Month: July 2014

“Gender has always been a component of the way [Boko Haram] violence has happened, and it’s become more explicitly so”

This post is part of a series of interviews with subject matter experts on the northeast of Nigeria and the ongoing militant violence. TAP hopes these interviews will contribute to an issue-driven conversation on what relevant actors in the region can do to help stop the violence and improve well-being of Nigerians living in violence-prone areas.

Elizabeth Pearson is a gender and extremism analyst who is studying towards a PhD at King’s College London on gender norms in Jihadi and counter-Jihadi radicalisation. and a member of the Nigerian Security Network. She co-wrote a report titled, “Women, Gender and the evolving tactics of Boko Haram,” Journal of Terrorism Research, Volume 5, Issue 1, February 2014. This report addresses an under-researched aspect of Boko Haram’s activities: gender-based violence (GBV) and its targeting of women. It argues that 2013 marked a significant evolution in Boko Haram’s tactics, with a series of kidnappings, in which one of the main features was the instrumental use of women. In this interview, Pearson puts the well-known abduction of over 200 girls in Chibok Local Government Area spurned the #BringBackOurGirls protests in Nigeria and elsewhere in context. She discusses the ways in which gender-based violence has featured in the ongoing insurgency on the part of both the military and the militants, the ways in which Muslim and Christian women have been treated durning the violence by the militant group, and the ways in which the government can help communities affected by the violence in the remote communities affected by the violence.

Thanks so much Liz for agreeing to speak with me. Now, following the really illuminating report that you did on gender based violence about these women and the ongoing insurgency in the north-eastern part of Nigeria, I have just a few questions, starting with this one.

Do you reckon that gender based violence is a mere by-product of Boko Haram’s larger strategy in the North East, or is it part and parcel of their strategy?

I would say it is part and parcel of its strategy. It’s really integral to what’s going on in terms of the ideology which is very strongly gendered partly because of the insistence and the desire for Sharia law, which has very codified and very distinct ideas about the roles that men and women should have. So, the ideology is part of why it is integral, but more recently, there has been a real directive from Shekau in terms of abductions of women. Since 2012, there’s been a specific directive about abducting women which has really sort of ratcheted this up. Gender has always been a component of the way violence has happened and it’s become more explicitly so since its leader Mohammed Shekau has ordered and threatened the abduction of women, which began in 2012, and has been happening for the past years more than now.

There is a lot that has been said about #BringBackOurGirls, but it is really just one instance of abduction and gender-based violence. That was something that really came through in your report and also even in response to the first question. I was just wondering if you could help put what happened in Chibok in context, how many girls have been previously kidnapped, what has been the fate of these girls that have experienced the violence, how have they fared?

Well, I think why [what happened in Chibok] has been so shocking and why it has made headlines and rightly so around the world is because of the numbers of girls taken. But yes, women living in the north-eastern part of Nigeria have known for some time that they are vulnerable to being kidnapped and abducted by Boko Haram. These abductions started in 2013. Now, up until Chibok, the numbers that were taken in any one case were much smaller, so anything from around a dozen to twenty women were taken at a time in attacks that really weren’t so widely reported but that people knew where happening. One of the hostage negotiators Steven Davis has been speaking about how many girls and women he thinks has been taken in total, and he guesses that perhaps as many again have been taken by Boko Haram. So that’s a lot of women and girls.

Women have been released in prisoner exchanges with the Nigerian government, so some of them have been unharmed and have spoken to the press. Not Chibok girls now, but other women that have been taken have been bartered successfully with the Nigerian government. This obviously makes taking girls a successful strategy for Boko Haram. There are other girls that have escaped. There are certain parts of northeast Nigeria, which has been more affected than the others. Gwoza is one region where quite a lot or perhaps dozens of young Christian women have been taken in raids to go with them, to look after them, to cook, to clean and forcing them to convert to Islam. If they are Christians, they are forcing them to marry, raping the women in some cases and beating them. There was quite a well reported case of a young girl who is nineteen years old; she is a Christian teenager who had escaped from one such group. She had been with them for a few months,and she described being beaten and forced to convert to Islam, so we know from women who have either been freed or who have escaped what kinds of circumstances that they are been held in.

