The declaration of a Caliphate by the leader of Boko Haram
insurgents, Abubakar Shekau, with its headquarters in Gwoza town on August 24, may have come as a surprise to many Nigerians, but analysts said the choice of which area to annex was well-thought out and that the signs were apparent right from the beginning.
On Thursday, August 28, three Nigerian fighter jets reportedly dropped more than 20 high calibre bombs on Gwoza town and adjoining villages in Borno State in an apparent move to recapture them from the Boko Haram insurgents. The move came nearly a week after Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad, also known as Boko Haram, compromised the territorial integrity of Nigeria.
He declared his “Islamic Caliphate” on Sunday, August 24 with its headquarters in Gwoza. Residents of Gwoza are still oblivious of happenings in Gwoza town after the intervention, but many of them, who are now taking refuge in other parts of Borno and Adamawa states, applauded the step taken by the Nigerian government in its attempt to reclaim the town.
“We have seen at least three different fighter jets advancing towards Gwoza and other locations, we hope the desired result has been achieved,” said Mahmuda Mustapha, a fleeing resident who now lives in Madagali, neighbouring Adamawa State.
“Many bombs have been dropped on Gwoza by the fighter jets, we hope they got the targets so that the town would come under the control of Nigerian government,” he added.
Seen by pundits as an “ambitious claim,” sources said Shekau and his adherents strongly believe in their supposed objective – establishing a hard-line Islamic state within Nigerian territory.
“Oh people, I am Abubakar Shekau, here still standing, the leader of Jama’atu Ahlissunnah Lid Da’awati wal Jihad in Nigeria, in the country called Nigeria. We don’t believe in the name Nigeria. We are in Islamic Caliphate; we have nothing to do with Nigeria,” Shekau said in a 52 minutes video clip.
Though Boko Haram had seized many towns and villages, especially in Borno and Yobe states in the recent past with the hoisting of their flags, this is the first time the group is announcing the creation of an independent state within the Nigerian territory.
Experts on terrorism believe that Shekau’s choice of Gwoza as the headquarters of his Caliphate is not by accident. Galtima Abubakar, a historian said terrorists take delight in settling in places that have easy entry and exit points, hidings or abodes that would seem impenetrable, access to food, water and other basic needs.
He said because of its numerous strategic advantages, Nigeria’s government had made a “serious blunder” by allowing Gwoza to fall into the hands of Boko Haram.
“Countries that are finding it difficult to contain insurrections by violent groups are those that allow members of such groups to capture safe dwellings, especially mountains. The fight in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and other places appears difficult to manage because the insurgents have upper hand in strategic places like mountainous areas,” Abubakar said.
“This is the exact situation now in Gwoza because there are numerous mountains, easy to manoeuvre by the insurgents,” he said.
Gwoza is a border town between Nigeria and Cameroon. The town is located about 135 kilometres south-east of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital and covers an area of 2,883 square km and a population of 276,312, according to the 2006 census.
It is dotted with rocks, including the Mandara Mountains, which reportedly served as training abode for the insurgents for a very long time. The mountains are a volcanic range extending about 200 km along the northern part of the Cameroon-Nigeria border, from the Benue River in the south (9.3°N 12.8°E) to the north-west of Maroua (Cameroon) in the north (11.0°N 13.9°E).
Another reason why Boko Haram chose to have their “country” in Gwoza, sources said is because of the abundant food resources and vegetation in the area.
“Unlike other parts of Borno State such as Gamboru or Mallam Fatori that are prone to desert, Gwoza’s vegetation is fertile and the insurgents would have unfettered access to food there more than in any other location,” one of the sources said.
“Even if the Nigerian government succeeds in blocking all the channels of food supplies, the tendency is that the insurgents would find their way, at least for some time before they would run out of basic things they need to sustain themselves and hundreds of their captives,” the source added.
Some of the communities that Boko Haram completely or partially destroyed in Borno State include Damboa and many villages there; Bama and many communities around it; Konduga, Mafa, Dikwa, Benisheik, Mainok, Baga along the shores of the Lake Chad, Maiduguri Metropolitan Council and Jere.
In fact, of all the 27 local government areas of Borno State, not more than five are yet to be attacked. And of all places attacked by Boko Haram, especially in Borno State, observers believe that Gwoza and hundreds of villages around it are the worst hit.
