By OBINNA EZUGWU
The story of Nigeria’s North Eastern State of Borno has, over the past decade, been that of terror and anarchy and death, one that the reported death of Abubakar Shekau, successor to Mohammed Yusuf, founding leader of Boko Haram terrorist group, will do little to change.
For over a decade, the Shekau led Boko Haram terrorist group has made life unlivable for millions in Nigeria’s Northeast region and beyond, but particularly in Borno, the headquarters of a bloody insurgency that started in 2009 after Yusuf, the original founder was killed under controversial circumstances.
Shekau, his successor, started what has become a full blown war against the Nigerian state in his bid to establish an Islamic caliphate. The group has killed more than 40,000 people and displaced over two million thus far, even as there is yet no end in sight.
Last week, Shekau was reported to have died after blowing himself up with his suicide vest, a report that sources have confirmed to our correspondent to be factual. While the death would have come as a relief to the government and the terrorised populace of Borno, the circumstances surrounding same suggest that it is not particularly good news. It has been down to ideological differences.
Fighters of the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) who conquered the once invincible Shekau are perhaps even a more formidable force to contend with, have been pushing for acceptability among the civilian population in the North East, and therefore, a bigger threat to Nigeria’s already stretched Armed Forces.
“ISWA has become the much stronger and better organized of the two factions. It trumpets its ties to the Islamic State (IS) group and cooperates with other jihadi groups under the IS umbrella active in the Sahel. ISWA could well absorb Shekau’s jihadi fighters,” noted former United States ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell.
“Nigeria Shekau’s faction appeared focused on Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin while ISWA has looked further beyond its borders. If ISWA is able to establish dominance over the various jihadi factions across the Sahel, it will become more formidable than Shekau’s faction was and a greater threat to the fragile states in the neighborhood.”
Shekau’s leadership had, for nearly a decade been unchallenged. He was said to have received a letter from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb around 2011 giving him advice to end attacks on Mosques which he failed to heed. In 2012 a faction of the group broke off to form Jamaat Ansar al-Muslimin fi Bilād as-Sudn (Ansaru).
The new faction had included his military commander Abu Muhammad al-Bauchawi and religious advisor Sheikh Abu Osama al-Ansari Muhammad Awal al-Gombawi. However, his force remained largely intact, and Shekau engaged in conflict with Ansaru, killing their leader Abu Osama al-Ansari. As a result of this, and other arrests of Ansaru leaders by the Nigerian government, Ansaru did not pose a further threat to Shekau’s leadership of the jihadi movement in Nigeria, and the group became defunct by 2015.
With the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), he was pressured by his commanders and soldiers to pledge his allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, which he eventually did in 2015. Following the allegiance, response came back with the Caliph making him Wali (Governor of the province).
In a report from the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, Shekau swore allegiance to al-Baghdadi on March 7, 2015, effectively making his group an affiliate of the Islamic State and causing it to be rebranded to ISWAP.
The group added in the report that following Shekau’s pledge, ISIS began sending support to Nigeria in the form of ideological and operational guidance, and also some material assistance.
Regardless, Shekau’s continued brutal attacks on religious interests, including mosques, and using underage girls as suicide bombers ensured that opposition against him remained.
In August 2016, ISIL appointed Abu Musab al-Barnawi (Habib Yusuf), 27-year-old son of original Boko Haram founder, Yusuf, as the leader of the group in place of Shekau. But Shekau refused to recognise Barnawi’s authority and split off part of the group under its original name of Jamaat Ahlus Sunnah li Dawah wal Jihad, while Barnawi led the Islamic State’s West African province, which at the time was said to have had about 3,500 fighters, while Shekau led his group, he only had 1,500.
The major point of departure between Shekau and ISWAP, as he narrated in a recording before his reported death, was his insistence that people living under control of the Nigerian state cannot be Muslims – a ‘kafir’ – and thus deserved death as much as Nigerian soldiers.
