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Female Vest Bombers: An Emerging Threat in Nigeria’s Northeast

In Desperation, Boko Haram Coerces Female Captives to Blow Themselves Up

By Mike Odeh James and Ehis Agbon

(Kaduna)  They are Nigeria’s Walking Dead: traumatized, brutalized, brainwashed women who would rather blow themselves up than live another day in the hell created by Boko Haram (Western Learning Forbidden).

On June 30, the three insurgents sneaked into Gwoza, a sunbaked slum of 60,000 hardened souls and killed 32 people in suicide attacks. It wasn’t Gwoza’s first bloody Sunday, but it was among the most heinous, according to witnesses who spoke to TruthNigeria.

One woman was so devoid of maternal instinct she detonated her vest while holding a baby, killing the infant and at least six others. Another blew herself up at a wedding celebration; another hit a funeral service, killing dozens more.

Gwoza is in the heart of an ungoverned space, 80 miles Southeast of Maiduguri, the Borno State Capital, and surrounded by the storied Mandara Mountains on the border with the Cameroon Republic. This steeply rising forested country has hosted slave runners, refugees from slavers and smugglers for centuries. When the Boko Haram conflict reached its height in 2014, the Caliphate-seeking jihadists captured the city and made it their capital for a year, until the Nigerian army clawed it away from them in 2015. 

Since then, these see-saw wars between the Nigerian military and the heavily armed Boko Haram islamists have claimed the lives of tens thousands. As many as 10,000 Christian small plot farmers have been displaced from their land to make way for “repentant” Boko Haram soldiers who surrendered to the authorities, TruthNigeria has reported.

Why Boko Haram Attacked

The recent attacks in Borno State, a region formerly controlled almost entirely by Boko Haram, have raised concerns about the increasing use of female suicide bombers. Analysts and experts consider this trend worrying, as it highlights Boko Haram’s desperation to remain relevant.

Air Commodore Daniel Bako Ajeye retired: Credit: Facebook.
Air Commodore Daniel Bako Ajeye retired: Credit: Facebook.

Boko Haram has resorted to using female suicide bombers because it has been decimated by the Nigerian military and now lacks the strength in numbers to attack military formations, according to Air Commodore Daniel Bako Ajeye, a retired Air Force general.

“Having been decimated by the Nigerian military, Boko Haram’s leadership and soldiers are now reduced to weak and disorganized fighters. They can’t attack any military formation,” he explained in an exclusive chat with TruthNigeria.

“So, they have chosen to attack soft targets and also to use females as tools of attack because women are less likely to be suspected.”

 Military analyst Mordecai Funom, a retired Noncommissioned  Officer in the Nigerian Army told TruthNigeria that Gwoza County, which has been the headquarters of Boko Haram for nearly 15 years, provides the terrorist group with a familiar terrain  on which to launch attacks.

“Gwoza has been Boko Haram’s base for a long time, so they know the area very well and can easily target soft targets and escape,” Funom explained.

Cruelty Against Women and Girls Exposed

Most of the girls used as suicide bombers were coerced into wearing explosive vests, according to Comrade Abdul Bako Usman, a civil rights activist.  “Many of these girls, if not all, were kidnapped by Boko Haram and forced into marriages, sexual slavery, and other forms of exploitation. If they lose favor with their captors, they are strapped with suicide vests and sent as bombers,” Usman said.

The recent use of female suicide bombers by Boko Haram  has drawn attention to the heinous crimes committed against girls and women by these terrorists, who show no remorse to abuse and exploit women as weapons of war.

“Boko Haram has a history of kidnapping and enslaving women and girls, forcing them into marriages, and using them as sex slaves,” Usman added.

On July 2, 2024, Isa Sanusi, Nigeria’s Country Director for Amnesty International, appeared on Arise News Television to discuss the impact of Boko Haram terrorism on females. He revealed that research conducted by Amnesty International uncovered a disturbing trend: “We discovered that suicide bombings are one of the methods used to punish girls who refused Boko Haram’s offer of marriage.”

These girls, most of whom are 15 years old or younger, are forced into this situation after being kidnapped.

“They are asked to locate areas where soldiers are present, then detonate their suicide vests,” Sanusi explained.

The Amnesty International Country Director emphasized that the girls are not willing participants but rather victims of coercion.

 “Based on our findings, we realized that these girls were forced into this situation, first being kidnapped. The kidnapped girls were initially offered marriage, and if they refused, they were forced to become suicide bombers.”

Experts Call for a Change of Strategy

To effectively combat the resurgence of suicide bombers and other new tactics employed by Boko Haram, experts urge the Federal Government to adopt a new approach.

“The Federal Government must adopt new strategies to combat emerging threats,” Air Force General Ajeye said.

He highlights the importance of strengthening the police force, making them more effective in addressing internal security threats. Additionally, he advocates for enhanced cooperation and information-sharing among security agencies, including State Security Service ( SSS), Nigeria Police Force and Military Intelligence.

“By working together and sharing intelligence, these agencies can prevent attacks and ensure the safety of Nigerian citizens,” Gen. Ajeye said.

“The SSS must engage with local residents in Borno State to gather information about potential attacks and pass it on to relevant authorities,” the general went on to say.

Funom  agrees with Ajeye as he emphasizes the need for modern equipment and training for the Nigerian military and police force.

“The Federal Government needs to purchase modern equipment for both the Nigerian military and police force,” Funom told TruthNigeria.

He also highlights the importance of training in artificial intelligence and modern fighting tools, saying:

“Security and military personnel need to be trained and retrained in intelligence gathering, the use of artificial intelligence, drones, and tracking devices, so they have an advantage over terrorists.”

Finally, Funom argues that the Nigerian military and security agencies are overwhelmed, and therefore need to recruit more personnel.

“We need to recruit more men and women into all the defense sectors in the country,” Funom said.

Mike Odeh James and Ehis Agbon are conflict reporters for TruthNigeria based in Kaduna.

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