The Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan Ali, has declared that the wanted leader of the Boko Haram terrorist group, Abubakar Shekau, is still alive and hiding in his fortress in Sambisa Forest.
He said that Shekau wears masks to evade being captured by security operatives.
Before the minister’s declaration on Tuesday that Shekau is alive, the military authorities had maintained that the Boko Haram leader had been killed by troops.
Ali said that Shekau’s tactics notwithstanding, the fugitive would be eventually caught, especially as the military had decimated the core of the forest, which served as the communication and spiritual base of the insurgent group that has killed and maimed thousands of Nigerians over a six-year orgy of violence.
Ali spoke to journalists after he met with President Muhammadu Buhari in a closed-door security briefing at the State House, Abuja.
He was responding to questions on the continued attacks by Boko Haram despite its reported defeat and why Shekau has been elusive to security agents even after reports of his killing several times.
Ali, a retired Army Brigadier-General, said that “if you have been opportuned to go to Sambisa, you will know that Boko Haram has been defeated. We have dominated the whole stronghold where they used to be.”
“Camp Zero, their spiritual headquarters which they were using as a communication base was destroyed and at the same time occupied by our men of the armed forces.”
“I believe it’s just a matter of time. It took America about seven to 10 years to get Bin Laden, so we will get Shekau as soon as possible. The spiritual headquarters has been ransacked and vandalised, he is on the run, so he may be hiding in one of the enclaves of Sambisa Forest which we are dominating.”
“We have opened up the place, we are using the place as a training area where Army engineers will open roads; we shall be patrolling and ransacking that forest for the whereabouts of Shekau.”
“These insurgents have a way of putting masks, there could be so many but we are looking for the real one. He has been using masks to portray Shekau in one incident or the other to give an impression that he has been killed so that we will relax but we will not relax, we are on him,” he said.
The minister also spoke of his discussion with the President which centred on the security in the country, and described it as fruitful, adding that Buhari was impressed with the performance of the armed forces.
According to Ali, the President directed that “we should do more; the more we put our efforts, the more Nigeria gets safer. We are doing our best and we have also requested for more in terms of equipment and I can categorically tell you that the Nigerian armed forces have turned to professional armed forces.”
“The small arms competition was done last almost 11 years ago, so also the sports. So, you can see we are joining the professionalism with the security challenges that is happening in the country.”
The minister added that the briefing with the President also touched on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) with a commitment to ensure that they return home and continue their normal businesses and contribute to economic empowerment of their communities.
US Department of State offers $7m reward to anyone with information that will lead to Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau’s arrest