There were corn rows on the head of the girl that exploded in Muna Dalti. There was a colourful bead on her wrist too. She probably loved to play dress-up and look good. Everybody forgets these bits of her. Folk remember her as the ‘vixen’ who flicked a switch and blew up, into a puddle of flesh and bone fragments. No one cares if she was ever innocent or raised in virtue. The village is thankful that she took no innocent life, save her teenage accomplice’s. Their carcass lay strewn about the rustic community in Maiduguri, Borno State. Their innards and blood spatter sully the village even as you read.

Lying in the dust few metres from her shredded mate, the girl with the corn rows evoked the dread that wild weeds induce at the base of shoots. Two hours after her ‘sister’ and agent of terrorist group, Boko Haram, detonated an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) at the Muna vehicle park, injuring eight people and burning 13 freight trucks, the girl with the corn rows sauntered into Muna Dalti with another ‘sister.’

Time was 2:00 a.m. and they looked suspicious to the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) patrolling the area. When the latter accosted them, they said they were waiting for their husbands. Of course, their responses were unsatisfactory; having seen eight of their comrades incapacitated by a girl strapped to an IED few hours earlier, around 11.30 pm to be precise, the CJTF suspected foul play.

Hence the vigilante group ordered the girls to come with them. But rather than comply, one of the girls fiddled desperately with a device under her dress. Instantly, the CJTF scurried for cover, shooting sporadically in the air.

‘How I became a suicide bomber’

In the ensuing melee, the girl with the corn rows reached under her dress and did what her mate couldn’t. She flicked the switch on an IED strapped to her body.

In a second, she blew herself to bits and decapitated her mate, who was standing close by.

Ka’ana Hawaye, a CJTF officer in Muna Dalti, said the girls were on a mission to kill. “The bomb blast at 11.30 pm put us on red alert. So, when we saw them, we suspected trouble. But we made sure they didn’t achieve their aim. They couldn’t kill anyone here,” he said.

Corroborating him, CJTF officer, Muhammadu Idris, stated that after the first bomb was detonated by the girl at Muna park, CJTF officers in the area became more vigilant.

However, Ba’ani Aliko, a lieutenant in the group, disclosed that there would have been more casualties had his team not stepped back from the girls in the nick of time.

Further findings  revealed that officers of the Nigerian Army killed about six members of Boko Haram at the Mafa military checkpoint few kilometres away, barely one hour before the first bomber struck in Muna motor park. They were killed about nine kilometres from the state capital while they tried to storm into town. However, as Muna town heaved a sigh of relief, tragedy struck again as the three teenage girls, who had successfully snuck into town, detonated their explosives. The first girl struck around 11:30 pm, Thursday, February 17, at Muna motor park while the other attack occurred in Muna Dalti around 2:00 a.m. on Saturday, February 18.

The Muna bombers apparently succeeded where insurgent mates, Zainab and Amina, failed. Amina, 18, was intercepted while her co-bomber, 15-year-old Zainab, was killed as she tried to ram into motorists queuing to buy fuel and detonate a bomb at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) mega station along Damboa road in Maiduguri, on Tuesday, February 7.

The girls were intercepted by men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps(NSCDC), soon after they arrived in Maiduguri on orders from Boko Haram.

My story, by bomber

As she recounted her experience, Amina’s eyes glistened with hope and gratification. She spoke in a crisp, clear tenor, caressing the strands of a severed ribbon from her veil. She fingered the thread and slipped it through her lips with gratifying immersion, all the piteous miseries of her life seemingly summoned in her wiry hands.

Her face, hard and weary from strife, provided a soiled, pale background to her gaunt eyes. Her eyes, twitching open and close in rhythm with the groove where her lips met with the frayed strands seemed in search of something; comfort perhaps.

