It is being reported that Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau is dead. He blew himself up after refusing surrender to warriors of ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province), a rival terrorist group and ISIS affiliate, who were chasing him.
Both Boko Haram and ISWAP have been terrorizing Northern Nigeria for many years. As well as killing, looting, and kidnapping civilians, they also fight each other. ISWAP split off from Boko Haram because they felt Shekau, under whose leadership 30 000 people were murdered and who claimed to love killing, was too violent. Ideologically they feel more at home with ISIS.
This brings home once again what the people in Northern Nigeria have been suffering. Imagine dealing with two terrorist groups, one as violent as ISIS and one whom ISIS thinks too violent. On top of that, civilians have been caught up in the fights between these rival groups.
What does the death of this leader mean for the conflict they have been suffering from? It is telling that Shekau was not taken out by Nigerian security forces. That would have meant that the government was capable of damaging terrorist networks and reigning them in. The fact that he was taken out by another terror group, shows who is really in charge in the remote parts of Northern Nigeria. The government seems incapable of stopping the terrorist activities of these two groups.
It is being reported that ISIS ordered ISWAP to murder Shekau. This would mean that ISIS has serious influence over the conflict in Nigeria. Even if they are less murderous than Boko Haram, they are still one of the most violent groups that have emerged in recent history and their growing influence in North Africa is very concerning. They are more ideologically driven than Boko Haram and that could be bad news for Christians. ISWAP may be able to gain more support among Muslims than Boko Haram has.
The only ‘good’ thing about this is, that now that their leader is dead, Boko Haram fighters may join ISWAP instead, which will mean that people only have to worry about one terror group in the region. Still, this is not a cause for celebration. Imagine Osama bin Laden was taken out by Hezbollah instead of by US special forces. It would just mean one of your enemies had become powerful enough to take out another of your enemies.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian government seems more concerned about fighting the freedom of ordinary citizens than fighting terror groups. This week Twitter was suspended in the country, after a tweet from the president was deleted. Anyone posting a tweet in Nigeria can now be prosecuted. Chinese technological support has been requested to build a firewall to stop people from using VPNs. China’s notorious Great Fire Wall is becoming an interesting option for regimes that want greater control over the flow of information. In this way, China’s influence is increasing, taking away the freedom of Nigerians to discuss their concerns in cyberspace.
The death of a terrorist and the suspension of Twitter may seem to have nothing to do with each other, but they have something in common. Globalisation is not only economical. It is also ideological, and both the violent ideology of ISIS and the repressive ideology of the Chinese communist party are exported around the world. They meet each other in Nigeria, where Christians try to hold their ground as Islam pushes South. Please continue to pray for them.