sexual violence

“We have a president that would go to a social event the day or the next day [after an attack] and be dancing”

Almost ten months after the abduction of over 200 girls in Chibok Local Government Area of Borno State, the campaign to pressure the government to rescue them persists. This interview features Bring Back Our Girls campaign Strategy Committee member Bukky Shonibare, and she talks to TAP about displacement, government’s role and what she hopes the next four years would bring in terms of improving the security situation in Nigeria’s northeast. She talks about her initiative Adopt a Camp,  what ordinary people in more peaceful areas of the northeast are doing to help residents from more troubled regions, and what is needed in the government agencies’ work with displacement communities.

Thank you so for agreeing to speak with me. Please introduce yourself.

My name is Bukky Shonibare. I’m a member of the strategic team of Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) Campaign.

And a very visible member at that. What would you say has been your major motivation to carry on with your activism?

It’s my sense of empathy. It’s difficult to just continue as though everything is just OK when over 200 girls have been abducted I have a biological daughter, a six year old girl, and an adopted daughter that is a 16 year old girl and within the age range of these abducted girls. It’s difficult to not know where my adopted daughter is. Also, my compassion. I’m a deeply compassionate person. I can relate to the pain of the mothers of the missing girls.

What would you say has been BBOG’s key successes as a campaign?

When we started, we developed a strategic plan and phased it out. The first phase was creating the awareness of the issue. I would say we achieved a lot of success with that. The world got to know what was happening, everyone from celebrities to world leaders, and people took turns to identify with us, especially at the early stages of the campaign. I would say in terms of creating that awareness and letting people know that there are Nigerians who are not moving on because our girls have been abducted, there has been some success with that. We’ve done a lot since the campaign started. We’ve done a lot to engage relevant stakeholders and have done a lot of protests. We’ve shouted, we’ve cried, we’ve let the world know that we’re not moving on. The hashtag was trending for awhile. Some would regard that as success, but it only matters if our girls are back.

There’s a lot of different kidnappings even before the schoolgirls from Chibok, and more kidnappings even after that. Why home in on Chibok even as more and more issues have come up since?

Like you rightly mentioned, there have been abductions and unnecessary killings. We were expecting that government would do all things within its power to make sure that Nigerians live in a sane, secure environment. One very gruesome attack was Buni Yadi, and one would expect the govt to shut everything down and make sure there is government representation in Buni Yadi after it happened, but we didn’t see that. To this day, we don’t know what has been done for the parents of the Buni Yadi students. That jolted people, it made us think. Our government can overlook the abduction of the 25 girls [that happened in Maiduguri], and the sale of girls who had been abducted, many for 2,000 naira (About U.S.$12.00) in the northeast, and we were waiting and hoping that our government can do something, more than what citizens can do. When that did not happen, and the insurgents gained more power and increased their level of their attacks to the point that they took 276 of our girls, with 56 of them managing to escape. And if you hear the way some of these girls managed to escape, you’d wonder where they developed that kind of resilience. Some of the girls hung to the trees and waited for the trucks to move away, and jumped down when their trucks moved away. I met Kauna, she escaped by landing on her head. I met her around the 100 days of the abduction, and her neck was still aching her. Another girl Hauwa was telling me how she and her friend were her hiding under the car. These girls should be treated as girls, not soldiers. One should expect that a government does not want its citizens to go through that. It all just made us realise that if citizens do not take their rightful place, these people will take up to 1,000 one day, up to 2,000, God forbid.

What happened in Chibok shows everything that is happening to our country: corruption, insensitivity, impunity, everything that you can think of as it relates to our government and the abducted girls. But it does not mean that when other abductions happened we did not take action. When the Potiskum boys were killed, we mourned them. We wore black t-shirts, we held a candlelight vigil, we went to the Ministry of Education and protested there, and we insisted that we wanted all our schools to be secure. However, the issue of the abducted Chibok girls is our entry point into the conversations.

