The Abubakar Shekau faction of Boko Haram, otherwise known as Jama’atu Ahlussunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad (JAS), appears to be mimicking the ideology and tactics of its splinter group in order to get a stronger hold over the Lake Chad region.
The group released a video on Sunday where it showed fighters parading with firearms at the Lake Chad region of West Africa and pledging allegiance to Shekau. The 10-minutes-long multilingual video featured the JAS commanders in military uniform with masked faces threatening violence in English, French, Hausa, and Kanuri.
“We’ll shoot until the final hour. We’ll shoot every kafir (unbeliever),” said one of the speakers in English.
“You must choose one from these three options: either you accept Islam, you’ll be safe. Either you pay Jizya. Either you accept to be slaughtered,” he added.
Experts familiar with the activities of the terror groups in West Africa told HumAngle that the propaganda video depicts the growing influence of Shekau’s faction of Boko Haram in a sub-region understood to be dominated by the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).
Numerous and incessant attacks by different terror gangs in the Lake Chad region of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon have negatively impacted the social, economic and security of the countries and displaced millions of people.
In a bid to restore peace in the area that used to harbour about 21 million people, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, recently asked the armed forces to occupy the axis.
About five years ago, Nigeria’s military banned fishing, processing and sale of fish based on the intelligence reports that Boko Haram members had taken over the fish value chain as part of terrorism financing strategies in the region.
However, in May 2020, the Governor Babagana Zulum of northeastern Nigeria constituted a committee on the processing and sale of fish in the Lake Chad Basin following a clearance from the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai.
ISWAP’s state-like structure in various Lake Chad communities, coupled with the absence of government in remote areas, helps it to generate revenue by providing key services. Fish trade, cattle rearing, and other agricultural activities that thrive easily in the area also make its control desirable for various terrorist groups.
Terror gangs in the Lake Chad
ISWAP disengaged itself from Shekau’s faction of Boko Haram in 2016 after a disagreement with his group on its totalitarian approach as well as the indiscriminate and brutal targeting of civilians.
The group appears to be more strategic than JAS by majorly attacking military and government officials and bringing basic services to the people occupying the remote areas of Lake Chad.
ISWAP bolsters its revenue by controlling trade, imposing various forms of tax, and facilitating agricultural livelihoods. In return, it provides services to the locals such as security, healthcare, clinics and potable water through digging boreholes.
JAS, on the other hand, has also tried to establish itself in Lake Chad by attacking the military in the area.
“The sub-faction of JAS led by Ibrahim Bakura, operating around the northern part of the lake, has since 2019 allowed JAS leader Abubakar Shekau to extend his area of operation beyond Southern Borno in Nigeria, into Niger and Chad,” noted the Institute for Security Studies.
On March 23, the group attacked an army position in Boma, a Chadian peninsula on the Lake Chad Basin in which 98 Chadian soldiers were killed. Experts say the attack showed that the JAS and ISWAP operational sectors often intersect and overlap in the Lake Chad.
‘Jizya’ as a tool of propaganda
The Shekau faction of Boko Haram has been described as brutal, intolerant to any kind of disagreement from within or outside, and considers killing or forceful conversion as its only approach.
A source told HumAngle that the mention of “Jizya” in the newly released video by JAS might have been a propaganda strategy to win the hearts of people that have been familiar with the activities of ISWAP in Lake Chad.
Jizya is an annual tax levied on permanent non-Muslim subjects of a territory governed by Islamic law in exchange for protection and religious freedom.
However, the vicious takfiri ideology of JAS barely distinguishes between Muslims with different or moderate religious views, non-Muslims, and Muslims who renounce their faith (apostates). This has given the group an opportunity to strike and attack people without considering alternative approaches as the ones adopted successfully by ISWAP.
A book written by ISWAP’s founding commanders (“two sons of the late Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf”) and released in 2018 sheds some insight on the conflicting positions of JAS and the splinter group on takfirism and the permissibility of jizya.
According to the authors, the People of the Book (non-Muslims such as Christians and Jews) who are residents of an Islamic state are to pay jizya and not be killed. “The disbeliever is fought until he professes Islam or gives jizya so he will be compelled to one of the two,” they write.
“So this is the principle of the Ahl al-Sunna and this is the authentic religion of God but these heretical people have committed the likes of this wondrous inconsistency through their ignorance of the religion and its principles, then they claim that they are the strongest of the people in hatred of kufr,” they add in obvious reference to Shekau’s group.
The signs that Shekau is toning down his extremism to accommodate his thirst for expansion are, therefore, further reinforced by the latest video where he strongly welcomes the idea of jizya. It remains to be seen what other comprises the insurgent leader is willing to make in his bid to spread his influence across the Sahel.