In the said audio, Shekau who admitted to pledging allegiance to Al-Qaeda soon after he went into the forest, also revealed that his group once received N50 million and weapons from Al-Qaeda, with the money leading to infighting between his followers. Following the split, clashes between the two groups continued.
On 12 September 2016, 30 of Shekau’s soldiers were killed and 40 captured by ISWAP. In October 2016, Shekau’s fighters attacked the Karino area south of Lake Chad with 350 men seizing the village of Tunubuma. Then Barnawi’s soldiers counter-attacked, killing more than 75, including a commander, Muhammad Bakr.
However, while Shekau executed outright, fighters of ISWAP captured by his men, Barnawi spared Shekau’s fighters captured by his own group, and instead won their loyalty. As a result, he gradually won the hearts of most of the fighters, including Shekau’s men, which made his eventual capture easier.
On May 19 2021, it was reported that Shekau was killed in an operation conducted by ISWAP the previous day, but a more accurate report later emerged that he blew up himself.
Indeed, in the recording said to have been his last words before he blew himself up, he blamed betrayal by his own men for his capture, hinting that many were already working with ISWAP against him.
ISWAP last week, officially announced that it has replaced Shekau with Abu Musab al-Barnawi. The terror group said Abu Musab “takes over all territories that were under Shekau. The immediate replacement of Shekau was a major revenge against the former Boko Haram leader that exhibited ‘highhandedness and ruthlessness’ against humanity in the Northeast.”
The announcement also included that ISWA had arrested thirty top commanders that were loyal to Shekau, as it consolidates hold of the territories, with the potential threat that may come with it.
Staying Afloat in the Face of Huge Odds
When in May 2019, Professor Babagana Zulum assumed office as the new governor of Borno, he was effectively taking up a huge challenge of providing governance in a state beset by terrorism.
However, even in the midst of the huge challenges posed by the terror groups’ continuing campaign, which analysts assert may get more complicated with ISWAP now fully in charge of the Sambisa Forest, his government has been making the best out of a bad situation, as relevant figures on the state economy suggest.
His down to earth approach to governance has also endeared him to many who continue to commend his determination despite the odds.
In January, Zulum signed the state’s N248 billion 2021 budget passed by the state assembly into law, more than the figure of most states of the federation.
The figure saw an addition of N40 billion from the original N208 billion proposed by the governor, out of which N135.1 billion, representing 65 percent was for capital projects, while N72 billion was for recurrent.
The governor assured that the government would sustain its priority on security, education, Healthcare, Agriculture, provision portable water as well as reconstruction, rehabilitation and resettlement of internally displaced persons and refugees.
Borno ended 2020 with an internally generated revenue of N11.5 billion, representing steady improvement from the 2019 figure of N8.1billion and N6.5billion in 2018.
The 2020 figure, though not spectacular, and not up to 10 percent of the N60billion that the state got as federal allocation for the year, it may still be regarded as a feat for a state facing huge odds, given, especially that it is bigger than those of a number of other more peaceful states such Taraba, Adamawa, Ekiti, Jigawa, Gombe, Benue, Katsina and Niger.
Borno, which ended 2020 with 43 percent unemployment rate, is one of the worst hit states of the federation, but even with its terror issues, is not the worst hit state.
Imo, at Imo 56 percent unemployment rate, took emerged the state with highest in the country, followed by Adamawa 54 percent, Cross River 53 percent, Akwa Ibom 51 percent, Abia 50 percent, Edo 49 percent, Anambra 44 percent, while Rivers at 41 percent is not far off.
In his first one year in office, Zulum was said to have executed 326 capital projects and 49 capital-intensive programmes, according to his Secretary to the State Government, Usman Jidda Shuwa.
These were 53 projects in 21 LGAs, 11 of which were started from scratch while 42 were reconstruction works. The projects centred on council secretariats, lodges, police stations, LEA offices, courts and palaces of resident traditional rulers.
Last week, the governor acquired 18 heavy duty road construction equipments at N1.4bn to kick start Borno urban renewal project with a view to reducing the cost of road maintenance and construction in the state.