On 6 June 2021, the leader of the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) militant group confirmed the death of Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau. ISWAP said that it carried out Shekau’s elimination on the direct orders of the group’s leaders in the Middle East.
In the last 12 years, Shekau, on several occasions, has always been reported dead only to appear in a video post on social media. However, the latest report would be regarded as authentic following the confirmation of the news by Nigeria’s military investigators, different Intelligence reports, and Boko Haram researchers.
According to the ISWAP spokesperson, Shekau committed suicide. ISWAP leader, Abu Musab al-Barnawi revealed that the group was consulted to eliminate Shekau. In May, ISWAP fighters stormed Sambisa forest, the base of Boko Haram after they were dislodged by the Nigerian military from Maiduguri. They trailed Shekau, who initially hid for five days. When he was caught he was offered a chance to surrender and join ISWAP but he refused to surrender.
According to ISWAP’s leader, Shekau preferred to die than be humiliated on earth. He detonated an explosive device that led to his death.
The operation was launched due to the indiscriminate killings of ‘believers’ by Boko Haram. On the audiotape, Abu Musab al-Barnawi accused Shekau of committing unimaginable terrorism. He further said it was time for Allah to take his life, hence, he sent out some brave soldiers to kill him.
Boko Haram is the arch-rival of ISWAP in the Lake Chad region. It is one of the groups that defected from Boko Haram five years ago. The cause for the split was an objection by ISWAP to the killing of civilians by Boko Haram. The rivalry between the two groups has been on since ISWAP pledged loyalty to the Islamic States.
The Islamic States have been trying to consolidate their hold in the Lake Chad region through ISWAP but this has remained partially impossible due to Boko Haram’s impenetrable stronghold. ISWAP accused Shekau of the problem, hence the need to take him out.
Boko Haram was founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002 and has been led by Abubakar Shekau since 2009. Shekau’s strategy transformed the group from an underground Islamic sect to a full-fledged terrorist group in the Northeastern part of Nigeria. The group’s activities since 2009 included insurgency, bombings, kidnapping, homicide, and looting.
The tenet of Boko Haram’s religious ideology forbids Muslims to participate in any political or social activity that is associated with western culture such as democracy and western education. The sect believes that as long as the leaders practice democracy and support anything western, regardless of whether they are Muslims or not, they are infidels.
The launch of military operations to create an Islamic State by the sect has created a ruckus in the society. The attacks of Boko Haram progressed from soft targets to suicide bombings, including attacks on police and the Nigerian military. Boko Haram operations such as using young girls as suicide bombers, abduction of Chibok girls, and other extreme strategies made global headlines.
According to analysts of terrorism, his unpredictability and tendency towards using the most extreme violent strategies explains the reason for the orders given by leaders from the Middle East.
Many times the government was accused of being a part of the terrorism sect or not handling the situation properly. On the contrary, the government has made several attempts at combating terrorism and insurgency in Nigeria. Some of these attempts include deploring specially trained anti-terrorist combat squads to the terrorist zone to suppress their activities. Also, the Nigerian government has approved international bodies to send troops to Nigerian soil. The government has always encouraged the media and public to provide intelligence on suspected terrorist activities around them.
Shekau’s death was reported to have come as a great relief to the Nigerian government who has spent a decade devoting financial resources in hunting him down.
Analysts submitted that victory should not be celebrated yet as many children in captivity are yet to be freed. Also, Islamic State with its affiliates, ISWAP, are consolidating the Lake Chad region, Sambisa forest, and most importantly North-eastern Nigeria. Shekau’s death may probably lead to the end of the rivalry between the two groups as most Boko Haram fighters would be absorbed to ISWAP. This will make ISWAP become the unrivalled Islamic extremist group in the Lake Chad region.
It should, however, be noted that the death of Shekau might not necessarily mean an end to Jihadism in Nigeria. Rather, the incident will definitely incapacitate the activities of Boko Haram as a group. Some analysts reason that it would embolden the footprints of ISWAP in and around the country.
This might be a potential disaster for Northeast Nigeria as it could lead to more clashes among new and existing extreme groups, and ultimately more civilian death toll.
Whatever the aftermath may be, the Federal Government and the Nigerian military need to come up with a more effective strategy to tackle the inherent chaos. This is not the time for Nigerians to be jubilant and retreat. It is the time to be at alert and stand up against all odds. It is the time to capitalise on the weaknesses of the opposition side and defend our fatherland. It is the time to support the government rather than fan the flames of criticism.