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By Mercy Abang
Over 134 suicide bombings have occurred since 2009 when Boko Haram unleashed a campaign of terror on Nigeria’s northeast region. According to research by Combating Terrorism Center at West Point and Yale University, at least 244 of the 338 attacks since 2011 where gender is identifiable, have been young girls under the age of 7 – 13.
And the trend does not seem to be ending soon. On August 6th, 2017, the Nigerian Army issued a statement appealing to religious and traditional leaders in communities within the region to help dissuade people from donating their daughters or female wards, to the terrorists for indoctrination and suicide bombing missions.
It came off as one of the many announcements made to the media that the public has become numb to over time because of the series of unabated killings by Boko Haram.
Beyond the surface however, it reflected the disturbing state of situation in Northern Nigeria and Nigerians moved on like everyday tales in recent years since the beginning of insurgency. “The statement became expedient in view of recent revelations by some intercepted female suicide bombers during interrogations”, the military wrote.
37-year old Hadiza is a mother to three girls and a missing boy; she loves her children but is willing to offer her teenage daughter to the insurgents for the monetary benefit.
“I can’t say NO to the insurgents, can you?” she asks, speaking in Hausa with the help of a local interpreter who doubled as a fixer. “What has government done for us since we’ve been displaced?”
Hadiza is a nervous wreck, uncoordinated for most of the interview. Hadiza and her husband were displaced after the deadly attacks on Biu in July 2015 that left 78 persons killed including the insurgents.
Hadiza’s home was raided along with other residents but they hid themselves in the bush as the terrorists looted and torched houses, carting away food produce. That attack forced them out of their home and they walked kilometres from home and slept in the bush for more than six nights to avoid being killed – that journey led them to finally move and settle in Maiduguri.
Boko Haram has killed more than 20,000 people and forced some 2.7 million others including her family to flee their homes since 2009.
Like every other woman in the neighbourhood, she has been through trauma and is a victim of the crisis that has forced her out of her home. She lights a smoke while seated in the wooden chair shaking her legs constantly and can easily be mistaken for a crackhead.
“I have lost everything, I can’t feed these kids – we hear accounts of stolen foods and items sent to those of us suffering but who are those taking it back? The wealthy”. Aisha sobs.
“And you think Boko Haram will come here (pointing to the other lady by her side) and any one of us will say NO”?
As disturbing as her accounts may sound, the remarks by Aisha are not so much in contrast to the statement issued by Brigadier General, Sani Kukasheka Usman- Director Army Public Relations.
The military described the motive for some parents donating children to Boko Haram as barbaric and unacceptable, but not for Hadiza. Cases abound like hers, where the insurgents paid off the parents in exchange for their daughters and in less diplomatic situations, threatened with death. At every point of questioning Hadiza, she kept asking who is protecting them from the insurgents?
“It was discovered that most of these hapless minors were “donated” to the terrorists sect by their heartless and misguided parents and guardians, as part of their contribution to the perpetuation of the Boko Haram terrorists’ dastardly acts against the Nigerian society and humanity” – The army statement read.
It appealed to Nigerians to have a responsibility and obligation to “collectively mold our children and wards and define a better future for them rather than condemning them to death by the criminal Boko Haram terrorists and their sympathizers through suicide bombings”.
For Hadiza , the conversation isn’t much about a home, care, or future, it is about the perils of living in the present “It is a war zone here, you survive”, she tears up.
The story of Hadiza can be likened to most of the families in the community, with no breadwinner; she begs to survive along with her kids and refused to move to the IDP camp miles away. She says “staying out here means I can eat whenever I want to but in there you eat once in a day and you’re not sure when the food will be served”
“The place is chaotic” she added.
According to her, she was a one time Biu resident before moving to Maiduguri. Hadiza said her family narrowly escaped the night the insurgents raided their community sometime in 2015 –“they burnt all the houses and left with our farm produce”. Speaking through an interpreter, Hadiza recounts, as she shrugs, in attempts to put up resistance ignoring the stare from her husband who looks on from the window of the crudely built shack where they reside.
Hadiza’s husband didn’t want her to grant this interview for fear of getting killed in the process, but she insisted.
Hadiza and her husband were farmers back in Biu – the farm provided not only subsistence but also a little cash crop – now too scared to continue. She said the idea to begin a small farm to survive has again been suspended as a result of the resurgence of terrorist’s activities.
Poverty and Inequality have been blamed for most of the Boko Haram crisis in the Northeast and Hadiza, also a victim of the insurgency suffers same fate of poverty – willing to trade her child for same reasons.
Earlier in the year, the Borno State government warned of the massive baby boom factory in Gwande area of the state – women selling babies for money to survive.
Oxfam, in its 2017 latest report entitled, “Inequality in Nigeria, Exploring the Drivers,” presented an alarming picture of the Nigerian economic situation, stating that 112 million Nigerians are living in abject poverty.
Presenting a picture of extreme inequality in Nigeria, Oxfam argued that the combined wealth of the five richest Nigerians, put at about $29.9 billion, could end extreme poverty in the country. According to the report, economic inequality was a key factor behind the conflict that had led to the severe food crisis in Nigeria’s North East states, especially as the UN estimates that about five million people in North East Nigeria will suffer from severe food shortages this year.
Analysts have suggested varied reasons for the Boko Haram crisis but poverty and inequality remain the prevalent factor. In Northern Nigeria for instance, unemployment and underemployment is still at the highest levels as compared to Southern Nigeria. According to UNICEF report released in year 2015, Nigeria accounts for 10.5 million out of school children, of which the North alone is responsible for 8 million of that number. For instance, the former Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, blamed the rise of Boko Haram partly on the way revenues from the nation’s Federation account are shared. Sanusi, now an Emir in Kano, argued that the sharing is done in such a manner that disadvantaged the North.
He maintained “there is clearly a direct link between the very uneven nature of distribution of resources and the rising level of violence”.
On 2nd August 2016 there was a crack in Boko Haram that led to two factions between Abubakar Shekau and Abu Musab al-Barnawi.
Security analysts believe that al-Barnawi is the son of Boko Haram’s original founder, Mohammed Yusuf, and was previously the spokesman of Boko Haram under Shekau. He is said to have been responsible for most of the deadly attacks currently being carried out by the sect and the abduction and killings of oil workers and some lecturers from the University of Maiduguri.
“Al-Barnawi has the capacity to carry out attacks on a larger scale” according to an Abuja based security expert who doesn’t want his name mentioned in this report.
The resurgence of the terrorist activities forced 70 lecturers teaching at the University of Maiduguri to resign and also forced then Acting-President Yemi Osinbajo, to order military chiefs to move to Borno, in a bid to “scale up their efforts”.
Though the Nigerian Army is offering a reward of the sum of Five Hundred Thousand Naira (N500,000.00) to anybody who provides information about suicide bombers. Young girls are allegedly still being used in carrying out deadly attacks in the troubled Northeast region.
This article was written as part of the 2017 BudgIT Media Fellowship
Mercy Abang is a Freelance Journalist, focusing on development Journalism – She doubles as a media fixer with Sunday Times of London, BBC, Aljazeera and a former Stringer with the Associated Press – She tweets at @abangmercy.. She is the 2017 United Nations Journalism Fellow and budgIT Media fellow for 2017