© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
QUESTION: Is the end of ‘tired, death-ready’ Abubakar Shekau finally near?
Exactly one month ago, the Nigerian Army issued a statement describing Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram leader, as a “spent horse waiting for his Waterloo”. The Army said Shekau was “in a terrible state of health”.
“There is no doubt that the main Boko Haram terrorists group factional leader, Abubakar Shekau, is in a terrible state of health and not much a threat as he is now a spent horse, waiting for his waterloo,” Sani Usman, its spokesman, stated.
Again, on February 4, Rogers Nicholas, Theatre Commander of ‘Operation Lafiya Dole’, told Nigerians that his troops had “broken the heart and soul” of Boko Haram and that the terrorists no longer had a place to hide.
“My soldiers are in the heart of Boko Haram enclave that is ‘Camp Zairo’, the gallant troops have taken total control of Sambisa Forest. We have broken the heart and soul of Shekau’s group, taking over the camp and its environs.They are on the run and we are pursuing them to wherever they go. This time around, there is no place for escape anywhere,” Nicholas said.
However, three days later, Shekau released a video clip online mocking Nicholas and the Military, and reiterating that the insurgents were still in control of the Sambisa Forest.
“And you, I don’t even know your name [referring to the Theatre Commander, Maj Gen Rogers Nicholas], the Igbo leader of the military in Maiduguri lying to people that you have captured Sambisa simply because you got some women who are your ilk, some of whom we killed,” he said in the new video.
“So, where are the policewomen, if you have overpowered us, since they are being held by our brothers in the same Sambisa? Why haven’t you rescued them, you liar? And you got a vehicle that we abandoned for almost three years and claiming you have killed us. How come we are hale and hearty?”
In that same video clip, however, Shekau, for the first time, said he was tired of fighting and was even ready to die and go to paradise.
“This is the message I have for you all. My name is Abubakar Shekau, the one that is an invincible enemy that you are fighting. That is our stand. I am tired of this calamity; it is better I die and go to rest in paradise,” Shekau said among other things.
This is unlike the Shekau who always boasted in his videos to fight on for as long as it takes. Could this mean that he is indeed in a terrible state of health like the Army claims? Or was the military correct when it said the insurgents’ major sources of food, funds and weapons had been effectively blocked, leaving many of them starving and dying?
A CAT WITH NINE LIVES
The Shekau that had struck fear in the minds and hearts of many Nigerians is like the proverbial cat with nine lives. Many times he has been pronounced dead or fatally wounded by the army, but on each occasion, he either responded by releasing a video, or by carrying out an attack.
In August 2013, the Army released a statement saying “Abubakar Shekau, the most dreaded and wanted Boko Haram terrorist leader, may have died”.
“He died of gunshot wound received in an encounter with the JTF troops in one of their camps at Sambisa Forest on 30 June 2013. Shekau was mortally wounded in the encounter and was sneaked into Amitchide – a border community in Cameroun for treatment which he never recovered from,” the statement, signed by Sagir Musa, then Spokesman of the Joint Task Force, read.
In September 2014, Chris Olukolade, former Director of Defence information, reiterated previous claims that Shekau had been killed, explaining that the term ‘Shekau’ is a mere title used for anyone who becomes the group’s leader.
Two years later, in September 2016, Lucky Irabor, former Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, said that the Army had killed about two versions of Shekau since the counter-insurgency campaign kicked off.
“I can confirm to you that the original Shekau was killed, the second Shekau was killed, and the man presenting himself as Shekau, I can also confirm to you that few days ago, he was wounded. We are yet to confirm whether he is dead or not,” Irabor said.
Yet, in spite of these claims, Shekau and his group continued to ‘wax stronger’, or so it appeared to many Nigerians, pulling out one major attack after another.
In fact, a major attack took place just five days after Tukur Buratai, Chief of Army Staff, gave a 40-day ultimatum within which Shekau must be captured dead or alive. In the attack, at least 50 members of the NNPC’s oil exploration team in the Lake Chad Basin were killed and some others kidnapped.
A ‘GENTLE’ SHEKAU — IS THIS THE END OF THE ROAD?
In his latest video, Shekau looked emaciated. He spoke in a fairly measured tone — a huge departure from the animated figure that graced previous videos. Although he occasionally raised his voice in a feeble attempt to instill fear into his listeners, Shekau mostly cut a forlorn figure, his lower frame static while his face and his arms (imperceptibly) moved.
And to cap it all, Shekau had some remorseful words. “I am tired of this calamity; it is better I die and go to rest in paradise,” he said, before sounding like a man who had come to terms with his proximity to the end and was, therefore, compelled to call on his “brothers” across the country and beyond to keep on with the Jihad.
Forget every lie that the Army told in the past about killing him — has the time come to genuinely start thinking Shekau’s end is near?