After several claims that it had killed the leader of the extremist Boko Haram sect, Abubakar Shekau, or that he may have died, the Nigerian military recently ordered its men to capture him within 40 days.
A statement by the spokesperson for the Nigerian Army, Sani Usman, said the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, a lieutenant general, gave the order to the Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, Ibrahim Attahiru.
Mr. Buratai directed Mr. Attahiru, a major general, to employ every weapon available in his arsenal “to smoke out Shekau wherever he is hiding in Nigeria”.
“The general public is pleased requested to also assist and volunteer information that would lead to the accomplishment of this task,” the army spokesperson said in the statement.
Mr. Shekau, who hails from Yobe State, took over the leadership of the dreaded group after its founder, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed in 2009. The military has repeatedly claimed credit for killing him.
At times, Mr. Shekau would appear in a video to prove he had not been killed.
The military however insisted that the original Abubakar Shekau had long been killed, and that the so-called Abubakar Shekau said to be alive was a made-up character.
But the sect denounced the claims each time, saying its leader remained alive.
On almost all the occasions, Mr. Shekau or at least someone who claimed to be him, showed up in new videos afterwards.
TIMELINE OF THE CLAIMS
2009: The Nigerian security forces said they killed Mr. Shekau alongside the founder of Boko Haram, Mr. Yusuf, and 1,000 other members of the dreaded group.
July 2010: Mr. Shekau appeared in a video claiming leadership of the group.
2011: The army suggested it killed Mr. Shekau at a Kano neighbourhood during an exchange of fire with security agents.
April 2011, Mr. Shekau appeared in a video debunking news of his death.
The sect leader who spoke in Hausa, said, “They will always go to the radio stations to tell lies about me.
“They will say they have arrested me and that they have killed me. All that is a lie. Look at me here. I am alive and I am doing well.”
August 18, 2013: The Nigerian Army said “intelligence report” showed that Mr. Shekau may have died between July 25 and August, 2013.
An Army spokesperson at the time, Sagir Musa, then a lieutenant colonel, said the intelligence report suggested Mr. Shekau was shot on June 30 when soldiers raided a Boko Haram base at Sambisa Forest.
“Shekau was mortally wounded in the encounter and was sneaked into Amitchide – a border community in Cameroon for treatment…It is greatly believed that Shekau might have died between 25 July and August 3, 2013,” he said.
September 2013: A video was released purportedly showing Mr. Shekau, saying the world “should know that he could not die except by the will of Allah.”
In the video, the Boko Haram leader was seen sitting in a jungle environment surrounded by dozens of lieutenants dressed in military fatigues.
September 24, 2014: The Nigerian military issued an official confirmation to reports that Mr. Shekau had been killed by security forces.
It said the Boko Haram leader was killed in the Battle of Konduga which took place between September 12 and 14.
The Cameroonian military corroborated the Nigerian army’s claim.
The Nigerian army said the real Mr. Shekau was killed by soldiers more than a year ago in confrontation, but that his character had been assumed by another leader of the deadly group.
“The impersonator is the man who appeared in several Boko Haram propaganda videos, claiming he is Mr. Shekau,” the then defence spokesperson, Chris Olukolade, said.
“It was that new face of Mr. Shekau that was killed in a fierce clash with the military last week in Konduga, near Maiduguri, Borno State.”
He claimed Mohammed Bashir, who appeared in the video, was known also with several aliases.
Mr. Olukolade said after the clash, the identity of Mr. Bashir was confirmed by the locals in Konduga. Mr. Bashir’s other names he said included Abubakar Shekau, alias Abacha Abdullahi Geidam alias Damasack.
“Since the name Shekau has become a brand name for the terrorists’ leader, the Nigerian military remains resolute to serve justice to anyone who assumes that designation or title as well as all terrorists that seek to violate the freedom and territory of Nigeria,” the military said.