Occasionally, she removed the threads from her mouth to answer questions, the words leaping from her lips as if she meant to exhale in one breath, the agony interred in her buried narratives. With submissive firmness, she revealed that she and Zainab were on a mission from Gobarawa, a Boko Haram enclave along Borno’s Alagarno axis, to kill people. She said she was abducted by the terrorists in 2015 in Madagali, Adamawa. From there, she was taken to Sambisa where she was held hostage for a while before being transferred to Gobarawa.

Life in Gobarawa

“My younger brother and sisters Umar, Fatima, fauziya, Abbas, Maryam and Faiza, were all held hostage and married off to Boko Haram men in Gambarawa. But my father and mother were all killed when they tried to escape with us from the camp where we were held hostage in Gobarawa.

“All the people in Gobarawa are Boko Haram. They are many and they all had sophisticated weapons, motorcycles and vehicles which they use to operate,” said Amina. The teenager revealed that when life became too hard in Gobarawa, her captors resorted to drastic measures.

“They usually go out to snatch food from locals and bring us food. We don’t have grinders but we relied on stone to grind sorghum. We pounded sorghum with stone to make food,” she said.

In Gobarawa, Amina, like several child hostages, was married off to a member of the sect. “I am also married to a Boko Haram Commander, an Amir, who has killed more than 100 people, including his mother and father,” she said.

I am also married to a Boko Haram Commander, an Amir, who has killed more than 100 people, including his mother and father

Suicide mission to Maiduguri

It took Amina and Zainab three days to get to Maiduguri, travelling on a motorcycle. She said: “We were directed by the sect members to detonate our explosives any where we saw any form of gathering…They said if we press the button, the bomb would explode and we will automatically go to heaven. I was scared, so, I told them that I could not detonate any explosive. But Zainab said she would do it. So, they said if Zainab detonated her own, it would serve the purpose.”

However, things didn’t go according to plan in Maiduguri. At 6.45 a.m., Amina and Zainab were accosted in the city, after a bean-cake seller alerted NSCDC operatives about their suspicious moves. But while Amina balked from the mission, Zainab decided to go ahead with it. She ignored Amina’s counsel that they flee into the city and seek help.

“I demobilised my own explosive right from when we were about to sleep in a nearby town en route Maiduguri. I had only N200 with me. I told Zainab to come along with me to town instead of blowing the explosive and killing herself for the sake of nothing. I told her that with the N200 they gave us, we can go to town to meet somebody I know.”

But Zainab rejected Amina’s counsel and proceeded with the mission. Initially, she attempted to detonate it at the bean-cake seller’s roadside stall but she later decided to attack the NNPC mega station in the area because it contained a greater crowd and the promise of greater casualties.

Fortunately, the bean-cake seller noticed their suspicious moves and male accomplices and she alerted NSCDC officers in the vicinity. Promptly, the latter marched up to the girls to interrogate them. But no sooner did they accost them than their male handlers disappear. Instantly, Amina revealed that she was strapped to a bomb. The security operatives scurried backwards and cocked their rifles to shoot. In the scuffle, Amina unstrapped her bomb and tossed it away.

“I already told them that I will not detonate my bomb; that was why I threw it away and handed myself over to the security. Zainab insisted on detonating her explosive. I don’t know why. I couldn’t say whether she was in her right senses,” said Amina.

Zainab ignored the NSCDC’s sharp orders that she stood down and proceeded to detonate the bomb. This attracted a warning shot from the NSCDC to her limbs. The shot was meant to demobilise her. But even while she writhed in a blood pool from her bleeding leg, the teenager stubbornly sought to detonate the bomb. This earned her a ‘kill-shot,’ this time around, from a soldier’s rifle. It was either Zainab’s life or the lives of several innocent folk citizens.

A disturbing trend

There is no gainsaying that Boko Haram radically changed the landscape of internal security in Nigeria when it launched the first suicide bombing in Nigeria, at the Police Headquarters in Abuja the Federal Capital territory on June 16, 2011. It’s 35-year-old male bomber, Mohammed Manga, detonated his explosive-laden car, killing more than five persons and destroying several cars. The group subsequently executed several attacks, involving the fitting of IEDs on its members, widely known as ‘suicide bombers’ and common means of transportation, including vehicles, motorcycles and tricycles.

