In a statement certain to elicit a huge sigh of relief nationwide, the Joint Task Force (JTF) in Borno State, Operation Restore Order, said yesterday that the leader of the outlawed Boko Haram sect, Abubakar Shekau, might have died as a result of injuries sustained during a recent military onslaught on his group.
Shekau had been declared wanted by the Nigerian military, police and the United States government, which had variously offered rewards for his capture. He was recognised as the spiritual and militant leader of the terrorist organisation that has waged war against the Nigerian state for four years and is responsible for the deaths of thousands.
In a press statement yesterday, the spokesman of the JTF, Lt. Col. Sagir Musa, said: “Intelligence reports available to the Joint Task Force, Operation Restore Order, revealed that Abubakar Shekau, the most dreaded and wanted Boko Haram terrorists leader may have died.”
He added: “He died of gunshot wounds received in an encounter with the JTF troops in one of their camps at Sambisa Forest on 30 June 2013.
“Shekau was mortally wounded in the encounter and was sneaked into Amitchide, a border community in Cameroun, for treatment from which he never recovered from.”
Musa further revealed that Shekau might have died between July 25 and August 3.
But Musa’s statement is bound to raise doubts, as a video recording of Shekau was released during the Eid-el-Fitr holiday, a few days after the August 4 attacks on two military camps in Mallam Fatori, Borno State, by suspected members of Boko Haram.
In the video, Boko Haram had claimed responsibility for the attacks on the camps and others in Yobe State.
He had said the attacks on the military camps in Mallam Fatori was like “child’s play” and threatened to wage war against the United States of America.
He had also called on all his followers to continue the war against Nigeria.
Musa said, among other crimes, Shekau was alleged to have been the mastermind behind the kidnapping of the seven French nationals and that of the elder statesman, Alhaji Shettima Ali Monguno.
The JTF spokesman also said Shekau was responsible for numerous killings of Islamic clerics in northern Nigeria.
“He was also responsible for bombings of many places of worship and public buildings including the police and United Nations headquarters in Abuja,” Musa said.
On the video, Musa said: “The recent video released on 13 August, 2013 by the purported sect leader was dramatised by an imposter to hoodwink the sect members to continue their acts of terrorism and to deceive undiscerning minds.”
Musa called on the sect members to lay down their arms and embrace the federal government’s offer for dialogue.
However, when contacted on the issue, the Defence Headquarters in Abuja kept mum on the purported killing of the leader of the Islamic sect.
The Director of Defence Information (DDI), Brigadier-General Chris Olukolade, refused to comment on Shekau’s purported death despite several phone calls which were made to him to confirm the story.
But military sources, who did not want to be named, voiced their reservations over the breach in communications and the hasty manner in which the JTF in Maiduguri broke the news without getting clearance from DHQ.
One source said the defence authorities were in possession of the same information about the alleged killing of Shekau but were being very careful to ensure that any information that is passed across to the public is “authentic and verifiable”.
The source noted that JTF wanted to make a point because they are wounding up their operations in the North-east and handing over command and control to the new Nigerian Army Division.
The source said: “I don’t know why he (Lt-Col Sagir Musa) is in a hurry to announce this because Defence Headquarters have the same documents (about Shekau’s death) here but they (DHQ) are still analysing it to ensure that the information is real.
“We want to avoid a situation where we will start retracting our statement. In fact, I believe that the officer (Sagir) is just being hasty because they (JTF) is wounding up today.”
DHQ had announced at the weekend that the JTF in the North-east would wind up their operations and would be replaced by a new division of the Nigerian Army.
In this regard, THISDAY was reliably informed that a new General Officer Commanding (GOC), Major-General Obidah Etan, has been appointed to head the new division.