Terror Reigns As Women Suicide Bombers Kill 30 In Nigeria

There has been a striking resurgence in suicide bomb attacks in the Northern region of Nigeria. On Tuesday, August 15th, three women strapped with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) detonated their explosives and killed 30 people and severely injured 83 more, according to BBC News. The attacks took place at two separate locations, including the gates of a refugee camp and a local market near Maiduguri in Nigeria’s Borno State. Although no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, two insurgencies have become well-established in Nigeria in the last few years. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned Boko Haram and “calls for those responsible for these repeated heinous acts in Nigeria and neighbouring countries to be swiftly brought to justice,” according to the UN News Centre.

Nigeria has suffered several deadly terrorist attacks, particularly in its Northern region which is predominantly Muslim and has turned into a hotbed for violent extremism. Recently on June 20th, five female suicide bombers detonated themselves near a mosque, killing 12 people and injuring 11 others in the village of Kofa near Maiduguri. Last month, a suicide bomber killed 14 people and injured 24 more in a building in Dikwa. The Combating Terrorism Center recently published a report highlighting gender-based violence, stating that Boko Haram has utilized women for suicide bomb attacks more than any other terrorist organization in history, with 56% of all their bombers being females. Their strategy is to exploit women to carry out their crimes, as they are “beyond suspicion or reproach.” Many of these women are coerced, including the 270 Chibok schoolgirls who were kidnapped on April 13, 2014. The majority of these young women were in captivity for more than three years, until Boko Haram began gradually releasing the women in October of 2016, according to BBC News. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was instrumental in the transfer of the girls from the militants to the Nigerian government. Unfortunately, many victims remain captive, and those who have escaped or been released return with chilling stories regarding sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.

The Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which translates to “Western education is a sin” emerged in the northeast region of Nigeria in July of 2009. There have been 434 suicide bombings in Nigeria by Boko Haram, and they still remain a formidable threat. Additionally, they have targeted those who are most vulnerable; the majority of their recent attacks have been carried out at camps for Nigeria’s 1.7 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) reports that there were 200 violent attacks in July of this year alone, and 32 of those took place at camps for IDPs. Ernest Mutanga, head of programmes for NRC in Nigeria stated that “Camps sheltering innocent families fleeing war should be places of refuge… But instead they are turning into death traps.” Violence has intensified since June 1, with 170 people killed. In total, Boko Haram has claimed the lives of more than 20,000 people and forced more than 2.7 million to flee their homes and live in temporary settlements, according to Reuters. Further, there have been atrocities committed by a splinter group called Ansaru, also known as Jama’atu Ansaril Muslimina fi Biladis Sudan, meaning “Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa.” The militant Islamist group formed in 2012 and is known for taking foreigners hostage. With ties to the Islamic State, Ansaril has “become a deadly force capable of carrying out highly-organized attacks,” states the Guardian.

The violence that has occurred near the Lake Chad Basin region, which stretches across Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria, has attracted international attention. The international community, including the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) has responded by implementing a Lake Chad Basin Humanitarian Response Plan to target the 17 million people impacted by a variety of challenges, including climate change, environmental degradation, food insecurity, and terrorism. According to the WHO, 8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Nigeria’s Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe States.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has made defeating the terrorist groups a priority of his presidency. However, President Buhari has spent more than 100 days on medical leave in London since May 7 due to medical treatment for an undisclosed illness, according to the Washington Post. Although Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has been in power, President Buhari’s absence from office has raised some speculation as to whether or not he is fit to serve as the situation deteriorates. Allswell Osini Muzan, a Nigerian lawyer and Professor of Law at Kogi State University, states that such insurgencies have the “potential to destabilise the country to the point of state failure and possible disintegration.” However, Muzan believes that while religion is the underlying reason behind the prevalence of insurgencies in Nigeria, the causal factor is class inequality (evidenced by the fact that Boko Haram carries out attacks on Muslims and Christians alike in places of worship). He argues that socioeconomic hardships and the lack of opportunity to allow for upward mobility have created an environment where insurgencies can arise. A 2016 UN Development Program (UNDP) report stated that Nigeria has a poverty rate of 62.6 percent; widespread poverty generates public discontent and can result in young men resorting to desperate measures, or worse, radicalization. Furthermore, there is growing economic disparity in Nigeria as the wealth gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow. On the topic of religion, Muzan recommends that the best way to address religious conflicts is to establish a National Supreme Council on Religion, that holds constitutional powers, and “would be responsible for deciding all matters of an interreligious nature that may potentially instigate or breed conflict that might result in insurgency.”

The Nigerian government has been receiving counter-terrorism support from the U.S. and the U.K., along with other countries. Perpetual violence by terrorist organizations only serves to terrorize the public and threatens to cause political turmoil in Nigeria. The ongoing conflict between Boko Haram and Nigerian security forces requires a mediating party that can help broker a peaceful solution. While the Nigerian military, the Government of Switzerland, and international NGO’s all played a crucial role in negotiations for the release of the Chibok schoolgirls, new negotiations must be drawn out to end the violence.

Luisa Tembo