Thanks for explaining that. President Jonathan’s response has been heavily criticised, from at first saying the girls had been rescued, to then saying nothing when it was revealed that no such rescue effort to happened, to the intimidation of Bring Back Our Girls campaigners. What do you want to see from the President and from Buhari as well? What are you hoping that these people say or do to show they are taking into consideration people impacted by the violence?

It doesn’t matter who becomes President. Anyone can occupy that seat. I just think that whoever wins should not carry on with what Pres. Goodluck Jonathan is doing at this time. Even if GEJ comes back, he should not come back with his insensitivity. I’m expecting a sensitive government and Commander in Chief who knows what responsibility means. You have the mandate of the people. I voted for Goodluck Jonathan in the 2011 elections. People gave their votes, their mandate, their power to him. What it means, according to the constitution Section 14, sub-section 2 is this: the security and welfare of the people shall be the responsibility of the government. What I am expecting is a government that understands its primary responsibility. You lose people today, and we have a president that would go to a social event the day or the next day and be dancing. Can you see any other world leader doing that? Look at leaders of countries Nigerians sleep in embassies to run away to. It is wired in every human being to want a sane and secure environment. Is that too much for a government to give its people? If we put all our effort together and all the billions spent on our security apparatus, we should be able to secure lives and property. However, corruption and impunity are the order of the day. What I’m expecting in addition to education, health, and all other sector reforms, we want to be safe.

Considering Gujba and Buni Yadi, etc, do you think the average Nigerian cares? There have been lots of horrific incidences, but it took 12 people killed in France. Should this quest for empathy stretch to Nigerians as well?

Nigerians care. The empathy and the care that Nigerians have to each other would only be meaningful if we have a responsible government. I’ve had to go to the northeast recently, and the reality on ground is different. An average Nigerian there cares about about an average victim of insurgency. You can see a civil servant who can barely take care of his own 6 or 7 children taking in 30 or 40 or 50 IDPs. Are you going to say such Nigerians don’t care? There are people who opened their doors to fleeing residents of troubled zones and shielded them. So Nigerians care, however, theres a larger percentage of Nigerians who are cut off from the reality. We can put the responses in segments: those in the northeast who are close to what is happening in the northeast, so their empathy is higher. that’s one. There’s also the category of people in the north not necessarily from the region, like those in Abuja or other places that not as affected by the violence. We are also empathetic but not as empathetic as those in the area. There are also those who would say “Are you sure these girls have been abducted?” Somebody tweeted at me saying “Go and sleep, no girls had been abducted.” Even people that are close to us who see these things in the news but don’t believe that anything like this is happening in the south or the west who don’t believe that something is happening in the northeast. One of the BBOG campaigners Aisha Yesufu spent her Christmas in Auchi, Edo State, and she spent time sensitising people and she was asked, “where is this thing happening?” There has been people who only access local media and don’t know something like this is happening. However, our empathy only matters when our government is responsive.

In France, the total death toll was about 15, and their govt marched and joined others to join them in a unity march. Does our government do that? but If you come out to march, they’ll say you’re against the government and say you’re in an opposition party, then send thugs after you and beat you up, snatch our phones and some people get scared. Some would leave after they don’t see any result and others will stay.

In addition to your advocacy on BBOG, you are doing work with IDPs in camps. Can you talk about that.

On September 21st, we visited an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Nasarawa and took relief materials. This opened up a new chapter for me. I realised that other Nigerians, other human beings, were going through this, so I started Adopt-a-Camp. Government should be at the forefront in alleviating IDPs’ plight. In Yola, there is only one government owned camp. In Yola, there are over 600,000 IDPs. They say they’re working on a second camp. Only about 6,500 of them are int he government owned camp. That’s about 1% of the total IDPs in Yola. Even the 6,500 people are not adequately catered for, and even complain of diversion of the relief materials meant for them. So we thought we had to complement governments’ efforts to provide clothing, basic necessities like shelter and food, healthcare, education since the children no longer go to school, and economic empowerment. in Christmas, we reached out to over 1000 IDPs. We don’t want to treat IDPs as victims. They should be able to advance from being IDPs to being responsible members of their host communities.

