Boko Haram, also known as the Islamic State in West Africa, is succeeding in winning more support from civilians than the central government of Nigeria. In a recent report from one of the refugee camps in northern Nigeria, two women spoke out about their time as wives to Boko Haram fighters, revealing some of the reasons they supported the terrorist organization. “We never went hungry; we didn’t fear being raped; we had courts.”
These two women tell of how their lives were easier with Boko Haram, and in some ways better than their lives in the refugee camps. “We could feed our children. Food was never in shortage. If our husbands hurt us, we could take them to court. Our children went to school!”
Living in refugee camps is hard even in the best of times, but as a single mother with three kids, it’s even worse. “There is not enough food for us, and we’re forced into sexual activities with local security forces to help feed our children,” one said. The very men assigned to protect them abuse their authority and exploit these vulnerable women.
Why leave if your life was so good, one might ask. “There would come a time when they asked us to martyr for their cause. Like me, I was told to go blow myself up at a checkpoint. Instead, I handed myself over, as this was the right thing to do, but to be honest, I don’t know what is worse.” Unfortunately, this is the bitter truth about reconciliation programs and bringing back those who fought for or supported the likes of Boko Haram.
Nigeria relies on international aid and volunteer groups to try to improve the lives of these people, but there simply isn’t enough funding. International aid companies and volunteer groups often fall very short in providing these people with a new, better life. In many cases, the refugees had a better life outside the camps. This is a major issue we must fix in order to tackle terrorism in this region.
One may wonder why these young men and women would want to become members of such terrible organizations as Boko Haram. The reality becomes quite clear when considering these women’s statements: They’re seeking better lives for themselves and for their children, and who wouldn’t do whatever it takes to provide a better life for their kids?
The Nigerian government should take more interest in the lives of the people in these camps and in reconciliation programs. More effort should be made to improve living conditions and the lives of those who have left terrorist groups.
I have also briefly touched on how military intervention alone will not solve conflicts such as the one in Nigeria. If there are poor living conditions and high unemployment rates, young mothers and fathers will turn to joining or supporting terrorists to survive. As long as this remains the situation within northern Nigeria, as well as in most parts of Africa, terrorist groups throughout the region will continue to grow in number and will be able to wage war for decades to come.