Daily trust- Shekau Vs Barnawi: The Battle for Boko Haram’s Soul
Terror Leaders Divide Borno into Two Spheres of
Recently, some suspected Boko Haram assailants
stormed Tumur, a sleepy community along the
Nigerian border with Niger Republic and slit the
throats of 10 people, who the locals called
“associate Boko Haram members.’’
It was gathered that the insurgents had crossed to
the Nigerien community from villages around Malam
Fatori in Abadam Local Government Area of Borno
State. The 10 were victims of an emerging
ideological split and brutal supremacy battle
between the hardhearted leader of the Boko Haram,
Abubakar Shekau, and the new point-man of the
Islamic State in West Africa-backed faction of the
group, Abu Musab Al-Barnawi.
In the first week of August, this year, the ISIS put to
an end, the seven years of ruthless reign of Shekau,
and in his place, anointed Al-Barnawi, the son of the
late Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of the Nigeria-
based Boko Haram, which recognised and paid
allegiance to ISIS’s proclaimed caliphate under
Abubakar Al-Baghdadi, in March, 2015.
The confirmation that Shekau had been dethroned
came from the dreaded sect leader himself, in an
audio message he released on August 4, which was
the first in so many months, where he described the
breakaway leader as heretic. Soon after the new
development, sporadic fighting broke out between
the two factions, one headed by Shekau and the
other by Al-Barnawi.
The rivalry, analysts claim, would break the spine of
the Boko Haram group, which was ranked the most
deadly terrorist organisation on earth by the Global
Terrorism Index in 2015. The sect, according to the
report, was responsible for 6,644 deaths in 2014,
compared to ISIS’s 6,073.
The Nigerian military has dismissed the reported
division within the ranks of the insurgents as a
“drama” being staged by the group to remain afloat
and vowed to crush terrorist threats under
“When the terrorists besieged Tumur, they told the
locals, who were mostly Nigerians taking refuge
there not to panic, but warned that so and so
persons must be produced to face the wrath of their
betrayal,” Ahmed Khalid, a resident of Abadam, who
is now taking refuge in Maiduguri, said of the first
reported intra-group rivalry killing.
However, there are two different versions to the
narrative as to why only 10 people were brought out
and killed in Tumur, even when the Boko Haram
invaders had all the opportunity to butcher
everybody in the village in the dead of night.
“From my findings, the 10 were supplying foodstuff
to the insurgents who lived in cluster of camps
along the Nigerian border with Niger. But they
suddenly stopped the supplies, leaving the
terrorists in hunger and deprivation in the midst of
constant offensive by the Nigerian security forces.
This was why they were trailed and killed,” Khalid
But a resident, Aisami Modu, said they were killed
because they shifted their loyalty from the camp of
Shekau to that of his archrival, Al-Barnawi.
“The problem started shortly after the Boko Haram
split, and those 10 people, who were traders and
known to almost everyone in surrounding
communities, were loyal to Boko Haram, which is
why we call them: ‘associate members.’ They used
to supply food, fuel, medicine and cloths to the
terrorists, even though they didn’t fight for them,”
“But the Shekau camp got angry when they shifted
their loyalty to the other camp; that was why they
For the past four weeks, locals in Borno State said
fierce encounter had taken place between fighters
loyal to Shekau and those loyal to Al-Barnawi,
struggling to displace one another. Five fighters
loyal to Shekau were killed during a battle between
the two factions in a community at the outskirts of
Monguno last week, a local vigilante, Kolo
Other sources said that at least 18 Boko Haram
fighters from the bushes around Monguno
surrendered to the army, together with their
families, as a result of the infighting.
“There is serious disarray now, and most of the
Boko Haram fighters are apparently confused.
Those loyal to Shekau are being trailed by the other
faction and vice versa. It is now killing, killing and
killing,” Kuroskawwa said.
“And you know that there are some Boko Haram
fighters that were forcefully conscripted, they are
the ones that are now repenting and taking
advantage of the dispute to surrender themselves to
the Nigerian Army,” he said.
Similarly, residents told the AFP Wednesday that
several fighters from Shekau’s camp had been
killed last Thursday in two separate gun battles
with IS-backed Barnawi gunmen in the Monguno
area of Borno State, near Lake Chad.
