“I wish Shekau didn’t kill himself. I wish it was the security forces that captured him alive.
“He would have been more useful to Nigeria if he was really captured alive; however, his death will stop his activities… just as when Mohammed Yusuf was killed, I wished he was captured alive.”
Those were the words of Abdulrazaq Namdaz, Chairman House Committee on the Army, on the death of Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, whose death may turn a new direction in Nigeria’s decade-long battle against terrorism, which has seen the Northeast ravaged by an unprecedented humanitarian and economic crisis.
The death of Boko Haram’s leader is the second most important news to come in the fight against the Jihadi group since it was reported in November 2020 that six Nigerian nationals were convicted by an Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for laundering the sum of $782, 000 between 2015 and 2016. A move that exposed the funding structure of the group’s activities. However, not much progress has been made or at least disclosed by the government in uncovering more Boko Haram funding taps.
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War on terror casualties, in 2021
The war on terror has claimed the lives of 767 individuals in Boko Haram’s Borno State base in the first quarter of the year according to research from SBM intelligence. Other states affected by banditry make up the other top 2 with Kaduna, which is currently dealing with an Ansaru armed militia, having 473 media reported deaths in Q1 2021 and Zamfara with 304 media reported deaths in Q1 2021.
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The Chad situation
The death of former Chadian President, Idriss Deby, was a major blow earlier this year in the fight against Boko Haram, as Deby’s government had been Nigeria’s key ally in the fight against Boko Haram and Sahelian insurgency. The late President Deby dislodged Boko Haram jihadists from Chad, after personally leading an offensive in early 2020 which killed about a thousand of the insurgents. He also declared an end to Chadian involvement in the MNJTF, limiting Chadian forces within the country’s borders, with the bulk of the fighting in Lake Chad done by the Nigerian military.
The continuous fighting in the Lake Chad region with ISWAP (a faction that broke out of Boko Haram) and Boko Haram has made the Nigerian government admit it is well aware of the Chad crisis. The government also announced economic and humanitarian policies ultimately aimed at containing the growing problem in the area.
Earlier this year, Nigeria’s Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Sadiya Farouq disclosed that the FG will focus on 3 areas aimed at supporting Project Lake Chad (PROLAC) including Regional and National Coordination Platform and Local Capacity Building aimed at reinforcing regional dialogue and data collection and dissemination, adding that Boko Haram’s violent activities in the area has spread towards Cameroon, Chad, and Niger and created a humanitarian crisis of IDP’s and refugees within the Lake Chad Region.
ISWAP’s growing influence
Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), broke out of Boko Haram in 2016, according to Human Angle, a security report firm on terrorism in West Africa. ISWAP is led by Abu Musab, a son of Boko Haram founder, Mohammed Yusuf. The group later moved into the Alagarno and Lake Chad Basin, taking over Boko Haram assets in the areas and subsequently becoming the dominant terror group in the axis.
The group’s actions also led to the suicide of Shekau after they invaded Boko Haram’s stronghold in the Sambisa area of Borno State, subduing Shekau’s bodyguards and forcing surrender; a duel in which Shekau was reported to have detonated his suicide vest, ending his life along with those of several other terrorists.
ISWAP is purported to have deep ties with foreign jihadists in other global terrorism hotspots, and the reported success against Shekau would likely widen the group’s leverage and power in the Lake Chad-Borno axis.
So, what does Shekau’s death mean for Nigeria in the fight against terrorism?
Confidence MacHarry, Security Analyst at SBM Intelligence says ISWAP is expected to give Shekau’s followers the same options of “bend the knee or die” as the group looks to round up its battle with Boko Haram.
“Since an ISWAP person-Al Barnawi-we would most likely see them give Shekau’s followers the same option they gave him: surrender or die. Since ISWAP has a better shot at state capabilities (welfare packages for the fighters and their families), some would take the offer. The people who would resist would likely do that out of ideological differences or simply as a result of loyalty to Shekau,” MacHarry opined.
What does it mean for the fight against terrorism in Nigeria?
“Even bigger work to be done,” he says.
“Taking away the head of a terror group is one thing. Rounding up his followers is another. Even worse, the ideology is kept alive by the inability of the Nigerian state to provide an alternative system.
Shekau is just a tiny piece of the larger pie, which is the influx of foreign money in the development of terror groups in Nigeria exemplified by ISWAP, an even much bigger problem as they are more focused on attacking the military unlike Boko Haram under Shekau, severely weakened and condemned to random attacks on hapless civilians,” he says.
Would the death of the COAS coming after Shekau’s death have any effects on Nigeria’s terrorism fight?
“The COAS’ death is a huge blow to the morale of troops on the frontline but it remains to be seen if there would be any different approach going forward,” McHarry said.
When asked why the Nigerian military did not get to Shekau before ISWAP, McHarry had this to say:
“They knew where he was but it was just too risky to smoke him out. ISWAP took the initiative and lost enormous manpower and personnel as a result. If the Nigerian military did that, it would have been a pyrrhic victory.”
The expansion of ISWAP should signal alarms all over Abuja, as recorded attacks have shown ISWAP’s confidence in hitting positions of the Nigerian Military. With more ammunition and fighters to their cause, it is easy to see why the House Committee on the Army has called for alternative funding to provide the army with more weapons, as the terrorist group would likely look to merge its assets in the axis into a major Jihadi state to fully actualize its ideology.