Center for Strategic Communication


Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. Image from Vanguard.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a new video yesterday, claiming responsibility for the Dec. 20 attack on a Nigerian military barracks in Bama, just south of Maiduguri, the Borno state capital. In what is beginning to be a pattern for Shekau, the video was released to Agence France Presse in the same manner as his previous video, in which he claimed the Dec. 2 attack on the Maiduguri Barracks and mocked Western leaders.

In the newest video, Shekau claimed that his fighters killed “multitudes” and destroyed 21 armored tanks, a distinct possibility given that the attack was on a base belonging to the 202 Tank Battalion. But his latest communication appears to be far more ideological than his previous message, and Shekau seems intent on discrediting the West and the Nigerian government and military.

The Boko Haram leader used the video to deride Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, US President Barack Obama, President Francois Hollande of France, and Queen Elizabeth of England, and said they should be ashamed for believing a statement released by Nigeria’s military in August that he was likely dead.

Addressing a bounty of 50 million naira (US $300,000) that the Nigerian military placed in November 2012 for his capture, Shekau scoffed at the idea that any of his men would betray him, and claimed that his men “do not worship money.”

He went on to add that Nigeria’s military is both inept and incapable of subduing Boko Haram, stating: “Nigerian soldiers are late. After killing many of them in Monguno and Benisheik, we have snatched their armored carriers and Hilux vans and then hoisted Islamic flags on them. We now move freely with them.”

Shekau warned Christians not to attend church, and also attacked the notion of democracy, declaring that “the concept of government of the people by the people for the people will never be possible and will never exist. Democracy shall be replaced only by the government of Allah, from Allah and for Allah.”

This attack on democracy is calculated and comes at a time when President Jonathan has come under fire domestically. Reports that he is more concerned with his 2015 reelection campaign than domestic security even in the wake of recent major Boko Haram attacks on military infrastructure have led to calls for Jonathan to do more, including suggestions that he relocate to Maiduguri until the insurgency is put down.

Further, Jonathan has his hands full with media allegations that quote him saying “terrorism has come to stay in Nigeria.” This has caused outrage in the country, even while Jonathan insists he was misquoted and had in fact said that “Nigeria has done comparatively better in reducing the incidence of terrorist attacks within its borders to a ‘reasonable level.'”

A master of resurrection

Widely assumed dead in a 2009 attack, Shekau announced his leadership of Boko Haram in dramatic style when he resurfaced in a 2010 video that “might best be described as ‘classic al-Qaeda.'” In the video, he stated that he was the new head of Boko Haram, and that the group’s “jihad has just begun.” More significantly, he threatened attacks against not only the Nigerian state, but against “outposts of Western culture,” and later published a manifesto linking Boko Haram’s efforts with global jihad and especially the struggle of “the soldiers of Allah in the Islamic State of Iraq.” This display of solidarity with jihadist groups operating outside Nigeria marked a major revision of Boko Haram’s operational strategy.

Moreover, Shekau has backed up his threat to attack Western institutions, beginning with the August 2011 suicide bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. Additionally, a number of Westerners have been kidnapped for ransom in Nigeria.

In June 2012, the US State Department added Shekau to the list of Specially Designated Global terrorists. The designation was the first time the Nigerian terror group was officially recognized as a threat to the United States. According to a State Department press release, “[u]nder Shekau’s leadership, Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks in northern Nigeria, its primary area of operation.”

In June 2013, Shekau was added to the State Department’s” Rewards for Justice” list, with an offer of up to $7 million for his capture. This amount placed Shekau in the top echelon of wanted jihadist commanders linked to al Qaeda, just below the $10 million reward offered for Abu Du’a (al Qaeda in Iraq’s emir), Mullah Omar (the emir of the Taliban), Hafiz Mohammad Saeed (the leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba), and Yasin al Suri (the former chief of al Qaeda’s network in Iran).

The escalation in Boko Haram attacks follows an Aug. 1 report in the Huffington Post that Abubaker Shekau had been shot and deposed by his own followers as a prelude to peace negotiations with the Nigerian government. The report alleged that Boko Haram’s leadership had sent representatives to the Nigerian capital Abuja on June 25, where they revealed to the government that Shekau was no longer their leader. The report quoted Imam Liman Ibrahim, described as “the spiritual leader of Boko Haram,” as stating that Shekau’s teachings were becoming increasingly harsh, and that “the beheadings, the killings, the recent death of students … this is not the way of the Holy Qu’ran. We could tolerate it no longer.”

According to the report, Shekau had been given a choice of joining the peace dialogue, forming his own sect, or being killed, and had subsequently been shot in the lower leg, thigh, and shoulder. The sight of a limping Shekau in a video clip recovered by the military after a raid on a Boko Haram camp seemed to corroborate the story.

When Imam Muhammadu Marwana released a statement claiming leadership of the group in early August, it appeared that Shekau had been deposed. However, reports emerged that Marwana was a creation of a group of Nigerian government officials attempting to steal money meant to end the insurgency. Then in September, a clearly in control Shekau released another video showing himself alive and well, in which he claimed responsibility for a Boko Haram attack that killed 161 people in Borno. Boko Haram attacks have escalated ever since, and Shekau has released more videos to prove his control over the organization.

It would appear that the reports of his demise have aggrieved Shekau, and he is intent on ridiculing them at every opportunity.