The world reacted with shock and horror when 276 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014.
Some of the girls managed to escape, others were rescued by military forces, but many were coerced into serving the group’s terrorist agenda, some acting as suicide bombers.
While the mass abduction in the small Nigerian town of Chibok garnered international headlines, it was by no means the only incident of kidnapping by Boko Haram, according to University of Alberta sociologist Temitope Oriola.
He estimates the Nigerian military rescued more than 28,000 people from captivity between January of 2015 and February of 2018, most of them women and children.
Once declared the world’s deadliest terrorist organization, Boko Haram has killed tens of thousands and displaced more than 2.3 million people from their homes since 2009. By 2014 it controlled 50,000 square kilometres of territory, and was responsible that year for more deaths than ISIS.
Exploring the context of resistance
To understand the complex social and political forces at work in the country, Oriola interviewed dozens of former female kidnap victims during the summer of 2019 at a rehabilitation camp in northeastern Nigeria’s Borno State. The length of their captivity with the group ranged from six months to more than four years.
At the heart of Oriola’s research, in partnership with U of A political scientist Andy Knight, lies one central question: what enabled some of the women to resist their captors, often with violence, despite intense programs of indoctrination?
“The level of agency demonstrated over and over again is just remarkable,” said Oriola. “A lot of these women in Boko Haram camps were engaged in resistance against their captors,” he said, often taking advantage of gender roles they’d been assigned as cooks and domestics.