Ok. Would you say that there has been a marked difference between the soldiers and the Boko Haram’s use of women in the ongoing conflict? Not to try to imply that you know soldiers and Boko Haram are the same, or try to put them in the same box. I was just wondering if how women are used in the conflict differs from both sides.

It’s difficult to equate what Boko Haram are doing with what the Nigerian government are doing. They are two; one is a violent really very brutal and insurgency, the other is trying to combat that insurgency but it’s unfortunate that women have been caught up in this conflict and treated in comparable ways by both sides and they have been used as a way of attacking the other side. So, Boko Haram have been abducting women and they haven’t stopped doing this even since Chibok. Ever since the world’s focus has been on Nigeria, they have kept going. Partly as way of saying even though the world’s eyes are upon us, we are going to keep going with this and unfortunately the Nigerian government know that the police have been arresting and detaining the wives and family members of Boko Haram including one of Shekau’s own wives and that began in November 2011. And this is something that Shekau appears to have taken very personally, because it is something that he repeatedly referred to in video messages throughout 2012 before kidnapping really started in 2013. So it seems that if it was a strategy to try and get Boko Haram to the negotiating table, to try to get them to admit defeat didn’t really work. None of those Boko Haram women have been charged with anything and some of them have been released and exchanged. So there’s a similarity there and that women are been used by both sides as a way like pawns in this conflict as a way of attacking, each attacking the other side.

Thanks for that. You go into some details as to how Boko Haram has targeted Christian women and girls and even in response to the previous question, you went into some details about how Christian women and girls have been affected in the report that you wrote. It talked about the police’s barracks assault in Bama in February 2013, and chronicling the violence against women up until now. Would you say that Muslim women are not targeted by Boko Haram? I mean, are they being spared you know just as curious as to how you see in your analysis, how you see if there’s been a difference between the way Muslim women have been affected and Christian women have been affected by the ongoing violence in the North East.

I think it’s fair to say that there has been for sometime, a marked gender based violence directed at Christian women because of their faith. So for some time, Christian women have been forced to convert, they have been targeted for not wearing Islamic clothing they have been abused and harassed because of their faith in a way that Muslim women have not experienced. But it’s not the case that Muslim women are not also targeted. Boko Haram is very definite that moderate Muslims who do not buy into their ideology are also fair targets. Now Boko Haram has been treating men and women differently in its raids. There have been a number of cases where they have, for example, attacked colleges and attacked colleges accommodation and they have killed the men with no mercy. They have been completely brutal. There was a case earlier this year at a college where men were locked into dormitories, the dormitories set on fire, and those men trying to escape through the windows had their throats slit and that was an instance in which women were abducted alongside. There have been cases of where Muslim women and Christian women have been separated out into two groups and where Christian women have been attacked and raped and Muslim women have been “spared”. So, there is a difference in a way the women are treated in the attacks, and Muslim women and Christian women are treated in attacks. Certainly that’s true, but I think anybody who disagrees with Boko Haram is not treated leniently. It would be wrong to characterize all of the violence happening as being carried out by Boko Haram insurgents has something to do with religion. There are also more complicated factors that come into this. There is evidence that ethnicity is the basis for attacks. There is also struggle over resources and some of the attacks are purely criminal it would seem, so not every Boko Haram insurgent is fighting for an ideology. So I think that important to flag up as well. Although Boko Haram have a religious ideology, have an Islamist ideology a lot of the violence is caused by other factors that are not to do with religion.

I thought it was really important to really bring those points out, and I am glad you answered the questions and so specifically as well because one of the more troubling things that happened, is the whispers about how a lot of these girls are Christians and the question of the religion you know coming out as a talking point. In your paper, you also made a point that gender-based violence encompasses violence aimed at boys as well. In what way would you say that Boko Haram has targeted boys?

