The Nigerian Army has missed a self-set 40-day deadline to capture the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, dead or alive.
The Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, handed down the order on July 21 to the Theatre Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, Ibrahim Attahiru.
Mr. Buratai, a lieutenant general, tasked Mr. Attahiru, a major general, to employ every weapon available in his arsenal “to smoke out Shekau wherever he is hiding in Nigeria”, a statement from the army said.
That deadline elapsed Thursday, August 31.
Mr. Buratai instead commended Mr. Attahiru, his sector commanders and all troops of Operation Lafiya Dole for “pursuing the COAS directive of capturing the purported Boko Haram terrorists leader”, an army statement released Friday said.
“Although the leader has not been captured, the COAS noted with satisfaction the zeal and determination with which the directive was pursued,” the statement signed by Mr. Usman, a brigadier general, said.
The army chief approved an extension to the deadline, and applauded the commanders for “coming very close to achieving the directive”.
Mr. Buratai congratulated the commander for “eliminating five key leaders of the terrorists group that were the closest associates and right hand men of the terrorists group leader”.
“Within the same period, 82 of the Boko Haram terrorists were eliminated. Therefore, the Commander was very close to achieving the directive,” the statement said.
“The Theatre Commander has asked for the extension of the deadline and it has been granted by the COAS.
“Given deadlines and extensions are strategic means of focusing troops’ efforts in the theatre. Currently the main thrust of the operations is the decapitation of all the remaining terrorists factions within the Nigerian territory.
“With this feat achieved the relevance of Shekau is no longer of any consequence. The people of the NE and indeed all Nigerians are enjoined to be more confident of the Nigerian troops and go about their normal activities.”
The military has several times claimed to have killed Mr. Shekau, only for the Boko Haram leader to later show up in videos mocking either the military or the nation’s top officials.
On August 23, 2016, Mr. Usman himself had issued a statement announcing that Mr. Shekau was inflicted with “fatal injury” in a major air strike on Boko Haram’s location in the dreaded Sambisa Forest.
The statement said at the time that the bombardment was carried out while Mr. Shekau was leading his group in performing the Friday prayers at a secret location called Tayye in the heart of the vast forest.
The military has repeatedly claimed credit for killing Mr. Shekau. But the sect denounced the claims each time saying its leader remained alive.
The military however insisted that the original Mr Shekau had long been killed, and that the so-called Abubakar Shekau said to be alive was a made-up character.
On March 28 this year, the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, had a closed-door meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, after which he reassured Nigerians that the army would soon apprehend Mr. Shekau.
“If you have had the opportunity to go to Sambisa (forest in Borno), you will know that Boko Haram has been defeated, go and see what is happening in Sambisa.
“We have dominated the whole stronghold where they used to be, there is where we call ‘camp zairo’ where their spiritual and their strong headquarters that they were using as communication base was destroyed and as at the same time occupied by our men of the armed forces.
“So, I believe it’s just a matter of time, it took America about seven to 10 years to get Bin Laden so we will get Shekau as soon as possible.
“I told you before now, the spiritual headquarters has been ransacked and vandalized. He (Shekau) is on the run, so he may be hiding in one of the enclaves of Sambisa forest that we are dominating.
“We have opened up the place; we are using it as a training area whereby the army engineers will open roads. We shall be patrolling and be ransacking that forest for the whereabouts of Shekau,’’ he said.