The Bakassi Boys: Vigilantism, Violence, and Political Imagination in Nigeria

Peer Reviewed


In Nigeria and elsewhere, vigilantism appears to be a common response to ambivalence and discontent about the authority of the state. The rise of the Bakassi Boys and their tremendous popularity reveal complexities and contradictions that characterize the contours of political organization and imagination in contemporary Nigeria. Vigilantism is shown to be a reaction to the disappointments of Nigeria's neoliberal economic reforms and democratization, drawing on idioms of accountability rooted in the supernatural. Yet, paradoxically, popular justification for vigilantism also draws on ideals of democracy and development. Further, popular perceptions of the Bakassi Boys and a coopting of vigilantism by politicians serve to obscure the responsibility of the state for the maintenance of inequality even as vigilantism is, simultaneously, a forceful reaction to institutionalized injustice.

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