Well, they don’t see women as combatants they are targeting them as they are using them as recruits coerced into violence sometimes, coerced into joining insurgency where perhaps they don’t want to, paid sometimes to carry out attacks and treated with a greater degree of ruthlessness. They are more likely to be killed during attacks where women are sometimes “spared”. It is not to say that Boko Haram does not kill women. It does but men specifically in raids are more likely to be killed. We have seen more instances of Boko Haram maltreating women in different ways, but letting them live.

Some of the fathers of the over 200 abducted girls from Chibok Local Government in Borno State have come to the #BringBackOurGirls sit-ins that have been arranged in solidarity with them. I have spoken to some of the family members, and I remember this one father talking about how a lot of the family of the girls left are no longer lucid. One would see a mother on the street asking strangers, “that have you seen my daughter?” We are still very much in the thick of it, but I wonder if it is too soon to think about what can be done to rehabilitate people who managed to escape Boko Haram’s captivity, and I don’t know if you can give some examples of working with other countries to bring about reintegration and counselling on this sort of scale.

Liz: I can’t begin to imagine what people in Chibok and so many other parts of Northern Nigeria are going through when they loose groups of young women to Boko Haram. It is unimaginable and they clearly need support and they need help and they need to get the girls back. People who are living with the threat of random attack in parts of Nigeria which are unable to be policed, so it seems the courage that it just takes to go about their everyday lives is phenomenal and it is fantastic you are talking to people and you are documenting peoples’ stories. Other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, other countries in the world have been dealing with conflict, they have been dealing with unfortunately similar cases of the adoption of the rape, of the salient excess slavery of young women of young men in Mozambique, in Sierra Leone, in Rwanda, in Uganda and in Somalia. These kinds of activities are all known, they are all experienced, and in those countries, there have been efforts to try and help people recover from the awful things that they are put through.

I know that UNICEF is doing well with NGO’s in Somalia, there has been a really fantastic program by World Vision Children of War Rehabilitation Centre in Uganda helping young children who are abducted by Joseph Konye into the LRA Lord’s resistance army. There have been doing that work for some years, there is hope, there is hope that peoples’ lives can be turned around, and there are plenty of people out there who have experienced this. So it can possibly be too soon for Nigeria to begin to learn from this. I know that there have been calls from American lawmakers in Nigeria to set up funds to try and help people. People have been incredibly proactive in Nigeria, protest moves against the adoption led by women in Nigeria has been huge, and has had a knock on effect all over the world there is the willingness that it’s just a question of getting the resources to try and help people in terms of counselling.

I think that the Nigerian government is aware of the problem there was the whole world after the ending sexual violence in conflict, summit in London recently, knows what the damages that can been done. Nigeria has a national action plan on safeguarding women in conflict [the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325] and that action plan in Nigeria was launched in summer 2013 and that action plan talked about, it was aware of the threat to women kidnapped in the some of the Northern region. So there is awareness, there is a need and there is a question of providing the resources, the facilities for people to get help and hopefully that’s something that would be, you know better than I, I’m sure, what help is going on for people hopefully that will be something that is really been invested in the future because there is obviously a need.

“This is, to me, what has laid the foundation for the upsurge of Boko Haram”

This post is part of a series of interviews with subject matter experts on the northeast of Nigeria and the ongoing militant violence. TAP hopes these interviews will contribute to an issue-driven conversation on what relevant actors in the region can do to help stop the violence and improve well-being of Nigerians living in violence-prone areas.

