By Funmi Omotosho
I was caught in an euphoria I could not instantly explain, when I listened to the fervent voice of a young Nigeria Army officer, identified as Sergeant Blessing. She was addressing the Nigerian Army top brass and leaders of Nigeria at the recent Chief of Army Staff Conference (COASC) at Monguno, Borno state, at the exhibition stand whilst Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was being conducted round the various stands.
She said; “We have been trained to help combat the scourge of terrorism, especially suicide bombings that are usually carried out by women. We are not just the first Service (Nigerian Army) to establish the Women Corp, we are proud to be part of the Nigerian Army’s success against Boko Haram.”
I know, without any iota of doubt that terrorism has multi-dimensional fangs. And once it grabs any population with terror, anywhere in the world, it spares no tom, dick and harry. Terrorists use every weapon at their disposal to visit humanity with heinous crimes and atrocities.
Nigerians live with painful memories of Boko Haram terrorists’ free use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED). These are very deadly explosives or weapons of mass destructions and insurgents main arsenals against Nigerians when they lost the combat with our troops in the field.
Sometimes the insurgents use bombs, sophisticated arms and ammunitions, charms or amulets to make themselves invincible in the practice of their evil trade against the people.
What took the Nigerian government and military authorities on Boko Haram by surprise was the sudden detour into the use of female suicide bombers, some of them teenagers. While Nigerian troops’ eagle eyes marched the insurgents strength for strength on the battlefield, they resorted to the use of teenage boys and girls, as suicide bombers, who would detonate bombs at unexpected or rare destinations.
I heard the stories of female suicide bombers, but considered it more as isolated cases, until I took deep interest in the emerging phenomenon. I stumbled on an online report anchored by CNN’s Robyn Kriel, published on August 11, 2017 and I was marveled at the blooming statistics of female suicide bombers in my country.
The report said; “Researchers at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point and Yale University analyzed the 434 suicide bombings carried out by Nigeria-based militants, Boko Haram since 2011, and found that at least 244 of the 338 attacks in which the bomber’s gender could be identified were carried out by women.” That’s a frightening figure by every standard.
In the same report, Jason Warner, Assistant Professor at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, a United States’ elite military academy, said Boko Haram started the use of female suicide bombers after the abduction of Chibok schoolgirls.
He explained that the use of female suicide bombers by Boko Haram was launched “… after it realized the potency that gender and youth offer in raising its global profile after the Chibok kidnappings.”
The report also adduced reasons for insurgents’ preference for female suicide bombers as persons unlikely to be checked at security checkpoints. And those who know the religious culture of Northern Nigeria would easily attest to the veracity of this assertion.
“They can hide explosives under their billowing clothing, or inside handbags, and in some cases have even strapped explosives on their backs with infant children,” the report added.
And quoting a report gathered from research on the phenomenon; he added that Boko Haram ; “ … is the first terrorists group in history to use more women suicide bombers than men, and is at the vanguard of using children as suicide bombers. Of the 134 suicide bombers whose age could be determined, 60% were teenagers or children. The youngest suicide bomber identified to date was just 7 years old. Boko Haram has used four times as many young girls as it has young boys.”
These are chilling revelations. I also discovered to my amazement similar analysis of the potency of female suicide bombers by other reputable local and international media or organizations’, including The Economist Magazine and the United Nations (UN).
The UN also decried the alarming use of female suicide bombers by Boko Haram. A report credited to the UN in March 2018 UN quoted its Deputy Secretary-General, Ms Amina Mohammed as saying, Boko Haram terrorists have upped the tempo of adoption of women and girls, as suicide bombers, including children from year 2017. That was when the Nigerian military held them tightly on the warfront.
In The Sunday Punch online of August 6, 2017, a report by Olaleye Aluko also admitted that “Boko Haram terrorists have so far used more than 145 girls in suicide bombing missions between January and July 2017.”
Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff , Lt. Gen. TY Buratai, a visionary, military strategist cum tactician keenly followed these developments and went back to the drawing board.
I am sure he understudied the sociological factors relating to culture and tradition of the people, which aid the thriving trade of female suicide bombers and the easy escape of female bomb carriers at military checkpoints. The Army Chief understood the problem perfectly and set to remedy it.
Thus, early 2018, these developments sparked the idea of the Nigerian Army’s women-only corps in the COAS’ efforts to curb the excesses of female suicide bombers.
When Gen. Buratai officially unveiled this initiative at the 2018 first quarter Chief of Army Staff (COAS) conference in Abuja, he informed Nigerians and the world that the concept is to assemble and develop professionally responsive female officers and soldiers. He hinted that the female officers would be deployed to support its anti-terrorism operations within and outside Nigeria in line with global best practices of the military.
He intimated that “The corps will give the Nigerian army an opportunity to recognise women in order to derive the maximum benefits from their contributions to the defence and security of our nation,’’
And true to his words, Gen. Buratai , the foresighted, visionary and relentless leader of counter-insurgency operations has made good his promise. He unveiled before Nigerians at the recent COASC in Monguno, a brand new set of Nigerian Army Female Corp, to assist in combating the asymmetric nature of global terrorism in Nigeria, with its female suicide bombers slant.
These are ebullient female Army Personnel who would respect the culture and religion of the people as it relates to women. But they would spare no stone to ensure females are no longer available for recruitment by insurgents or ply the trade of suicide bombings, because they would penetrate enclaves which male soldiers are restrained by the culture of the people.
I looked at the confidence and pride in their faces as they stood at the Women Corp stand, and the soothing words of Sergeant Blessings moved me into tears of joy. I nodded my head quietly, muttering to myself, “ Yes, the COAS knows his direction and job.”
This is one of the several innovations the COAS has brought into the Nigerian Army and the combat of terrorism in the country. And what is fascinating about Gen. Buratai’s latest innovation? I think it’s one nice step to curb the recalcitrant shadows of insurgency, reflective in the use of women in the Northeast and any other part of the country. It’s a perfect, commendable and laudable initiative.
The Army Chief has again proven his impeccable credentials, as a reservoir of military knowledge. He is indubitably a living encyclopedia in military science, technology, philosophy, as he bequeaths yet another enduring legacy for the Nigerian Army and Nigerians.
Omotosho is a freelance writer and contributed this piece from Maiduguri, Borno State.