Is Shekau Dead or Alive?


The Joint Task Force announces the death of Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram but the speculative announcement raises doubts since it has no confirmation from the defence headquarters

|  By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Sep. 2, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

IS Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Boko Haram, dead or alive? This has been the question many Nigerians have been asking since the Joint Task Force, JTF, announced that the dreaded leader of the sect might have died of wounds he sustained in Sambisa Forest of Borno State on June 30. The JTF, in a statement, said that Shekau “may have died as a result of the wounds he received during a gun battle with the military.”

Sagir Musa, JTF spokesman, said that the Boko Haram leader died of gunshot wounds he sustained during the invasion of the Sambisa Forest Headquarters of the sect in June by the Special Forces and was taken to Amitchide, a border community in the nation’s border with Cameroon, for treatment. He said Shekau did not recover from the gunshot wounds. “Shekau was mortally wounded in the encounter and was sneaked into Amitchide, a border community in Cameroon for treatment, from which he never recovered. It is greatly believed that Shekau might have died between July 25 and August 3, 2013,” he said.

Most Nigerians expected the military hierarchy to confirm the report. Frank Odita, former commissioner of police and a security analyst, captured the minds of the public when he told Realnews that the military spokesperson should speak on the matter not just the JTF. But this has not happened. Thus, it  has raised confusion and uncertainty over the professionalism of the JTF in handling the report. It also appears that the defence headquarters did not authorised the release of the statement. A source said that the defence headquarters was surprised that JTF released a statement announcing that Shekau might have been killed, which came out on the day a new division of the Nigerian Army took over from the JTF and was assigned the sole responsibility of continuing with the war against the insurgents. The source said that the top leadership of the Defence Headquarters were still considering how to verify the pending issue of Shekau’s killing when the statement announcing his death was released.


The recent video footage released by the sect leader through Agence France Presse, AFP, on August 13, also raised question over the authenticity of the report. In the recent video footage, Shekau dared Presidents Barack Obama of the United States, Francois Hollande of France and Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister to come for him if they can.

However, if the defence headquarters eventually confirms Shekau’s death, it would be a major victory for the federal government and the Nigerian military that have been in top gear to end the insurgency in the northern part of the country in the past four months. Umar Ali, a security consultant, said there is every possibility that the JTF had killed Shekau. He also acknowledged that there is ground to doubt the report by the people.

“Given the source of this information, officially announced by JTF spokesman, Lt. Col. Musa Sagir, it must have been sifted, tested for viability. It must have been verified and the verification process is the possible explanation for the time lag before the information was released. That information is passed through the intelligence circle before it is released.  Asides from the intelligence circle, the JTF used social indicators to confirm their speculations. After the Sambisa attack, we saw a kind of withdrawal. We saw the terrorists’ attacks abating greatly. There was virtually a lull before Kano came up,” he said.

He called on the government and the security agencies to move from counter-terrorism, which is basically dynamic and military, to anti-terrorism which is more democratic in nature and which involves awareness, information and the option of judicial trial for captured terrorists.

Odita believes that it is a major crack in the body of Boko Haram if actually Shekau is dead and that the military should move to consolidate the victory.

But Ayo Oritsejafor, president, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, has warned that Christians should not rejoice over the death of Shekau or any one. “Nevertheless, I must commend the security forces which had taken this war against terrorism in this country to a new and commendable height by the accomplishments they had achieved in the last couple of months,” he said.

According to him, the Christian community in Nigeria would have preferred that Shekau was caught alive and arraigned before a court, where Nigerians would have the opportunity of hearing his explanation for the mindless killings of innocent Nigerians. “That is why I say that it is heavy on me to react to the death of this fellow. I would really have been glad if he was caught alive so that he can answer so many questions bothering people’s minds. Once again, I commend the members of the security forces, who had ensured that the turbulence in the North-East is gradually simmering down and people can now go about their daily chores almost unhindered.”

Is-haq Akintola, executive director, Muslim Rights Concern, said the killing of Shekau may have little or nothing to guarantee the security of the people, unless justice and equity prevail. “If you look at the issue of the leader of Al-qaeda, Osama Bin laden, he was hunted for so many years before he was killed. His death did not affect the group. Did Al-qaeda die? Not at all. Until we are able to uphold justice, killing a single leader means very little. They have several deputies. So, you don’t stop violence by just killing a leader. The issue is the movement. You cannot kill a single person without resolving the issue concerning their movement.


“We do not know who their followers are. So, we cannot go around and start arresting people but find a way of bringing them around for dialogue to finally resolve issues. I will tell you that we repeat our condemnation of all forms of violence. However, we of the Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC, take the federal government’s statement on taking Boko Haram’s case to International Criminal Court, ICC, with a pinch of salt. In the same statement, it contradicted itself by adding that the amnesty committee set up by it was on course. The government appears to be enjoying a prolonged game of paradox,” he said.

Shekau represents jihadist terrorism in Nigeria. He was not the person who started it but he added a new dimension to it by introducing suicide bombing in the country. This aspect made him the most sought-after and a dreaded terrorist to have existed in Nigeria. Shekau’s reign as the leader of Boko Haram started after the death of Mohammed Yusuf, founder of Boko Haram in 2009. He revitalised the sect in 2010 and refocused its activities towards global jihad.

Shekau launched a series of well-planned assassinations and suicide bombings that targeted Nigerian police headquarters and the UN office in Abuja, among many other locations. Through a series of video appearances on television stations, notably Al Jazeera, Shekau emerged as the face of Boko Haram.

A few weeks ago, Shekau said the Nigerian Army was no match for him and that the USA would not capture him. Between January and December 2012, Boko Haram-related attacks occurred in 14 of the country‘s 36 states, including all the 12 states that have already adopted Sharia Islamic law, Plateau State and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

Violence-related to Boko Haram, which wants to create an Islamic state in Nigeria, killed more than 900 people in 2012, in about 290 separate attacks in 12 northern states and Abuja, making 2012 the deadliest year since the group began its attacks in 2009. And in 2013, about 800 people have been killed in Boko Haram-related attacks and incidents.

The litany of attacks include those of the United Nations Office, Abuja; Police Headquarters, Abuja; the buildings housing ThisDay Newspapers, Sun Newspapers and Daily Trust in Abuja; St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla, Niger State; Deeper Life Church, Okene; Military Cantonment Jaji; Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SAS, office and other numerous security facilities, especially police stations.

This made the government of the United States of America, USA, through its Department of Justice Reward for Justice Programme, to announce a $7 million bounty for the capture of Shekau. Expectations were high that this could signal a quick end for the dreaded terrorist and his horde of followers, thus bringing to an end the reign of terror which the extremist Islamist sect has unleashed on Nigeria and Nigerians. Shekau was one of five individuals declared wanted by the US for spreading terrorism in West Africa.

The belief is that most bounty hunters, including some members of the Boko Haram, will find the $7 million, which translates to about N1.12 billion, too irresistible to ignore and may go to any length to trace and expose Shekau’s hide-out. The amount was also expected to be tempting enough to all other criminal elements in Nigeria to stake everything they have got in search of the wanted Shekau.

Reported by Vincent Nzemeke

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