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Government, NGOs Helping Families of Boko Haram Victims

  • Heather Murdock

A woman is consoled by church members as she grieves near the graves of victims of a suicide bomb attack during a memorial service at St. Theresa's Church in Madalla, on the outskirts of Abuja, December 23, 2012.

A woman is consoled by church members as she grieves near the graves of victims of a suicide bomb attack during a memorial service at St. Theresa's Church in Madalla, on the outskirts of Abuja, December 23, 2012.

Nigerian officials said on Wednesday their security forces had killed 20 Boko Haram militants and arrested two commanders. In a separate incident Boko Haram militants killed seven civilians and a police inspector.

While most of the victims in the ongoing conflict spawned by Boko Haram are young men they leave behind mothers, widows and orphans. Nigerian government and non-governmental groups say they are raising funds to help the living victims.

Mallum Muhammed says she can still hear the sound of the gunshots that killed four of her children late last year, and the sound of their sobbing silenced as they died.

She says her children were killed by suspected Boko Haram gunmen, in the type of attack that has left her city, Maiduguri, a war zone. Only months before, her eldest son and husband, who worked for the government, were killed in almost the same way.

Near-daily attacks

Maiduguri, in Borno State is the original home of Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group that has been waging an insurgency since 2009. Human Rights Watch says more than 3,000 people have been killed in the violence, including killings by security forces.

Locals say the city remains tense, with near-daily attacks in surrounding villages and towns. Morgues and prisons are packed and officials say the widows and orphans are left hopelessly poor.

"Some lost their husbands, some their houses were burnt. All these women, truly they need our support. They need the assistance of the state government," says Inna Galadima, the commissioner for women’s affairs in Borno State. She says her office selected 40 women and gave them over $600 each to start small businesses.

Helping survivors

Further south, in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, officials at the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans call for donations for a fund set up to help survivors - both Christian and Muslim - access medical care, enough food and education.

James Fadele, the organization’s president, says, "If backers of terrorists are releasing the money to perpetuate the acts of terror, supporters of and advocates of peace can no longer look the other way.”

It’s hard to say exactly how much violence can be attributed to Boko Haram because the group appears to be splintered into several sub-groups.

Random criminals

Abubakar Umar Kari, a political science lecturer at the University of Abuja, says sometimes random criminals can commit random crimes and call themselves Boko Haram, a name that elicits fear for many.

In January, one man, claiming to be a Boko Haram leader, declared a unilateral truce. Officials at the time said a truce would be welcomed, and many Nigerians said they were relieved, but Kari says the truce never appeared to be real.

"A section of the insurgents declared a unilateral cease-fire, but then after a few weeks all of the sudden the shootings and the bombings have returned," said Kari.

And then last weekend a video was sent to journalists. Like all information from Boko Haram, the source of the video could not be verified.

In it, a man claiming to be Abubakar Shekau, who is believed to be Boko Haram's real leader, says he’s been trying to post on YouTube for weeks but the government is blocking their access.

He says there can be no truce as long as Boko Haram members and their families are imprisoned. The cease-fire, he says, was a lie. He says the man who declared it will be punished leaving little doubt that the violence that has devastated so many families will continue.

Abdulkareem Haruna contributed to this report from Maiduguri, Nigeria.
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