The military last night vowed to end the Boko Haram insurgency.
It promised not to lower its guard and urged Nigerians to remain vigilant despite the seeming conciliatory approach of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in a video message.
Reacting to the video, the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) said there would be “no safe haven for terrorists”.
A statement issued in Abuja yesterday by the Director of Defence Information, Brig.-Gen. Rabe Abubakar, said: “The DHQ wishes to state emphatically that not minding the contents of the video clips, the Armed Forces of Nigeria would continue to fight in order to consolidate the successes recorded so far.
“The said video clip should, therefore, be discountenanced as it could be another ploy or antics of the terrorists to keep our innocent citizens off their current security alertness to maximise casualties if attacked.
“The Nigerian Armed Forces are now determined more than ever before to end this ugly trend.
“The DHQ is also reassuring citizens that all captives under the cover of the insurgents would regain their freedom with the ongoing military’s final offensive against the terrorists.’’
Abubakar said the CDS commended all officers and men of the Nigerian Armed Forces for their sacrifices, determination and courage to complete the task against the terrorists.
The statement also advised the public not to be carried away by the video clips but to be extra vigilant and security conscious at all times during the Easter celebrations and beyond.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau staged a return yesterday, more than one year after his last appearance on video, hinting that his “end” as the sect’s leader “has come”.
“For me, the end has come”, he said in a video message without his usual defiance, taunts and denunciation of the country’s leaders.
In a swift reaction, the military said it was studying the video to determine its authenticity.
Apparently debunking his rumoured death, Shekau said: “This is a message of greeting and joy for you to see my face. This is my desire: that whoever sees this will hear nothing but greetings between me and you. Only Allah knows the rest, as you believed [and] as you submitted. For me the end has come.
“This is only the message I want to send to you to understand that this is certainly I. This is why I did this.”
In the eight-minute video, which has been posted on social media and YouTube, Shekau, who in March, last year, pledged allegiance to ISIS in an audio message, is seen holding a rifle beside one of the black flags associated with ISIS.
He speaks slowly and appears more frail than in previous videos. Shekau talks in a mixture of Arabic and Hausa, according to Athanasius Atta Barkindo, a PhD candidate at SOAS University of London, who works with a group rehabilitating Boko Haram extremists.
The video appears to be new and legitimate, according to Yan St-Pierre, chief executive of the Berlin-based Modern Security Consulting Group (MOSECON). “He is telling his followers that he is alive. This appears to be the video preparing for the post-Shekau situation [in] Boko Haram-ISWAP,” said St-Pierre, who added that his group is still working on the video’s final translation.
Shekau has appeared in numerous Boko Haram videos in the past, including one displaying some of the girls kidnapped by the group from their school in Chibok, Borno State. The girls were kidnapped on April 15, 2014 and the whereabouts of 219 remain unknown. Shekau has a $7 million bounty on his head.
His broadcast was unlike his past messages at the end of 2014 and the start of 2015, which were well edited and closely resembled those of ISIS.
It was also posted on YouTube rather than via Twitter accounts linked to ISIS supporters and websites linked to fellow extremist groups, which had become Boko Haram’s preferred medium of communication.
The bearded Shekau, who looked thin, spoke to his followers in front of a lime green background, with the Boko Haram black flag superimposed in crude graphics.
There was no indication of when or where the video was shot.
Shekau took over Boko Haram leadership in 2009, following the death of its founder, Mohammed Yusuf. Under his leadership, the group has waged a six-year insurgency in the Northeast —which spread in 2015 to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger—killing thousands and displacing more than two million people.
Shekau also referred in the past tense to Gwoza in Borno State, which Boko Haram overran in mid-2014 and declared a caliphate.
The town was retaken in a military counter-offensive that has seen towns, villages and territory controlled by Boko Haram seized back over the last year.
Boko Haram supply lines are said to have been squeezed, preventing them for sourcing fuel for hit-and-run attacks and conventional fighting, although suicide bombings persist.
There have also been reports of fighters surrendering for lack of food. Shekau is said to be in hiding in Sambisa Forest in Borno State, which is under military watch.
Shekau has been reportedly killed several times since the start of the insurgency that has claimed at least 17,000 lives since 2009, only for him to reappear in video messages.
The military believes several lookalikes have since stood in for him.