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Abubakar Shekau Boko Haram leader is the proverbial cat with 9 lives

The elusive Boko Haram leader has escaped numerous attempts by the authorities to capture or kill him.

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Shekau's mother says he was an almajiri boy before joining Boko Haram play

Boko Haram's shadowy leader, Abubakar Shekau


The year was 2009 when Abubakar Shekau died for the first time.

The elusive Boko Haram leader was only the second-in-command of the terrorist group back then when founder Mohamed Yusuf was the top dog.

In a violent government crackdown on the group's extensive network of bloodthirsty followers in July that year, more than 700 people were killed.

The clash resulted in the extra-judicial killing of Yusuf who was shot to death by police officers after he had been handed over by the military.

Amid the madness of that chaos, the army believed Boko Haram had been crushed to death, presuming that all its principal officers, including Shekau, were dead.

A year after that conflict in 2010, Shekau made his first video appearance and declared himself the new leader of the terrorist group, claiming he had escaped the 2009 clash with only a thigh wound.

Shekau play

Abubakar Shekau flanked by his followers.



Two months later, dozens of Boko Haram fighters attacked a Bauchi prison and freed 721 prisoners, with over a hundred of them believed to be members of the group involved in 2009's troubles.

That jail break has been a major catalyst with which Boko Haram launched its eight-year insurgency in the country, leading to the deaths of over 20,000 people and displacement of millions.

ALSO READ: A timeline of terror group's attacks in 2017

Throughout those tortuous eight years for Nigeria, the group's dastardly acts have consistently been punctuated by controversies surrounding the actual state of its near-supernatural leader.

After the wishful thinking of Shekau's death in 2009 didn't end well, the Nigerian military appeared to have learnt its lesson about making premature announcements of his demise.

That lesson lasted for all of one year as it made the same mistake, suggesting in 2011 that it had killed Shekau in a shootout in Kano state; a story which was proven false by Shekau who appeared in another video afterwards.

A poster displayed in Maiduguri, Nigeria, shows the photograph of Abubakar Shekau, leader of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, declared wanted by the Nigerian military with a reward for information that could lead to his capture - May 2013 play

A poster displayed in Maiduguri, Nigeria, shows the photograph of Abubakar Shekau, leader of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, declared wanted by the Nigerian military with a reward for information that could lead to his capture - May 2013



It happened again in 2013 when an intelligence report by the military claimed that Shekau died from wounds he suffered in a raid by soldiers on a base in Sambisa Forest in June.

Army spokesman at the time Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa had said, "Shekau was mortally wounded in the encounter and was sneaked into Amitchide - a border community in Cameroon for treatment. It is greatly believed that Shekau might have died between 25 July to 3 August 2013."

Learning from history, the Nigerian public treated this announcement with the sort of cautious skepticism that paid off when an undead Shekau declared in a new video in September that he couldn't possibly die if it wasn't Allah's wish.

Undaunted by the barrage of eggs hitting its face from Shekau's taunting videos dismissing his deaths, the military again claimed in September 2014 that he had died in a clash that resulted from the group's attempt to overrun the town of Kodunga in Borno state.

Around the same time, the Cameroonian military joined in on the action as it released a picture that was purportedly that of a dead Shekau who had been killed after he was chased across the border and killed on Nigerian soil.

shekau play Cameroonian authorities released this picture that supposedly proved their killing of Abubakar Shekau in 2014 (Sahara Reporters)


With claims of the high-value kill by the two military forces coming only days apart, the Nigerian Defence Headquarters refused Cameroon's version of events and said there was no such operation on Nigerian soil by foreign forces, and claimed Shekau's death for itself without releasing any pictures.

A week and another cocky Shekau video later, the clock was reset.

Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau pictured in a screenshot from a video released on November 9, 2014 play

Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau pictured in a screenshot from a video released on November 9, 2014



Now determined to learn from its wealth of past mistakes, the Nigerian military intensified efforts to track down Shekau and defeat him by all means necessary.

Those efforts paid off in August 2016 when, according to Director, Army Public Relations, Brig.-Gen. Sani Usman, an air raid by the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) "fatally wounded" Shekau, killing three other Boko Haram commanders.

Even though that phrase should mean "most definitely dead", another video of an apparently healthy Shekau emerged one month later.

Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau play

Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau


In what is the most striking insight into the history of the military's claims about Shekau's death, Ryan Cummings, a security analyst had remarked, "He dies more often than an iPhone battery."

The madness in the army's recycled habit of insisting on Shekau's death on many different occasions is not lacking in reasonable method.

The common theory that the military has consistently propped up to combat the proof of life videos by Shekau is that it is made by body doubles trying to keep up the myth of an invincible leader who is the only prominent face of the terrorist organization.

This theory undoubtedly holds a lot of water and is a reasonable conclusion when you really think about it.

The only thing that makes it hard to completely believe is that the military has failed to provide a concrete account of when he died, and more crucially, provide irrefutable evidence of his death.

The only thing the Nigerian people have to go on is the army's word of a conspiracy theory that could easily have been manufactured by a bored 12-year-old Facebook user.

In what is a disservice to the army's years of insistence on this theory, Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, issued a directive on July 21 to Theatre Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, Major General Ibrahim Attahiru, to capture Shekau within the next 40 days, dead or alive.

Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai play

Chief Of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai flanked by troops.



On Wednesday, August 30, that ultimatum expired with no Shekau in chains or buried under dirt somewhere in Sambisa Forest.

When asked about the army's failure to get the Boko Haram leader within the set timetable, Maj Gen Attahiru responded, "The 40-day ultimatum given to the theatre is concomitant task to the overall objectives for which the theatre stands to achieve. The theatre is here to deal a decisive blow to Boko Haram.

"That being the case, capturing Shekau is an enhancer to that objective. 40 days was a guideline.

"It does not mean that because 40 days is about to elapse and Shekau has not been captured, we'll renew other 40 days, and we'll go after him and get him."

ALSO READ: Army renews 40-day ultimatum on capturing Shekau...sort of

Until it happens that the army provides proof of death that outlasts a dreary Shekau video, a great number of people will continue to stick with the belief that the bloodthirsty devil is still out there.

And if it is indeed true that the real Shekau has been the same one that's had this many resurrections, he must know that his nine cat lives are down to only a handful now.

If he's been keeping count, he should be worried.

He'll have to run out of luck someday. Hopefully someday soon.

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