Mele Kaka, who lives in the area, told AFP: “The
Barnawi faction launched an offensive against the
Shekau faction who were camped in the villages of
Yele and Arafa. “In Yele, the assailants killed three
people from the Shekau camp, injured one and took
one with them, while several were killed in Arafa,”
he said by telephone from the state capital,
Maiduguri. The attack prompted residents of Arafa
to flee, he added.
Fighters from Barnawi camp had the previous day
attacked gunmen loyal to Shekau in Zuwa village in
the nearby Marte district, killing an unspecified
number of people, Kaka said.
“The Barnawi fighters told villagers after each
attack that they were fighting the other camp
because they had derailed from the true jihad and
were killing innocent people, looting their property
and burning their homes. They said such acts
contravened the teachings of Islam and true jihad,”
Factions Divide Borno Into Two Jurisdictions
Findings by our reporter reveal that while the ISIS-
backed Al-Barnawi has an upper hand in northern
part of Borno State, which shares borders with
Niger, Chad and Cameroon along the shores of the
Lake Chad, Shekau is still dominant in the central
and southern parts of the state, where the large
swathes of the Sambisa forest are located.
Sources said Al-Barnawi was giving Shekau a
“tough time in northern Borno” by taking over the
few places where the group had “some influence.”
Mamman Nur, the hitherto third in command to
Shekau, who was declared wanted by the United
States, is seen as the actual ISIS linkman in Nigeria,
but is fronting Al-Barnawi as leader, in order to
retain the loyalty of the original supporters of
A community leader from northern Borno, who is
now living in Maiduguri, but does not want his name
mentioned, said: “The Al-Barnawi boys are trailing
and killing Shekau’s boys in places like Monguno,
Kukawa, Damasak, Abadam, Marte and Kala-Balge,
even though all the two factions are being
confronted by the Multi-National Joint Task Force
“While only security officials can confirm if Al-
Barnawi has started receiving support from ISIS or
not, what we know is that they have black
mercenaries from neighbouring countries who
barely speak our local dialect,” he added.
“But when you go to villages in Gwoza, Damboa
and Chibok, which are all not far from the Sambisa
forest, you find out that the few skirmishes being
recorded recently are being perpetrated by the
Shekau camp,” said Alex Magaji, a farmer in the
small village of Dabuli in Southern Borno.
Their Fight Good For Us – Civilian JTF
Leaders of the Borno Youths Vigilante, popularly
known as Civilian JTF, said the infighting by the
Boko Haram was probably the best news coming
out of the violent group in recent times. Barrister
Jibrin Gunda, the legal adviser of the vigilantes in
Borno State, said the emergence of crack in any
group signified the end of it, no matter how strong
such group was.
“We welcome the development and we pray they
would continue fighting and fragmenting. However,
what I want to tell you is that none of them is better;
we are looking for all of them. “The only ones that
we would spare are those who repent, and they
were the ones that would be taken as prisoners of
war by the Nigerian Army. “If you look at recent
events, our people, like the ones from Konduga and
Mafa, are gradually leaving the IDP camps. All
these positive things are happening because of the
gradual return of peace. The Borno State
government is working hard to take all the people
back to their homes, and we, as vigilantes, welcome
this feat,” Gunda said.
How Ideological ‘Differences’ Made A Difference
When Abubakar Shekau launched a surprised
comeback in 2010 after he had been reported killed
by the Nigerian forces in the 2009 bloodbath in
Maiduguri, he remained the indisputable leader of
the Boko Haram for the next seven years. Nobody
dared to question his “judgement,” which began with
isolated killings of policemen by shoot and run
ragtag fighters, before it escalated to targeted
killings of civilians with AK-47 rifles in their homes.
His group gradually added soldiers and other
uniformed men to its killing list, just as it began to
detonate improvised explosive devices (IEDs) at
markets, motor parks, mosques, churches and
other populated places, before it started taking
hostages, as well as invading and occupying
Shekau also described government, democracy,
international relations and diplomacy as un-Islamic
and vowed to destroy constituted authorities and
replace them with Sharia system, that would spare
only those Muslims that believe in his teachings.
In March, 2015, Shekau paid allegiance to Al-
Baghdadi, the ISIS leader and renamed the
Jama’atu Ahlus Sunnah LIdda’awati Wal Jihad he
headed to Islamic State in West African Province
In the first week of August, this year, the ISIS
announced Al-Barnawi, who is said to be in his 20s,
as its new representative in West Africa.