Permit me to say at this juncture that SEMA, NEMA and all these government agents are doing their best but it would be best if this ‘best” is being backed up with a coordinated, holistic humanitarian framework. I know that basics things like food and shelter are their primary needs at this point, but we need a framework that can even inform the work NGOs like ours are doing.

A lot of people want to help, but don’t know how. Can you show us some resources? How do I know here to provide my assistance?

We at Adopt-a-Camp does a lot of work, but also Modupe Odele is also doing a lot with children IDPs, and a lot of individuals are coming up to see how they can help. A lot of that help came up during Christmas. We are currently working with some other individuals and organisations, and putting ourselves together as an association to have a coordinated framework. In weeks to come, we would be having a conference of organisations coming together to help IDPs. That way, one can easily identify organisations working with IDPs. We don’t have that right now, but we can point people in the right direction.

Thank you so much for speaking with me.

“The first people came when their homes were struck [by militants], now people are coming on their own”

Mr. Abubakar Gombe of Red Cross in Gombe State helps to manage an IDP camp for people fleeing insurgency violence in Borno State. The camp is located in the Gombe-Biu by-pass area of Gombe in Gombe State. In this interview, he talks to TAP about his work with the IDPs. He describes IDPs’ typical behavior when they first come into camp, what kind of assistance the Red Cross and other international agencies are rendering, and the importance of the local community in Gombe State welcome of the IDPs. From this interview, we learn that there is still no institutionalized government program to help the IDPs fleeing insurgency violence and that post-traumatic counseling support is still needed for displaced populations in the region.

To assist with donations to this IDP camp in Gombe, do call Mr. Abubakar Gombe on his phone number 08032639263. Due to technical difficulty, we sincerely regret that we are unable to provide a Soundcloud recording of this interview.

How do you receive IDPs? Do they make their way to you or are they put together and driven down in government vehicles?

The IDPs come to us. Before the establishment of camps, they were just staying at motor parks when they run away from their homes [in Borno], because they don’t know anywhere in town. It was when so many of them were at the motor parks that it was reported to Red Cross. Red Cross then reported to Gombe State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), who decided to give them a place which is now the camp.

When you meet people, what kind of state do you meet them in? Do they have a lot of belongings?

One finds them in a state of despair. The first thing you see is their desperation, most especially the children, because they don’t know where they are. They can’t even stay still and look at you. The women as well are often in shock.

So they don’t make eye contact?

No, only the men. When the women are talking to you, they’re heads are down and you can tell they’re distracted.

The children?

You would see that they’re tired. Very tired and hungry, when we met them in the week after coming in from the motor park. Now that we have established the camp. Those first people that came, it was when their homes were struck [by militants]. Now, people are coming on their own [before their homes are struck]. Now that the camp is here, these new people don’t have as many psychological issues.

Demographics-wise, do you have more men than women?

Mostly women, then children. Then the men. We’ve recorded like 2000 people. Some have left [the camp], so we now have 1,570.

Why do they leave?

Some are government workers who’ve used their salaries to get a place to rent in town.

What other international agencies are with you, and what kind of assistance do you render?

It is only the Red Cross in terms of NGOs around in the camps. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) supplies some materials for the children and adults, like food aid. Then bulk of food comes from National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). Then another food items from philanthropist. An-Noor Mosque in Abuja brings in food for us as well. We also get used clothes. NEMA and Gombe State Government are the ones coordinating the whole thing.

The Borno and Gombe State governments, what role do they play?

Gombe is hosting the IDPs, giving them shelter, medical care taken care of by the state government through SEMA. Then Borno State government the deputy governor and governor came and gave them a lot of money in cash which they shared among the families, then promised them that soon they would go back.

So mostly ad-hoc, then? Is there any institutionalized program from Borno State for the IDPs from their state?

Not to my knowledge, no.

What is the situation like, health-wise? We’ve had an interview with the Health Commissioner and she talked about cholera outbreak in a camp in Maiduguri. Are you having similar difficulty?

