The Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, has given the Theatre Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, Major General Ibrahim Attahiru, deadline to capture Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, dead or alive.
A statement by Army spokesman Brigadier General Sani Usman said, “Buratai, has directed the Theatre Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, Major General Ibrahim Attahiru, to capture Abubakar Shekau, the so-called and self-styled leader of Boko Haram terrorists group, dead or alive.”
The statement reads: “The Theatre Commander has further been directed to do so within 40 days. He is to employ all arsenals at the disposal of the Theatre Command to smoke out Shekau wherever he is hiding in Nigeria.”
“The general public is please requested to also assist and volunteer information that would lead to the accomplishment of this task,” the army statement said.
The directive by Buratai is coming about three months after the Federal Government had confirmed that the dreaded Boko Haram leader was still alive. Addressing journalists shortly after briefing President Muhammadu Buhari of his ministry’s activities on Tuesday March 28, 2017, Defence Minister Mansur Dan-Ali reportedly said it had been difficult arresting the sect leader because the insurgents normally wear masks to conceal their identities and divert attention.
While assuring that Shekau would be arrested soon, Dan Ali said: “I believe it is just a matter of time. It took America about seven to ten years to get Bin Laden. So we will get Shekau as soon as possible.The sect’s spiritual headquarters has been ransacked and vandalised. He (Shekau) is on the run.
“He may be hiding in one of the enclaves of Sambisa Forest which we are dominating.We have opened up the place. We are using the place as a training area. The Army engineers will open up roads and we shall be patrolling and be ransacking that forest for the whereabouts of Shekau.”
The man Abubakar Shekau
Abubakar Muhammad Shekau took over leadership of Boko Haram in 2009 following the death of Mohammed Yusuf, the group’s founder. Fondly called imam or leader by his followers, he was born in Shekau village in the North-Eastern state of Yobe. There is, however, uncertainty about his real age. While some say he is in his late 30s, others believe he is in his mid-40s.
The Boko Haram leader is said to be a fearless loner, a complex, paradoxical man - part-theologian, part-gangster. Since he took over, Boko Haram had become more radical and carried out more killings. The most shocking revelation about him was the video clip of him laughing as he admitted the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls in April 2014, promising to sell them.
“I abducted your girls,” he said. “I will sell them in the market, by Allah. I will sell them off and marry them off.”
When Muhammad Yusuf was killed, Shekau was said to have married one of his four wives and adopted their children, presumably to preserve Boko Haram’s cohesion or “purity”.
Shekau’s ‘Disappearing Acts’
The military had severally claimed that the Boko Haran leader had been killed, after which a man claiming to be Shekau would reappear in a video and dismiss such claims. Shekau was once said to have been killed by security forces in 2009 - only for him to reappear in videos posted on the internet less than a year later as Boko Haram’s new leader. Similar subsequent claims of his death also turned out to be false.
For instance, the Police had claimed that Shekau was killed in the 2009 clampdown that saw 1000 Boko Haram supporters killed, including the group’s founder, Muhammad Yusuf. Some reports suggested that Shekau had been shot in the leg, and subsequently went into hiding in Chad and Sudan. Another narrative suggested that Shekau was held captive among other Boko Haram members, but was not recognized by Nigerian security forces and was subsequently released. Nigerian security forces had argued that the ‘real’ Abubakar Shekau was killed in 2009, and that the later Shekau seen in videos had claimed his name.
But in July 2010, Shekau re-appeared in a video interview with a journalist who was taken to Shekau’s hideout in Maiduguri. However, Nigerian security forces claimed those images were digitally manipulated
Again in 2011: Shekau was reported by media to have been killed by Nigerian security forces in Kano city; possibly arising from media reports that his wife was arrested in Kano, which possibly involved a shootout involving Shekau himself. But on January 21, 2012 Shekau reappeared in another video, claiming responsibility for attack on Kano.
