In the early morning hours of February 9, 2016, in a sprawling camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria’s Borno State, three young girls thought to be looking for shelter, were welcomed inside. What the guards who admitted them didn’t know, however, was that each was wearing an improvised explosive device strapped to her body. Minutes later, two of those girls were dead and, with them, an estimated 58 other victims, including many families seeking shelter from a raging insurgency that had driven them from their homes. An additional 80 people were badly wounded. Attacks like this have come to characterize the insurgency that has raged in northern Nigeria since 2009. Recently, however, data and research by The Fund for Peace (FFP), a Washington, D.C.-based NGO, indicates that Boko Haram has fundamentally shifted its tactics and its targets.
The use of women and children as weapons of war in northern Nigeria and in neighboring countries is undoubtedly horrific, there is often the tendency to paint the phenomenon with a broad brush that identifies the bombers as victims without agency, or the right of choice, in their fate. To the extent that this assumption has implications for response, it should be acknowledged that the question of agency is inevitably much more complex and uncomfortable. Certainly, no ten-year-old child can be said to be of a mental and emotional maturity to make such a fatal choice. However, the assumption that the women and children who have carried out these attacks are all abductees is false.