By Alex Shube ’21
On June 12, 2020, the governors of 36 states in Nigeria declared a state of emergency on rape over the recent rise in sexual violence across the country. This came after international outrage over the violent attacks on university students in Kano in late May and early June of this year. The Nigeria Governor’s Forum (NGF) has called for a national sex offender register and expansion of federal laws that crack down on rape and other sex crimes.
Sexual violence has long been an issue in Nigeria—a 2014 UNICEF study showed as many as 25% of girls experienced sexual violence before the age of eighteen. That same UNICEF study also showed that 10% of boys experienced sexual violence as well. In an address to the Nigerian people on June 11, President Muhammadu Buhari stated, “I am particularly upset at recent incidents of rape, especially of very young girls. The police are pursuing these cases with a view to bringing perpetrators of these heinous crimes to swift justice.”
Boko Haram’s (translated as “Western education is forbidden”) reign of terror over Nigeria dates back to the organization’s founding in 2002 by Muslim cleric Mohammed Yusuf. Millions have been displaced and thousands killed by the terrorist organization’s insurgency in the northeast region of Nigeria. Nigeria possesses the largest population of Muslims in West Africa, with more than 50% of its population identifying as such. However, 47% of its population identifies as Christian, which creates a natural divide within the country out of which extremism has been allowed to grow. Boko Haram’s belief that Nigeria is run by a state of nonbelievers fuels their attacks and, in their philosophy, justifies their attempts to overthrow Nigeria’s government.
Despite its beginnings as a nonviolent group, by 2010, Boko Haram had taken to its current form as an insurgent group that would later align itself with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Its radical development into one of Africa’s most feared terrorist organizations ramped up with attacks on both Nigerian government buildings and civilians. In 2014, the infamous kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from the Secondary School in the town of Chibok in Borno grabbed international headlines. The young women, who were overwhelmingly Christian, were all forced to convert to Islam.
A significant portion of Boko Haram’s attacks has targeted women, amplifying the threat of rape that exists in Northern Nigeria. While gaining relevancy, Boko Haram has changed the nature of its attacks, not only by mobilizing terror but also by attacking government projects and hurting major infrastructure.
As with schools, oil production in Nigeria has been a common target for Boko Haram attacks due to its overwhelming power within the Nigerian economy. Nigeria remains Africa’s largest producer of oil at nearly two million barrels a day. This alone constitutes over 70%of the Nigerian government’s income. The Nigerian state controls its oil industry through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), making it a logical target for Boko Haram attacks. Oil bandits, often associated with Boko Haram, siphon oil from government pipelines and sell it illegally. This practice, while wildly dangerous, can bring much-needed revenue to Boko Haram and its associates. However, until recently, oil in Nigeria was considered to be most plentiful in its southern regions, away from Boko Haram’s influence. But in 2017, Boko Haram captured four oil workers sent to explore the possibility of oil in the northeast. One subsequently died, but the other three were used for ransom purposes.
Women in Nigeria have begun to follow the #MeToo movement that has spread through social media platforms all across the world. For Nigerian women, #ArewaMeToo (arewa being the Hausa word for north), started in 2017, has been used to highlight the sexual violence of major officials such as Abubakar Sadiq Aruwa, then-special advisor to the governor of the Kaduna State. Aruwa was accused of raping and assaulting multiple women in Northern Nigeria.
In sum, the combination of Boko Haram rapes and the rise of the #ArewaMeToo movement has led to a reckoning on sexual violence in Nigeria. The Nigerian Governor’s Forum has mandated that all states create a sex offenders register and sign on to two federal laws that aim to crack down on rape and sexual assault. Nigerian Inspector General of Police Mohammadu Adamu held meetings on June 11 with the heads of Nigeria’s Human Rights Commission and anti-trafficking agency to outline a “common front” against sexual violence. On September 17, 2020, the Kaduna state declared that rapists of children under fourteen will be surgically castrated before being executed, a measure that has drawn both praise and significant backlash. Its effects have yet to be seen. Nonetheless, in both the near and long term, Nigerian officials will seek to intensify crackdowns on both Boko Haram and sexual assault with this state of emergency.