The death of Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, has raised concerns over the unending fights against terrorism in Nigeria. Shekau reportedly died after he was attacked by ISWAP militants last Wednesday after his bodyguards were overpowered.
In a bid to get him to relinquish power, Shekau detonated a suicide vest he had on, killing himself and the ISWAP leadership at the meeting.
In a report by SBM Intel, an Africa focused geopolitical research and strategic communications consulting firm, the fact that Shekau’s death was caused by the Islamic State West African Province poses a grave threat to the Nigerian military.
This, according to the report, is as a result of ISWAP’s better coordination to more financing, better network and affiliation to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levante.
SBM Intel noted that the fact that ISWAP took out Shekau rather than the Nigerian Military raises the group’s status resulting in more internal squabbles about leadership, “which in itself raises the possibility of more splinter factions”.
The report read, “Shekau’s latest death is a turning point in the 12-year old insurgency. It is the first in terms of a leadership change in his own faction, Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihād, since the death of its founder, Mohammed Yusuf, in 2009.
“The only challenge to Shekau’s leadership was in 2016 when following his pledge of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leadership appointed Abu Musab al-Barnawi to lead Boko Haram. His refusal to accept al-Barnawi’s leadership led to the splitting of Boko Haram into ISWAP and Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah (JAS), the official name of Boko Haram.
“We do not know yet who will succeed Shekau as the leader of Boko Haram, or even if Boko Haram will continue to exist considering that the reports of his death also say that ISWAP has captured the Sambisa Forest base of their rivals. If that holds, it will likely mean that many of the surviving Boko Haram fighters will be integrated into ISWAP, even if not immediately.
“Both factions have often described each other as renegades, denoting an unwillingness to reach a compromise. This fits into the ISIS worldview in which there cannot be two Caliphates operating side by side. They have indeed taken the step of pronouncing a takfir on the JAS faction. However, there is the possibility of some Boko Haram fighters refusing to join ISWAP and leaving the Sambisa Forest area, with Ansaru cells in the North-West as a likely destination or continuing as Boko Haram.
”If they join Ansaru, itself a splinter Boko Haram faction, the group will be strengthened in its resurgence. The group was dormant from 2016 until January 2020 when it claimed responsibility for an attack on the convoy of the Emir of Potiskum on the Kaduna-Zaria Road, which killed 30 persons, including six Nigerian Army soldiers.
“If they continue as Boko Haram, they could be starting afresh or joining an already existing cell of the group. There are already reports of Boko Haram hoisting its flag in a remote community in Niger State, although the reports do not state which faction of Boko Haram and it is possible that it could be either the ISWAP or JAS faction. In either case, it is known that both factions are trying to make inroads into the region and in addition to a resurgent Ansaru, it is likely to become.
“Since the liberation of the Islamic State’s last stronghold in Raqqa, Syria, in 2015 by a coalition of international forces, multiple Islamist militias have sprung up in North Africa and the Sahel, stretching towards the Horn of Africa, some of them with connections to the Islamic State and Al Qaeda. Although right-wing terrorism has replaced the threat of Islamist terror attacks as the number one terror threat in the United States, the latter remains a problem for Europe and Central Asia.
”The problem is also resurfacing in Central and Southern Africa, where ISIS affiliates are battling the Mozambican government for control of the mineral-rich Cabo Delgado province, raising concerns in the region.
“The ISWAP faction had continuously considered the Shekau-led Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah as a distraction to its enterprise and has desired to have a united front. With Shekau now gone, ISWAP poses a graver threat to an already stretched military for a number of reasons ranging from better coordination to more financing, better network and affiliation to IS.
”The fact that ISWAP took out Shekau rather than the Nigerian Military raises its status, a position which is not free of problems, however. ISWAP has had a series of leadership crises since its inception, which means this newfound status could lead to more internal squabbles about leadership, which in itself raises the possibility of more splinter factions.
“Another immediate implication of Shekau’s death is that it calls into question the capacities of state actors. With various reports over the years of failed attempts to kill Shekau by the Nigerian military and the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), his death in the hands of a ‘technically defeated’ non-state actor is embarrassing for the country’s intelligence and military institutions, and could deal a blow to morale, as well as to the prestige of the institution.
“Considering ISWAP’s more clinical approach compared to Boko Haram and its focus on military targets and aid workers, its control of the Sambisa Forest means more problems for the military and the civilian populations in places where they are able to have control over and impose their Islamist rule. Additionally, successful conscription of Boko Haram members would mean that the ISWAP group would be better able to traverse the Sambisa area.
“For these reasons, it is important for the military to begin preparations for an escalation in hostilities in the area, and adopt new strategies that will not just sufficiently defend against attacks, but will also take the fight to the terrorists. It is vital that the military finds and targets the leadership of ISWAP as this will have more of an impact than killing off its foot soldiers.
“Another clear concern with the ISWAP takeover is that it is a well-connected terror group with access to military-grade equipment, training and financing from across the world. This is likely to be a challenge for the Nigerian government.
“Tracing and tracking down terror financiers has not proven to be the forte of Nigeria and the country will clearly need more technical support and multinational partnerships to successfully track funds that go to the group. The objectives of Boko Haram and ISWAP are also likely to be different as well, due to the respective sources of funding. It is accepted by this stage that funding for Boko Haram is local.
“The Nigerian government claims to be prosecuting what it reported to be hundreds of people in connection with sponsoring terrorism in the country. In ISWAP’s case, their funding is not local, so the growth and operations of the group will be harder to stop. Such a scenario presents a greater problem for the government as they cannot lean on local actors to get results in the fight against terrorism.”