Here’s the news Nigerians have been itching to hear: a divided house in Nigeria’s most deadly terrorist group, Boko haram following the news of its current leadership crisis between Abubakar Shekau and Islamic States of Iraq and the Levante (ISIL) backed Abu Musab al-Barnawi.
After launching its first attack in 2009, the insurgent group, Boko haram, also known as Islamic states West Africa Province (ISWAP) have wrecked havoc in Nigeria through a spate of killings, bombings and abductions with the aim of creating a caliphate in north-eastern Nigeria. They have killed more than 20,000 with more than 2.6 million people in the region Nigeria displaced.
This news is coming at a time when Nigerians, especially those in north east region of Nigeria are tired of its reign of bloodletting.
But is the group at the verge of collapse?
Controlled By Two Captains
Abubakar Shekau has always been the kingpin of the Islamic group after the death of the founder, Mohammed Yusuf in 2009. Under his watch, the group carried out its deadliest attack, including its biggest—the attack in Baga, where more than 2000 people were killed. He also pledged allegiance with ISIL, renaming the group to Islamic States West Africa Province (ISWAP).
Beyond the rumour of his “death and resurrection”, Shekau has also masterminded bombing and kidnapping that have caused Nigerians heart-wrenching pains including his daring abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls in Chibok
He has been the captain controlling the ship of insurgency in north east Nigeria until recently when ISIL announced in its Arabic-language magazine, al-Nabaa that Abu Musab al-Barnawi had replaced Shekau as the head of the terrorist group. Al-Barnawi is the son of Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of the sect, according to Ahmed Salkida, a Nigerian Journalist who first interviewed Yusuf.
Shekau however denounced IS declaration that al-Barnawi was the leader, stressing that he is still the leader of the sect. He accused al-Barnawi of trying to stage a coup against him, while describing him and his followers as polytheist
The twists and turns in the sect concerning leadership position between Shekau and al-Barnawi led to the in-fighting that broke out on Wednesday between the factions.
Boko haram translated in hausa language as “west education is forbidden” in the last seven years has targeted both Christians and muslims especially in north-eastern Nigeria.
Shekau who is keenly interested in establishing a caliphate in the region considers everyone, including Muslims, as ‘infidels’.
Al-Barnawi, on a flipside, condemns targeting muslims and mosques. In his interview in the al-Nabaa, al-Barnawi said that there should be no more attacks on mosques; instead, the target should shift to unbelievers and polytheists in future attacks.
After the in-fighting on Wednesday, Mele Kaka who lives in the area told AFP: “The Barnawi Fighters told villagers after each attack that they were fighting the other camp (Shekau Faction) because they had derailed from the true jihad and were killing innocent people, looting their property and burning their homes. They said such acts contravene the teachings of Islam and true Jihad.”
From all indications it is clear that ISIL-backed al-Barnawi is against Shekau’s ideology of attacking Muslims and bombing mosques.
His attention has shifted from attacking ordinary Muslims to supporting ISIL’s mission of targeting western states and apostates.
“Concern will intensify that al-Barnawi and his IS backers will take a more international, outward-looking path,” says Journalist Andrew Walker and author of Eat the Heart of the Infidel: The Harrowing of Nigeria and the Rise of Boko Haram.
“Even a small band of die-hards can cause great carnage, and their capability to reach Western targets is likely to be strenuously re-examined.”
At the verge of collapse
With the intensified onslaught on the sect by the Nigerian Army and its allies from neighbouring countries, the islamist extremists have lost most of the territories they controlled in the last 18 months, forcing them to resort to using suicide bombers.
The in-fighting between the factions “is also a sign of the weakness of the group, possibly foreshadowing an eventual collapse,” BBC Africa’s Nasidi Yahaya said in Abuja.