Meet the Nigerian woman taking on Boko Haram
In December 2013, former radio journalist-turned-civil society activist Hafsat Mohammed was on a public mini-bus when it was attacked by Boko Haram insurgents in northeastern Nigeria. After ordering the passengers off the bus, the insurgents opened fire, killing five, and taking two women hostage in their pick-up truck. Used to speaking up for herself, Hafsat found herself mute in the face of the danger, and was fortunate to survive.
Mohammed went on to focus her activism on working to find ways to counter the violent extremism she had witnessed first-hand, and that blights the lives of millions of Nigerians. Her story is told in this Al Jazeera feature, drawing on interviews with Mohammed over 2014 and 2015. It describes Mohammed’s work at a grassroots, community-led multi-faith meditation centre, founded by a Muslim imam and a Christian pastor to address inter-religious violence. She engages youth and encourages them to imagine a different future, and their own individual ambitions.
Mohammed makes effective use of social media, videoing reactions to insurgent attacks and posting them on Facebook. However, the violence further intruded into her life when a nearby school was attacked, while in Chibok, more than 200 girls were kidnapped from school. Despite sending her children away to live in Kaduna, Mohammed herself moved closer to the epicentre of the crisis, Yobe State, fully committed to helping vulnerable young men like her brother and teenage cousins.
The feature includes discussion on a number of themes: women’s role in countering extremist narratives; examples of religious segregation in schools; the violence in Yobe State and people’s reactions to it; working with imams; a visit to Damaturu to speak to and reassure youth there, and encourage them to attend school; and the threats and challenges she faces in pursuing her activism, ranging from threatening telephone calls, to the constant mental and emotional strain.