By Tajudeen Suleiman*
Ibrahim Shekau, leader of Nigeria’s Boko Haram sect appears to model his activities after the late Osama bin Laden, leader of Al Qaeda, the international terrorist organization
Ibrahim Shekau is a paradox. He was not just a student of Mohammed Yusuf, the late founder of the Boko Haram movement, killed in 2009; he was also one of the devout to his teachings. He believed in the utopian Islamic evangelism of Yusuf, who preached against the evils of the modern secular states of the world.
But unlike his late mentor, who believed an Islamic state was realisable through preaching and mobilisation of the people to reject secularism, Shekau believed the more realistic way was to take up arms, fight and conquer the “unbelievers.” While Yusuf was said to be calm and even meek, Shekau is hotheaded and has a warrior’s heart. He was prepared to die for the cause and also willing to kill for it. He is also said to be quick-tempered. For his loyalty and bravery, he became the deputy leader of the group.
Several times during his lifetime, Yusuf was said to have had hot arguments with Shekau over the group’s modus operandi. Shekau had relentlessly advocated arms struggle for the group to actualise their objective, quoting several verses in the Qur’an to justify aggression against “unbelievers.” But Yusuf was said to have stood against any form of violence, saying it was against the teachings of Islam.
But with the growing attacks on members of the group by the police and security agencies over the “inciting preaching” of Yusuf, Shekau’s influence in the group began to grow. Counter-violence became an attractive option to save the group and advance its cause. Shekau became a rallying point for the offensive against the police. Long before the military’s attack on the group in 2009, members of the sect, led by Shekau, had attacked police formations in parts of Yobe State in retaliation.
By June 2009, Shekau had become the commander of the group’s army, executing traitors and defending loyalists of the sect. When it became obvious that the military had planned to attack the headquarters of the group in Maiduguri in June 2009, Yusuf and some of the members of the group decided it was unwise to engage the military in any fire-fight, and planned their escape.
But Shekau held them hostage, and called Yusuf a coward who was unwilling to fight for his cause. He reportedly threatened to kill anyone who tried to escape, and ordered that all must be ready for the fight. Many members of the sect lost their lives in the attack and Yusuf eventually died in police custody, Shekau managed to escape with some injuries, and became a survivor of the military onslaught against the sect.
After his recovery, he brought the group together again and planned the armed struggle, which began with serial attacks against the police, military and other security personnel for the attack and killing of members of the sect. The group stopped preaching and went underground. That was when the insurgency started and they began to target top members of the Borno State government for their alleged role in the killing of Yusuf and other members.
The group accused Ali Sheriff; former governor of the state, of giving the order for the execution of their leader after the military captured him and handed him over to the police. Sheriff has denied the allegation. The attack on the Police and security forces culminated in the attack on the Police headquarters in 2010.
Since he took over as the spiritual head of the group, the sect appeared to have shifted focus from its original objective of seeking to Islamise the country, starting from the North, through evangelism. Bomb attacks on churches; social spots and innocent people have continued to portray the group as insurgents seeking the disintegration of the country.
Muslim leaders have condemned the activities of the sect as un-Islamic and evil. Abubakar Sa’ad, the Sultan of Sokoto and spiritual head of Muslims in the country, said Islam is a religion of peace, and that Boko Haram is evil. The Sultan also urged Nigerians not to see the activities of the group as a war declared by Muslims in the country.
There are many Muslim sects in the North whose objective is to make Nigeria an Islamic state, but have not taken to arms struggle to achieve this. The most popular and the biggest is the Nigerian Muslim Movement led by Sheikh El-Zak-Zaki based in Zaria.
Shekau, said to be about 43 years of age, was originally from Kaduna State but settled in Shekau village in Yobe state. He later adopted the name of the village as an almajiri who went to Maiduguri to learn about Islam. He did not have any formal education apart from the local Islamiyya schools he attended in Maiduguri. But his deputy, is said to have travelled widely in search of Islamic knowledge. The countries he visited include Sudan, Egypt and Somali. It is believed that he must have been exposed to the extremist ideologies in these countries.
The methods of some of those organisations appear to have rubbed off on Shekau’s group. For instance, the sect is using the same tactics by the Al Qaeda, the international terrorist organisation led by Osama bin Laden, who was killed in a special operation by the United States forces in Pakistan, last year. In a message posted on the Internet on January 12, Shekau, dressed in military camouflage and spotting a bin Laden look-alike beard, said his group had no other motive for fighting than promoting the cause of Allah by killing anybody who tries to stop them. Aside from his appearance in that video, this is also a method used by the late terrorist to issue threats to his adversaries and communicate to his followers. The message was directed at President Goodluck Jonathan and Ayo Oritsejafor, president, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN.
Jonathan had described the activities of the sect as cancerous, and urged all hands to be on deck to eliminate them. On his part, Oritsejafor told Christians in the country to defend themselves, following repeated attacks on churches in parts of the North. Shekau interpreted the statements of Jonathan and Oritsejafor as a call on Christians and the armed forces to attack Muslim, stressing that the group would retaliate any attack against them.
He warned the President that the group was unstoppable because it was doing Allah’s work, and that Allah is behind its activities. “What we are doing is what Allah asked us to do,” he warned, beating his chest and saying his group is not afraid of death.
Sources told the magazine that Shekau and his gang of killers may have fled Maiduguri, following the heat brought on them by the Joint Military Task Force which has ripped the town open, searching for leaders of the group. Shekau is, therefore, believed to be between Kano and Adamawa states, from where he coordinates the group’s attacks.
*Culled from Tell Magazine Nigeria