive or with women in their purdah, it is the women who will check them. So it means they are cooperating on that level.

Thank you so much for speaking with me.

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