During the second half of August, the Nigerian military announced numerous successes in the fight against Boko Haram, the militant, jihadist movement that seeks to overthrow the Nigerian state. On August 30, the commander of the fight against Boko Haram, Lucky Irabor, announced that the military will root the group out from its remaining locations within weeks. Previously, Colonel Sani Kukasheka Usman, an army spokesman, said that Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau had been “fatally injured” during an air raid. The same day, the chief of air staff, Air Vice-Marshal Sadiq Abubakar, said that the air force killed over three-hundred Boko Haram militants during night airstrikes on August 19.
What should be made of these announcements? Nigerian military spokesmen have long had a credibility problem, with exaggerated claims of success. They have claimed to have killed Abubakar Shekau on numerous occasions. During the Buhari presidency, military spokesmen appear to have become more restrained. The president himself has said that Shekau was wounded. Nevertheless, no official spokesman has provided the basis for the claim that Shekau has been wounded, fatally or otherwise.
A Daily Trust columnist also notes that the word “fatally” can have different meanings. In Europe and the United States, “fatally wounded” means that the victim will die. To a Nigerian military spokesman, the word can mean ‘serious.’
As for the air vice-marshal’s claim that the air force killed over three-hundred, how does he know? Has there been a body count? Further, how does he know that those killed were all Boko Haram, rather than villagers and others in the wrong place at the wrong time? In asymmetric warfare, it is often hard to tell who the enemy is, as Americans know from painful experience in theatres ranging from Vietnam to Afghanistan. This has often led to unintended civilian casualties.
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the air vice marshal’s announcement is that apparently Boko Haram can still mass three-hundred fighters after two years of Nigerian military offensives.