TAP interviewed Dr. Muhammad Kabir Isa is a professor and Head of Department at the Department of Local Government and Development Studies at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) in Zaria, Nigeria on the origins and evolution of the much-feared Islamist militant organization Jamā’at ahl as-sunnah li-d-da’wa wa-l-jihād, better known as Boko Haram. Dr. Isa is one of the first people to write about the Islamist group, and has been researching and writing on Islamic fundamentalism for years. In this interview, Dr. Isa sheds light on the history of Borno State, the psychology of Boko Haram, the key factors that have fed into the growth and expansion of the Islamist group, and the role that the protracted dearth of development and good governance has played in readying the ground for situation today.

Professor (Dr) Isa, thank you so much for agreeing to speak with me. I’m just going to start with the first of five questions. This won’t take too long. I want to start on the rise of Boko Haram. Some people say it is poverty, some say it is the breakdown of governance in the North, some say it is religion; what would you say are the real contributing factors to increased fundamentalism in the region?

It’s a combination of several factors, but first, I would like to start with the historical factor. You know Islam in the region had started in the Borno empire, in the Borno Kingdom from Songhai to Kanem-Borno. So there is this draw to proselytization and Islamic knowledge in the kingdom, and Borno is known for its excellent scholarship with regard to Islamic knowledge. People are drawn to Borno from all parts of the world to learn a lot about Islamic history, philosophy, legal systems, and what have you. And these are drawn informally around the city, where scholars have evolved in this tradition of passing this knowledge from one generation to the other. There are no official sanctuaries or sectors where this knowledge is drawn. That’s one.

Two – and this is very fundamental to me in recent times – is the issue of climate change and desertification. Borno State has over five million people, thereabouts, however a quarter or a third of that population is resident in Maiduguri. There was a gradual movement of people from the Northernmost parts of the state to the center, where Maiduguri is, because of desertification, erosion in the Northern parts. Most of the population is largely towards the Northern part of the state, but these parts have been taken over by desertification.

Another factor is the Lake Chad. There are communities that prospered along the Lake Chad for hundreds of years. Now the Lake Chad has shrunk in size; it is no longer within Nigeria, but entirely in Chad. So people have been compelled to move to the center in search of new livelihoods. So desertification, the shrinking of the Lake Chad, forced the population of Maiduguri to increase because it is the most cosmopolitan urban center in Borno, and people have been attracted to it because of its urban infrastructure and what have you. However, the bubble burst. Many realised that there are no jobs, no industries, nothing. The only thing that is available is proselytization – for people to preach and call [others] to Islam. And you have to understand that Boko Haram, which is not what they describe themselves as – they describe themselves as “Jamā’at ahl as-sunnah li-d-da’wa wa-l-jihād”, people propagating the Sunna, the teachings of the Prophet. Apart from the Koran, there are the teachings and practices of the Prophet. So these are the people propagating just the Koran and the teachings of the Prophet. Anything outside these two is seen as an addition, as influenced by what is outside what has been preached by the Prophet.

Now you have to also understand that what is referred to as Boko Haram today were once referred to as the Taliban and they felt that we are in an era when Islam is no longer feasible in terms of practice, people can no longer effectively practice Islam because of some corrupt influences such as Western influences, not just the issue of education. They do not condemn education or technological advances alone; they are not against it. Rather, for example, you know, there is this Darwinian theory which says we evolved from water-based organisms, to monkeys and so on. This runs contrary to even the Bible – human beings evolved from Adam and Eve. So as far as they are concerned, this is contrary to the teachings of Islam. There are also these theories that when rain wants to fall, it forms into clouds, and so on and so forth. No. In Islam, it is God that gives rain. They are not concerned about the facts: God gives rain, but how? So there is this myopia against, if you like, contextualising religious teachings. And so to them, it is not that western education per se is haram, but there are teachings, there are theories from Western education that are contrary or seek to contradict the tenets of Islam, and those should not be taught as far as they are concerned in schools. This is the way they feel.