But few days after, Shekau kicked against the
decision, explaining how he arrived at his “ideology”
and how he differed with what the ISIS wanted to
“I was deceived but all I know is that AlBarnawi and
whoever is with him are infidels. I will never stray
from the ideology of the Jama’atu Ahl as-Sunnah li-
Da’awati wal-Jihad, which has its basis in the
Quran,” he said in a 10 minutes audio he released,
after he had disappeared from glare for over a year.
“In the first place, we sat and I was deceived, they
said I should write my ideology to be taken to them
so that if there is a mistake they will point out and
revert. They now deceived me, and… today I found
out that there is one who is following the principles
of the infidels, which they want me to follow, and the
Prophet has stopped from doing that..
“We have heard news going round and attributed to
people (ISIS) we had earlier pledged allegiance to.
Although we are not against them, based on the
message we heard in the radio, we are still on our
“We know those we differ from and I have written
on this long ago. Because I stated it clearly that I
am against the principle where someone will dwell
in the society with the infidels without making public
his opposition or anger against the infidels publicly
as it is stated in the Qur’an. Anyone doing that can’t
be a Muslim, thick and thin. This is what our
ideology proved and that is where I stand. To them,
a Muslim can dwell in the society and do his
marketing, compromising core foundations.
“I want the world to know that we are still holding
our ideology and tied with the Qur’an, we will not
derail and will not revolt, but will continue to remain
in the cause of Allah. Following the Prophet (SAW) is
compulsory for us, and we will follow him to the
end,” he said.
Al Barnawi Countered
Few days after Shekau gave his side of the story, Al
Barnawi, with the support of Mamman Nur, reacted,
saying Shekau was ousted because of various
offences, including the killing of “fellow Muslims and
living a life of affluence, living members to starve
and hoarding of munitions.”
“We are here to send a message across to Shekau
who had released his own cassette,” Mamman Nur
said. “We would challenge anyone that challenges
us, and we must bring out the true meaning of Islam
because the religion does not belong to your father
“We would soon release our own video and you will
see how Shekau is justifying killing people and
boasting about it. We are not killers like him. If our
intention were to kill, we would have killed him.
Unknown to him, those he trust his life with are our
people, we can kill him if we want, but we will not.
“We want him alive so that he would see that things
can go on without him. “We will fight for the cause
of Allah and work against personalising Jihad and
against unjustifiable killings and shedding of blood.
We are out because you came out with your own
cassette. We want our people to know proper Islam
because Allah in the Qur’an forbids killings without
justification. Just like Allah gave us power to kill
infidels, there are those he said we shouldn’t kill
without reason,” Mamman Nur said.
“In the Qur’an, Allah forbids Muslims from killing
one another…and He also taught against killing in
secret. If it is a serious punishment, it must be
public for people to know and witness it. But once
you see killings in secret, there is something fishy,
and this is what we noticed with Shekau. What he is
doing is not Islam. He said we should follow him
and we agreed, but we later realised it is another
thing and we said no. We have to stick to the Qur’an
and what Allah says, not following someone’s
waywardness,” he added.
They also accused him of “inserting his opinion”
while giving Fatwa (Islamic verdict), which,
according to them, clearly contradicts the teaching
of their founder, Mohammed Yusuf.
Who To Dialogue With?
From their recent body languages and utterances,
the two factions are evidently amenable to a truce
with the Nigerian authorities, observers have said.
For instance, Shekau, as evident in the video he
released recently, is in possession of a large chunk
of captives, including the over 200 Chibok girls that
were abducted on April 14, 2014. Speaking through
one of his longtime ally, Abu Zinnira, who appeared
in the video with the girls, Shekau said only the
release of his members in the custody of Nigerian
authorities would guarantee the security of the girls.
On the other hand, Al-Barnawi, who is also
reportedly in possession of some of the Chibok girls
and other captives, is “the extensive knowledge at
“You see, Shekau had accused the Al-Barnawi
group of somehow being amenable to living under
constituted authorities. This means that if the
federal government would explore a window of
getting him and giving him asylum, he could expose
the whereabouts of Shekau and how to tame him,”
a source in Maiduguri said.