Informal security actors such as vigilantes play a variety of roles in African communities. Research has tended to focus on the negative impact of informal security providers, but these groups have an essential role in a community’s safety and security. This report provides an analysis of the informal security actors in the Nigerian states of Plateau, Kaduna, and Kano and in the capital city of Abuja. 


  • Informal security actors such as vigilantes play a variety of roles in African communities. Research has tended to focus on the negative impacts of informal security providers, including the perpetration of human rights violations, rather than on the essential roles these groups play in a community’s safety and security.
  • The study referenced in this report focused on Plateau, Kaduna, and Kano states in Nigeria. These states have long histories of ethnoreligious and political-related violence. A number of informal security actors are active in these states due to the high rate of violence. The study also considered Abuja because of the presence of informal security stakeholders in the nation’s capital city.
  • In Nigeria, vigilantes have both positive and negative impacts. Abuses by vigilantes must be addressed formally and structurally while preserving the important role of vigilantes as protectors of their communities.
  • Among the various informal security actors in Nigeria, the Vigilante Group of Nigeria is the oldest recognized actor. The group is perceived as playing an important role in providing critical policing services to Nigerians, particularly in rural communities.
  • The roles and functions of vigilante groups include providing security, early warning alerts, and traffic control; gathering intelligence; settling disputes; and conducting community development activities. Most groups carry out security roles; some combine security functions with community development activities or enforcing religious rights.
  • The operational structures and administrative procedures of informal security providers vary from one group to another; some groups have well-documented operational guidelines and administrative procedures, whereas others have no written operational manuals or administrative and financial systems.
  • Most informal security providers have weak internal and external accountability systems. Internally, group leaders or village heads provide oversight of a group’s activities. External monitoring by official security agencies exists in some cases but is not formalized or enforced.
  • Some informal policing groups have cordial relationships with formal security actors; however, there are no formal working agreements or memoranda of understanding with official security agencies. Many vigilante groups do not receive training on state laws or on how to operate as a security outfit in the country.
  • Perceptions about the activities of informal security actors vary, but many residents within the communities interviewed prefer vigilante groups to the police. The police are often unavailable when they are needed in rural communities.

About the Report

This report provides an analysis of the informal security actors in the Nigerian states of Plateau, Kaduna, and Kano and in the capital city of Abuja. Although it is not a state, Abuja was included because many informal security stakeholders are based there. The key issues considered are the types of informal security actors, the structures of these actors, their recruitment and training mechanisms, their accountability issues, their relationships with formal security actors, and perceptions of them. Interviews were conducted with sixty informal security actors and stakeholders in January and February 2015. The report contributes to a more nuanced understanding of the informal security structures in Nigeria.

About the Author

Ernest Ogbozor is a doctoral researcher at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia. The author thanks Dr. Linda Bishai, director of North Africa Programs, and Georgia Holmer, director of Countering Violent Extremism, at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) for their guidance and support during the research and writing of this report.

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