from Africa in Transition

Boko Haram’s Shekau: He’s Back!

October 01, 2013

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This is a guest post by Jacob Zenn, an analyst of African Affairs for the Washington D.C.-based think tank, The Jamestown Foundation, and a contributor to the West Point CTC Sentinel.

At least four times since 2009, Nigerian security officials have claimed they have killed brutal Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, who says he “slaughters infidels like rams.” On August 19, the army spokesman and Nigerian analysts suggested Shekau died in Cameroon after gunshot wounds sustained in a battle in Borno State on June 19. Other officials claimed Cameroonian border guards killed Shekau.

It remains unclear whether the army’s statements are psychological operations to diminish Boko Haram morale or the result of poor intelligence. However, Shekau keeps proving Nigeria wrong and making officials look incompetent. On September 25, Shekau released a new video through Agence-France Press—his common means of communicating with the outside world. Below are few highlights of his remarks from the video.

Shekau says, “Jonathan must be angry." Angry is Haushi in Hausa language. "Obama must be angry. Benjamin Netanyahu must be angry, Queen Elizabeth must be angry, President of France Hollande must be angry, the late Margaret Thatcher must be angry. All infidels must be angry. Shekau Shekau Shekau…”

Shekau also says in English in another part of the video, “I swear by Allah that there will be no democracy in Nigeria. We are going to rise against it and we shall soon defeat it. The concept of government of the people, by the people, for the people, cannot continue to exist. It shall soon, very soon, be replaced by Government of Allah, by Allah, for Allah.”

In the video, Shekau takes credit for Boko Haram’s killings of twenty-three people in Benisheikh on September 17. This demonstrates that Boko Haram made and distributed the video within the past two weeks. The Army Director of Information, Ibrahim Attairu, said the authenticity and content of the video has not yet been verified. Nevertheless, the video looks authentic, contains Boko Haram’s logo, and its themes are those Shekau regularly uses. Even if Attairu were to say that the video was false, it would be hard to fully believe his assertion given the army’s record on Shekau.

Moreover, in Shekau’s video he really looks like himself, suggesting the video is authentic corroboration that he is alive. In contrast, in a video that Boko Haram released in August 2013 a Shekau-look alike seems to have taken Shekau’s place—possibly because Shekau was in hiding or recovering from an injury. In the August video, the possible look-alike’s message was similar to Shekau’s, however, including threats to Obama, Hollande, and Netanyahu.

On September 27, several days after this latest Shekau video emerged, the militant group Ansaru released a hostage video featuring the French energy worker it kidnapped in December 2012 in Katsina. On September 28, Boko Haram carried out massacres killing twenty seven people in two towns in Borno. On September 29, gunmen killed more than fifty university students in their dormitory in Yobe only three months after gunmen killed forty students in a Yobe high school in an attack praised by Shekau. Also on September 29, more than thirty people were killed in clashes between Muslim Fulani herdsmen and Christians in Benue State.

The Nigerian security forces are struggling to contain the Boko Haram and Ansaru insurgencies now in their fourth year, while inter-ethnic and religious violence simmers in the Middle Belt. Expect an uptick in the Nigeria Security Tracker until Nigerian elections in 2015, as Nigeria remains on the brink.