By Gabriel Onoja
It’s over two whole years, the actions or voice of the strongest, vicious and potently atrocious Boko Haram factional leader, Abubakar Shekau has been heard nor his shadows sighted anywhere. Before the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the cursed Boko Haram leader, Shekau was a lion and king of the Boko Haram jungle.
He straddled the Northeast and other parts of Nigeria with gusto and a panache in horrendous atrocities and gruesome of murders of anybody at sight. He maimed, committed acts of arson, abducted and killed quicker than the executioner’s noose.
Shekau was more than a deadlier and heartless devil’s incarnate. His somewhat mythical prowess in Satanism was nourished by a dozen equally ferocious commanders and thousands of incensed foot soldiers ever ready to indulge in bloodletting at the snap of the fingers.
The founder and leader of Boko Haram, Mohamad Yusuf died mysteriously in the hands of Nigeria’s security agents. Abubakar Shekau who then deputized Yusuf took over the gearshifts of leadership of the extremist religious sect.
By 2010, the sadistic Shakau prosecuted the Boko Haram senseless war on Nigeria with a viciousness that elevated its dreary image to an all -time high in the psyche of Nigerians. Shekau’s leadership of Boko Haram insurgency spared no friend nor foe; Muslims or Christians, much as security agents.
An incensed Shekau was on an unrestrained, unmolested and unchallenged killing spree, abductions and other assorted atrocities without discrimination. It soon brought him into loggerheads with other sect members, leading to the split of Boko Haram and the second faction led by Musab Al-Barnewi.
Worse still, Shekau was in the habit of frequently releasing boastful videos of his demonic exploits on YouTube and other online platforms. At such instance, he claimed responsibility for Boko Haram’s scary attacks on communities, villages, city centers, markets, shopping malls and every conceivable place, in outright braggadocio of his evil exploits. He dared security agents, including the military and promised Nigerians tougher days ahead under his supervised butcheries and destructions.
Nigerians will still recount vividly the national and international outrage which trailed the Boko Haram abduction of 276 Chibok schoolgirls on April 14, 2014. Shekau’s vexatious video appeared in the aftermath, claiming responsibility and displaying the photographs of the trapped schoolgirls. It drenched Nigerians with tears and coalesced the national spirit of collective action against Boko Haram.
But Shekau still reigned supreme and unchallengeable. Indeed, the fear of Boko Haram was the beginning of wisdom for all Nigerians, everywhere they were domiciled without exclusion. Before the Buhari Presidency in 2015, the Boko Haram sect had effectively taken firm control of the Northeast, most cities of Northern Nigeria and was already fast transiting to Southern Nigeria.
Its immediate gory reminiscences were the annexation of 18 LGAs in the Northeast, abductions of about 23,000 Nigerians held in secret camps, and displacement of over 2.4 million natives according to a United Nations report. It was the saddest moment in Nigeria’s history.
However, President Buhari’s resolve to end Boko Haram terrorism led to the appointment of new Security Chiefs. And Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai who emerged as the COAS and leader of anti-insurgency operations turned out to be Shekau, his sponsors and by implication, Boko Haram’s greatest nemesis and unresolved mystery.
Like echoed by an African proverb, Gen. Buratai and Nigerian troops have proved to Shekau that where a lion lives in the jungle, the lioness can never be king. So, Shekau was a lion of the jungle in the despicable days of the old regime. But now, he is a shadow of his old self under a new order spearheaded by Gen. Buratai.
It is quite pleasant that under the reign of Gen. Buratai, the known Shekau has been reduced to a mere rat looking for food to eat in forests, caves and mountains of distant land. Probably, he is disfigured and limping, with strength barely enough to scavenge for food in his hideous caves. His demeaning loquaciousness on Nigeria is also silenced.
Yet, Shekau was the fetish leader of insurgents, who severally led convoys on deadly missions from Damaturu to Maiduguri. Thrice, Shekau’s ragtag armed insurgents almost overran the Government Houses in Maiduguri and Damaturu, intent on converting them into the administrative seat of power for the Boko Haram “Caliphate.”
