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Since 2009, the Nigerian security services have regularly reported that they have killed Boko Haram leader and warlord Abubakar Shekau. However, Shekau, or at least a Shekau-like figure, would then surface in a Boko Haram video. He seems to have appeared most recently in a June video, but he was not shown in a Boko Haram video this April. Shekau has been largely absent from the media for more than a year, fueling speculation that he is dead. Some in the security services speculate that Shekau’s appearances in Boko Haram’s vidoes are in fact the result of Shekau doubles.
Nigeria chief of army staff Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai apparently thinks Shekau is alive. On July 21, he issued to his troops an “ultimatum” to deliver Abubakar Shekau, dead or alive. According to a Nigerian army statement, 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 terrorist group, dead or alive” in 40 days, or by August 30. Lafiya Dole is the code name for the Nigerian army’s counterinsurgency operation.
The Boko Haram insurgency has been underway since 2009, yet remarkably little is known about its internal organization. Shekau’s authority is not clear, and, adding to the lack of understanding, the movement appears to have developed factions. It is unclear what the tactical or operational consequences would be if the army captured or killed Shekau. Still, his elimination would be a major political victory for the Buhari administration and a general boost for Nigerian morale.