The Impact of Boko Haram Insurgency on Women and Children in North Eastern Nigeria: Towards a Better Protection

Esther Hatsiwa Emmanuel (Mrs)
LLB, BL, LLM, Research Fellow NIALS Lagos , 07030560754

Insurgency is growing and fast spreading all over the world. This is partly due to the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, and the spread of radical Islamic teachings. Where this is coupled with government’s lack of will to perform its constitutional duty of protecting lives and properties, these insurgent groups metamorphose into violent terrorist groups, with local and international implications. This is typical of the Boko Haram insurgency in North Eastern Nigeria. Boko Haram is an Islamic militant group based in North-Eastern Nigeria, which calls for the use of violence to ensure a return to the true practice of Islam with the ultimate goal of establishing an Islamic State. Fundamentally, this group views that western education/civilization is sinful, sacrilegious or ungodly and should be forbidden. The group thus calls for an outright rejection of western education, culture and modern science. It advocates the propagation of strict adherence to Islamic tenets in its purest form.

The activities of these insurgents have various implications on women and children, as this vulnerable group of persons tend to suffer most from crisis of any kind. Women and children under the age of 18 especially girls have been negatively impacted by the crisis in the form of lack of access to basic needs, sexual and gender based violence, sexual exploitation, abuse and abduction. Their level of vulnerability is on the increase as most of them are widowed or single due to the high rate of men-killing in the course of the conflict and the detention of some men by the military for investigation purposes. Women now bear the responsibility of feeding their families.

The conflict had also affected education negatively, as the insurgents target educational institutions; warning teachers not to go to school and also kill students and teachers in the process. Girls were specifically warned to leave school and marry, while some are abducted from schools for ransom or to be used as sex slaves. The recent Dapchi school abduction in Yobe state is a very good illustration.

The Nigerian military has been accused of failing to protect communities from violence committed against them generally; rather they cause further harm to the civilians during the course of their operations through unlawful detention, harassment, destruction of property, forced displacement, sexual exploitation and     abuse against     women and girls. The indiscriminate targeting of groups of young men, torture and excessive use of force, has been subject of several press statements by Amnesty International and other international organizations. Meanwhile, the Civilian Joint Task Force has also been implicated in extra-judicial killings, harassment of communities, recruitment and use of children and diversion of humanitarian aid.

The prevailing security situation and the resulting humanitarian crises in the Northeast have various economic, physical, and psychological impacts on women and children. It becomes very important to consider our extant laws and international legal standards on the subject matter and make some recommendations – chiefly the domestication of the under listed protection laws by the affected states, and also the creation of awareness on the dangers of practices such as child labour, forced marriage, child marriage, survival sex etcetera.

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) is the major legislation that provides for the protection of all citizens of Nigeria. Nigeria is also signatory to many International and Regional Conventions on this subject matter. There are other extant laws specifically governing the protection of women and children, particularly, the Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 and the Child Rights Act 2003 (operating at the Federal level).  The Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill is also before the National Assembly and is yet to be passed into law. It is worthy of note however that significant gaps exist in most of the affected states of the North East as regards these relevant legislations. Women and children will be better protected if these laws are domesticated and implemented.

1 Judith Barna, ‘Insecurity in Context: The Rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria’ Directorate of External Policies, Policy Department European Parliament July 2014 (D G EXPO/B/POLDEPT/NOTE/2014/133) 5

2 Osita Njoku Agnes & Chikere, Princewill, ‘Consequences of Boko Haram terrorism on women in Northern Nigeria’ Applied Research Journal (2015) (1) (3)

3 K Dietrich, ‘When We Can’t See    the Enemy, Civilians Become the Enemy: Living Through Nigeria’s Six Year Insurgency, (Center for Civilians in Conflict) 2015

4 Nicholas Ibekwe, ‘Amnesty International Accuses Nigerian Security Forces of Widespread Abuses’ Premium Times (Lagos, 22 February 2018) accessed 4th June 2018