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Zara Umar Yakub: Access to justice for survivors of the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria

Borno is a region struggling from the ongoing Boko Haram terrorism-induced humanitarian crisis. So far, Boko Haram’s crimes have been acknowledged, but the sexual violence aspect has been completely invisibilised. This has resulted in no accountability for the crime of sexual violence and survivors have been left feeling that the sexual violence committed against them unacknowledged.

In this episode, Hadiza Abba interviews Zara Umar Yakub about the atrocities committed by Boko Haram, how women were used to further their objectives to proliferate terrorism, the roles women played in the war and the factors that predisposed them to violence.



What has the Nigerian state done to recognise the former and current wives of Boko Haram as victims and not associates?

The state has identified victims and even women associates of Boko Haram, as they are being guided by international best practices. The only issue is that those victims are not adequately being addressed based on their specific needs as victims. This is what I noticed and have observed. The survivors who escaped from captivity - they escaped by themselves after months or years - when they were rescued and reached the state military, they surrendered themselves. They were then taken by the authorities, then released and reunited with their families. However, their immediate needs were not addressed. So we women organisations decided to support those women and we did it by our own willingness. But this is the responsibility of the state to find solutions for those who have been neglected. The lack of a gender-responsive approach is a challenge, from correctional services to judicial facilities.

This issue of keeping survivors in detention facilities, handling them like terrorists, violating their rights as women - as human rights lawyers, we don’t see them as associates but as women survivors who have to be handled in line with their rights as human beings not as associates of terrorists. They are entitled to gender responsive interventions.

When it comes to the right of reparations, most women are not informed of their rights. They are not even aware that there are organisations that can render free legal representation. That means there are gaps in accessing justice yet access to justice is one of the most important strategic approaches to countering violent extremism. These are some of the gaps that state actors need to be aware of.


Zara Umar Yakub is a practicing Nigerian barrister and women’s rights advocate. She is also the Vice Chairperson of the International Federation of Nigerian Lawyers at the Borno state branch in Nigeria. An expert on SGBV in conflict, Zara has handled many cases of survivors, especially at the peak of the insurgency when swatches of the northeastern region in Nigeria were occupied by these groups and the justice system collapsed due to the humanitarian crisis.

As the head of litigation, Zara gave free legal representation and advice to women and children affected by the conflict. She did this by successful rallying support of key actors, law enforcement, judges, government, and traditional structures.

Hadiza Abba is originally from Borno, North-East Nigeria. After her legal studies, she worked as a UN Volunteer mobilizing local actors and the Nigerian government towards the implementation of the 2030 agenda on sustainable development. Since she has worked with UNODC on gender mainstreaming in terrorism prevention. As subject matter expert, Hadiza has increased the capacity of local prosecutors, judges and civil society organizations. With SAHR's support, she conducted a project on accountability of Boko Haram soldiers for the crimes of sexual violence, and, recognition of former wives of Boko Haram as victims of the war.

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