Since the fight against Boko Haram began, millions of people have been affected. Within the last year, there have been some military victories, on the part of the governments fighting Boko Haram; however, within the same period, Boko Haram has began to use a new tactic that has further exacerbated the lives of millions of people. Suicide bombers are becoming a common strategy used by the group within Nigeria and it’s neighboring countries. At the moment the attacks have no clear end in sight. As part of the End of Boko Haram series, Paxcely Marquez investigates what is known about deployed suicide bombers and what is being done to curtail their impact.
Generally speaking, the utilization of suicide bombers has occurred when there’s a weakening and/or lack of soldiers on the ground. At the moment, that seems to be the case for Boko Haram. Within the last year, they have lost controlled territory – of almost the size of Belgium – to Nigerian and other governments’ military forces. Their desperate attempts to regain dominance, has forced the proliferation of mostly female suicide bombers. Since most women in the region dress conservatively, they can travel with more ease with a bomb strapped onto them, compared to men. However, this opens them to becoming further susceptible to physical harassment by security forces. In order to end the continued worsening situation, we need to look into who these female suicide bombers are.
Who are they?
There are multiple answers to this question. What is currently known is that the suicide bombers the group is using are mostly young women and children, some as young as 10 years old. However, that seems to be the main consensus between those on the ground. Since the matter is still developing, there are multiple conclusions as to who these young women and children are.
Based on interviews with former hostages, some of the potential suicide bombers are women and children kidnapped and held hostage by Boko Haram. Once kidnapped, they are psychologically manipulated into relying on their captures. It begins by being forced to forget who they were, receiving gifts by Boko Haram members, and pushed to convert to Boko Haram’s interpretation of Islam. Recent examples as the February 9th bombing of Dikwa refugee camp illustrates that some suicide bombers are in fact former hostages and aware they are carrying bombs, as indicated by the third bomber. However, not all hostages are designated to be suicide bombers. Many of them are married off to militants, used as sex slaves, and forced to do manual work for the group.
Other reports indicate that the suicide bombers are women and children donated to Boko Haram for this specific purpose. On December 10, 2014, Zaharau Babangida was sent to Kano, Nigeria to detonate her bomb with two other suicide bombers. She decided not to, but the two other girls did, which later resulted in Babangida’s arrest. She explained to the authorities that her father donated her to Boko Haram to serve as a suicide bomber. When she initially refused, she was threatened with death if she did not complete the assignment.
Babangida’s experience is consistent with what Mausi Segun, a researcher of Human Rights Watch, said when asked by NPR if Boko Haram’s suicide bombers were originally abducted, “It’s very doubtful, from our own research, that the group would be willing to use youth that they have abducted – one, because I think that in their warped thinking, the place and the reward of a suicide bomber is martyrdom.”
For survivors, what is being done to help them?
Unfortunately, besides having to recover from their inhumane experiences, survivors are now experiencing stigmatizing by their families and communities. Many of them believe that the women have become radicalized and the already existing stigmatization of rape has hindered survivors’ abilities to return back to their previous way of life.
As a result, the Nigerian government has implemented the Countering Violent Extremism Programme of the Office of the National Security Adviser. The program is designed to de-radicalize former captives primarily through trauma counseling. So far, only one Nigerian activist has been able to visit the facility near Abuja and speak with the staff and former captives. At the moment, it is unclear how affective the program is and if the women and children are free to leave or are obligated to stay.
Other approaches, such as those made by Choice for Peace, Gender and Development, an NGO, primary focus is to help the family members of those taken and/or killed to cope with their situations. Hafsat Mohammed, the founder, has also worked on a grassroots level with other community leaders, of multiple religions, to help promote peace within the region.
A continued emphasis on peace to youth and reintegration of survivors is needed. Potentially, this solution can deter future suicide bombers from completing their task.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
Have an opinion on this or another topic? Why not write for our blog? Click here to find out more and get in touch.