News / Africa

Nigeria Violence Continues Despite Claimed Killing of Boko Haram Leader

A grab made on July 13, 2013 from a video obtained by AFP shows the leader of the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau.A grab made on July 13, 2013 from a video obtained by AFP shows the leader of the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau.
A grab made on July 13, 2013 from a video obtained by AFP shows the leader of the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau.
A grab made on July 13, 2013 from a video obtained by AFP shows the leader of the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau.
Anne Look
It has been two weeks since the Nigerian military announced that Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau died in Cameroon in early August following injuries sustained in battle. However, there is still no confirmation or proof of his death. Nigerians remain skeptical of the military's claim, and analysts say killing off Boko Haram commanders won't stop the violence in northern Nigeria.

It's been three and a half months since the military launched a large-scale offensive against Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria.

The military says it's got Boko Haram on the run. That would hardly be surprising as insurgents, by definition, tend to avoid direct battlefield confrontation. But the military's claim is nearly impossible to confirm. Security forces have restricted access to the frontline and cell phone communications have been cut in much of the northeast.

In August, the military Joint Task Force in Borno State announced that Boko Haram's leader and public face, Abubakar Shekau, and his deputy had been killed.  It appears that other top members may also have been eliminated.

So, what happens now?

It would seem that the conglomeration of radical militant factions in northern Nigeria, for which Boko Haram has become a kind of umbrella term, is in a bit of a leadership crisis, or at least in need of some major regrouping.

Many in northern Nigeria say they won't believe Shekau is dead until they see his body. He previously had been declared dead at least twice in the past four years.  
It was Shekau who resurrected Boko Haram in 2010 after a heavy-handed military crackdown the previous year that led to the detention and murder of sect founder, Mohammed Yusuf, by police.

Yusuf was a charismatic imam and preacher who founded the group in 2002.  The sect was later nicknamed Boko Haram, which means "Western education is forbidden" in the local Hausa language.

Shekau was Yusuf's deputy. While Yusuf was very much a public figure, analysts say Shekau took the group into the shadows and made it more violent.

Nigeria analyst for the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation, Jacob Zenn, has studied Shekau.

"He really transformed an organization that was sympathetic to the Taliban and al-Qaida to an organization that operated like the Taliban and al-Qaida. Whereas for Yusuf, it was mostly just preaching and preparing for jihad, but he [Shekau] transformed it from a preaching group about jihad to an actual jihadist group," said Zenn.

Since 2010, Boko Haram's suicide bombings, drive-by shootings and other attacks in northern Nigeria have killed thousands of people.

Shekau has been in hiding for most of that time, presumably running the group through contact with select commanders.  He would re-emerge in the group's videos.
He is known for his hardline, impassioned discourse. He rattles off demands that include turning northern Nigeria into an Islamic state. He threatens enemies that have ranged from Christians to Nigerian security forces to the United States. He expresses solidarity with jihadists around the world.

Operationally, he has kept Boko Haram focused on Nigeria. That is one thing that could change if he is dead.

Experts say Shekau's faction is but one of as many as five factions that make up what is commonly referred to as Boko Haram.

The past three years have been wracked by rivalries and internal divisions. Moderates have split off, some claiming to now speak on behalf of the group and others forming new groups.

Analysts, like Zenn, say losing Shekau would not be "game-over" for the militants, who he says likely have enough members and operational experience to continue.

"It might just become more localized, like we might just have more disparate cells and less centrality. But I do think from a propaganda and ideological standpoint, it would be more significant because Shekau is the only leader that was really close to [Mohammed Yusuf], he was the deputy of Mohammed Yusuf who was the founder of Boko Haram and no one else would have that type of ideological legitimacy and the ability to keep the organization as a cohesive unit ideologically," he said.

So, the videos may stop, but analysts say the violence likely won't. The Joint Task Force says Shekau was injured in a gun battle June 30 and died about a month later.  Since then, at least 100 people have been killed by suspected militants.

Michael Olufemi Sodipo is the founder and coordinator of the Peace Initiative Network in Kano.

"What will matter is tackling the drivers of radicalization, not killing members, killing their leaders. It will just allow others assume office as a new leadership.  If you look at what's on the ground, what's in the communities, if the root causes of the issue is not tackled, you will have other members who will come and say, hey, I want to join the group. So, it's not only in killing, killing, killing, killing. It's in tackling issues," said Sodipo.

Sodipo says those drivers include a sense of economic injustice fueled by widespread poverty, corruption and unemployment, what he called "young ones with no skills and no hope."

He and others continue to push for dialogue.

Some are worried that Nigeria's ongoing military offensive has made it more difficult for moderates to come out and talk.

There have also been reports of abuses by security forces including disappearances, arbitrary illegal detentions and destruction of property of people presumed to be militants or Boko Haram sympathizers.

Human rights activists worry that history may, in fact, repeat itself and that a heavy-handed approach could galvanize the insurgents of tomorrow.

Abdulkareem Haruna contributed reporting from Maiduguri, Nigeria. Ardo Hazzad contributed reporting from Bauchi, Nigeria.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs