Kano and Maiduguri, the biggest cities in predominantly Muslim Northern Nigeria, are drought-prone and sprawling outposts, filled with concrete roadblocks and teenage boys with machetes and bows and arrows. Frequent attacks by the militant Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram have killed thousands and displaced many more in this region. This Tuesday, two female suicide bombers killed thirty people in Maiduguri. Now, bands of individuals, organized by the state or by their own sheer will, are trying to create order from the chaos.

Officers of the Islamic police pose for a portrait after offloading 10,000 cases of beer ultimately slated for destruction.
Officers of the Islamic police pose for a portrait after offloading 10,000 cases of beer ultimately slated for destruction.

The Hisbah, or Islamic police, enforce Shariah law, destroying bottles of beer and going on drug busts with officers of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency. Members of a local traffic unit rely on a broken windows theory of policing, “arresting” goats that roam the streets and charging owners to secure their release.

The sale and possession of alcohol is illegal in Northern Nigeria. The Hisbah has destroyed several hundred thousand bottles of beer in the past year.
The sale and possession of alcohol is illegal in Northern Nigeria. The Hisbah has destroyed several hundred thousand bottles of beer in the past year.
A coalition of hundreds of hunters and vigilantes are ready to use their local knowledge of the bush and the forest to search for the nearly 300 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram.
A coalition of hundreds of hunters and vigilantes are ready to use their local knowledge of the bush and the forest to search for the nearly 300 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram.
The vigilantes are armed only with bows and arrows and hunting rifles, while Boko Haram is often said to be better armed than the Nigerian army.
The vigilantes are armed only with bows and arrows and hunting rifles, while Boko Haram is often said to be better armed than the Nigerian army.

Meanwhile, a vigilante group mainly hangs out and waits, their members complaining of lack of support, but they are also ready to go out on patrol. These men in uniforms are doing what they can to make things better — a futile task in the face of an enemy like Boko Haram.

A coalition of officers from the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency and the Hisbah go on a drug raid through Kano.
A coalition of officers from the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency and the Hisbah go on a drug raid through Kano.
Confiscated materials at the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency are held in a dark and unventilated room that smells strongly of marijuana.
Confiscated materials at the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency are held in a dark and unventilated room that smells strongly of marijuana.

On the way to a drug bust, a convoy of trucks with both NDLEA and Hisbah officers barrels out of the compound at top speed, but then stops for gas. Sirens blaring, they are on their way again, until they have to stop for kids crossing the road. And potholes. And goats. Everywhere, men and young boys sprint in the opposite direction. By the time they arrive at the supposed drug den, there has been plenty of time for the criminals to flee. The Hisbah officers collect some weed and light muscle relaxants and pat each other on the back.

While there is supposedly a fair amount of heroin and other hard drugs in Kano, this bust mainly results in the arrests of several teenage boys smoking weed, and confiscation of packs of Diazepam.
While there is supposedly a fair amount of heroin and other hard drugs in Kano, this bust mainly results in the arrests of several teenage boys smoking weed, and confiscation of packs of Diazepam.
When the NDLEA reaches a slum in Kano, they pull up in three pick-up trucks and fan out throughout the area, some running and others walking, though none of them fast enough to catch the supposed drug users, who left long before they arrived.
When the NDLEA reaches a slum in Kano, they pull up in three pick-up trucks and fan out throughout the area, some running and others walking, though none of them fast enough to catch the supposed drug users, who left long before they arrived.
Kano Road and Traffic Police "arrest" goats, part of an effort to clean up the city streets.
Kano Road and Traffic Police “arrest” goats, part of an effort to clean up the city streets.

Not far away, the Kano State Roads and Traffic Agency is out on the beat as well, pouncing without warning. At one bust, the officers yell out “Take Cover! Take Cover!” as they surround three goats. When one gets away, area residents cheer.

Once goats are taken in, their owners can collect them for Naira 1,500 ($9). Over 1,600 goats have been arrested since the start of the campaign last November.
Once goats are taken in, their owners can collect them for Naira 1,500 ($9). Over 1,600 goats have been arrested since the start of the campaign last November.
Mohammed Abas Kgava, the spokesperson for the vigilantes, poses for a portrait with State Commander Adamsi Mohammed Tar in their office.
Mohammed Abas Kgava, the spokesperson for the vigilantes, poses for a portrait with State Commander Adamsi Mohammed Tar in their office.
State Commander Adamsi Mohammed Tar, head of the vigilantes, poses for his portrait.
State Commander Adamsi Mohammed Tar, head of the vigilantes, poses for his portrait.
Mohammed Abas Kgava is the spokesperson for the vigilantes.
Mohammed Abas Kgava is the spokesperson for the vigilantes.

With the vigilantes in Maiduguri, there is no raiding but there is posing. My main contact, Mohammed Abas Kgava, still contacts me regularly months later, sending texts about villages being burned and needing supplies. I photograph Mohammed’s many men, and when it’s time to take his portrait, he dives down into a bed of lily pad greens and holds up his pistol.

Law and order is fleeting in the North – the government is at best nominally in control, and occasionally, Boko Haram is completely in control. They can’t stop the terrorists, but they can stop the goats.

* * *

Glenna Gordon is a New York based photographer working on longterm personal projects, editorial assignments, and other commissions in Africa and elsewhere.