Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari took office in May 2015, following presidential election  Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari has relaunched a controversial task force to ensure citizens respect law and order. The so-called "War Against Indiscipline" (WAI) brigade was first set up by Buhari during military rule in the 1980s.

Some have expressed concern after Buhari announced the reintroduction of the task force in early August, which in its first incarnation led to violence against citizens and human rights abuses.

What is the war against indiscipline?

WAI was first introduced by Major General Babatunde Idiagbon after the then military general Buhari took control of Nigeria following a 1983 military coup.

The task force aimed to ensure that public morality, civic responsibilities and social order was maintained.

Shortly after, the Buhari administration introduced military decrees calling for punishment for acts of indiscipline, including cheating during exams, tampering with telephone cables, driving on the wrong side of the road and littering public spaces.

Some citizens lamented the punishments were unreasonable. In 1984, the New York Times reported a Frenchman working in Nigeria was sentenced to five years in prison for being in possession of 431 naira - $600; £430 at the official exchange rate then – when travellers were allowed to only bring 20 naira or less into the country.

Among other things, it is also believed that all single women in Bauchi state, northern Nigeria, were ordered to get married within three months or leave the state. Hannah Oke, a 58-year-old former nurse in Ibadan, recalled during an interview with the Guardian how the campaign "got extreme".

"People were being sent to prison for years for doing petty things. On our street someone was detained because they threw their rubbish in a wrong place and was reported. Really it just became too much," she recollected.

WAI today

WAI has been relaunched under the slogan: "Change Begins With Me." The 170,000-strong task force will be mainly composed of volunteers. The relaunch of the brigade was announced by Garba Abari, director general of the National Orientation Agency, set up in 2005 to communicate government policy, promote patriotism and social development in Nigeria.

"In this era of insecurity, violence, kidnapping and other forms of social vices, the role of the WAI Brigade in civil intelligence gathering cannot be over emphasised," Abari stated.

The announcement came as the country is being rocked by renewed violence in the oil-rich Niger Delta, deadly attacks and mass abductions carried out by Boko Haram terrorists.

The country, which recently lost its bragging rights as Africa's biggest economy, is also witnessing a rise in separatist movements in the south and an increase in violence by militants from the Fulani ethnic group.

However, some have praised the decision to relaunch the campaign, given the widespread corruption in the country, something Buhari vowed he would end after winning presidential election in 2015.

"The gains of the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) have all been reversed as our nation has sunk deep into individual and collective, private and institutional indiscipline," the Foundation against Fraud, Indiscipline and Corruption (Fafic) said in a statement.

"And to make matters worse, corruption has risen to monstrous heights both in private and government life that our nation stands a real danger of failing if these cancers are not decisively dealt with."


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