August 23, 2016: On this day, the military turned around to claim that Mr. Shekau had been “fatally wounded” and that three key commanders of the sect had been killed.
Army spokesperson, Sani Usman, said the Boko Haram leader suffered injury during a major air strike while leading his group in performing the Friday prayers at a secret location called Tayye in the heart of the Sambisa forest.
“In what one could describe as the most unprecedented and spectacular air raid, we have just confirmed that as a result of the interdiction efforts of the Nigerian Air Force, some key leaders of the Boko Haram terrorists have been killed while others were fatally wounded.
“The air interdiction took place last week Friday 19th August 2016, while the terrorists were performing Friday rituals at Taye village.
“Those Boko Haram terrorists commanders confirmed dead include Abubakar Mubi, Malam Nuhu and Malam Hamman, amongst others, while their leader, so called “Abubakar Shekau”, is believed to be fatally wounded on his shoulders. Several other terrorists were also wounded”.
September 25, 2016: Mr. Shekau released a new video, disputing the military’s claim that he was killed or “fatally wounded” in an air strike.
The 39 minutes video posted on YouTube shows Mr. Shekau, flanked by two gun-wielding Boko Haram members, speaking on the group’s activities.
In the video, Shekau spoke extensively in Arabic and also Hausa, Kanuri, and English.
In the video, the Boko Haram leader, who spoke in Arabic and Hausa, said, “You broadcast the news and published it in your media outlets that you injured me and killed me and here I am.
“Oh tyrants, I am in a happy state, in good health and in safety. I will not be killed until my time comes.”
October 2, 2016, Mr. Shekau or a man claiming to be him appeared in a 36-minute video obtained by AFP news agency, again mocking the claim by the army.
“Here I am, alive. I will only die thee day Allah takes my breath,” Mr. Shekau said, adding that the sect was “running our Islamic caliphate and administering strict punishments in captured towns.
December 29, 2016: The Nigerian Army dismissed a new video released by Boko Haram as “mere terrorist propaganda”.
The video came less than a week after President Muhammadu Buhari announced the “final crushing” of Boko Haram.
Mr. Buhari said in a Christmas Eve statement that the takeover of Sambisa Forest by Nigerian troops marked the country’s triumph over Boko Haram.
The military has celebrated the victory in subsequent statements since then.
But the leader of the sect, Abubakar Shekau, said the government “should not be telling lies to the people”.
“If you indeed crushed us, how can you see me like this? How many times have you killed us in your bogus death?” he asked.
“We are safe. We have not been flushed out of anywhere. And tactics and strategies cannot reveal our location except if Allah wills by his decree,” Mr. Shekau said in the 25-minute video.
March 28, 2017: The Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, assured President Muhammadu Buhari that the military would soon apprehend Mr. Shekau.
“If you have the opportunity to go to Sambisa (forest), you will know that Boko Haram has been defeated. Go and see what is happening in Sambisa,” Mr. Dan-Ali, a retired brigadier-general.
“We have dominated the whole stronghold where they used to be, there is where we call ‘camp zero’ where their spiritual and their strong headquarters that they were using as communication base was destroyed and as at the same time occupied by our men of the armed forces.
“So, I believe it’s just a matter of time, it took America about seven to 10 years to get bin Laden. So we will get Shekau as soon as possible. I told you before now, the spiritual headquarters has been ransacked and vandalized. He (Shekau) is on the run. So he may be hiding in one of the enclaves of Sambisa forest that we are dominating.”
June 27, 2017: In a new video, Mr. Shekau claimed his group recently abducted about 10 policewomen in Borno State.
“We have confiscated several cars, and we have taken women, among them were top policewomen,” he said.
“God had given the senior policewomen to us as slaves and has put them in our custody, we that are known as the Jamaatu Sunna li Dawati wal Jihad which they call with the derogatory name as Boko Haram.”
The Police, however, debunked the Boko Haram leader’s claim.