Since the killing of the group’s former leader, Mohammed Yusuf, in police custody in 2009 following a violent uprising in Borno and surrounding states, Abubakar Shekau has been the widely acknowledged leader of the militant group. But sources say the arrest of one of the group’s leaders in Kano by the Joint Task Force (JTF) may have sparked the division.
It was learnt that not less than three factions of the sect have now emerged. This is complicating any further contacts and negotiations with the group.
One of the splinter groups, Yusufiyya Islamiyya, has distanced itself from the efforts to resolve through dialogue the insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives across Northern Nigeria. The group has warned members of the sect to be wary of people with selfish intentions claiming to be negotiating with the government on their behalf.
Yusufiyya is said to be under the leadership of Sheik Abu Usamata Al’Ansari who, before now, was well known as commander of Boko Haram in Kano. Sources even described him as the sect’s leader in the North West – comprising Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi and Jigawa States.
Al’Ansari, who sources claimed was in Dubai recently as part of Boko Haram’s delegation for talks with government, is said to have pulled out following the refusal of the JTF to release Suleiman Mohammed, his aide and deputy, who was arrested some weeks ago.
The continued clampdown on members of the sect by the Police and the JTF is another reason given by Yusufiyya for backing away from the dialogue. It is believed that Al’Ansari and his men are the ones behind recent bombings across the North.
A reliable source who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “The truth of the matter is that discussion was opened with the Boko Haram sect. However, following internal disagreement within the group over how to handle the dialogue with government, it has become difficult to continue the discussion as the sect is now in factions. One of the factions said it is no longer interested in dialogue until all its men are out of detention.
“There is also the issue of who the authentic leader of the group is. Our suspicion is that the aggrieved faction is the one behind the recent spate of bombings. This explains why nobody has come out to claim responsibility. Unless the internal crisis is addressed, it may be difficult to know who to discuss with among the factions.”
Apart from Yusufiyya, another faction of the Boko Haram sect which goes by the name “Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan,” meaning Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa, is said to have denounced the call for negotiations.
The group whose logo shows the Qur’an, with a gun on both sides, said it will continue to wage a war for justice and truth. It said it will not negotiate with the authorities as it is sure of victory.
“We are more determined to continue the fight for the blood of our founder Mohammed Yusuf and other leaders who were slain in cold blood by your leaders. We are not part of any negotiation. We will continue to attack the aggressors,” the group said in leaflets distributed in Kaduna during the week.
The sect has been engaged in a bloody campaign of bombings and killings in parts of the North in the past few months. A blistering crackdown on suspected members of the sect by the military and police has failed to end the reign of terror.
But against all expectations, a senior member of the Boko Haram, Sheik Abu Mohammed Ibn Abdulazeez, in November requested talks with the government, a day after a double suicide bombing blamed on the sect killed at least 11 and wounded 30 in an army barrack.
Abdulazeez said he was speaking on behalf of Abubakar Shekau, the sect’s leader. The group set conditions for peace talks in the teleconference and nominated former Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari, among its mediators. It equally requested that the talks take place outside the country.
Buhari has since declined the offer. Following Buhari’s refusal, the sect through a letter said to have been sent to the Federal Government through the Borno State Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), nominated as mediator, Imam Gabchiya, an official from the University of Maiduguri.
After initially welcoming the offer of dialogue enthusiastically, President Goodluck Jonathans had during his last nationwide television media chat dismissed all notions that talks had been taking place. He said government could not discuss with a faceless group.
This denial notwithstanding, sources close to the two divides claim discussions were actually opened between them. One of such dialogue, The Nation on Sunday learnt, took place in Dubai and the two parties agreed on modalities for further meetings. It was learnt that both the sect and the authorities were well represented at the Dubai talks.
However, indications that all was not well emerged when shortly after the encounter, leaders of the sect started speaking with discordant tones. According to sources, the arrest of one of the group’s leader in Kano by the JTF then disrupted all calculations. And by the time the discussants met in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, for another round of talks, not less than three factions of the sect had emerged.
Meanwhile, Gen. Carter F. Ham, Commander, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) arrives in Nigeria this week for talks with President Jonathan, National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki, and other security chiefs over the threat posed by the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency.
Ham disclosed this yesterday at this year’s Chinua Achebe Colloquim on Africa with the theme: ‘Governance, Security and Peace in Africa,’ which took place in the US city of Providence, Rhode Island.
The general had said last week that the terrorist organisation – Al Qaeda’s – affiliate in North Africa was operating training camps in northern Mali and providing arms, explosives and financing to Boko Haram. He revealed that members of the sect had travelled to the camps and have, most likely, received funds and explosives from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). “We have seen clear indications of collaboration among the organisations,” he said.