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Shekau And Govt’s Claims On Kankara Abduction Raise Unanswered Questions

The video of the Kankara schoolboys released by Boko Haram several hours before the students regained freedom indicates that the terror group was involved, but the saga leaves more questions than answers.

“Even if I didn’t say anything, here are my people speaking and here are your boys speaking too,” said Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, referring to the abductors that appeared with the schoolboys in the proof of life video. 

Both the Katsina and Zamfara State Governments have, however, insisted that the terror group, whose stronghold is in the northeast, was not involved in the abduction.

Challenging this narrative, a source within Boko Haram, asked rhetorically, “If we are not involved, how come we secured a video of the boys?” The source did not provide further reasons to substantiate the group’s involvement.

HumAngle had identified the teenage student who spoke in the proof of life video. The boy was also among those released and, narrating his ordeal, he said he was persuaded by the terrorists to speak in the video before he was released with 343 other students.

“I don’t know who they are but they said I should say they are Boko Haram —gang of Abu Shekau,” he said at the Katsina State Government House on Friday, echoing his exact words in the video.

The position of the governments of Katsina and Zamfara states on which group is to blame is shared by the Federal Government. The Minister of Information, Lai Muhammed, recently emphasised the official narrative that Boko Haram had been decimated and the group’s remnants were merely seeking relevance by claiming responsibility for the schoolboys’ abduction.

“The children were kidnapped by bandits, not Boko Haram; the attempt by the insurgent group to take responsibility shows how decimated they are,” he said.

“Boko Haram is seeking relevance by trying to appropriate themselves with the handwork of bandits and sending out fake videos.”

Sources familiar with the activities of Boko Haram clarified that Shekau is acting only as a spiritual leader to the abductors and he might have obtained the footage from his members who are also allies of local armed groups operating in the northwest. 

Security sources have also told AFP on Wednesday that the operation was carried out on Boko Haram’s orders by a notorious local gangster, Awwalun Daudawa. He reportedly carried out the attack in collaboration with Idi Minorti and Dankarami, two other well-known crime chiefs.

HumAngle had reported that Boko Haram members were steadily stepping up their presence in the northwest, taking advantage of the surge of criminality and security loopholes. Shekau’s faction of the group is gaining weight and sealing allegiances across northern Nigeria. 

In July, the faction released a video where it confirmed its link with armed groups based in Niger State but which also operate in the Northwest.

An investigation by HumAngle has revealed that, as of July 2020, Shekau’s faction had over 400 active fighters in the sub-region. 

This figure, according to the report, does not include those of Ansaru and ISWAP fighters, who are already established in the area, preparing to wage war on citizens and state operatives.

“As security has deteriorated, the region has steadily come under the renewed influence of jihadist groups, which have also stepped up attacks on security forces,” noted the International Crisis Group in a report published in May. 

The Group added that “the spike in jihadist activity in the North West has raised fears that the region could soon become a land bridge connecting Islamic insurgencies in the central Sahel with the decade-old insurgency in the Lake Chad region of north-eastern Nigeria.”

Conflicting figures

Since the kidnapping took place on the night of Friday, December 11, conflicting figures have been given as the number of students abducted, ranging from as low as 10 to over 600. Even Boko Haram that claimed to have carried out the attack appears to have inflated the figure when it claimed 523 children were kidnapped.

The boy who spoke in the proof of life video may have also been persuaded to restate Boko Haram figure, further supporting the report that the video was recorded at the instance of Shekau to instil fear and force the government to negotiate.

What is certain is that the latest attack bears signatures of both Boko Haram and armed groups in the northwest. The latter groups, for instance, have never released a proof of life video of their captives unlike insurgents in the northeast, thus confirming a degree of collaboration between the two criminal groups. 

Was a ransom paid?

A security official had told HumAngle early on Thursday that the Kankara abduction would “likely be one of the most short-lived” in the country’s history.

He explained that the reason for this was because of the abducted children’s harsh circumstances, especially occasioned by the cold, harmattan season.

This paper was further informed on Friday by a security source that “the only reason people are doubting Boko Haram’s involvement was because of the speed the schoolboys were released unlike in the northeast where similar negotiations lasted for months or years.”

He added that the abduction in the northwest was different because of two main reasons: one, there were multiple and competing groups involved, and then the abductors were surrounded by the military, had nowhere to go, and were compelled to negotiate a deal.

He would not disclose the amount of ransom that was paid for the boys’ release, but said: “negotiations are all about compromise”. “If the abductors compromised and released the kids, what was the compromise made by the government before the kids were released?” he asked.

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Aliyu Dahiru

Aliyu is an Assistant Editor at HumAngle and Head of the Radicalism and Extremism Desk. He has years of experience researching misinformation and influence operations. He is passionate about analysing jihadism in Africa and has published several articles on the topic. His work has been featured in various local and international publications.

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