Why is membership in Boko Haram rising? Boko Haram is an Islamic terrorist organization based in the northeast corner of Nigeria on its borders with Chad, Niger and Cameroon. Their name means “western education is forbidden” and their objective is to establish a totalitarian Islamic state in that area of Africa. They behead police officers, set off bombs, kill school children and burn schools. Their actions are not congruent with the teachings of the Qur’an so this seems like a grab for power more than a religiously motivated movement. However, the insurgency has caused fierce fighting between the group members and the Nigerian military as well as a growing human rights crisis.
Boko Haram splashed across global headlines last spring when they kidnapped nearly 300 girls from a school. Despite the social media campaign “Bring Back Our Girls,” not enough resources were provided by the Nigerian government or international help accepted to locate and rescue the students. While some escaped, many still remain, and Boko Haram has continued to kidnap and hold girls and women.
The Nigerian military is fairly well-organized and active. They are claiming victory after victory over Boko Haram, yet the membership in the terrorist group is on the rise. If the military is not rounding up and bringing in Boko Haram, who are they fighting?
The answer to that question, according to many human rights groups, is the innocent citizens of Nigeria. Videos have documented horrific beatings of young boys, inhumane treatment of townspeople, and men being loaded onto trucks never to be seen again. The military swoop into town, accuse the men they find of being Boko Haram, and either take them to the outskirts of town to be shot or deliver them to barracks where they are likely to die of starvation and maltreatment. Meanwhile, Boko Haram is always a step ahead. As the military rolls into town the true members of the terrorist group fade into the bush. The government troops joyously celebrate a victory after their killing spree but rarely are targeting the enemy.
Many claim that the Nigerian military does not care who they are killing. Their thought pattern seems to be that if men are dying then they must be winning. In fact, the government forces are recruiting for Boko Haram. They enter one town and kill the men they find. The men of the next town down the road run to join Boko Haram as a perceived haven of safety. Therefore, because of military procedures, the membership of Boko Haram is rising.
The Nigerian people do not support Boko Haram, but neither do they get help from their government in fighting the terrorists. They are at the mercy of the two opposing forces. Women are left widowed, without sons, and fatherless. They lose their family and their means of support. Human Rights watchdog groups report that a full blown human rights crisis is occurring. Amnesty International states that the military is guilty of war crimes, including extrajudicial executions. United States Secretary of State John Kerry has said there are “credible allegations” of “gross human rights violations” by the Nigerian military. On September 10, 2014, he urged the Nigerian forces to, “respect human rights and the rule of law” as they launch a new offensive on territory held by Boko Haram.
Amnesty International has obtained graphic footage from various sources which document the abuses of the Nigerian military. The video shows young boys being beaten to death because they will not confess, men being tied up and thrown onto trucks and their heads stepped on by military personnel, and worse. Along with the footage are eyewitness accounts of finding their friends and family members’ bullet riddled bodies outside of town. Amnesty International estimates that 4,000 people have died this year between the military and Boko Haram. The Human Rights Watch says satellite footage shows at least 2,275 homes have been destroyed by the military.
One of the bloodiest days in the conflict was the Giwa Barracks massacre on March 14. Boko Haram liberated the barracks. The freed men did not join the organization but tried to make for their homes. Suffering from thirst and hunger and physical distress, they did get far. The soldiers came to the area and began killing every person they suspected of having been in the barracks, along with anyone else who got in their way. Amnesty International estimates that 600 people died that one day. In the following days more men were hunted down and their bodies were thrown into pits and buried. Videos show the military lining up bound prisoners, slashing their throats one by one, and rolling their bleeding corpses into the pit.
On Tuesday, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan declared emergency rule so he could better mobilize forces against the insurgents. His military forces are set to roll over more Nigerian villages in pursuit of their enemies. Will they take the time to tell friend from foe? Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, states, “A state of emergency must not give way to a state of lawlessness. Sadly, the same communities are now being terrorized in turn by Boko Haram and the military alike.”
Boko Haram continues to capture more territory and towns and declare an Islamic state in northern Nigeria. It continues to hold more than 200 young girls and subject them to unimaginable horrors. It is responsible for heinous crimes against the people. At the same time, the Nigerian military is kidnapping, harassing, beating and executing the innocent men of Nigeria. Where are the people to turn? Who will help them? Caught between a terrorist organization and being terrorized by their own government, what are their choices? Many feel that the membership of Boko Haram is rising mainly due to the tactics used by the Nigerian military as it purports to fight them. The people of Nigeria are suffering greatly as they become caught in the crossfire between the two violent groups.
By: Rebecca Savastio
Photo Credit: Creative Commons