However, on June 8, 2014, Boko Haram dispatched its first female operative, a teenage girl strapped to a bomb. She attacked the 301 Battalion Barracks of the Nigerian Army in Gombe State. The girl detonated the explosive concealed under her hijab, thus killing herself and a soldier.

By January 20, 2015, there have been a total of 17 attempted suicide bombings by underage and teenage girls in Nigeria; 15 of the attacks were successful. By January 2016, the documented attacks increased to 89. With this new experimentation, Boko Haram joined the ranks of terrorist groups that have incorporated women into their organisational profiles. Since the first attack, women and young girls between the ages of seven and 17, have been coerced into targeting civilians at markets, bus depots, fuel stations and mosques. The 89 attacks documented between June 2014 and January 2016, mostly of civilian soft targets, have been responsible for more than 1,200 deaths and an even greater number of injuries.

A disturbing trend, however, ensues with the terrorist sect’s increasing deployment of teenage girls to execute suicide bombings in Maiduguri, Borno State. Rescued girls experience stigmatisation from family and friends when they return home. One such survivor returned to Maiduguri after being freed by soldiers. But on arrival at home, her mother turned her over to the military after finding out that she had been trained as a suicide bomber.

The adoption of female suicide bombers is not especially surprising as an operational adaptation to increased state surveillance of the group’s activities; it has been a tactic adopted by secular and religious terrorist groups from Sri Lanka to Syria.

However, Boko Haram depends on female operatives disproportionately, relative to similar insurgencies; for example, the Tamil Tigers used 46 women over the course of 10 years, whereas Boko Haram has deployed over 151 females including underage girls in a little over a year.

Data from Beyond Chibok, a United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) study, show that 44 children were used in suicide attacks in north-east Nigeria and neighbouring countries in 2015 alone.

The figures, released to mark the second anniversary of the abduction of over 270 girls from Chibok, show that children now account for nearly a fifth of all suicide bombers in Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad. Thus between late 2014 and the end of 2016, the number of such attacks escalated to 151. In 2015, 89 of the attacks were carried out in Nigeria, 39 in Cameroon, 16 in Chad and seven in Niger.

Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, said children used in suicide bombings should not be seen as willing combatants. “Let us be clear: these children are victims, not perpetrators. Deceiving children and forcing them to carry out deadly acts has been one of the most horrific aspects of the violence in Nigeria and neighbouring countries,” he said.

There is more to the use of girl-bombers — Theatre Commander Gen. Leo Irabor

MAJOR-GENERAL Leo Irabor is the Theatre Commander (TC) of the anti-terrorism war, code name: “Operation Lafiya Dole (Peace by force).” He was appointed as the TC on March 18, 2016. In this exclusive interview with newsmen, he bares his mind on Boko Haram’s use of minors for suicide bombing and other issues related to the anti-terrorism war.

Operation Lafiya Dole

In respect of Operation Lafiya Dole, I was appointed here as the Theatre Commander on March 18, 2016. Before then, I resumed here on the 5th of January, 2016 as the then Theatre Commander. Two months later, I was appointed the Theatre Commander. So, I have been heading this operation for one year.

The military operation here is asymmetric. It is asymmetric because you really can’t tell who the enemy is. In conventional setting, the belligerents are well defined. It is easy to identify them. You don’t need to do much to understand who the enemy is. More importantly, the belligerents have respect for the rules governing warfare. They respect the laws of war and the international human rights. But asymmetric wars like we have here in Borno, it becomes difficult to determine who the enemy is.

That the war has lasted this long is largely in part, because it is asymmetric in nature. The Nigerian military was not attuned to threats of this nature; a situation whereby the secret police should normally look into, you now get yourself involved in it.

But time has passed and we have been able to learn our lessons. And that is why you have been able to see the reversals that are occurring.