And of course these teachings moved into other levels because over the years, politicians and Western-educated elites of Northern extraction who have been part of government have acquired enormous wealth illegally and they have not done anything to their community, this wealth has not trickled out; they’ve used this wealth to send their children abroad and have left their own people in perpetual abject poverty. So poverty of course you know from the National Bureau of Statistics is preponderant in the northeast and North-West of Nigeria, and the index of poverty is even higher in the North-East. Most of these people live in abject poverty; there is a high rate of unemployment with no possibility of employment, no possibility of wealth creation. So people are left fallow, despondently, in anger, in frustration and what have you. This is, to me, what has laid the foundation for the upsurge of Boko Haram. And these are also independent of course of previous types of insurgencies in the North.

Now that we have some sense of what contributed to the rise of Boko Haram, how has the rise of Boko Haram compared to the rise of other Islamist groups like Hezbollah, Al Shabab and ISIS in Iraq now? How is the rise of Boko Haram different? What are the core differences and similarities?

You know, Hezbollah is Shi’ite, and ideologically they are not the same. Boko Haram is Sunni. So ideologically they are different, and with regard to modus operandi they are different. Hezbollah behaves like a state within the Lebanese state, Al Shabab is contesting the space of the state.

It will surprise you to note that in 2009 and 2010, Boko Haram never claimed to want to Islamize Nigeria. It only took a different turn by 2010. In 2009 they were only seeking revenge, if you like; they were only attacking police, armed forces, security officials and agents of the security apparatus within the state. It was only late 2010/11, when their families were arrested by the state, that BH started attacking state institutions. They attacked the police headquarters in 2011, they attacked the UN Headquarters in Abuja also in 2011. Then they started attacking churches, then schools. So you can see there is a dynamic shift in modus operandi. This shift also dovetailed into a full-on terror campaign. They now started saying they want to introduce sharia in Nigeria. In fact, not just in Northern Nigeria, but in the entirety of Nigeria. So they started challenging the state.

And it has a lot to do with the way the state has responded to the crisis. Let me also make this clear; it is one thing to bring for example an army of Igbo extraction into a Northern area where there are differences of culture, religion, perceptions of ways of life – in the north, a stranger does not enter into the compound or family house without permission, culturally. So if you bring people from the east or west to fight in an armed conflict in the north] whose culture is different, it will exacerbate the conflict and not solve the problem.

You made a point that Hezbollah acts as a state within a state, and even Al Shabab if I recall had a way of establishing a soft power that almost endeared the people to them. The only time people started fighting Al Shabab in Somalia was when they started charging taxes, banning people from watching football, even banning cigarettes. So did Boko Haram ever attempt soft power? It seems like a major difference here is that Boko Haram has never tried to actually win people over, because for all the talk about the Western-educated elite not doing much for the region, [Boko Haram] have never attempted to even show [real concern for the people], even from the interviews we have done at TAP, some people have been saying that they didn’t know that they were that bad. So what was it in the beginning that made people think Boko Haram wasn’t so dangerous in the first place?

There was a microcredit scheme with interest-free loans through each Boko Haram cell, and each commander in the cell had a special clinic where any member of the cell can use. The movement takes care of their members. They paid bills. They give motorcycles. They ran motorcycling schemes, petty trading schemes, and each member benefited from this scheme through their cell commander. As soon as you got your interest-free loan, your duty was to bring another person. Boko Haram even gave marriages. So Boko Haram was not only about charismatic leadership, it was about economic leadership, which was manifesting in political leadership because he was now challenging the state, and criticizing democratic apparatus of the state and condemning it. That way, everyone gets a soft landing.

Coupled with the proselytization and the microcredit system, membership grew. Remember now, one quarter of the population of Borno state was living in Maiduguri town. Slum areas without roads, hospitals, no primary schools, not even police stations. There were only such facilities in planned areas. Most of these urban slums that grew in the past 20 or 30 years were not planned areas, particularly those who had left Lake Chad because of the desertification with the Sahara Desert spreading at almost 1.2km annually and the increasing deforestation. These people lost their farmland. Of course, there was also unemployment.

