Tragic Echoes: 18 Killed In Latest Nigeria Suicide Attack

On June 29, 2024, three female suicide bombers targeted a wedding, a funeral, and a hospital in Borno State, Nigeria. Specifically, the blasts occurred in the town of Gwoza. Nahum Kenneth Daso, Borno State police spokesman, reported that in one of the attacks, a woman carrying a baby on her back “detonated an improvised explosive device she had on her at the crowded motor park.” Across all three attacks, 18 people, consisting of men, women, children, and pregnant women, were killed, and dozens more were injured. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks yet. 

Some suspect that Boko Haram, a terrorist group that has led a decade-long campaign to establish a Muslim state in northeast Nigeria, is responsible for the violent attacks. Since 2009, the group has carried out several assassinations and large-scale acts of violence. Throughout its armed rebellion, Boko Haram has repeatedly used young girls and women to carry out its suicide attacks. The insurgents typically carry out their suicide attacks against defenceless civilian targets, such as mosques, markets, and bus stations. As of 2024, Boko Haram has killed more than 40,000 people and displaced approximately two million in Nigeria’s northeast region. 

In addition to involvement from Nigeria’s government and military, international coalitions and humanitarian organizations have also stepped up to help fight terrorism in Nigeria. Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria united to form the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF). MNJTF was created to pool the resources of multiple countries together and provide a concrete solution for tackling the factions of Boko Haram. Working in collaboration, the coalition can share plans and intelligence, commit troops to longer operations, and ensure better adherence to human rights guidelines. In a related manner, several humanitarian organizations are also involved in the cause, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, and USAID. 

In June of 2014, Boko Haram killed approximately 400 to 500 people throughout Gwoza. Residents of affected villages could not safely return to bury their dead loved ones and instead had to flee to Cameroon and the Mandara Mountains. In response to the violence, a military jet bombarded Boko Haram positions in the area to dislodge them and force them to temporarily withdraw. While this worked for a short period, the insurgents soon returned, and the surviving villagers still could not return to bury their dead. In “The Long Jihad: The Boom-Bust Cycle behind Jihadist Durability,” Aisha Ahmad outlines the ability of jihadists to endure and resurge in the face of fluctuating territorial control. Jihadist groups like Boko Haram know how to function in response to varying degrees of military pressure, allowing them to persist for many years. Military operations succeed in applying force but do not address underlying causes of and contributors to conflict, such as structural violence and socioeconomic drivers, leading to its shortcomings in the past.

 

Despite some instances of success, MNJTF has also certainly faced its own set of hardships. The coalition has dealt with inconsistent commitment to the cause, funding problems, confusion over priorities, and disjointed planning. Additionally, similarly to Nigerian military operations, Boko Haram insurgents have quickly regrouped as soon as MNJTF troops withdrew. MNJTF possesses the ability to successfully serve as a multilateral framework to combat Boko Haram, but it must stay committed to improving the living conditions of civilians and gaining the trust of local populations. Overall, MNJTF provides a great opportunity for different countries to learn from one another and promote ideas of cross-border cooperation while also freeing captured civilians and facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid.

 

In 2017, researchers at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point and Yale University found that Boko Haram favours women and children as their suicide bombers. Hilary Matfess, one of the lead authors of the report, asserted that Boko Haram’s choice of suicide bombers “upends social norms about women and children, which make them effective beyond merely the lives that they claim when they are detonated.” In response to this realization, the Nigerian government created a campaign to raise public awareness about women and child bombers in an attempt to educate the public on how to identify potential attackers. However, Matfess found the campaign to have unintended consequences: “The policy is well-intentioned, [but] it risks stigmatizing the bombers, many– though not all– of whom have been coerced or forced into serving in this role.” Although the government was on the right track by creating a campaign intended to protect and educate the public, the campaign may work more effectively if it attempts to dispel the structural violence and stigma that actively harm women. 

Humanitarian organizations in Nigeria have reported doing great work for the people of Nigeria who have suffered due to Boko Haram. Some humanitarian actions they have taken consist of providing access to clean water and sanitation, reuniting separated family members, improving access to basic health care, addressing food insecurity, and establishing preparedness initiatives in disaster-prone areas. However, as is always the case with international humanitarian aid, it is crucial to ensure that humanitarian actors are acting in ways that are accepted and allowed by the Nigerian government and the people. Historically, humanitarian actors have violated the autonomy and dignity of the people they have helped, in addition to potentially violating the sovereignty of the nations they are acting within. It is critical to ensure that the humanitarian aid being provided during this time is consensual.

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS), an African organization that aims to improve security on the continent, conducted a study that explored alternative solutions to the Boko Haram conflict. They found that, so far, the conflict has mainly been tackled with military and security force-based solutions. However, globally, military operations have only succeeded in defeating 7% of terrorist groups operating from 1968 to 2006. Additionally, over 11 million people in the Chad Basin area still require humanitarian aid. In order to de-escalate the conflict while also ensuring the safety of affected civilians, what ISS identifies as “non-kinetic efforts” must be deployed. Non-kinetic efforts provide alternatives to violent operations that better address community needs and the socioeconomic factors contributing to conflicts. Viable options for non-kinetic solutions include incentivizing exits from Boko Haram factions, reconstructing the livelihoods of victims, and addressing the conflict’s socioeconomic drivers. To determine which options may work best, local communities identified dialogue facilitated by credible intermediaries and community security actors as a useful tool to aid negotiations and ensure communities are receiving the assistance they need most. 

Humanitarian organizations can play a vital role in supporting peaceful, non-kinetic efforts for conflict resolution. In the past, the Borno State government has worked with humanitarian organizations to establish camps in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, to provide shelter, food, healthcare, and education to individuals displaced by the conflict. Additionally, the ICRC has helped over 40,000 farming families receive cash crop seeds to improve food production, and European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations has provided psychosocial support to unaccompanied children and victims of gender-based violence. The former solution provides an example of a non-kinetic effort that helps reconstruct the livelihoods of victims, and the latter solution provides an example of a non-kinetic effort that addresses socio-demographic issues that surround the conflict. 

Coalitions such as MNJTF can also contribute to non-kinetic strategies. As of June 2024, three additional Boko Haram terrorists have surrendered in Cameroon and Nigeria under Operation Lake Sanity II. Several components of Operation Lake Sanity II include non-kinetic strategies focused on community support and rebuilding. In Cameroon, MNJTF held a medical outreach program that enhanced the health of local populations affected by the conflict by providing free medical consultations and drug distributions. Additionally, Operation Lake Sanity II displayed its commitment to regional stability by working to build trust between the military and local populations, in addition to securing peace and normalcy in the Chad Basin area. So far, communities located around Lake Chad islets are experiencing enhanced peace and security, and people with farming and fishing jobs have been able to continue their activities without facing threats. International coalitions may be particularly helpful in establishing community-level peace and security, as a greater sum of resources can reach a greater number of individuals.

Overall, a peaceful resolution to the Boko Haram conflict should encompass both emergency assistance and sustainable solutions for community rebuilding. The Nigerian government and military, humanitarian organizations, and international coalitions can all work together to achieve both of these goals in tandem. Combining resources and information will help create an effective and thorough framework that can respond to a wide variety of urgent emergencies and long-term, local issues. Additionally, helping victims of the conflict stay on their feet or get back on their feet will help to minimize the long-standing effects of the conflict. The capacity to correctly assess the needs of communities and then provide those resources may best benefit from a combined effort by governments, humanitarian organizations, and international coalitions. 

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