So far, our findings show that, they are told that if they blow themselves up, they will go to heaven, and so on and so forth. I know that there is more to it. We are carrying out certain investigations and by the time we are done with them, you will know what our findings are

Making sense of the girl-child bombers

Anybody can be a suicide bomber. It all depends on what you assimilate. So, someone that calls himself or herself a suicide bomber, it all depends on what the fellow assimilates. Part of the transformation that we also found in this war is that, it became a war of ideology. So for me, I would say it’s a war of ideology rather than a religious war. It is situation whereby a group of people are made to believe a certain falsehood. And that falsehood is repeated to them over and over until they begin to see it as the truth.

And that is precisely what Boko Haram leadership is trying to do with those in their fold. So, that’s why I said anybody can be a suicide bomber depending on what you assimilate.

So, who are those that they have engaged as suicide bombers? Those that are illiterate, those that are in their youth. I will not even call them youths. They engage children who cannot tell what life is; children who cannot tell right from wrong. Because they’ve been so wrongly indoctrinated, whatever their captors tell them is what they believe. They do their captors’ bidding. So far, our findings show that, they are told that if they blow themselves up, they will go to heaven, and so on and so forth. I know that there is more to it. We are carrying out certain investigations and by the time we are done with them, you will know what our findings are.

Politics and war

Many have also tried to politicise the problem which, of course, is unfortunate. They are of the erroneous notion that the military must be involved in issues of politics. Yes, there is some school of thought that believe that war is politics by other means. But certainly not a war of this nature whereby all the contending forces are all nationals of Nigeria. For me, I believe that issues of war, issues of national security must not be relegated to politics. It is wrong to read meanings into military operations. It is wrong to think soldiers have ulterior motives for engaging in battle.

There is no military around the world that will say they are sufficient in all things, no. Rather you build, you learn, you re-align, you re-assess.

At some stage, people have also tried to make the war look like some religious crisis, which of course, has now been dispelled. They once attacked structures of a particular religious faith in order to make it seem like a religious crisis. That failed. Then it became an all-faith affair, where any structure that belonged to any faith and every creed were attacked by them. Then it dawned on the populace that, these are mad men. These are people that are deranged. Until it got to that level, the cooperation between the civil society and the military was very poor. So, as the threat transformed and the war transformed, the gaps between the understanding of the civil society and the military began to narrow. And so the narrowing of the gap means that minds at both ends came together.

That closing of gap also contributed immeasurably in seeing the establishment of what we now call the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF). It is because they now understand that they’ve got a part to play, it’s not just a military affair. That of course, also accounts for the successes we have recorded.

Threats and discipline

What we call ‘Table of equipment,’ ‘Table of organisation’ takes into cognizance, the various factors, one of which is threat. What is the threat perception? Because of that setting, every military officer has at the back of his mind, a desire to honour the oath that he has pledged to. As a result of that, he cannot go against that oath. For those who may have reason to, that is why we have procedures to manage such situations. We have court-martial and so on to address such situations.

Beyond Operation Lafiya Dole

The minds of the troops are focused. We’ve been able to provide them the necessary tools. This is responsible for the success stories. And the military is being more proactive. Right now, I am looking beyond “Operation Lafiya Dole.” The military leadership is thinking of its aftermath. We are making assessments of what we need to do to prevent things from returning to how they used to be. We must do everything to educate people and sensitise them to their civic responsibilities. Governance is not for a small group of people in public offices. Every citizen is part of government. And when citizens perform their civic responsibilities, they exercise their power as intrinsic part of government. Going to school to learn to read and write is only a part of education. It is not education in totality. Societies are regulated. Every society is regulated and that regulation is brought about by laws. Societies have laws that should be respected. People must understand that.

The media challenge

When those who know go to misinform others, then there is a problem. This is where the press comes in. The press shouldn’t misinform simply because they believe they have freedom of speech. Freedom of speech comes with great responsibility and the press should always understand and respect that. You cannot infringe on my rights simply because you wish to exercise your freedom of speech. I am an agent of government and that state is working to guarantee the territorial security and integrity of the state but some people are of the wrong impression that they could be an impediment to me.