We have not had that. We’d heard of the cholera outbreak, though, and we’re working on the sanitation issue. NEMA has added more latrines for us. They are divided for use by men, women, and even children. There is also hygiene education and promotion through Red Cross. So no, no cholera outbreak, bu some women are giving birth.

How many?

7 in the past two months. One of them to twins.

How long has this camp been open?

The camp has been open for 3 months.

A lot of care is given to physical health. What about psychosocial health? Following the abduction of the girls from Chibok especially, there has been a lot of focus on sexual violence during this insurgency. We’ve heard of young women reporting on experiences of sexual violence. And it’s even said that some girls have even given birth as a result of the rapes. What effort is ongoing to address women and girls’ specific need and even trauma-related issues?

We in the Red Cross give psychosocial support, but there is no center opened, and no one assigned to that specific role. We are mingling with them socially to find out their welfare. We are mingling with the men as well to find out if there is any problem. We encourage them to not hide anything so we can provide any support needed.

So there is no set program as yet, but it is being done informally.

No program, but I can tell you that if there are we can provide such assistance. People have been confiding in us, even those taking ARV drugs tell us. So we know if they are we can find out.

In addition to the question specific to women, as a general matter, is trauma also addressed informally?

Yes.

These people have also lost their sources of livelihood. What is being done in terms of re-training, trying to get them back on their feet? Or is it too early to think about this?

It’s not too early, because it would help to get things like this done on time. It would help so much. Other international NGOs are trying their best in that regards, but not in the camp.

Which ones?

We collaborate with Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and also Gombe State Ministry of Agriculture. Some local governments have given the IDPs seedlings. Even Gombe SEMA has rented some housing for the IDPs in town.

And community members welcoming? Is their movement restricted?

Yes, very welcoming, that’s why many of them even decided to move into town. Especially the religious bodies, churches and mosques. Child Protection Services too have even come recently with relief items for the children. Some of these people also have relatives in town as well.

State and Federal Government are they working hand-in-hand? Is there any duplication of effort?

Yes, I think so. They have many meetings on strategy and have demonstrated working relations. Especially so with NEMA and SEMA.

That’s all I have. Anything else you want to make note of that I haven’t asked you?

Only that the government has been promising them that they would go back in two weeks. They raised their hopes, but it’s not feasible. Some tried to go back home, but they couldn’t even enter their towns. It’s best not to raise anyone’s hopes.

“For the 57 girls that escaped, they have all been rehabilitated and we have provided them psychological support”

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.

Among the challenges in information sharing on the situation ongoing in northeast Nigeria is getting a sense of what the state government is doing to alleviate suffering of the population under its aegis, and what support is needed on the well-being of Nigerians living in the area. The Borno Commissioner of Health Min. Salma Anas-Kolo talked to TAP 10 days ago about her work in service delivery in Borno State, sharing insight into the challenges of internal displacement, the state of public health, and the ways in which state and federal governments are working together in healthcare. She talks about the overcrowding at the displacement camps and the cholera outbreak in the camps as a result. She also addresses the state’s provision of mental health services to 57 girls from Chibok Local Government Area of Borno State who managed to escape their abductors, and the challenges the state is facing in terms of human resources and support.

Can you give us some idea of what is going on and how exactly the ongoing insurgency in Borno State is affecting service delivery?

In Borno, [the health ministry] operates services at the three levels of healthcare. The basic one which is the primary healthcare. with the coming of this administration that is the one we focus on because it is the one closest to the people. We strengthened the health system in order to provide quality service to the people across the local governments and that has been effective. Twenty-two general hospitals in the twenty-two local government areas, and then three tertiary hospitals including the University Teaching Hospital established by the Federal Government. All are working effectively especially the primary health facility. But unfortunately, especially in the last two months and because of the severe insurgency attacks, a lot of population has shifted especially in the northern Borno and some parts of Southern Borno. This has also affected health workers. They have also relocated due to the insurgency while some have lost their lives. Of course this has its negative effect of the health service delivery in the state.

