BY Mike Ebonugwo  CLIFFORD NDUJIHE

WHEN the news of the death of Sheikh Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Boko Haram sect, broke Monday, one of the questions on the lips of observers was ‘Are you sure he is dead?’

The doubt arose from claims and counter-claims regarding Shekau’s status and whereabouts in recent times as reports of cracks and division in the group came out.

Early August, Shekau was reported to have been shot and deposed by members of the sect. A new leader, Abu Zamira Mohammed, who is the sect’s leader negotiating cease-fire agreement with the Federal Government, was appointed new leader by the group’s Shura Council.

Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Restoration of Peace in the North-East, Tanimu Turaki, last month, announced that his committee had reached an “understanding for ceasefire” with members of Boko Haram.

Sect’s ceasefire reps
Leaders of the sect also nominated five people to enter peace discussions with the Federal Government: Abu Liman Ibrahim, Abu Zamira Mohammed, Abu Adam Maisandari, Kassim Imam Biu and Mallam Modu Damaturu.

In a press statement, it said the ceasefire would be in effect for 60 days, and that during the period, any attacks in its name or in the name of its leader, Imam Shekau, would be bogus attacks. The cease-fire was declared on June 26

However, Shekau, through the Internet, later dismissed the reports as false. He said he was still alive and that Boko Haram would never negotiate with the government.

He claimed responsibility for the series of attacks that took place after the widely reported cease-fire agreement.

But the Joint Military Task Force, JTF, insisted, yesterday, that Shekau was mortally wounded in a shoot-out with security forces and might have died from the deadly injuries.

How Shekau became Boko Haram leader
Shekau was deputy leader under Boko Haram founder, Imam Mohammed Yusuf, who was captured in July 2009 during a fighting in Maiduguri, Borno State and executed by Nigeria’s Police force in what appears to have been an extrajudicial killing.

The interrogation and Yusuf’s bullet-riddled body were filmed on video.

Yusuf’s death radicalised Boko Haram leaders and led them to move underground and identify more closely with Al Qaeda.

Following the founder’s killing, Shekau emerged as the new leader of a revitalised Boko Haram in 2010 and he and other commanders refocused the group towards global jihad.

He launched a series of well-planned assassinations and suicide bombings that targeted Nigerian police headquarters and the UN offices in Abuja, among many other locations.

Through a series of video appearances on television stations, notably Al Jazeera, Shekau emerged as the face of Boko Haram. Earlier this year, the United States of America, USA, placed a $7-million bounty on his head.

A few weeks ago, Shekau said the Nigeria Army was no match for him and that the USA could not capture him.

How Boko Haram started
The Jama’atu Allus Sunnah Lilda wati Wal Jihad, also known as Boko Haram, meaning Western education is sin, came into existence in the 1960s, but survived through the decades under various names.

File: A video grab made on March 21, 2013 from a video distributed to reporters by purported intermediaries of the Islamist group linked to Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram,  shows the suspected leader of the Nigerian Islamist group linked to Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Imam Abu Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Abubakar Ash Shekawi, also known as Abubakar Shekau, at an undisclosed location in Nigeria. AFP
File: A video grab made on March 21, 2013 from a video distributed to reporters by purported intermediaries of the Islamist group linked to Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, shows the suspected leader of the Nigerian Islamist group linked to Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Imam Abu Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Abubakar Ash Shekawi, also known as Abubakar Shekau, at an undisclosed location in Nigeria. AFP

However, it started drawing attention to itself in 2002, when Mohammed Yusuf became its leader. In 2004, it moved to Kanamma, Yobe State, where it set up a base called ‘Afghanistan’ from where it attacked nearby police stations, killing police officers.

In July 2009, the Nigeria Police started investigating Boko Haram, following reports that the group was arming itself.

Yusuf, the leader and others, were arrested and on July 30, 2009 allegations were made that Yusuf was extra-judicially killed by Nigerian security forces after being taken into custody.