Shekau’s convoys had security sophistry envied by Nigerian State Governors. But this same formerly “super and invincible” Shekau has not been seen in any video in the last two years. Yet, some Nigerians in their usual malicious mindsets or conspiracy of silence have found no reason to appreciate the Nigerian Army.
So, Nigerian troops under Gen. Buratai vowed never to afford Shakau and his terrorists such luxury anymore. And kicking his own phase of the counter-terrorism campaigns, Gen. Buratai launched relentless assaults and offensives on insurgents’ strongholds in the Northeast; shattered their camps, massively arrested hundreds of foot soldiers and top commanders, freed thousands of Nigeria hostages and reclaimed all parts of Nigerian territories captured, and occupied by Boko Haram within months.
Next on Gen. Buratai’s agenda was puncturing the fabled myth of invincibility about Sambisa forest. It was where Shekau and top commanders found comfortable fortress to recuperate after each attack on Nigerians, plot fresh atrocities and staged out in execution.
Thus, on December 24, 2016, the Nigerian Army pulled down Sambisa forest, only akin to the manner the Biblical Joshua pulled down the walls of Jericho. It penetrated its innermost sanctuary to camp zero, an enclave which provided shelter and protection for the evil men.
Shekau was lucky to escape the onslaught by Nigerian Army on Sambisa forest. But Gen. Buratai and troops sustained the manhunt for Shekau. The Army Chief declared a military “fatwa” on Shekau, directing the Theatre Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole to capture him dead or alive, and or, precisely, “to smoke out Shekau wherever he is hiding in Nigeria”.
An ostensibly distressed Shekau who was hit below the belt began to wonder in veiled disguise in dark spots to avert the danger that awaited his fate. A clearly flustered Shekau abandoned his followers, and disguised in a woman’s hijab to escape detection by vigilant Nigerian soldiers.
Shekau’s action after the collapse of Sambisa forest was an unambiguous message to his adherents that “ to your tents, oh Israel!,” as the Army shattered insurgents unified coherence. It marked the beginning of the defeat of the once indomitable Boko Haram.
And within the ensuing weeks, Shekau and other Boko Haramists was under tight Army surveillance, and at least 10 top commanders of Shekau were neutralized by troops offensives in different locations in the Northeast.
In military operations at Alafa in Borno on Sallah day, Shekau’s top commanders like Afdu Kawuri and Abubakar Banishek bowed to the military might of the Nigerian Army. Earlier, at Magumeri Local Government Area of Borno, a Shekau top commander, Ba’Abba Ibrahim and two others were humbled; while five other key leaders of the sect and close associates of Shekau were also neutralized during a joint military bombardment.
While the Army’s heat on capturing Shekau intensified and scores of his top commanders neutralized, the Boko Haram factional leader sneaked out, obviously using bush paths to Kolofata in neighbouring Cameroun. A Boko Haram commander, Abdullahi Bello (alias Abu Zainab), whom the Army captured in Bauchi made the revelation.
And it has been the last ever heard of Shekau. The Nigerian Army has even placed a ransom of N3 million on his head to anybody who would give useful information leading to his arrest. But quite strange to the antecedents of Shekau, he has not come out to announce his presence or display his exploits in any online video. Perhaps, he has not sufficiently recovered from the injuries he obtained, preferring silent recuperation in the Cameroonian caves, a better and sensible option.
Therefore, anyone who knows Shekau’s whereabouts should voice out. The ransom has not been withdrawn. But its obvious Shekau no longer exists. In any case, Gen. Buratai has vowed to see the last of him dead or alive. If Shekau is truly still alive, let him stop hiding and come out and surrender.
It is praiseworthy that the Nigerian Army has ended the war on Boko Haram insurgency. And like the experience with other such insane extremists like the Maitatsine sect, Nigerians have also won the battle against Boko Haram insurgency. The remnants of insurgents still feigning a feeble battle with the Nigerian Army are fighting in vain. As prophesied, the end of Shekau and his demons has come to fulfilment.
Nigerians owe a debt of gratitude to the Nigerian Army and immensely appreciate Gen. Buratai and the entire Nigerian military for the big sacrifices everyone has made in the counter-terrorism battles. The joy is that Nigeria has won the war at last.
Onoja is the President, Coalition Against nts Terrorism and Extremism and wrote this piece from Abuja.