It will be wrong for anyone to think that if he becomes an obstacle in my way, I will be forced to placate him or settle him in order to become more effective. If that happens, then he becomes an obstacle even to his own security.

And there are others who are also being used to disrupt activities and our peace-keeping efforts. There is no friend in the world. In reality, there is no friend. What exists around the world is interest. What scholars call ‘enlightened self-interest.’

To tame a suicidal culture…

The suicide bombers are usually brainwashed. There is nobody who was born hardened. No child is born as a suicide bomber. Situations cause them to harden. There must be a total reorientation of our youths and reestablishment of our good values. Our education system should be overhauled and broadened to produce more progressively literate and responsible citizens. You don’t go to school simply because you wish to get a certificate and get a job. That is not what education does for you.

Education should help you to think logically and to be able to identify alternatives when you see them. It should empower you to understand issues and perspectives to an issue. It should enable you to discern between good and evil, right and wrong.

A well educated youth will be empowered to shun evil and embrace progress. Education helps you to develop your conscience and become a better patriot. A national reorientation of our children, youth and people will conscientise our nation towards a more positive and progressive direction.

When we as a people have a commonality of values that are well defined, we won’t argue or bicker about it. As the Americans have the American dream, we should also have the Nigerian dream. It’s about time we decided on and evolved a sustainable Nigerian dream.

Shared values will always unite us. A national reorientation geared towards truly positive objectives will make us better citizens and people.

Why girl-bombers?

The value underage girls add to terrorism is very clear, according to Mia Bloom, a Professor of Communication at Georgia University and Hilary Matfess, a research analyst at the National Defence University’s Center for Complex Operations and a member of the Nigeria Social Violence Project (NSVP) at the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

While Bloom addresses the lure of suicide terrorism in her books, Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror and Bombshell: Women and Terrorism, she and Matfess recently took a holistic look at the trend in Northern Nigeria.

“The incorporation of women into Boko Haram’s activities,” they opine, “builds upon a history of tactical experimentation, undertaken in response to cyclical government responses and opportunities posed by regional trends in arms availability. The symbolism of female-led attacks has been a means by which

‘My Boko Haram husband killed his father and mother’

Boko Haram has distinguished itself from similar movements and local rivals. Understanding Boko Haram’s use of women is particularly critical, as it is the most lethal insurgency on the continent, having claimed an estimated 29,000 lives since 2002, and shows no signs of abating.”

“The very fact of being female is proven to enjoy several tactical advantages. First, women suicide terrorists capitalise and thrive on the ‘element of surprise.’ They can take advantage of cultural reluctance toward physical searches to evade detection. Given their seemingly feminine facade, they are categorically perceived as gentle and non-threatening. Further, they constitute a potentially large pool of recruits, a resource that terrorist organisations can draw from and cash in on. Symbolically, the death of women bombers is more likely to evoke a feeling of desperation and sympathy,” noted Bloom.

Investigations revealed that children and child-widows of slain Boko Haram fighters are also conscripted as suicide bombers. During their conscription, they are allegedly brainwashed and psychologically programmed to die for martyrdom, often as revenge against ‘infidels’ whom they are made to believe caused the death of their loved ones.

The girl bombers are also recruited through female scouts. In June 2014, for instance, troops arrested three suspected female Boko Haram members Hafsat, Zainab and Aisha, have been secretly recruiting girls for Boko Haram.

Boko Haram corrupts theology, victims’ psychology

Boko Haram’s girl bombers are psychologically and physically coerced into carrying out the attacks, according to Milda Okoro-Essiet. The child psychologist argued that the remote detonation of explosives strapped to the sect’s child victims also suggests that the girls may be unaware of the gravity of their mission or the masterminds did not trust the girls would have sufficient courage to carry out the attacks.

While it is possible that the Boko Haram may be selecting those that are too uneducated or naive to recognise that they are actually carrying explosives, the confession of a suspected female suicide bomber, Zaharau Babangida, indicates that the girls are also being coerced. The 13-year-old girl was arrested strapped to a bomb in December 2014 in Kano State.

She narrated how she was conscripted by her biological father and transferred to one of Boko Haram’s radicalisation camps in Bauchi forest. She revealed that an ideologue in the camp tried to brainwash and intimidate them into undertaking a suicide mission.

“I was not moved by the soul searching preaching of bounties in the heaven and it was at this point, their leader resorted to threat and intimidation to obtain my consent. We were shown a deep hole where the leader of the group threatened to bury us alive at a point if any of us refused to play along, and at another time, he picked a big gun and threatened to shoot anyone who fails to obey his command,” she said.

Subsequently, Zaharau was taken to a market in Kantin Kwari, Kano, along with two other girls, who detonated their bombs – killing six people, including the bombers. The 13-year-old, who was injured in the blasts, said she was too scared to go through with the attack after she saw her mates’ cadavers barely a second after they detonated their bombs. She made her way to a nearby hospital in Dawanau, where she was arrested.

At the backdrop of the dangerous trend, Islamic clerics reiterate that Boko Haram interprets religious texts out of context. “They paint the texts in shades of violence and force-feed it to impressionable girls and boys in their captivity. What they teach these kids is at extreme variance with the tenets of Islam,” stated Borno-based cleric, Muhammadu Arif.

Idowu Bisi-Akinrolatan, a social psychologist, argued that, “Most of these girls have experienced untold miseries since the insurgency began. Many have seen their parents, siblings, friends and other loved ones shot to death or decapitated by Boko Haram. The impact of such horror on their psyche is often immeasurable. The future looks bleak to them. Having been forcefully conscripted as suicide bombers, they resign to fate and consider their imminent death a shortcut to escape the hard life that they live. It doesn’t hurt them too, to believe the propaganda that they will gain an early access to paradise, she explained.

Thus poor, vulnerable girls, are brainwashed into believing that if they succeed in detonating bombs in crowded places, they would be killing infidels who are intent on corrupting the lifestyle that God wants humanity to follow.

Theological luminaries consider this thought process, “altruistic evil” which thrives on the flawed belief that convenient evil is ordained by God. But Sheikh Idris Alogba, an Islamic scholar, argued that evil is never ordained by God. “The God that we serve, Allah (S.W.T), has no blood thirst. He does not approve of mindless killing or murder under any guise. Boko Haram, suicide bombing or terrorism by any premise are unapproved in the sight of God. Islam is a religion of peace. Allah is a God of peace. The terrorists are misguided, likewise the suicide bombers,” he said.

Defeating terror

Yahaya Imam, Borno State Director of the National Orientation Agency (NOA), described the spread of terrorism in Nigeria’s northeast zone as unfortunate but he commended the Nigerian military and leadership for prosecuting a decisive and successful routing of Boko Haram from its strongholds. Yahaya believes a cultural and value reorientation of Nigerian youths will sensitise them to progressive civic responsibility and prevent more youths from falling prey to terrorist sects like Boko Haram. However, the NOA boss lamented the unavailability of funds required by his agency to execute positive youth orientation projects in war-ravaged Borno.

According to him, “The NOA is taking steps to involve traditional authorities and youth organisations in its reorientation and peace-building drive across Borno. And our efforts are yielding fruits.

Abdullahi Ibrahim, the Commander of the Borno State Command of the NSCDC, stated that, his command has taken far-reaching measures to prevent attacks by suicide bombers. “We have our officers embedded in various parts of the community across the state. Our intelligence network is ever active and primed to nip any dangerous development in the bud,” he said.

Ibrahim stated that his command’s collaboration with the Nigerian Army in Borno has yielded very positive and encouraging results in the war against terrorism. For instance, Amina and her late mate, Zainab, were intercepted by a combined team of NSCDC and the army before they could wreak havoc in Maiduguri few weeks ago.

