I cautiously welcomed the news of the death of Boko Haram’s leader, Shekau to avoid ending up overly disappointed should the news turn out to be untrue as it had on a few occasions in the past.
However, now that it has been confirmed and though given the circumstances of his death, the Nigerian authorities cannot rightly claim credit for it, they have been presented with a rare opportunity to proactively capitalise on the situation, which, if managed properly, may culminate in the elimination of the terror group.
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Unfortunately, and typical of them, the Nigerian authorities don’t seem to realise the impact of his death on the morale and organisational cohesiveness of the group. From the government’s reactions to the development, it doesn’t appear to realise that Shekau’s death could be capitalised on to make it the beginning of the end of the Boko Haram group.
Having ruled the group with an iron fist for more than a decade, Shekau had used the method of striking fear into his followers to dominate them. He was also notorious for reckless adventurism and extreme brutality on defenceless civilians and of course, on captured security personnel.
His arrogance and dictatorial attitude explained his rigidity and intolerance of his followers’ views and more so, criticism. It wasn’t uncommon, for instance, that for an allegation of, say, insubordination let alone alleged treachery or any act he considered “corruption on earth”, Shekau would order for the execution of the “accused” or cutting off some of his limbs as a punishment and deterrence to whoever may contemplate committing a similar “offence”.
With the emergence of the so-called Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) and the subsequent power struggle that led to the split of the Boko Haram group, many of Shekau’s followers switched allegiance to the ISWAP-led faction of the group.
Interestingly, contrary to the narrative that the ISWAP is a faction of Boko Haram and that the two are involved in a power struggle, the ISWAP actually wants to bring Boko Haram under it. The ISWAP is a subsidiary terror group under the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS); the notorious transnational terror organisation.
Also, as much as Shekau needed connections with the ISWAP, ISIS and other regional and international terror groups, they equally needed him to expand into territories they couldn’t easily penetrate. Besides, Shekau had indeed initially paid allegiance to Alqaeda then to ISIS through ISWAP, which subsequently found him too extreme and disobedient hence its attempt to replace him. The power-hungry Shekau resisted the attempt and rescinded his allegiance.
Anyway, Shekau was too power-obsessed and indeed too carried away to groom or appoint a particular would-be successor and thus he left a huge vacuum in the group. While the group may present his supposed successor, he isn’t likely to be inspiring or rather intimidating enough to be like Shekau. And in the absence of a Shekau-like leader, the group with its already growing number of disillusioned members would continue to steadily fall apart while more of its members join the ISWAP or split into opposing factions.
Now, though Boko Haram is a home-grown terror group, tackling it is ironically more challenging than tackling the ISWAP. Because though tackling the ISWAP, being an offshoot of ISIS, necessarily entails involvement in the complexities of global politics, it remains relatively easy anyway though, only if the Nigerian authorities are equal to the task. It only takes knowhow in the underlying dynamics and politics behind the so-called war on terror, and, of course, adequate blackmailing tools necessary for successful engagement with the players involved in the politics. I may, in due course, address this issue in a separate piece.
Whereas the Boko Haram group per se, being a mere local terror group made up of barely literate, gullible and frustrated individuals with a particularly unrealistic, clueless and reckless leader isn’t of any strategic significance to the international players manipulating terror groups around the world for their respective interests. Besides, unlike elsewhere, the international players don’t need to manipulate any terror group to have their ways in the countries where Boko Haram operates.
That explains the limit of any foreign influence on the group, which makes tackling it relatively less challenging as it only takes basic intelligence-based counterterrorism strategies to accomplish. This equally applies even in the event of negotiations, because decision-making power always lies with the group’s leader with little or no input from a few individuals around him.
Therefore, with the group now in disarray following Shekau’s death, the security agencies should increase the rate, scope and intensity of intelligence-coordinated attacks on all suspected terrorists’ hideouts within Nigeria and across the Lake Chad Basin region. This should be strictly sustained until the surviving terrorists are reduced to wandering lone wolves before their eventual elimination.
With the elimination of Boko Haram foot soldiers regardless of their allegiances, the ISWAP and any other foreign terror group will disappear from the region, for they won’t have the local elements they necessarily need to operate.