Boko Haram-ISIS deal: Shekau could be replaced

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By Ahmad Salkida

Boko Haram, as they are known, seem to have had a long disagreement within the Jihadi movements in Africa about Abubakar Shekau’s depth of knowledge. Many of the Jihadis, especially students of late Mohammed Yusuf, Shekau’s precursor, were reported to have opted out of the movement on account of his hastiness. Some of these erstwhile members of the sect are reported to be currently fighting alongside with the Islamic State (IS) in Libya, or in other turfs — in their new obsession of dying as martyrs instead of co-existing in a multicultural society.

Boko Haram’s widely reported allegiance (or Bay’ah) to the Islamic State is said to be the result of a long drawn deliberation within and outside the group on its ideology. “The sect has expressed support to IS in the past but not Bay’ah in this formal sense, as Islam prescribed,” says a source with links to the insurgents in Nigeria. According to this insurgent, it is not a question of IS accepting their overtures or not “as long as Muslims pledged allegiance to a leader, he must accept it. In fact, it was long overdue.” What this also means is Abubakar Bagdadi will henceforth take decision for the insurgents. “Shekau’s self-governance has ended on Saturday, the 7th of March 2015,” said the insurgent.

Sources knowledgeable with the activities of the ruthless insurgents in Nigeria hinted that what we are seeing is a methodological transformation of Boko Haram into a well-organised terror and propaganda machine that may not only appeal to the deprived in society but even the well-off and people from different nationalities. Baghdadi may choose to even change the Imam in Nigeria if he so wishes or send permanent emissaries or teachers to guide what is now the local Boko Haram Shura, said multiple sources.

Insiders insist that “the emissaries by Bagdadi are already here with us, they are making a lot of changes that I cannot share but we have started seeing the impact of our Bay’ah”. But just what is Bay’ah and the implications to the four countries fighting Boko Haram? Bay’ah, according to some Sunni Islamic scholars, can only be offered to the leader of the Muslims. Once allegiance is offered, as in the case of Boko Haram to IS, it is accepted because the leader that is being offered Bay’ah assumes total and absolute authority over his subjects, except these subjects were to discover that the actions of the leader contradicted their kind of beliefs.

Many commentators have maintained that Boko Haram is on its knees, therefore, it is reaching out to IS to reinforce its bonds with other groups and individuals in the region, and save itself from drowning. Yes, there have been intensified military attacks against Boko Haram by the Nigerian Army and the multinational forces but to assume that the international borders in north-east Nigeria that overlooks three countries — Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic — areno longer leaky is far-fetched. Even our weak institutions to guard against leakages are a cause of concern. Investigations revealed that there may still be several unmanned pathways from Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria to the Northern Mandara mountains, the new fortress of Boko Haram resistance.

A trusted inside assessment revealed that there is a difference between taking back Boko Haram territories and defeating the group’s terror network with its roots in many parts of the region. While one aspect of the problem can be defeated on the battle field, the other aspect requires deep, strategic and consistent institutional framework to be able to contain.

Another cause of apprehension is: both Chad and Niger that carried out a joint offensive against Boko Haram on Sunday share direct borderlines with Libya — IS most powerful arm outside of Iraq and Syria. However, many have dismissed the alliance since Boko Haram and IS are both confronted with large-scale military attacks. But IS is not only in Iraq, Syria or Libya, it’s an ideology that may be found in unexpected places.

There are also growing concern of Boko Haram capabilities, despite the offensive against it. On Saturday, its fighters moved into Sueram village in Cameroon, with tanks and pickups vans. Sueram, according to Chief Bisong Etahoben, a respected journalist in Cameroon, is a mere 17 kilometers from Fotokol, the location of Boko Haram’s most devastating attack on Cameroon in February.

Analyst argues that with deep seated distrust amongst the multinational forces and the absence of a command structure to streamline their activities, it becomes a major challenge to effectively police the expansive border territories. Moreover, we are referring to borderlines that host same ethnic groups, living across two imperceptible boundaries. If people can escape sophisticated airport security checks from the US, Europe and Asia en route Syria and Iraq from Turkey, how difficult will it be for people from Mali, North Africa and Europe to troop to poorly manned borders, in a poverty stricken region, being policed by one of the most ill-equipped and corrupt officials from the four hard-hit countries in the region?

Clearly, there has been progress in taking back Boko Haram territories by the militaries of Chad, Cameroun, Niger and more especially Nigeria but there has not been any headway in finding nearly a 1000 known prisoners, including over 200 girls, abducted about a year ago. For now, many in West Africa have every cause to be anxious by the new Boko Haram and IS alliance. In the absence of any intelligence breakthrough that may reveal the slightest clue on the following: who are Boko Haram’s current leaders? How many are they? What are their names? Where are they located? How are decisions taken within the group? What is their actual source of funding? How many cells do they operate outside the main war combatants? People in the region can be certain of more bloody surprises ahead.

If our intelligence community for years were repeatedly confused about whether or not Shekau was alive, his whereabouts, and were misled into believing bogus ceasefires and false alarms over the release of abducted girls, how can people trust the same security community with their borders? Boko Haram claims it is retreating for weeks to the Northern Mandara area at a time we are hearing victory songs by our military in areas far away from Boko Haram’s main command and control theatre.

Salkida, a conflict analyst, was the only journalist who had contact with Boko Haram leaders. He can be reached on Twitter: @contactSalkida
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