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Counter – Insurgency: The Broader Implications Of Recent Execution Of Boko Haram Commanders By Colonel Timothy Antigha

At the basic level, these occurrences are ordinary, the normal deviant behaviour that should be expected from people. At the organizational level, the incidents and the responses depict Boko Haram Terrorist Group as an organization that has a semblance of core values, is well policed and governed by strict rules and regulations.


In recent weeks there has been pandemonium in the enclaves of Boko Haram Terrorists, particularly, in the Lake Chad Area, due to infighting in the top echelon of the terrorist command structure. First, it was the execution of Mamman Nur in August and a few weeks ago, another commander, named Ali Gaga was also executed. According to sources within Boko Haram, Mamman Nur was said to have directed the release of Dapchi Girls, without fully exploiting the financial and other opportunities which the kidnap of the schoolgirls offered the terrorist group. However, Ali Gaga was found to be plotting an escape along with over 300 Boko Haram captives and subsequent surrender to the military.

At the basic level, these occurrences are ordinary, the normal deviant behaviour that should be expected from people. At the organizational level, the incidents and the responses depict Boko Haram Terrorist Group as an organization that has a semblance of core values, is well policed and governed by strict rules and regulations. It also portrays Boko Haram as a group that does not tolerate any disloyalty or eccentricity from anyone, irrespective of position or authority. But, this is where the positives end. On the flip side, the recent executions in Boko Haram enclave are a clear evidence of emerging crisis of confidence, symptomatic of fundamental problems within the leadership and followership structures of the Boko Haram Terrorist Group. The broader implications of the executions could, therefore, include the following.


Available facts and information from Boko Haram enclave suggest that Mamman Nur was lenient, opposed to Skekau's style of indiscriminate bloodletting and was willing to negotiate with the government. His maturity and calm disposition to the "orderly" conduct of his faction's operations pitched him against younger hardliners who feel his style was stalling their ambition. For instance, the rebellion that led to his execution arose from dissatisfaction in his handling of the Dapchi incident. Following the execution, Mustapha Kirmimma has succeeded Nur as second in command. Kirmimma is reputed as a Shekau type of terrorist.


In my previous writing on a related subject, I observed that apart from being religious fundamentalists, Boko Haram is also a terrorist social movement. As a social movement, it represents groups that are on the margins of society and state and outside the boundaries of institutional power; Boko Haram seeks to change the system in fundamental ways, through a mix of misinformation, criminality and terror. In pursuit of this objective in the last 10 years or thereabouts, Boko Haram has developed a set of principles which form its operational framework and has helped the group to perpetuate fear, ensure publicity and maintain relevance. One of these principles is the mass abduction of the civilian population. The most vivid reminders of this tactic are the mass abduction of female students in Chibok and Dapchi.  Mass hostage taking, therefore, provides Boko Haram with the leverage to negotiate with the government, source suicide bombers and wives for its militants and also generate slave labour for its vast agricultural holdings, among others benefits. In other words, mass abduction is a key component of Boko Haram operational strategy. It is the mainstay of the terrorist group.

It is against this background that the recent execution of Mamman Nur for alleged release of hostage victims and Ali Gaga for ‘offence’ relating to the attempted release of another set of hostages must be viewed. Arising from these developments, the pertinent questions to ask are; Is Boko Haram’s strategy of pillage, aggravated indiscriminate killings and mass hostage-taking becoming a liability? Is the terrorist group having difficulties rallying its commanders around this strategy? Are there prospects of an implosion within Boko Haram’s command echelon?

Unfortunately for Boko Haram, it does appear that the consequence of its one-decade campaign of terror against the very people it claims to be fighting for has come. The signs are there at every turn. Boko Haram’s support system among the populations has snapped under the weight of an endless and meaningless insurgency. Currently, Boko Haram must carry out raids of communities around its enclaves to obtain food and other supplies. This suggests that Boko Haram’s anti-people strategy has created alienation and loss of goodwill. It is, therefore, possible that Mamman Nur and Ali Gaga were trying to win back the confidence of the people when they met resistance by younger and radical commanders.

The ‘reform’ minded Mamman Nur and his protégé Ali Gaga could not have been without supporters. The ‘reform’ represented by the alleged offences of Mamman Nur and Gaga may have been sown in the minds of their supporters who are still within the fold. The last has not been heard about those executions. An implosion in the ranks of Boko Haram is, therefore, a possibility.


Beyond what is immediately observable, the recent executions in Boko Haram enclave is a struggle between two subgroups; the moderates and the radicals. From every indication, the executed commanders; Mamman Nur and Ali Gaga were moderates. Their antecedents as "mentors" and "moral compass" speak for them. Consequently, it is reasonable to expect that the ensuing fear and distrust will further strain the fragile relationship between two subgroups.  In the coming months, therefore, the crisis of confidence could fester and result in centrifugal movement of disaffected commanders and their followers. Commanders and foot soldiers who were loyal to the executed commanders may, subject to their assessment of their chances of survival go their separate ways as terrorists or denounce terrorism and surrender.  Already, some months ago a certain Haji Hamat from Niger Republic went his separate way and a few weeks ago, there were indicators that another split was imminent from the followership in Chad.


Another interpretation of the bloodletting that is becoming a common feature in the command echelon of Boko Haram terrorist group is that the group lacks a mechanism for conflict resolution, thereby inflicting internal crisis on itself and attracting needless negative publicity and perception. When this impression is added to structural weaknesses and contradictions surrounding Boko Haram, it becomes difficult to ignore the view that Boko Haram has become a highly poisonous brand, which is unattractive to global terror entrepreneurs who are looking for conflicts to invest in.

More so, opinion is building among analysts and commentators that Boko Haram could be a liability rather than asset to the Islamic State which it claims affiliation to. Reasoning along this premise Nwankpa (2018) suggests that due to the noxious nature of Boko Haram, mainstream Northern Muslims of the Salafi persuasion would hardly join Boko Haram in its so-called Jihad. Therefore, it is plausible that the recent decapitation of its commanders can only aggravate its isolation.


 Likely fallout of the recent executions could be more Boko Haram skirmishes against defence forces and of course more attacks on soft targets in the area of operation. However, the skirmishes would not be borne out of a desire by Boko Haram to gain any strategic or operational advantage; (the capacity is really not there) rather, the attacks will be driven by the need for some publicity by the radicals who have seized power in Boko Haram. The aim of these attacks, some of which have been reported already, is to hoodwink supporters and sympathizers to believe that Boko Haram is still a viable and reckonable terrorist organization.  


Colonel Timothy Antigha is the Chief Military Press Information Officer, MNJTF N'Djamena, Chad.​