Nigeria: The End of Shekau's Reign

18 June 2021

The war on insurgency is still far from over

The death of Abubakar Shekau, the brutal leader of Boko Haram, is the end of a chapter on the insurgency in Nigeria. His death was first confirmed by Abu Musab al-Barnawi of the breakaway Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant's branch in West Africa Province (ISWAP). In an audio recording, al-Barnawi said Shekau, "killed himself instantly by detonating an explosive" when offered to repent and join them (ISWAP), adding that Shekau "preferred to be humiliated in the afterlife than getting humiliated on earth."

In the latest and most authoritative signal that Shekau is finally gone, there was another short video on Wednesday by top Boko Haram commander, Bakura Modu, also known as Sahaba, urging his faction's members to remain loyal despite the loss of their leader. That the Nigerian military was not involved in the power struggle that led to Shekau's death is an indication of the strength of the insurgents in the Northeast. For several years, whenever Shekau was reported to have been killed by the military, he would appear in a new video, taunting the authorities and boasting of kidnapping security women and using them as slaves.

Shekau was best known for the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls from a boarding school in Chibok in 2014, with several other cases of kidnapping, killing, raping of women and robbing of several thousands of people as well as many cases of suicide bombing. His death should not be seen in any way as a triumph over the insurgency, but a mere elimination of a leader of a rival group. The Al- Barnawi's new militant group has pledged its loyalty to a more sophisticated foreign support. It is the beginning of a new era, in which ISWAP takes new territory, after getting rid of its chief rival, with renewed confrontations.

The supremacy of ISWAP over Boko Haram could reopen a new era in insurgency backed by foreign powers. It should therefore not be seen as reduction in the terror attacks as the al-Barnawi-led group has lately posed the greater threat to the Nigerian military. It means that the terror group which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq, that has been decimated in the Middle East, is shifting its energy to insurgencies in Africa. This bodes ill for Nigeria, Mali, Chad, Cameroun and other neighbouring countries of West African region.

In the last few months, there has been a dramatic upsurge in violence with the insurgents unleashing vicious and gruesome attacks on civilians as well as members of the armed forces, particularly in Borno State. The series of brazen attacks and killings by the militant group in recent months have shown that the insurgents are still very much in business. Although security agencies have managed to foil some of these attacks, it is all the same somewhat bogus to still hawk the impression that the war against the insurgents is "technically" over.

There is no doubting the fact that the military has whittled down the striking powers of the violent group which has in the last 10 years led to the death of over 30,000 innocent Nigerians. But the militant group still constitutes mortal danger to their immediate and outlying communities and indeed, to members of the armed forces. Now that the military authorities have a single enemy to deal with, it doesn't make the war against insurgency less difficult. But it should help in planning their strategies. If Nigeria has to rid the country of the terror group, this is the time to pile up pressure on the terrorists with superior fire arms. It can be done.

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