Does this mean that there is a lot of displacement going on?

Yes, our major challenge now is the internally displaced persons. In three local governments in southern Borno, we are experiencing internally displaced persons with 80% as children and women. This [challenge] is not only limited to Borno; Gombe State too has internally displaced persons. Within Maiduguri township itself there are a lot of internally displaced persons coming from the other local governments. We have over three thousand persons. Currently we are experiencing cholera outbreak. We were able to contain it last week but unfortunately it resurfaced again two days ago, so we are mobilizing our teams because we recorded over one thousand cases of cholera within one week.

With all of this going on, how are your linkages with NEMA? Is that going on? What kind of support are you getting from other State agencies?

We have been receiving support from the Federal Ministry of Health and National Primary Health Development Agency. So these are the two government and health agencies that have been providing support. And also some of our development partners, particularly the UN agencies. But we are still waiting for the desired support from NEMA. I am glad to mention that in Gombe state the state emergency agency has been supportive, especially with the internally displaced persons that have relocated to Gombe. But we looking forward for support from NEMA at the moment.

These IDP who are still in the northeast part of Nigeria, how safe are they?

Well, one cannot talk about safety because there are gaps in the security, but efforts are ongoing to ensure safety of the IDPs. They are located in the NYSC camp. They are provided with some level of security. Those who are in Biu that I visited recently also have some level of security. The local government provided a civilian security outfit.

Has there been in any attack of the camps?

There has not been any attack.

Any attempt of radicalization in the camp?

No, because we are really making a lot of effort, tried to resettle them. We have tried to provide enough relief materials: food, clothing and even some level of education, like for the ones in Maiduguri.

Considering the large size of Borno and the villages scattered far and wide, how do you respond to emergencies? Is there a structure in place?

What we did in Borno was to set up emergency response teams. We even set up a full department in the Ministry of health. So when there are emergencies, we send the team nearest to the area, send a lot of medicine and other materials to enable the nearest hospitals to cope, also ambulances. Within the Maiduguri township, whenever there is emergency, we have that emergency response that has been very effective. We have strengthen the general hospital in Biu and the one in Bama to be able to cope with the emergency response.

But one of the major challenges like I have said is the human resources. We do not have enough medical staff, especially medical doctors. Two years ago we had 35 but with the coming of this administration we are able to do massive recruitment for medical doctors. The same thing for the nurses. We recruited about three hundred nurses and a lot of them deployed to the rural communities. With [the abduction of the girls] in Chibok, if you would recall, we started providing rehabilitation services and we started training a lot of health workers for psychological support and counseling. We have trained almost forty health workers. Because of the insurgency a lot of them were displaced and we are now left with only four counselors. So this is the implication. We have been suffering a lot of setbacks.

I want to get a little clarification. Can you tell us where the responsibility of the state begins, where it ends and where that of the federal government begins. A lot of people do not understand this, particularly from the health angle.

From the health angle, you cannot be putting blame on one another. It is a collective responsibility. In the health sector we have been working harmoniously, jointly between the local government, the state and the federal government. So it has been a joint responsibility.

If I can give you example: despite the insecurity, we have been able to control polio transmission. This year alone we have not had a single case of polio. And that is the indication of the strength of the services, the effectiveness of collaboration between the State, the local government and the federal government. So in the health sector, we cannot say we cannot blame anyone.

Of course the federal government has a bigger role to play in terms of the leadership and also the effective coordination of whatever support is coming. If that is weak we wouldn’t be able to harness the support that is coming from the federal government and the local government. For us in the health sector I would say we do appreciate the support of the federal ministry of health, especially through the minister of health and also the support of national primary healthcare development agency.

Sexual violence has really come to the fore especially with the kidnapping of the girls, I wonder what your view is in terms of the state to deal with sexual violence both psychological and physical means.