The development invigorated deadly clashes with Nigerian security forces and attacks on churches, public institutions and military facilities, among others, which have led to the death of about 4,000 people.

Ignored warnings
Before the clashes, many Muslim leaders, and at least one military official, had warned the authorities about Boko Haram.

Former Chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, Lt. General Jeremiah Useni (rtd), in 2011, said Boko Haram used to function as a political thuggery cell to a former governor of Borno State.

Useni disclosed that he had earlier warned the former governor against the use of thugs during election, saying that like in Rivers State where thuggery gave birth to militancy, Boko Haram used to be a political thug group, but later metamorphosed into a terror entity.

Useni and others’ warnings were reportedly ignored.

According to Human Rights Watch, between July and December 2010, at least 85 people were killed in some 35 separate attacks in four states in northern and central Nigeria, as well as in Abuja, the nation’s capital.

Attacks attributed to Boko Haram in 2011 left at least 550 people dead in 115 separate incidents.

Litany of attacks
Between January and December 2012, Boko Haram-related attacks occurred in 14 of the country‘s 36 states, including all the 12 states that have already adopted Sharia Islamic law, Plateau State and in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

Violence blamed on Boko Haram, which said it wants to create an Islamic state in Nigeria, killed more than 900 people in 2012, in about 290 separate attacks in 12 north-eastern and central states, and Abuja, making 2012 the deadliest year since the group began its attacks in 2009. And in 2013, about 800 people have been killed in Boko Haram-related attacks and incidents.

The litany of attacks include those of the United Nations Office, Abuja; Police Headquarters, Abuja; the buildings housing ThisDay Newspapers, Sun Newspapers and Daily Trust in Abuja; St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla, Niger State; Deeper Life Church, Okene; Military Cantonment Jaji; Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SAS, office and other numerous security facilities, especially police stations.

Abubakar Shekau: The $7 million bounty connection

When the government of the United States of America, USA, through its Department of Justice Reward for Justice Programme, recently announced a $7 million bounty for the capture of Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, expectations were high that this could signal a quick end for the dreaded terrorist and his horde of followers, thus bringing to an to end the reign of terror which the extremist Islamist sect has unleashed on Nigeria and Nigerians.

Shekau was one of five individuals declared wanted by the US for spreading terrorism in West Africa.

The belief is that most bounty hunters, including some members of the Boko Haram, will find the $7 million, which translates to about N1.12 billion, too irresistible to ignore and may go to any length to trace and expose Shekau’s hide-out.

The amount was also expected to be tempting enough to all other criminal elements in Nigeria to stake everything they have got in search of the wanted Shekau.

The announcement, yesterday, credited to the military Joint Task Force, JTF, set up to flush out the Islamist terrorists in Northern Nigeria, that it has eventually located and killed the wily Shekau, is already being seen in some quarters as an indication that the bounty option or ploy has paid off.

It may also come as a fitting and welcome climax to recent reports from JTF that it was winning the war against the terrorists and that it was only a matter of time before it would swoop on Shekau and his lieutenants.

Among the reports was Shekau narrow escape from arrest in Kano, when a joint security team stormed an apartment in the Naibawa Darnamawa area of the city, where he had for long been hiding. This was after one of his lieutenants was reported killed, while two other terrorists were apprehended by the JTF.

More remarkable was the reported killing of Shekau’s second in command, Momodu Bama, during an encounter between the Islamist sect and Nigerian troops.

If true, the reported killing of Shekau will come as a welcome relief.

to most Nigerians and indeed the international committee as he has been attributed as spreading a kind of terrorism similar to that of Osama Bin Laden, who was executed by US SEAL after years of manhunt.

The statement from JTF on the death of Shekau said: “Shekau was mortally wounded in the encounter and was sneaked into Amitchide, a border community in Cameroon for treatment from which he never recovered.

It is believed that Shekau might have died between July 25 and August 3, 2013.

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