Inside the Genocide: Boko Haram Returns to Nigeria
By Carlie Chiesa
Fifteen-year-old Aisha fled her home in northern Nigeria with her family to escape the wrath of Boko Haram in April 2013, but she didn’t make it far. When the terrorists captured her family, Aisha’s world unraveled. She watched two terrorists murder her father and strap a bomb to her brother. They led him into the darkness to blow up soldiers at a barracks.
When the two militants returned without him, cheering, Aisha’s heart broke. She knew what this meant. The militants told her not to cry for him. “He killed wicked people,” they told her. Their next words terrified her: “Are you going to sleep with us, or do you want to go on a mission?”
They strapped a bomb to her and took her to the army barracks area.
“When they tied the bomb on me, I was so afraid,” she says. “Something was telling me, just press it and die, forget about everything. I never thought I would survive.”
Aisha considered walking off to an isolated spot, far from other people, to avoid hurting anyone else when she pressed the detonator.
Instead, she approached a group of soldiers not affiliated with Boko and persuaded them to remove the explosives from her body, delicately. Through the miraculous grace of God, Aisha survived the suicide mission.
Boko Haram’s use of children like Aisha for suicide missions is a defining hallmark of its long and vicious terror campaign in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. They have killed tens of thousands and displaced millions, threatening the security of Nigeria. Through waves of bombings, assassinations and abductions, they have driven a wedge between Muslims and Christians who once enjoyed relatively peaceful relations in the country.
Then silence came for a period. The Buhari regime assured the world that it had finally silenced the deadly organization back in 2015, but reports of fresh attacks in 2018 indicate otherwise.
Boko Haram’s Ideology
Over the years, Boko Haram’s primary objective evolved from spreading fundamentalist Sharia Law amongst non-Muslims to the creation of the Islamic State in West Africa.
Terror is its primary instrument of expression. Boko Haram targets Christians in church massacres, bombings, and school shootings. By creating violent conflict between Muslims and Christians, Boko Haram ensures a separate state, subservient to the teachings of Sharia Law.
“… This war is not political. It is religious. It is between Muslims and unbelievers. It will stop when Islamic religion is the determinant in governance in Nigeria or, in the alternative, when all fighters are annihilated and no one is left to continue the fight.” – Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram.
The Initial Rise and Decline
Boko Haram gained eminence as a terrorist organization during its peak years in 2014 and 2015.
In 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped more than 250 girls from a boarding school in northern town of Chibok. The tragedy sparked an international outcry. Politicians spoke about the issue and people took to Twitter, outraged. The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls began trending.
Abubakar Shekau, a leader of Boko Haram, said in one of his video releases, “I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah. I will sell them off and marry them off.”
A survivor of the Chibok incident stated, “When you are with them, there is a constant fear that they can kill you. Or maybe the bombs or stray bullets from the soldiers (will) kill l you. It was just terrible!”
A few months later, the terrorists executed their deadliest massacre in the northeastern town of Baga, resulting in a death toll of over 2000. The once bustling Baga, home to 300,000 fishing residents on the banks of Lake Chad, has since been become a ghost town.
Jimoh Boton (35), a resident of Baga, said, “I was a successful fisherman, then in 2016, I lost everything in one day. All my properties were burned by Boko. I’m not happy at all – sometimes I pray for death. I can barely take care of myself and my children. I lost everything I had. I’m not happy.”
By late 2016, the government managed to suppress Boko Haram by capturing key leaders and raiding notorious camp headquarters.
The government responded swiftly due to pressures on two fronts: international forces were demanding action and the Nigerian government’s own military bases were being besieged.
Boko Haram 2018 Reemergence
Despite the government’s claims that Boko Haram was completely abolished by 2015, the group has regained its momentum with a series of attacks against both military and civilian targets in 2018.
Its rebirth can be attributed to the group’s collaboration with ISIS. Boko Haram’s leadership pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and renamed itself as the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), alarming the targeted Christian civilians in North and Central Africa.
In the tape, an ISIS spokesman proclaimed, “We announce to you to the good news of the expansion of the caliphate to West Africa because the caliph… has accepted the allegiance of our brothers of the Sunni group for preaching and the jihad.”
The group’s resilience, coupled with a new alliance with ISIS, has allowed them to gradually recover enough strength to seize control of Northeast Nigeria. With new ISIS-inspired tactics and procedures, they waged 60 attacks in 2018, claiming more than 2,600 lives. Northeastern Borno state endured four devastating attacks in 2018, when Boko Haram set fire to villages and killed and displaced many people.
Reports of apostasy executions flooded the media as when Boko Haram released a video of the execution of Hauwa Leman, a red cross aid worker. She is seen being forced to kneel on the ground with her hands tied, wearing a hijab – at which point, they shot her.
The senseless killing of this innocent woman demonstrated the savagery of Boko Haram. They released a statement, saying, “Saifura and Hauwa were killed because they are considered as Murtads (apostates) by the group because they were once Muslims that have abandoned their Islam, the moment they chose to work with the Red Cross, and for us, there is no difference between Red Cross and UNICEF.”
Boko’s Influence On the Upcoming Election
The world has its eyes on Nigeria’s February elections. Nigeria is teetering on the brink of a full government overhaul, and the election’s results will indicate if the country will grow into its new form as democracy, devolve into civil war, or fall to the Islamic State.
Nigeria’s new political leadership will determine if Christians will continue bearing the brunt of these attacks. Though it is doubtful that any of the candidates (who are all Muslim) will bring about the change needed to protect Christians, Mr. Buhari’s record indicates that he is the worse candidate. Though his administration managed to suppress Boko Haram’s first wave of insurgency, he did so out of necessity for his own power – not for the sake of endangered Christians. This raises serious concerns about his commitment to his own people as their leader and governor.
Conclusion and End Note
Nigeria’s brutal, ongoing history of ethnoreligious terrorism has resulted in the devastation of millions of Christian lives. They have been bruised and afflicted, displaced and raped, murdered, and even ignored by their own government – all because of their faith.
As the genocide continues, it is doubtful that the future president will protect Christians unless extraneous forces continue to place pressure on the government.
God is just, and someday there will be judgment for all evildoers at every level of power. In the meantime, let us not forget those Christians who have suffered from the wrath of Boko Haram.
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but associate yourself with the lowly. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God.”