Following the announcement, Monday, by the Joint Task Force, JTF, of the possible death of Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, after he sustained gunshot injuries in a clash with Nigerian troops, the United States Government has launched a probe to verify the claim.
No one had reasons to believe the announcement that “Shekau might have died between July 25 to 3 August” in Amitchide, Cameroun, after being “mortally wounded” in an encounter with JTF at the Sambisa Forest on June 30, as the task force did not produce any proof beyond relying on intelligence report to back up its claim.
US State Department Deputy spokesperson, Ms. Marie Harf, while responding to a question in Washington DC on Tuesday on whether US had any information about the possible death of Shekau, said: “We have seen these reports and (we) are working to ascertain the facts.”
Shekau and two other key figures in Boko Haram were last year labelled as “specially designated global terrorists” by the US, followed up in June by announcing a $23 million reward for anyone who could help track down five leaders of deadly militant groups spreading terror in West Africa with the highest sum of $7 million placed on Shekau’s head.
Commenting on his reported death, Harf described Shekau as the most visible leader of Boko Haram, adding, “if his death – it turns out to be true, the loss of such a central and well known figure would set back Boko Haram’s operations and remove a key voice from its efforts to mobilise violent extremists in Nigeria and around the world.”
She however added that that was not the first time the Boko Haram leader would be declared dead, adding, “as many of you know, he was also falsely reported dead in 2009.”
The US official however said her country will continue to support Nigeria in the fight against terrorism, recalling that as recent as August 15, Under-Secretary Wendy Sherman was in Nigeria where she held discussions about regional security, including how both countries could further partner to develop and implement effective counter-terrorism measures.
Meanwhile, the federal government yesterday pleaded with Nigerians to give the military the benefit of the doubt, following criticisms that had trailed the reported death of Shekau.
It explained that instead of the controversy over whether or not he might have been killed in a shootout, as revealed by the military, people should just believe the claim.
Making the plea while briefing journalists after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, Minister of Information, Mr Labaran Maku said, the supposed killing of Shekau is a logical progression of events since the onslaught against the insurgents started with the proclamation of emergency rule in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States three months ago.
Maku reasoned that if the military was successfully prosecuting its operations against the Islamist militant group, then there should be no reason to doubt its claim on Shekau’s death.
“Relating to the story that we have read, I think it is better we leave it at that. These people are on the run and we will allow the military to tell the story,” he said.
The death claim, Maku said should give Nigerians more confidence in the military. “It should give us more confidence. What it means is that the security forces are closing up on some of the kingpins of this murderous group that has denied thousands of Nigerians their lives. Some of the key leaders have been pronounced dead. I think that rather than losing confidence, we should continue to pray for the military to hope that in the end they succeed and they are succeeding,” he said.
He therefore urged the media to support the military in the fight against terror, adding that the military should be given ample backing because that is “the most important thing we need in Nigeria because if there is no peace in the northern part of the country, there won’t be peace in Nigeria.”
“You will notice that since the president proclaimed the state of emergency three months ago, we have kept political comments out of it. We decided that it is better for the military to tell their story; that is why I have not spoken on it. We want to remove this security operation from any misunderstanding, especially from politicians. As a government, it is our operation, but the most important thing is to allow the military tell the story of what is happening,” he added.