After Shekau: Confronting Jihadists in Nigeria's North East

29 Mar 2022

24pages PDF

The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), the most powerful faction of the jihadist movement known as Boko Haram, has since May 2021 largely decimated its rival led by the late Abubakar Shekau, seizing new territory. The authorities have stepped up military operations and other stabilisation efforts to counter ISWAP. ISWAP’s power grab comes after years of tensions within Boko Haram that eventually splintered the movement. The Islamic State (ISIS) core appears to have intensified its support for dissenting commanders who broke with Shekau in 2016, seeing them as more reliable partners in fighting the Nigerian state. While the Nigerian military’s increased air capacity has allowed it to better defend garrison towns, ISWAP has gained in strength since Shekau’s death. It is expanding into new rural areas in Nigeria’s north east. Scattered former Shekau fighters may further aggravate insecurity elsewhere in northern Nigeria. Authorities should redouble efforts to demobilise fighters from Shekau’s group. They should be discerning when resettling civilians in state-controlled towns situated in ISWAP areas, where they could be caught in the crossfire or subject to the group’s taxation. Abuja and its partners should tighten intelligence cooperation to stem the flow of ISIS support to ISWAP.