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Hijacking civil society: the inside story of the Bakassi Boys vigilante group of south-eastern Nigeria

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Analyses of the rise of violent vigilantism in Africa have focused increasingly on the ‘uncivil' character of African society. This article challenges the recourse to cultural or instrumentalist explanations, in which vigilantism is portrayed as a reversion to violent indigenous institutions of law and order based on secret societies and occultist practices, or is viewed as a product of the contemporary institutional environment of clientelism and corruption in which youth struggle for their share of patronage resources. The social and political complexities of contemporary African vigilantism are revealed through an account of the rise and derailment of the infamous Bakassi Boys vigilante group of south-eastern Nigeria. Based on extensive fieldwork among the shoe producers of Aba who originally formed the Bakassi Boys in 1998, this article traces the process through which popular security arrangements were developed and subsequently hijacked by opportunistic political officials engaged in power struggles between the state and federal governments. Detailing the strategies and struggles involved in the process of political hijack, this inside account of the Bakassi Boys reveals the underlying resilience of civil notions of justice and public accountability in contemporary Africa.

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en

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http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/27372/

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