A version of this post appeared on Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own.
On March 14 fighting broke out in the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri, including at the Giwa Barracks – the main military headquarters in Borno.
“Boko Haram” claims it secured the release of two thousand detainees during the siege on the barracks. Abubakar Shekau has now released two new videos to claim responsibility for the attack.
Mr. Shekau, the successor to Mohammed Yusuf who was killed by the police in 2009, is a leader of “Boko Haram,” the Islamist insurgency in northern Nigeria. As reports of the videos makes their way into the Nigerian press, they raise many questions.
The Daily Trust, a leading newspaper published in the north, reports that the attackers had camera men who captured the Giwa Barracks raid on film in great detail.
The video apparently shows no resistance from the Nigerian security forces, but it also notes some 500 dead bodies were found in the aftermath of the fighting, though no casualties are shown in the video itself.
Whether the dead were killed by the security services, Boko Haram, or by both is an open question.
Leadership, an Abuja-based newspaper, quotes passages from Shekau’s video. In them he reiterates that Western education is forbidden, all universities should be closed, and he calls for girls to return to their homes. He says that in Islam “infidel” women may be enslaved, and that Boko Haram will begin selling infidel women in the market “in due course.” He repeats that Boko Haram will kill all Muslim clerics who oppose it.
But, Shekau reserves his most blood-curdling language for the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), the civilian vigilante groups that oppose Boko Haram: “I cannot be happy if I don’t personally put my knife on your necks and slit your throats.”
In what may be a new departure, Shekau calls on his “brethren” throughout the country to take up arms and attack. He specifically mentions Abuja, Lagos, and the South: “Even as an individual, take up your swords and slaughter anyone you come across in his sleep…take up knives and start slaughtering people. Just pick up your knife and break into homes and kill.”
What are we to make of this? The fighting at Giwa Barracks hardly appears to be the government victory that the security services have claimed. The video seems to indicate that Boko Haram fighters were able to penetrate and destroy much of Maiduguri’s most important military installation. An unknown number of detainees escaped, though how many were Boko Haram and how many were innocents remains unknown.
As for Shekau, Leadership’s evaluation is that: “Shekau’s video portrays him as a true lunatic.”
Perhaps, but Boko Haram seems to be remarkably successful. Perhaps most disturbing is Shekau’s call for Boko Haram to attack all over the country. Though, it remains to be seen whether Boko Haram has the influence and reach to operate outside parts of the north.