The attacks, according to experts, were deliberately hatched and perfected to pave way for the establishment of the purported Islamic Caliphate.
Boko Haram insurgents had in the past made many attempts to attack the Emir’s palace in Gwoza but did not succeed. However, following the fierce fight between Nigerian troops and the insurgents, on August 6th, the latter successfully subdued the town, hoisted their flags and started to hold court in the palace.
Within the same period, thousands of people from the town, including their emir, Alhaji Muhammadu Mutapha Idrissa Timta, were forced to flee to the Mandara Mountains. Frightened and bewildered, they stayed atop the mountain for nearly a week before they escaped. The emir is now in Abuja, far away from his domain.
Before then, the father of the present emir, Alhaji Mutapha Idrissa Timta, was brutally killed by Boko Haram insurgents on May 30, while on his way to Gombe with three other emirs.
Late Timta, who ascended the throne as a third class chief in October, 1981 and reigned for 33 years, had consistently called for serious attention from the federal government, pointing out that Gwoza was too strategic to be forgotten by the authorities.
Shortly before he was killed, many village heads and community leaders were killed, and from Bama, it became increasingly dangerous to go to Gwoza as insurgents intensified ambush on travellers almost on daily basis until they succeeded in making the road impassable.
They hoisted their flags with Arabic inscription in places like Ashigashiya, Pulka Chinene and many villages on top and at the foot of the Mandara Mountains.
In April, one month before he was killed, the late emir of Gwoza issued a Save Our Souls press statement in which he lamented the spate of the attacks on his people, while warning of the possibility of Nigeria losing the area to Boko Haram.
“There is an urgent need for the security agents to intensify and change their tactics of operation to stop the mass killings in this area. I am appealing to security agents to intensify patrol on these roads to prevent the attacks. If care is not taken, my people will completely flee the area to neighbouring states and countries for safety,” the monarch had said in part.
The taking over of Gwoza by the insurgents has proved the apprehension of the late monarch.
Muhammad Yunus, another close observer of the workings of Boko Haram, said uprooting them from Gwoza will be a Herculean task: “The reasons are obvious, from Gwoza, it is very easy to sneak in and out of the vast infamous Sambisa forest.”
From the Sambisa forest, Boko Haram sustained attacks on Gwoza until last week when they declared it their Caliphate.
“From Gwoza, it is very easy for them to cross over to Cameroon through the more than 1000 porous borders; from Gwoza, the insurgents would also have access to other countries like Chad, Sudan, and Central African Republic up to Libya,” Yunus said.
“Some of these countries have been torn by crisis and weapons are freely exchanging hands…And this is basically why they (weapons) are flowing into Nigeria like sachet water. We are really in trouble,” he added.
How Shekau plans to sustain Gwoza
Weekly Trust reports that one thing that many people failed to note is that Shekau was short of declaring himself as the Caliph of the purported Gwoza Islamic Caliphate. In his words: “All gratitude goes to Allah who has given victory to our brethren in Gwoza and made her part of the Islamic Caliphate.”
This has elicited thought-provoking analysis by experts that have been watching the modus operandi of the Boko Haram sect.
In Arabic, a caliphate, meaning “succession,” is an Islamic state led by a supreme religious and political leader known as a caliph – that is “successor” – to Prophet Mohammed. Such states represent a sovereign state of the entire Muslim faithful, ruled by a caliph under Islamic law (Sharia).
Before his latest video, Shekau had released a similar one on July 13, 2014, where though not categorical, he paid glowing tributes and allegiance to leaders of hard-line Islamic groups in other parts of the world, whom he said inspired his violent disposition to the cause he is pursuing.
He also made statements that alluded to his rebellion against the Nigerian government and democracy as well as the position of some Muslim clerics on Western education.
“God is great indeed! We thank Allah; we are inside Nigeria, the country they call Nigeria but as far as we are concerned, we don’t know any country called Nigeria. May Allah curse her!
“To us, we are in the territory of Allah and we practice the religion of Allah and we are in the empire of Islam. Even the Prophet established the first Islamic empire with 70 people. Nothing will therefore stop us from establishing our empire inside Nigeria with 5,000 or 10,000 or 20,000 or a million people. This is Allah’s doing, Allah has given us victory.
