Recently, the Governor of Borno State, Prof Babagana Zulum, revealed that some foreign interests sponsor the Boko Haram terrorist group to recruit children as fighters.
He, therefore, urged Nigerians not to see the insurgency in the north-eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa as a northern problem but a challenge that affects everyone.
For years, there had been reports of children being used as suicide bombers by the insurgents.
In 2019, the United Nations Children’s Fund revealed that the insurgents used children to carry out attacks on Konduga town in Borno State on June 18, 2019. It said the suicide bombers killed no fewer than 30 persons in the triple suicide attack.
Zulum noted that the problem of insurgency across the country is as a result of high unemployment rate, poverty, poor social infrastructure, high social inequality and drug abuse, among others in the country.
To curb the menace, he said it was important to improve on the educational system and provide job opportunities for young people.
There are several ways the insurgents recruit children and use them in battlefields across Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
Boko Haram has long engaged in mass abduction of schoolgirls, sexual enslavement of women and the mass murder of innocent civilians.
In July 2020, the United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict presented a report to the UN Security Council in which it described “gruesome violations against children” in Nigeria’s northeast, Boko Haram’s main stronghold, and other countries where the militant group has an active presence.
According to the report, which documented violations between January 2017 and December 2019, the recruitment and use of children accounted for the greatest number of verified violations, with a total of 3,601 boys and girls affected.
Boko Haram was responsible for the recruitment and use of 1,385 children, mainly through abduction, used in direct combat and other support roles, including as sexual slaves, the report said.
Prior to the UN report, in 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 female students from their school in the Borno State town of Chibok. Some of the girls escaped and some were rescued by Nigerian military forces.
In a research published in 2016 titled, “’MOTIVATIONS AND EMPTY PROMISES’ Voices of Former Boko Haram Combatants and Nigerian Youth” by Mercy Corps, a nongovernmental organisation; revealed some other ways through which the sect recruits child soldiers.
The influence of social and business associates is a key factor in the terrorist recruitment process. The research stated that “Almost all former members of the sect cited friends, family members, or business colleagues as having joined, and many outrightly said their contacts’ support for Boko Haram activities affected their own choices.
“In many communities, individuals in the youth’s majalisa, the Hausa word for “council” that is used commonly to describe a formal or informal peer group, would impact that youth’s decision to join. Family members, too, played a role in influencing youth to join.”
Also, some youths see in Boko Haram an opportunity to get ahead, hanging their futures on the promise of business support. “Youth described scarce formal employment opportunities, but for many, successful business ownership is seen as a clear way to advance in society.
However, “Many youths reported that they either accepted loans prior to joining or joined with the hope of receiving loans or direct support to their businesses. The lure of business support is also a trap, and some youth were willing to take great risks to benefit from the loans offered by Boko Haram.”
Also, the road to Boko Haram is paved with religion and ideology. For instance, “Many recruits spoke about wanting to become more devout, or being drawn to a promise of paradise, while some youth became more interested in religion after joining.”
To lure young women into their fold, Boko Haram offers unique opportunities to learn the Quran. Even some members who were forced to join cited the opportunities to acquire knowledge, to memorize the Quran, and to learn about Islam more deeply as positive components of their experience in Boko Haram.
Although both young men and women are obligated to learn the Quran if possible, this appeal was particularly salient for women who may have had limited opportunities to fulfil this obligation in their communities.
Moreso, for many women who had either dropped out of school very early due to marriage or other factors, or who had experienced no schooling at all, the constant studying of the Quran allowed them the chance to learn, and in some cases increase their appetite for further education, religious or secular. Being a member of the sect seemingly also afforded some women roles and opportunities for higher status.
According to a report by the United Nations University, entitled Cradled by Conflict: Children in Contemporary Conflict, policymakers are focusing too much on the idea that child soldiers join armed groups because they have been ‘radicalised’.
The report was in collaboration with UNICEF, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and the governments of Luxembourg and Switzerland.
The report found that ideology was hardly a factor in some countries where child soldier recruitment is often paired with a narrative of radicalisation.
“Currently there is a tendency to attribute child involvement in conflicts to them becoming radicalised and swept up in this violent ideology… but this is rarely the primary factor motivating child association in armed groups.
“Even in cases where ideology does play a role in a child’s trajectory towards an armed group, it is usually only one of a number of motivating or facilitating factors. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has conflated its religious ideology with a rejection of the Nigerian state, the latter of which, the report found “may be the greater driver of association with Boko Haram for Nigerians who have experienced state oppression and violence,” the project’s leader researcher Siobhan O’Neil told the Inter Press Service News.