So the poverty itself must be seen within the context of bad governance. Bad governance must be seen within the context of climate change and desertification. Along the same lines is the shrinking of the Lake Chad, which was providing a livelihood. About 10 communities or more were surviving on the existence of the Lake. With the shrinking of the Lake Chad, these people lost their livelihood. These people had to move. So Boko Haram had a microcredit scheme that worked for them.

Everything must be taken into context.

“I have more than twenty refugees seeking refuge in my house as a result of this insurgency”

TAP interviewed Yusufu, a young civil servant from Damaturu, about his experience living under the State of Emergency in Yobe State. In this interview, he talks about his experienced with displacement as a result of the mass killings in the rural areas, and explains why he thinks the security forces are lacking the capacity to fight the insurgents. He also talks about lack of assistance from government, and why he thinks the insurgents are targeting the villages they attack.

This TAP interview was conducted by a volunteer. If you are interested in volunteering with TAP, do get in touch with us via email testimonialarchiveproject@gmail.com 

What can you say about the spate of violence that is happening in the Northern States?

Well, with regards to the insurgency, I can give you some answers.

With regards to what we are witnessing these days, what can you say are the causes of the recurrent Insurgency?

You mean the cause of the insurgency that led to the killing of innocent lives and destruction of properties? Well, I cannot actually ascertain or narrate the cause of the menace.

How can you describe the condition of the people that have been affected by the insurgency?

Peoples’ lives have been seriously and negatively affected. In fact, as I speak to you now, I have more than twenty refugees seeking refuge in my house as a result of this insurgency. I swear to you, I have more than 20 refugees in my house. Our villagers can no longer go to their farms and above all, people’s means of livelihood have been severed.

So far, have you receive any form of assistance or relief from the authorities concerned?

Our people are yet to receive any form of assistance from the authorities concerned. Our people are still in Damaturu at Anguwan Gunje for more than four months now to be precise in anticipation of relief or assistance from the concerned authorities, and so far, they are yet to receive any of such assistance. I must admit here that few days ago, some people came and collected our names and our contact details inclusive of our phone numbers and left. We have written to the authorities several times but to no avail.

Is the heavy presence of the Police and the military personnel helping you in any way?

To be frank, they are helping us. But as you know, the magnitude of the insurgency as at now is beyond their capacity.

Are the insurgents giving you prior notice before carrying out their attacks?

Yes, most at times, especially in the villages, they do give notice prior to their attacks and if they strike, they will burn houses, valuables, kill and displace the villagers. But within the State Capital, due to the heavy presence of security personnel, I can say that we are safe for now.

The State of Emergency that was enforced, is it yielding any positive outcome?

Sincerely speaking, it is not yielding any positive result. In fact, it is of no use to us. The emergency rule took effect about a year ago, but up to today, the insurgency is still escalating. If you live in Damaturu for instance and you decide to move down to places like Yandudori up to Dambao, you will discover that more than twenty villages and towns have been deserted with thousands of villagers forced to flee their homes.

You said the security operatives are doing their best. Are you satisfied with their stay so far? Do you have peace of mind with their presence?

Yes, they are working hard, to God be the Glory, and they are doing their best. I think one major problem with our security operatives is that they are not properly commanded. That is why we are not winning the war on insurgency.

It looks like you are staying in the city, but do you think that the insurgents are selective in carrying out their notorious attacks on nearby villages?

Well, I cannot categorically say yes to this question, but I know that most at times, whenever they seek for assistance from the villagers, if they resist and turn down their offer, they will attack them and burn their houses and kill as many people as they can.

There are insinuations from some quarters that people especially the youth are still joining the sect despite all the atrocities they have committed. What do you think are the reasons behind this move?

I think who ever join the sect is destined to do so. But I think there is no reasonable human being that will join such a sect. I repeat, no reasonable and responsible human being will join these misguided people.

Is the Boko Haram sect assisting people in any way?

There is nothing good that has ever come out from them. These are people that kill innocent people and rob them of their means of livelihood.