Northeastern Nigeria has long been plagued by the presence of Boko Haram and the violence and terror that they have inflicted on Nigerian citizens in this region. Boko Haram is a militant group that was formed as a result of the poverty and corruption that have long plagued Nigeria.
The former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, claims that the group has cited the corruption of Western educated leaders and Western ideals that they are taught, as reasons for the necessity of Boko Haram. Haram means “forbidden” and thus, for this group, the Western education is that which is forbidden.
In recent years, Boko Haram has been using children, especially young girls, as suicide bombers. Forcing them to go into areas such as universities, military checkpoints, displaced peoples camps, and pretty much anywhere else where people congregate and great amounts of damage can be inflicted, with explosives strapped to their bodies. The government of Nigeria tends to display a discourse that frames families of these children and the children themselves as supporting the cause for which Boko Haram is fighting. The government sends out Public Service Announcements (PSAs) warning families to not give their children over to these men.
The reality is that these children are being kidnapped in the middle of the night without volunteering to contribute.
A New York Times article describes the experiences of 18 girls who were able to escape their explosive belts and share their experience. These girls told stories of being kidnapped and held hostage until they were ready to be used. When they were chosen to inflict harm, the girls were forcibly given bombs or suicide vests, moved towards large crowds and told that their religion required them to fulfill this duty. All of the girls were able to escape based upon sheer determination not to hurt other people. Each one of these girls, relied upon either a civilian, a soldier, or a family member to help them escape a fate they did not want nor deserve. The girls talk about how police officers, family members, and just kind strangers had faith in them and allowed them to not follow in the unfortunate path of other victimized children who were told they would be heading to the nicest place they could think of if they followed the fighters’ orders.
In a world that seems self-centered and devoid of compassion, this story caught my eye and truly moved me. If we all as global citizens can take a few messages away from this story, groups like Boko Haram may have a hard time finding new recruits and continuing the spread of their message.
For these girls, none older than 17, to have the confidence and willingness to risk their own lives to hopefully save those of others, shows true humanity and understanding of your neighbor. Most of these girls recalled contemplating going towards an empty field and detonating their device to spare other lives. The girls’ ability to put others before themselves and to serve the greater good, combined with the calmness and readiness of bystanders to help these girls escape and save lives shows that even in times of turmoil, small bits of hope and love can shine through.
As citizens, but humans foremost, we must remember to find similarities across or differences, help out people when they need a hand and by doing so we can strive to diminish the power of hate and violence.