The latest video from hardline Islamist group Boko Haram has a specific focus on the militants’ operations in Cameroon, according to an expert on Boko Haram’s use of the media. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau appeared in a video obtained by news agencies last week and spoke for about 20 minutes criticising regional leaders. Shekau said he was in good health, contrary to claims he may be injured. The Nigerian government last year claimed it had flushed out fighters from its Sambisa Forest stronghold in north-eastern Nigeria. Regional forces from Cameroon, Chad and Niger have also been fighting to claw back territory lost to the radical sect in 2014.
Q&A: Abdullahi Tasiu Abubakar, City University of London
Q&A: ABDULLAHI TASIU ABUBAKAR, CITY UNIVERSITY OF LONDON
What is your impression of this latest Boko Haram video?
They are trying to re-establish their presence in the media as well as in the general public’s view. Mainly, because Boko Haram has been very effective in using media to advance their causes.
It’s the first time that we’ve heard from Shekau for some time. How would you characterise his demeanour in this video compared to other videos?
The current video shows, in my opinion, some level of frustration in the way he was addressing the audience and he wasn’t looking as energetic as he used to be. But it doesn’t mean that he has lost that ability to intimidate his opponents.
What is being said in Arabic and the local languages – Hausa and Kanuri?
He is mainly attacking the governments in Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon, but he’s focusing more on Cameroon’s President Paul Biya, who he said had not been very effective at fighting the group. [He’s] claiming that the initial response or the initial claims from the Cameroon government, that they had been defeating the group, were absolutely wrong. He was also attacking Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, making a reference to the ill health President Buhari had suffered a couple of weeks ago, saying that he should learn lessons from what happened to him and come back to true Islam. He was effectively also attacking Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou, saying that they too were not as effective fighting Boko Haram as they claimed to be. Overall, it’s the typical, normal, conventional approach Shekau has been adopting in terms of responding to government campaigns against Boko Haram. But he’s also trying to claim that Boko Haram is still effective in its campaign to establish the caliphate.
He mentions Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger, but he doesn’t mention Chad?
In that video I didn’t see anywhere where he was mentioning Chad, maybe the original raw data of the video might contain some other things that we haven’t seen.
Towards the end of the video a Boko Haram fighter speaks in French. This obviously ties in to what you were saying about the focus being on Cameroon.
Yes, that is exactly what they’re trying to show. They were trying to show that this is not an issue that is confined to Nigeria, but an issue that is quite widespread in Africa, and their ability to get some support in Cameroon and how effective they have been fighting in that country as well.
Is it clear where those various Boko Haram fighters in the video come from? In terms of which country they come from.
I think from the accent and from the look – they look like they come from northern Cameroon. They might come from other places, probably from Mali, but from the accent I would suggest that they are probably Cameroonians.
A number of bullets, cell phones, helmets and bullet proof vests are displayed at the end of the video. What is this supposed to represent?
It’s another clever way by the Boko Haram group to show that they still have weapons and that they are still a very effective fighting force. Even though in reality they have lost most of the territory they were in control of before. In fact, they don’t control any local government in Nigeria anymore at the moment, though they still have some presence in Sambisa Forest and they still launch some attacks here and there. There are also a series of car bombs and suicide bomb attacks in north-eastern Nigeria. So they have lost control in terms of control of territory, but they haven’t lost the ability to fight back.
Is there anything that surprised you in the video or anything that we have not mentioned?
No, I’m not surprised by the video and the content. Boko Haram is a very dynamic organisation, they might have been incapacitated to some level, but they still have this ability to re-invent themselves and cause a lot of problems for a lot of people.