There are an estimated 1,386,000 people living in modern slavery in Nigeria (GSI 2018). Since 2009, Nigeria’s homegrown Islamist insurgent movement, Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, popularly known as Boko Haram, which means “Western Education is Forbidden,” has waged a violent campaign against the Nigerian government in its bid to impose Islamic law. The attacks have increasingly targeted civilians, mainly in the northeastern states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa. Borno State, the birthplace of Boko Haram, has suffered the highest number of attacks. A range of issues, including widespread poverty, corruption, security force abuse, and longstanding impunity for a range of crimes have created fertile ground in Nigeria for militant armed groups like Boko Haram.
In some cases, women and children are abducted from predominantly Christian areas and forced to convert to Islam. These abductions took place most often in Boko Haram’s then-strongholds of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, or Damaturu, the capital of neighboring Yobe State. In most of the documented cases, married women were abducted as punishment for not supporting the group’s ideology, while unmarried women and girls were taken as brides after insurgents hastily offered a dowry to the families, who feared to resist. 19-year-old Ifedimma* was held in a Boko Haram camp in Gwoza and was offered thousands of naira as dowry to marry one of the insurgents.
I refused the dowry, asking them to go pay to my father if they wanted to marry me. An insurgent who knows my family accepted it on my behalf. He told me he was afraid I would be killed if I continued to refuse. I became confused at the implication of being married to a Boko Haram member, so I pretended to be very ill, and the wedding was postponed until the return of the camp leader, who was travelling to meet the group’s overall leader in the Sambisa camp. He ordered that I should be taken to the hospital [in the local town] for tests before his return. It was the break I’d been praying for. I threatened the woman sent to take me to a hospital in town that I would scream and expose her to Civilian JTF. She quickly walked away as I made my escape.
Insurgents disguised as Civilian JTF accused my brother to security forces of being a member of Boko Haram, and he was arrested. He spent two weeks in detention before the leadership of our church was able to convince the military authorities of his innocence. But when the insurgents realized he had been released, they attacked and burnt my family home and all four churches in my village. My entire family was forced to leave the village. Even now I am still afraid.
*Not her real name
Narrative provided by Human Rights Watch