Now that both factions of Boko Haram have confirmed Shekau’s death, it is time to bid good riddance to repulsive rubbish. In an Arabic language video released Monday, one Bakura Sahalaba, flanked by dozens of fighters, verified reports of their leader’s demise by wishing him Allah’s abundant mercy, condemning those that killed their “imam” and urging his brothers-in-arms not to be demoralised.
I cannot resist saying before I proceed any further that although Allah is Ar-Rahman, Ar-Raheem, I fervently pray and hope His infinite mercy and compassion will never be extended to the beast that was Shekau.
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Earlier, the leader of the pro-ISIS faction of Boko Haram, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), had issued a Kanuri language message in which he sent his members the “glad tiding” of Shekau’s demise. In the audio, Habib Muhamad Yusuf (aka Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi) gave details of how they killed his father’s disciple, deputy and successor. He said they set out for Shekau’s den upon receiving orders from ISIS to take him out. After days of standoff, Shekau fled when many of his fighters and personal guards were killed. He wandered in the bush for days as ISWAP pursued him like a thief. A message Shekau recorded a day before he was killed revealed how terrified and desperate he was. A man who killed thousands while laughing was severely frightened of death for himself. A gangster who lived by the sword didn’t want to die by the sword. Such is the quality of the ‘leaders’ of these terrorist groups!
When ISWAP finally cornered Shekau, they wanted to humiliate him before killing him. They ordered him to pledge allegiance to ISIS on camera and instruct his fighters to do same. But Shekau saw through their deception – after all, he was their tutor – and blew himself up instead.
This might be the ninth time Shekau’s death had been rumoured, including four official confirmations, but this video corroborates the mountain of evidence, including from intelligence sources and journalists with sources inside Boko Haram, of Shekau’s demise. I have no doubt in my mind that it has finally happened.
So this is an occasion to celebrate. Shekau’s murderous face has disappeared for good. His dreadful voice has drowned for forever; his smug and horrible mockery are over. The murder of a terrorist with a six-million-dollar United States bounty on his head is a huge moment. The collapse of the monster responsible for the death of over 40,000 and throwing millions into agony is a huge thing. Our desire that he should have been captured and face the force of law does not detract from our collective relief. Save me lectures on why it is not good to celebrate other people’s tragedies. If we shouldn’t rejoice in Shekau’s death, I don’t know what else we can celebrate. The Prophet (SAW) was reported to have said in a hadith that “…(the death of) a wicked person relieves the people, the land, the trees, (and) the animals from him.” This hadith can’t find a better fit today than Shekau and his ilk. Even the land, the trees, the lake, the animals and the skies in the Sambisa Forest will rejoice Shekau’s death. How then can the millions he devastated or threatened not delight?
Shekau symbolised terror, ruthlessness and indiscriminate violence across the Lake Chad region and beyond. He epitomised those who hijacked Islam and used it to legitimatise slaughter. May we never see Shekau’s face on TV or newspaper again, and may our children never have to mention his name, except as an example of the terrible things some humans do and how nastily they end. We shall prostrate in joy and thankfulness just as Caliph Abubakar (RA) did on receiving the news of the killing of Musaylimah al-Kadhdhāb (Musaylimah the Arch-Liar). Shekau’s death is not the end of Boko Haram, but the group will never be the same again. His death is a mortal wound to his faction.
Shekau’s unholy exit is the latest iteration of a five-year-old inter-factional battle in Boko Haram. Smouldering internal disputes in the group reached a turning in 2016 when senior commanders opposed to Shekau’s megalomaniac leadership style and his policy of targeting non-members and Muslim civilians, began to speak up. Several Boko Haram shura members reported Shekau to ISIS for tyranny, corruption, arbitrary killing of dissenting members and misinterpretation of Islamic texts because of his poor Arabic language skills and theological knowledge, and finally indiscriminate attacks on Muslim civilians. After an ongoing exchange of correspondence, ISIS ultimately decided against Shekau, announced his removal and replaced him with Abu Musab al-Barnawi.
Shekau refused to step down to allow al-Barnawi, who had fled to the northern part of Borno along with other members, to step up to his position as the new governor or wali of ISWAP. Instead, Shekau broke away and reverted to calling his group Jama’atu Ahlissunnah lid Dawati wal Jihad (JAS), cementing the factional splintering. From mid-2016 onwards, inter-factional warfare between ISWAP and JAS ensued, killing hundreds of members including senior commanders from both sides. It is this fighting that now cost Shekau’s life. That his death has exacerbated the factional warfare in the group is yet further good news. Shekau’s loyalists had launched a revenge attack in which they killed ISWAP fighters and abducted their wives and children. ISWAP has vowed to keep pursuing them until they are eliminated. May they keep fighting each other until they all perish for good. This is an opening that our security and intelligence forces must take advantage of to finally defeat Boko Haram.
The fact that Muhammad Yusuf’s son masterminded murdering Shekau should serve as a warning to all terrorists and those with a soft spot for them. Shekau and Mamman Nur were Yusuf’s closest disciples and friends with whom he founded Boko Haram, recruited young people and raised money before mobilising to violence. Both were killed by Yusuf’s children. Nur was killed by ISWAP in August 2018 for being too soft, among other charges, and now Shekau for being too hard. It may not be farfetched to suggest that if Yusuf had survived the July 2009 clash that he ignited, he would likely have been killed, if not by his sons, then by Shekau. Any interpretation that supports killing each other, in addition to innocent civilians, in this way cannot be correct. Any path that leads to this cannot lead to paradise, but to hellfire. Boko Haram’s path couldn’t have been inspired by Allah, but by the devil.
However, the fact that a terrorist leader who defied Nigerian security forces and intelligence agencies, as well as their western counterparts for 12 years, was easily killed by a rival group is an indication of how worryingly strong ISWAP has become over the past few years. The fact that Shekau was killed as part of ISIS’s new move to consolidate the Lake Chad region and reorganise ISWAP should alarm us. But I won’t kill our joy of Shekau’s death by going into these. Let’s rejoice today and return another day to examine the implications.