Fiona Lovatt, a New Zealand teacher, poet and humanitarian-volunteer based in Kano, advocated a departure from the dominant narrative about girl-child agents cum victims of Boko Haram’s suicide bombing attacks. According to her, the issue of child radicalisation by Boko Haram constitutes a red herring. She lamented that Borno’s girl-child bombers are endangered children bearing the brunt of society’s inadequacies.

She urged the government to protect children of the war-ravaged region. “And if they are abducted and taken into savannah grasslands, find them and bring them home. Treat them well when they get back,” she said.

But who will treat them well when they get back? Adijatu, for instance, was forced to relocate from her native Borno to Sabo, Ogun State, following her one-year ordeal as a captive sex slave and child bride of Boko Haram. The 17-year-old believed her travails were over immediately she was rescued and returned to Bama, her hometown, by the military Joint Task Force (JTF). Unknown to her, her nightmare was just beginning. The teenager fled her home when her best friend’s aunt and guardian tried to bash in the skull of her infant son, Habibi, because she conceived of him by a Boko Haram fighter. And she was not even a ‘suicide bomber.’

A worse fate awaits intercepted bombers like Amina and Zaharau. Popular cultural beliefs about ‘bad blood’ and ‘witchcraft’ are exacerbated by stories of girls returning from captivity to murder their parents. This explains why a mother invited soldiers to arrest her returnee daughter, after the latter confided in her that she was trained as a suicide bomber. Women and girls who spent time in captivity are often referred to by communities as “Boko Haram wives,” “Sambisa women,” “Boko Haram blood” and “Annoba” (epidemics).

Survivors’ legitimate concerns about being shunned by their communities are compounded by their fear that the militants will return and track them down. One such survivor said in an interview that she feared that her Boko Haram militant husband would “kill her for running away;” at the same time, in her community she is considered “an outcast…they remind me that I have Boko Haram inside me,” she said.

Thus rescuing the women from the insurgents is only one part of the solution, according to expert psychological opinion. Providing emotional support, health services, and community reintegration is critical to the success of Nigeria’s counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategy.

In June 2015, Dr. Fatima Akilu, head of the Countering Violent Extremism Department of the Office of the National Security Advisor, announced that 20 women and girls who had been recruited by Boko Haram had been “saved” and were “undergoing rehabilitation and de-radicalisation,” although the details were never released.

The support efforts, noted Dr. Abubakar Monguno, should be survivor based. Monguno, working with a team including Dr. Yagana Imam, Yagana Bukar and Bilkisu Lawan Gana from UNIMAID, and in collaboration with the International Organisation on Migration (IOM), the Borno State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, International Alert and UNICEF, authored a report revealing that hostile perceptions place children conceived of rape and violence on Boko Haram terror camps are “at risk of rejection, abandonment, discrimination and potential violence.”

Lovatt and Hope

They advocate that support efforts should also integrate social workers into affected communities to identify families at risk of breakdown. The social workers should follow up with home visits together with religious officials, to provide mediation and guidance to husbands and family members.

But that is in the long run. In the short run, urgent steps should be taken to assist victims and survivors like Amina and Zaharau to pick the broken pieces of their lives. Every day, the teenagers struggle to forget the act that was meant to end their lives: the righteous murder of innocent folks who committed no wrong against them and their instigators.

At the time of their arrest, they were both frightened and sad. But their fear was borne of valor; the courage to say “No” to mindless carnage of their own people. Zaharau, 13, could not envision paradise by killing herself and innocent people. Amina, 18, couldn’t either. They probably dread the scorn of friends and strangers by whose deaths they could become ‘evil.’

Nonetheless, their fate resonates a tragedy so overpowering that it incites a torrent of feelings. Beyond that, there is guilt – that our desire for them is so strong that it sets the society, like a bird of prey, to stalk them, stigmatise them and reignite their buried narratives. In their sad, sorry world, every muted spasm and tragic elocution of pain pricks their hide and sink like claws. There is no clear significance. There is only loss.

Culled from The Nation

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