In the past 6 months, Nigeria has witnessed the launch of two new categories of terrorists: female suicide bombers and juvenile female suicide bombers as young as 10.
The more one thinks about this scary development, the more unanswered questions accumulate. Why is there an escalation in the use of female children as suicide bombers? Is it because they are least suspicious –for their age, gender and security threat profile? Or is it because of the functionality of their wardrobe (though why a 10 year old girl needs to be in hijab beats me) and the propriety of frisking them?
With the first wave of female suicide bombers in June 2014, there were a few theories. Maybe they were some of the Chibok girls abducted over 258 days ago. Drugs and months of indoctrination could explain how they could be co-opted. Maybe these were female terrorists merely intent on killing themselves and others as other female terrorists have done across the world. And third, maybe it was a function of economics. These women were signing up to blow themselves to smithereens for financial reward; following the path of the suicide bomber who was allegedly paid Four Million Naira to attack the Nigerian Police Force Headquarters.
Unfortunately these theories do not work in light of the latest development where those carrying out the suicide bombing missions are getting increasingly younger and the revelation of the 13-year-old who could not blow herself up after watching what happened to her partners. It is heartbreaking that her parents willingly handed her over to be killed and even worse that her ignorance and limited religious learning could be so wickedly exploited by enticing her with the reward of paradise. It is hoped that her parents will be questioned, that they will lead the authorities to the recruiting terrorists and will be tried, found guilty and appropriately punished for their crimes against the state and their own child.
There are serious policy issues at play to explain why Nigeria is so crippled mentally, physically and spiritually. It also partly explains how we have created the kind of environment where terrorism can thrive.
The first is education. If these girls being sold by their guardians were educated it would take a little more than just selling them paradise to get them to blow themselves and others up. Ask the average pre-teen who has been the beneficiary of average to good primary school education if they would agree to such a mission and it is safe to wager that none of them would agree without physical and/or mental torture. It is also safe to bet that the parents have little or no formal education, have had deliberately stunted Islamic learning and are extremely impoverished – the ideal candidates for manipulation and recruitment.
10.5 million Nigerian children are out of school and 60% are girls. Nigeria has created and is still creating an army of citizens socially and culturally programmed to maintain a dysfunctional system where the majority of the people are unable to perform their civic functions.
The second is a dearth of record keeping and lack of a sustainable national identification system. One of the reasons why it is possible for parents in the 21st Century to sell or give their child to terrorists with the knowledge that this child will be killed, is because they know that the State will not ask where this human being is. Government is not keeping track of its citizens – even if only to know when one is of taxable and voting age. It is ironic that as much as we like to talk about the communal nature of our existence in Nigeria, when it comes to the welfare of minors the prevalent motto is see-no-evil hear-no-evil even when evil is happening before us.
The third is family planning. Controversial, but considering the state of the world and the increasing toll that humans have on the environment, we need a reproduction policy. Are we prepared to go on living in a country with dwindling natural resources, high unemployment and spiralling insecurity and yet people can mass-produce children with absolutely no responsibility to the state and to the children? It is illogical and unconscionable. As distasteful as it will be to those who want to go on procreating with reckless abandon, we must have a child per household policy that accommodates our supposed love for children, but with clear incentives for those who have less and penalties for those who have more.
These girls who are being caught before they blow themselves and others up should not be considered criminals. They are the most tragic victims of decades of nonchalance about the lives of girls and lack of vision and will by those in government. It will take years to reverse the wrongs that have been done and are still being done but with the right policies we can start repairing the damage and preparing for a better future.
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