Sexual violence has always existed in the northern part of the country, especially in Borno, and has led to the abduction of the girls. Even before the massive abduction of the girls, it has been ongoing in the population of Borno State, especially in Northern Borno. We have been making efforts and we have been mobilizing support through our partners especially UNFPA to support us. We have been implementing activities in the area of awareness creation in order to discourage sexual and gender based violence. We have a programme through the Ministry of Women of Affairs that have been implementing activities. But you know. it has to take a long time because it has to do with the attitude and then the educational level. You may recall that the illiteracy level in the north especially among women is not impressive. These are some of the contributory factors. But we are still not relenting. The state government at the moment is committed to ensure gender equality and also to promote the education of the girl child.

Are there any specific programs that you are implementing for victims of sexual violence? In Nigeria, we are not always good about mental health, and I’m sure there issues of trauma for people who have experienced violence on an almost daily basis. Who are you partnering with on this?

We are committed to ensuring that we address the issue. We set up a rehabilitation committee, and I chair that committee. It is supposed to rehabilitate and provide psychosocial support and post-traumatic treatment. So far, we have been doing that. For the 57 girls that have escaped, they have all been rehabilitated and we have provided them psychological support and trauma management. And that’s to all of them, including their parents. We have identified experts and trained people, especially health workers and other volunteers. We have also collaborated with the psychiatric hospital when there is need for further treatment. But part of the gaps that we have is the dearth of mental health services, and this is where we’re seeking support from our partners to support the state, not only at the highest level, but primary health, too. We have UNFPA to support us, too, on GBV. And we’re getting some support there. This is quite new to us as well.

Does this question of human resources apply in this case as well?

Yes, because we are training health workers and volunteers, but the major challenge like I have said earlier is that we are losing a lot of human resources because of the insurgency violence. So as we train people, a lot of them are also leaving. Our hope is to keep it going, and that we are able to retain the health workers and the skills to provide the required services.

What support to do you need? Is there any support that you need on ground that you are not currently getting, aside from the human resource issue?

Management of the IDP camps, for example. There are better ways of managing the camps. To date, we don’t have that expertise on ground, also on how to better resettle families. We don’t have to wait until the end [of the insurgency]. Of course, human resources are inadequate to cope and provide emergency response services. We have been mobilizing the International Red Cross Society to support us, but more support is needed.

You know when there is overcrowding, there is likely to be outbreak of diseases. As I said earlier we now have a cholera outbreak. We are doing our best at the state level, but we need additional support for drugs and medical supplies.

Women are the most affected. If you visit the camps, you’ll see that it’s mostly women, a few young men and mostly elderly men. So there is need for support with reproductive health kits and dignity kits for women. I saw 3 pregnant women. So there are enormous gaps.

Also as you said, there is need for more psychosocial support and counseling. And it is not a one-time event, it needs to continue. For all populations affected, we need to scale up massively to bring more to the people.

The health system needs strengthening. We are doing our best but we need to do more to strengthen all the health systems, including health system services, to be able to cope with the increasing demand.

Girls that do get pregnant, the children that they’re pregnant with, are they taken to half-way houses, their homes, what happens to them?

What happens is that we give them psychosocial support and we screen them. These screenings are across board: HIV, malaria, hepatitis, pregnancy, etc. When they are pregnant, we inform them and their parents, and we inform them enough to make their own decisions on what needs to be done. We have trained a lot of health workers on abortion care as part of comprehensive reproductive healthcare services, so based on their decisions we are able to assist them.

Can you give us a statistic on the number of girls that have been pregnant as a result of sexual violence lately? Do you have those numbers?

The only one we have recently is the one that we met and found her to be pregnant. That is the only one that I can say of the 57 that we worked with that escaped.

The IDP camps, I’m sure, need support, and people would want to know how to best support. If you live outside of the north or Abuja, who would you direct your relief materials?

