As the ENDSARS protests around Nigeria reach boiling point, having stretched for days, one woman who has spearheaded these demonstrations has become the centre of attention.
That woman is sociopolitical acticist and co-convener of the Bring Back Our Girls movement, Aisha Yesufu. Aisha has been so instrumental in these protests that she has twice been invited by the Inspector General of Police as a representative of the protesters. But Aisha is not the first woman to take charge of a situation in a male-dominated field. Up north, in the crisis-torn city of Borno are a group of female vigilantes on the frontline in the decade-long war against Boko Haram. These women are nicknamed the “Gossipers of Boko Haram” and today we at FMTV have compiled a in-depth review of thier operations.
Boko Haram is a terrorist organisation that has laid mayhem to Northern Nigeria, especially the state of Borno, for over a decade. On 16 June 2011 they carried out the first ever suicide bombing in Nigeria, the bombing of the Abuja police headquarters. But it wasn’t until 2014 that they started notedly involving female bombers. From then on, female bombers have become a important piece in the fatal operations of the terrorists.
In realisation that some of the residents were accomplices with Boko Haram, the military developed a controversial modus operandi after any Boko Haram attack. Once they arrive the scene, they will begin assaulting and shooting any passers-by.
To counter this, residents formed a local militia called Civilian Joint Task Force. The CTJF was formed with a goal of rooting out accomplices of the sect who they believed resided among them. After being assessed by the government the CJTF was recognized as a “voluntary organization.” CJTF was initially an all-male group, but due to needs to deal with tasks better suited for women, they started recruiting females. Today, the group consists of more than 100 women, working with security agents in Borno state to thwart and repel Boko Haram attacks.
Boko Haram have used female suicide bombers in more than 500 attacks. Boko Haram preferred the use of girls and women as suicide bombers to attack public places because they could easily bypass security checkpoints. Nigerian soldiers are most times restricted from searching women and girls and this is due to the sensitivity drawn from the religions and cultures of Northern Nigeria involving men. This restriction was hugely exploited by Boko Haram.
Respite, though, was found in the female vigilantes of the CJTF. Throughout the day, these women will search every female passing through a security checkpoint leading to Maiduguri’s markets, hospitals, schools, and other public sites vulnerable to attacks. This strategy has successfully uncovered many suicide bombers and led to their arrest, hereby foiling numerous attacks.
Female vigilantes also help in gathering information and identification of suspects, and sometimes to fight Boko Haram.
Since Muslim men cannot enter the homes of women they do not know, female vigilantes are sent to confront alleged female terrorists who have been brought to their attention through tips from other vigilantes or residents. They then make arrests but are never in possession of weapons.
Some locals knew those linked to Boko Haram, but to speak out was to risk death as the fighters retaliated against the families of those who exposed them to the military.
Women helped break the barrier by taking vital information to the military about members of Boko Haram living in their communities.
Boko Haram since 2009 has killed more than 27,000 people and forced another two million out of their homes.
It has not been cakewalk though as women have had to deal with constant death threats from Boko Haram themselves. Some have also resigned to save their marriages or to save face amid pressure from society.
Another major danger is that many women are at risk of getting accidentally killed when searching suicide bombers. Some suicide bombers also intentionally detonate bombs, killing themselves along with those searching them.
One of such brave women tasked with this assignment is Umad Habiba, a 39 year old women who coordinates the gatekeepers in Monday Market in Maiduguri. Monday Market was targeted in 2015 by suicide bombers in an attack that took the lives of 19 people. Maiduguri is the epicenter of the Boko Haram insurgency. Habiba spoke to aljazeera last year and she quoted as saying:
“Many women have died doing this job.”
Another woman helping in the fight is Komi Kaje who lost her brother and boyfriend in the space of days to the insurgency. After initially trying to flee, Komi resolved in her heart to battle against the rebellion. She joined the CJTF.
“Boko Haram were using many women and girls to fight the war. Women were needed to counter that strategy,
“If I die doing this work, I know my parents would be proud of me because I died for my state. Many women, unable to cope with the pressure, have resigned.”
Kaje earns about N20,000 a month from the state government. She is one of just 0.07% of the majorly voluntary force to be paid.
Another of this brave women is Hadiza Musa, who joined the CJTF to avenge the Boko Haram capture of her sister. Some years ago, the CJTF had come upon a Boko Haram camp but were noticed by the terrorist. In order to distract the vigilantes, Boko Haram shot and blew up the camp housing the captive women and fled. In the midst of mangles of body, Hadiza came across a girl called Balaraba Mohammed who had been shot in the leg. Hadiza nursed her back to health and traced her grandmother. She then helped reunite Balaraba with her daughter who she thought was dead after her abduction. Today Balaraba and Hadiza consider themselves sisters and Balaraba is learning to become a nurse to better help the force.