New reports by an international aid organisation, Mercy Corps, have revealed how Boko Haram insurgents use informal micro credit schemes and promises of safety to recruit hundreds of youths and pupils as fighters.
The beneficiaries, the reports funded by the Ford Foundation added, received amounts ranging from N10,000 to N1m in order to buy motorcycles, restock their trading stores and grow their small-scale businesses.
The reports, presented on Thursday in Lagos, also highlighted how repression from the military and access to interest-free finance, among others, had perpetuated terrorism and elicited sympathy from communities in the North.
However, the Lead Researcher and Global Director, Conflict Management for Mercy Corps, Rebecca Wolfe, said many of the locals did not know that the credits were from the insurgents.
The reports noted, “Roughly one out of three respondents had completed secular secondary school and about the same number had completed some sort of Islamic schooling.”
Titled, “Motivations and Empty Promises: Voices of former Boko Haram combatants and Nigerian Youth and Gifts and Graft: How Boko Haram uses Financial Services for Recruitment and Support,” the reports revealed that peer pressure and the availability of girls were also incentives to the beneficiaries.
According to Wolfe, 47 former members of the insurgent groups, comprising 21 females and 26 males, 45 community members and seven others, who refused the sect’s incentives were interviewed during the study.
She added, “Sometimes the people did not know. It is usually something like a friend coming to give them money for their business and they later find out that the friend is a member of Boko Haram. I asked them, ‘Don’t you people know?’ But it turned out that sometimes, they did not know what they were getting into.
“One male recipient shared how he was complaining to a friend that he wanted a job so he could better provide for his parents. The friend then liaised with Boko Haram leaders to secure a motorcycle to allow the recipient start a business,” she said.
Meanwhile, the reports recommended that the government should, in the post-conflict era, “increase the quality, availability and diversity of financial services, particularly to youths with small, informal businesses. Increase transparency and accessibility to government-led economic programmes. Explore financial services to help youths achieve their ambitions, among other interventions.”
A member of the team, Ballama Mustafa, who urged the government to make its presence felt in remote communities in the region, added that interventions should be interest-free and should not exclude locals, who are not literate.
He added, “There are diverse paths to membership. Some were abducted and some joined because they had friends who were insurgents. Some joined to avenge the deaths of their family members or friends.
“When the military invades a community after a terrorist attack, you find that the military arrests people indiscriminately. But Boko Haram also does that. When they go into a community, they can kill parents who have prevented their children from joining them.
“One of our recommendations is that communities and schools should create counter-narratives to dissuade youths and pupils from joining the sect.”