Each IDP camps have a committee and chair, and they all have emergency response teams for health-related issues. In Maiduguri, they have a committee set up by the Governor and headed by the Commissioner of Women’s Affairs. So we can share with you contacts of these people when you want to provide support for the camps. The state governor also provides – and here is another area we need support – a food program. Borno State is agrarian, and with the insurgency there has been no farming activity taking place. We have also been providing relief in terms of clothing, mobilized a lot of second-handed clothes, and this is an ongoing activity also. We have done such relief drives to Biu and Maiduguri.

“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.

“Terrorism has no religion”

Sen. Ali Ndume, a representative from Borno State, address the gathering at the #BringBackOurGirls sit-in at Unity Fountain in Abuja

Sen. Ali Ndume, a representative from the local government in Borno State where 276 girls have been abducted, addresses the gathering at the #BringBackOurGirls sit-in at Unity Fountain in Abuja

Sen. Ali Ndume, a senator from Borno State representing Chibok Local Government where the abduction of 276 girls took place some three weeks ago, addressed a #BringBackOurGirls sit-in at Unity Fountain in Abuja. This  sit-in follows protests against Nigerian government’s seeming inaction following a mass abduction of schoolgirls from a boarding school while they were taking a science exam, and government’s eventual response casting doubt over the number of girl’s abducted.

Sen. Ndume has been accused in the past of funding the militant groups that have wrought havoc in the northeastern part of the country for years. In his address, he cleared the air on the number of girls missing, and gave some background on the community in which the abductions took place. He also addressed the accusations directed at him, and the issue of religion and ethnicity that have politicized the conflict.

This address was recording in writing while the Senator was speaking, and is therefore an edited version of his address. TAP apologizes for the lack of audio of the speech; there was no audio facility available at the time of the address.

I’m very impressed by the conduct of this gathering, as led by Oby Ezekwesili. I think I’ll just call her Oby. Thank you so much for having me.

Let us first start with the numbers, because that has been a focus of recent discussion.  179 girls was used initially because that is the number of girls that were taking the science exam. But you know how girls are, they like to stay together in groups with their friends, so other girls joined the initial number so they can read using the electricity. After the abduction happened, we did a search, but we were not many. Not enough people joined in, and it is a very wide area, so we could not find them.

I visited Chibok on the 21st April to talk to the parents. When we went and addressed parents, 2 people spoke on behalf of all the affected families. That’s when they heard 234 as of 21st April based on their register. I returned [to Abuja] and spoke to Sen Pres. David Mark, who said he’ll start on a motion [in the National Assembly]. But does the number matter? Even if it were just 1 or 5, would it be less of a tragedy? What is being done to get the children back? The 53 we have got are the number who escaped. So let me reiterate, the actual number of girls that have returned is 53. 

They now have confirmed to us the figure 276 as the number of girls abducted in total. Those who returned, 53. So that means 223 missing. Chibok is a small community that communicates within itself very well, so we called all the District Heads [of the local government]. We can confirm from the District Heads that 183 families across the various districts in the local government have missing girls. Government Girls Secondary School (GGSS) is the only school with boarding, and its mixed. For this exam, because of security situation in Gwoza, [the authorities] have joined the schools. Chibok is one of those local governments that is big on education. Again, why would the number be an issue? As I said, distinguished ladies and gentlemen: There’s some things you can do as a group that I can’t do, regardless of my office. The more we tribalize it, the more it gets closer to you and me.

I’m a number one victim of Boko Haram. I’ve been accused of being a sponsor of Boko Haram. Martina and David are both my family. David is in a hospital in Keffi, as he unfortunately had an accident on his way here. 4 in my family are Christians. I was a Christian, too, when I was younger; my name was Samuel. My dad was a Muslim, and my mom who was employed by missionaries, was a Christian. David and Martina and Naomi, my sisters,  are Christians. My mom died a regional Christian leader. My second wife is a Christian; her brother who is a Muslim was killed in his sleep. So you see, this thing is not a religious thing. And I’m not even a Kanuri, just so you know. We need to know this. LRA did same, who were trying to impose Xtianity, employing these tactics: murder, rape, kidnapping. This is not about religion or tribe or any of these things.

Terrorism has no religion, no tribe. We should all collectively fight it.