On October 7, 2012 Shekau reportedly shot by the Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF) in Damaturu, Yobe state, along with 30 Boko Haram fighters in what was described as an ambush.
In January 2013, Nigerian security forces claimed Shekau was injured in apparent reference to the fighting in Damaturu) and had fled to Gao in Mali, to receive treatment.
There was yet another claim by the Nigerian military that Shekau had died between July 25 and August 3, 2013 in Amchide, Cameroon, after being severely wounded. The Military further claimed that a video of Shekau, released on 13 August, was “dramatized by an imposter to hoodwink the sect members to continue with the terrorism.”
Again on September 25, 2013: Shekau re-appeared in another video where he made reference to unfolding events at the time, implying that he was still alive and kicking.
On September 17, 2014 The Nigerian Army claimed to have killed Shekau in Konduga, Borno State. There was a dramatic twist to the claim as the military debated if ‘Shekau’ was Isa Damsaka or Bashir Mohammed, since both men were reported to have been posing as Shekau since June 2013.
Again on September 23, 2014 the Cameroon military released imagery of a man they claim was Shekau, killed in a combined airstrike and ground raid at Ngala, in Borno State. However, the Nigerian military denied the claim, and that the raids never even took place. “There was no raid whatsoever in any part of Nigeria’s territory in pursuit of terrorists … All operations on-going in the environs of Konduga and all associated border locations within the country are completely being undertaken by Nigerian troops”, the military was quoted as saying.
Then on October 2, 2014 Shekau reappeared in a video obtained by the AFP news agency to dismiss claims of his death. In the 36-minute video Shekau was shown firing a machine gun mounted on the back of a truck, into the air.
Between March and August 2015, Shekau went silent as a multinational intervention appeared to inflict several significant defeats on Boko Haram, driving militants into hiding in Sambisa Forest. This raised speculations that Shekau may have died or rendered incapacitated, or may have been removed from the group leadership. Chadian President Idriss Deby made claims to the effect that Shekau has been neutralized. Yet on August 16, 2015, an audio clip was released to media in which Shekau responded directly to Chadian President Deby refuting claims that he (Shekau) had been killed, incapacitated, or replaced.
On August 23, 2016, the Nigerian Air Force claimed to have killed or at least injured Shekau in an airstrike in Taye Village Sambisa Forest, Borno State. But on December 29, 2016, Shekau appeared in a 25-minute video denouncing President Buhari’s claims that Boko Haram had been crushed in Sambisa forest.
On May 4, 2017, Shekau appeared in a 15 minute video mocking NAF’s claim to have injured him, and killed other Boko Haram leaders in strikes near Damboa. Shekau claimed the video was recorded on May 4, barely a day after the NAF announced the 28 April airstrikes, making it the quickest turnaround in the claim/counter-claim game, to date.
The recent abduction of some women, including civil servants, along the Maiduguri-Damboa axis in Borno State which is believed to be a new kite by the Boko Haram to sustain its relevance is also viewed by security analysts as another statement by Shekau that he is alive and kicking.
Security experts react
Security experts yesterday reacted to the order by Buratai. A security expert, Henry Mic, said the order by Buratai was diversionary. “There is no substance, our leaders have ways of diverting the attention from serious issues; several people have been killed by suicide bombers and villages attacked in recent times and the military high command is now talking of capturing Shekau in 40 days, the very man they killed severally in the last seven years. I am finding it difficult to make meaning out of all these,” he said.
For a retired Colonel of the Nigerian Army, Mohammed Abdul, it would be possible to catch Shekau, only if the political will to do so is applied.
“Shekau is around Borno State and, he is not far from Sambisa and adjoining forests; when the some women were arrested few weeks ago, they were taken to Alagarno Forest along Damboa Road and Shekau appeared in video where he said they are in his custody.
“But my concern is the political will which is not there; they have been looking for Shekau since 2010, it is now seven years and they said they killed him countless times. When Sambisa forest was captured they said they couldn’t get Shekau even though they got his flag and holy book,” he said.