If unlike previous reports, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau is truly dead, his death could reflect a stronger Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). According to the excerpted article from The Daily Trust, a Nigerian newspaper, approximately 300 ISWAP fighters who trained in Libya, Somalia, and Syria returned to Nigeria to take part in the final battle against Shekau’s forces. A brief review of Shekau’s history is important to place his death in context. As the leader of Boko Haram, he came under pressure to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and did so in 2015. When ISIL appointed a leader of its Africa contingent that Shekau did not like, existing tensions within the group amplified, and in 2016 it split in two, with Shekau leading Boko Haram once again. The other, larger faction, known as ISWAP was headed by Abu Musab al-Barnawi. Often, mistakenly, both groups even after the split are called Boko Haram, though they are distinct and fight each other.
Shekau’s death, purportedly at his own hands as he was about to be captured by ISWAP, is being celebrated by the government and the innumerable families of his victims. However, the relief that the terrorist who was responsible for the death of so many is now dead is being tempered by the news that ISWAP, in gaining the upper hand in its fight against Boko Haram, is now one step closer to forming a caliphate in the Lake Chad Basin. This shift from two terrorist groups at war with each other to one very strong entity with international ties could be an obstacle to government forces trying to regain control of the territory.
If they (ISWAP) are allowed to have that type of freedom they have had, to the extent of going to Sambisa and killed Shekau, it means they want to start actualising that objective of establishing an enclave and that will foretell the significant consequences for Nigerian people.
Source: Misbahu Bashir, Olatunji Omirin, and Idowu Isamotu, “How 300 Libya-Trained ISWAP Fighters ‘Conquered’ Shekau,” The Daily Trust (Nigerian newspaper) 21 May 2021. https://www.dailytrust.com.ng/how-300-libya-trained-iswap-fighters-conquered-shekau
“If they are allowed to have that type of freedom they have had, to the extent of going to Sambisa and killed Shekau, it means they want to start actualising that objective of establishing an enclave and that will foretell the significant consequences for Nigerian people.
A security expert, Kabiru Adamu, in an interview with Daily Trust, said irrespective of whether Shekau was killed or not, what is obvious is that the faction was growing in strength in terms of their operations and activities.
“What it means for the military is that they are allowing ISWAP to increase their strength in terms of their operations and their activities and therefore sending a wrong message to the groups that are active in terrorism.
“If it turns out that he has been killed truly, we should expect a couple of things. Firstly, his top commanders that are still alive will have a choice of either joining the group that killed him – ISWAP or to break out and form their own group. If that happens, it is likely we see the proliferation of smaller groups as against the former single one.
“Secondly, irrespective of whether he was killed or not, what is obvious as a group is growing in strength, and we all know that ISWAP is affiliated to the global jihadist terror group called Islamic State (IS) and we have seen what IS had done in Syria and Iraq.”