It is difficult to, if ever, appreciate the blood-curdling terror which went into the terrorist attack at Gwoza, Borno State, on June 29,2024, without stripping bare and descending into vast, fathomless depths of depravity into which until now only a few people have been able to plunge into, and plumb in Nigeria.

Birth kick-starts life in a way that defies description. From the moment lovemaking lines the womb with a child, through pregnancy to childbirth, nursing and raising a child, birth brims with life, and beyond that, a desire to live fully, one devoid from simply existing. This is the reason the woman is such a powerful symbol, one eclipsed only by the symbol of a woman as mother with a baby, suckling, sleeping in her arms, or strapped to her back. Outside the confines of the womb, there is nowhere else a child finds as much comfort as when they are part of a mother’s body. Beyond comfort, joined to a mother’s body by biological necessity, a child leeches the courage to confront the considerable  hurdles of life. For in seeing the Herculean task that motherhood is in a world sundered by predatory patriarchy, a child prepares for the worst by coupling together strains of resilience from its mother.

However, at Gwoza, the image of mother as a guarantor of life spectacularly fell apart in the devastating terrorist attack of June 29th,2024.  A woman with a baby strapped to her back was said to have detonated a bomb at a crowded motor park in the state. Two other bomb blasts also shook the state on the same day, killing and wounding dozens.

The woman backing a baby and blasting an improvised explosive device (IED) evokes one of the most heartbreaking victimization of conflict and terrorism.

Women have been twice victims of the deadly insurgency that has rippled through northern Nigeria for more than a decade now. Killed, raped, widowed and displaced, women, like in conflicts as old as earth, have been involved as victims and witnesses as they have been forced to give up everything.

As their men have continued to fall in a war of men against men and women and children, women have been kept alive to be repeatedly victimized and as repositories of tales that recall the horrors of war.

For Nigerian women, this insidious initiation into the theater of war comes much earlier, even before the threshold of womanhood is crossed. In 2014, when Boko Haram observed that it was losing grounds in the ground and propaganda offensives launched by the Nigerian government, it spectacularly turned the tables by abducting over a hundred girls from a secondary school in Chibok. Four years later, in 2018, the group repeated the devastating trick on another secondary school in Dapchi,Yobe State. Just that it was not a trick. Some girls from the two attacks are yet to return home or be  rescued years later. Many of those returned or rescued have come back with babies and chilling tales of sexual slavery serving as ruthless initiation into womanhood. Many of the girls became women in the hands of their captors, serving as wives and bearing babies for them.

While Chibok and Dapchi drew international headlines, marking Nigeria as dangerously unsafe for women, many other women have been seized around the country and forced into sexual slavery. Many are still being seized. Some have escaped or have been rescued and some have simply passed up the opportunity to escape or be rescued, and who would blame them?

In Our Bodies, their battlefields, author and British journalist Christine Lamb, writes of the chilling fate that awaits many women taken and raped by Boko Haram upon their return. Attempts to reintegrate them are often rebuffed by their immediate communities. They are typically shamed, stigmatized and shunned by their families and communities who are too ashamed to see their wives, sisters, or daughters as anything but irreparably damaged goods. Even their babies are marked for life, the ancient and universal covering of infant innocence cruelly peeled away by the daggers of discrimination. It is not that these unfortunate communities and families are entirely unjustified in failing to embrace their wives, daughters and sisters.

At its core, violent extremism and terrorism well from radicalization, which targets the mind. By destabilizing and displacing the mind, dismantling the mental structures that promote tolerance, communal peace and harmony, and rooting and relocating same in killer ideologies perpetrated by ideologues, terrorism induces deadly doubt and uncertainty even in the most sure-footed. This is how suicide bombers and other radi calised conscripts of terrorism are cored of their humanity before being fed to the fires of dangerous ideologies and forced to feed others. Women are especially victims. Brainwashed and deprived of options by a patriarchal world, women are often left to listen to and do whatever they are told. Women caught in the deadly vortex of terrorism have also been forced to traffic arms for terrorists as well as keep the mechanics of terrorism well-oiled.

In the face of such a devastating threat, what is the government doing? Do attempts by the government to de-radicalise and reintegrate terrorists into communities embrace women? Beyond embracing women, do they pay special attention to the needs of women affected by conflict which are more pressing than those of men, but are typically in danger of being subsumed by them in world diseased by its patriarchy and its unwillingness to confront it?

Nigeria is a country sorely in need of comfort, the kind of comfort that can only come from courage – the courage of its leaders to finally and forcefully confront those responsible for the immeasurable suffering of its people, especially those in the rural areas who have suffered incalculably.

This need cannot and must not be corralled by the grim calculus of political expediency. Nigerians deserve to feel safe everywhere in their country. Anything less than this is a failure for the government.

Kene Obiezu,


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