“May Allah be pleased with my leaders such as Mullah Omar, the leader of the faithful in Afghanistan; such as Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the leader of Mujahedeen…The leader of the faithful in Syria and Iraq, Abi Bakr Al-Baghdadi. May Allah protect you, oh! Caliph, oh! Caliph of Muslims.
“And the leader of the faithful in blessed Yemen. May Allah protect us all, Ash-Sheikh, the endowed, Imam Abi Mus’ab Abdulwadud, the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. May the peace and Mercy of Allah be upon you all,” Shekau said.
He described them as Muslim brethren who truly hold on to the religion of Allah and vowed to follow their footsteps.
“I don’t mean those who believe in democracy, I don’t mean those who follow constitution, I don’t mean those who pursue Western education. This is US ideology, this is England’s ideology, this is France’s ideology, and this is China’s ideology. They concealed it from you, they are just deceiving you,” he said.
Few people took note of Shekau’s utterances in the said video of July 13, especially on where he was heading to. Such people were therefore bewildered when Shekau declared Gwoza as the headquarters of his caliphate and no longer part of Nigeria.
“When you put the two videos and the declarations side by side, Shekau was sending a strong message to those that care to listen,” one analyst said.
“I am pretty sure by paying allegiance to them, he (Shekau) is invariably seeking support from Al-Baghadadi, the leader of the ISIS in Iraq and others that he mentioned in the July 13 video clip,” he said.
A cursory look at the event of Monday, August 25 at Gamboru town in the northern part of Borno State also gives credence to Shekau’s urge for territorial conquest.
Besides Gamboru, prominent local government areas such as Dikwa, Mafa, Marte, Abadam, Bama and Damboa, all in Borno State, as well as Gujba and Gulani in Yobe State, are under serious threat from Boko Haram.
Gujba is already in the hands of the sect whose members have taken over and hoisted their flags at the emir’s palace. They are also in control of many villages in Gulani after chasing away the locals and hoisted their flags.
In many villages in all the local government areas mentioned above, the insurgents are freely brandishing their guns, preaching in the open and selling their doctrine to the people.
They have also destroyed many bridges, tactically creating a country within the Nigerian state, especially between Borno, Yobe and Nigeria’s borders with Cameroon.
By their elaborate expansionists approach, the insurgents are gradually making it difficult for Nigerian troops to ship heavy fighting equipment to reclaim the town. Sources said so far, they have cornered over 200 communities and are indirectly holding the people in the affected areas hostage.
Alhaji Zannah Mustapha, a Maiduguri based philanthropist, who has ample knowledge of the Boko Haram, said that the group’s rise to international prominence, albeit negatively is “the price of institutional failure and mutual suspicion” among Nigerian elites.
He said Nigerian elites, especially those in the corridors of power, take everything for granted, a bad precedent which he said has plunged Nigeria into the abyss.
“When the Boko Haram started their campaign, they only had bows, arrows, daggers, sticks, dane-guns and a few Ak47 rifles. Within the time under review, prominent Nigerians and heads of security establishments described them as a few miscreants in an obscured part of Nigeria,” Mustapha said.
“Now look at where we have found ourselves…serious embarrassment across the world because there is nothing more embarrassing in an independent country like Nigeria than a group seen as useless to test the sovereignty of the country with impunity,” he added.
Mustapha said the insinuations that the insurgents have superior weapons were wrong: “Again, the furore that the insurgents have superior weapons is not tenable because they got most of the guns and armoured personnel carriers (APCs) after raiding military formations; they got a fraction of their fighting equipment from neighbouring war-torn countries.”
More towns under threat in Adamawa
Since the capture of Madagali town in Adamawa State a week ago, Boko Haram fighters have continued to hold residents of the larger Madagali area hostage as their area of control continues to expand with the setting up of outposts at Gubla and Bakin Dutse five kilometres to Gulak town.
They are reportedly on active patrol of the area using vans and motorcycles, preventing the remaining residents from fleeing. The insurgents hoisted their flags at the secretariat of Madagali North Development Area Council and the military base in the town.
The chairman of Madagli local government area, James Waltharda, has lamented the loss of Madagali towns and several villages to the insurgents and called on the federal government to step up efforts to curtail their advancement to Gulak town which is the local government headquarters and ensure restoration of security.