By Nigerian-born Dan Wooding, Founder of the ASSIST News Service
NIGERIA (ANS – August 18, 2015) – The mystery of the fate of the Nigerian-based Islamist militant group Boko Haram’s brutal leader, Abubakar Shekau, has deepened after an audio message has emerged in which he denies he has been replaced.
According to the BBC, in the message, addressed to the leader of the Islamic State militant group to whom Boko Haram has pledged allegiance, Mr. Shekau said he was still in command. He had not featured in the group’s recent videos, prompting speculation he had been killed or incapacitated.
Last week, Idriss Déby, the President of neighbouring Chad, claimed that Abubakar Shekau, had been ousted and replaced by his deputy, Mahamat Daoud.
President Déby revealed this surprise information during a press conference on Tuesday, August 11, 2015, in which he also said that Boko Haram is “losing the way” and would be “annihilated” by the end of this year.
Déby said, “There is someone apparently called Mahamat Daoud who is said to have replaced Abubakr Shekau and he wants to negotiate with the Nigerian government. For my part, I would advise not to negotiate with a terrorist.”
Mr. Shekau has not featured in the group’s recent videos, leading to speculation that he has been killed, but now, following his audio message, many are confused as to what is going on with this infamous terrorist.
The BBC said, however, that the Nigerian army has dismissed the audio recording as irrelevant, saying it did not matter whether he was alive or dead.
Mr. Shekau described as “blatant lies” reports that he was no longer in charge.
I am alive,” he said, adding: “I will only die when the time appointed by Allah comes.”
The eight-minute-long recording mocked a recent statement by the new Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari that Boko Haram would be eliminated within three months.
Mansur Liman, Editor, of the BBC Hausa Service, says, “There is no doubt that the voice is that of Abubakar Shekau, but he seemed more subdued than in his previous recordings.
“His delivery was slow and steady, in contrast to his habitually theatrical performances. It is also interesting that this was an audio recording, rather than one of the slickly produced videos Boko Haram has been releasing, rather like those of its Islamic State allies.
“It could be that the pressure is starting to tell.”
Liman added, “Nigeria’s army has been making progress and cutting off the group’s supply lines. While they used to stage attacks in large convoys of vehicles with heavy weapons, witnesses say recent raids have been carried out on horseback and even bicycles.”
The BBC said that Mr. Shekau took over as the group’s leader after its founder, Muhammad Yusuf, died in Nigerian police custody in July 2009.
“Under his leadership Boko Haram has become more radical and has carried out more killings,” said the BBC story. “In numerous videos, Mr. Shekau has taunted the Nigerian authorities, celebrating the group’s violent acts including the abduction of the more than 200 Chibok schoolgirls in April 2014.
Last month, Mr. Buhari said he would be willing to negotiate with the Boko Haram leadership for the release of the Chibok girls – depending on the credibility of those saying they represented the group. A previous prisoner-swap attempt ended in failure.
“Although momentum is gathering for a concerted regional offensive against the group, Boko Haram continues to carry out horrific attacks, not only in Nigeria but in its neighbors too, reports the BBC’s Africa editor Mary Harper.
Boko Haram at a glance:
* Founded in 2002, initially focused on opposing Western-style education – Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa languageLaunched military operations in 2009
* Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria, abducted hundreds, including at least 200 schoolgirlsJoined Islamic State, now calls itself “West African province
* Seized large area in north-east, where it declared a caliphateRegional force has retaken most territory this year
Photo captions: 1) Abubakar Shekau. 2) The Chad president. 3) Boko Haram on the attack in Nigeria. 4) Dan Wooding as a baby in Nigeria in the arms of his mother, Anne Wooding, a pioneer missionary from Liverpool, England.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 74, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for 52 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. He has written some 45 books and has reported for ANS from all over Africa.
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