There are strong indications that the faction of the self-acclaimed leader of Boko Haram sect, Abubakar Shekau, has lost grounds to the faction of Abu Mus’ab Al-Barnawi, after days of clashes between the two terrorist factions in remote areas of Borno State.
Daily Trust reliably quoted some locals who have already fled the areas as describing the latest development as “battle of supremacy between Shekau and Al-Barnawi.”
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Both factions have holed up in remote areas from where they occasionally emerge to launch attacks on military formations.
Al-Barnawi is the son of Boko Haram founder Muhammed Yusuf, who parted ways with Shekau, his father’s successor, about a year ago.
Several insurgents lost their lives in the reported clashes, with sources saying Al-Barnawi’s faction ultimately had an upper hand.
How clashes started
A dependable vigilante source told Daily Trust that the two factions clashed in the vicinity of Dikwa over reported encroachment by a member of one faction into the territory of the other.
“The two factions operate in different areas in Borno state, with the understanding that no one encroaches into the other’s territory.
Accordingly, Shekau’s men roam parts of southern Borno while Al-Barnawi’s fighters operate in the northern part of the state.
It was reported that lately some of the members of Al-Barnawi faction strayed into Shekau’s territory around Dikwa, as a result of which they were reportedly accosted and killed by the Shekau fighters.
The Al-Barnawi faction immediately organised a reprisal, summoning its men from the surrounding enclaves; the result was a heavy clash of the two factions, leaving many dead.
“Nobody can tell who lost how many lives and how many if whose men got injured because, as you know, nobody dared go near there,” the source said.
Multiple sources told Daily Trust that the clashes took place in areas that included Gwarimiri, Mulgwailawanti, Golofori, Gaggau, Taye, as well as Charma I and Charma II with Al-Barnawi taking over the locations from Shekau.
Other locations allegedly taken over by Al-Barnawi’s fighters were Umdarari, Jubul, Shuwari, Fulatar, Shunkori, and many others.
The locations, mostly hamlets were sand-witched in the axis of Gamboru-Ngala, Dikwa, Mafa, Konduga, Bama, and Gwoza local government areas of Borno State.
During the latest confrontation, Albarnawi’s fighters armed with high calibre weapons, launched a daring attack on Shekau’s fighters beginning from last Friday, killing many and taking over their weapons, and their locations.
“The Albarnawi faction were the ones who launched a deadly attack on Shekau’s people beginning from Gwarimiri, Mulgwailawanti, Golofori, Gaggau and Taye,” a villager, who is now in Maiduguri, said.
“The Albarnawi’s fighters then consolidated their ‘territorial conquest’ to other places…They have taken over many places where Shekau’s men either wooed or forcefully converted the villagers to become their sympathizers or simply held them hostage,” he said.
Another source said, “The Albarnawi fighters had some Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and many Hilux trucks while some of them rode on motorcycles as they moved on.”
Albarnawi asks locals to leave
Our correspondent learnt that shortly after Albarnawi’s fighters had the upper hand after the encounter with Shekau’s faction, locals in the affected communities should decide for themselves on whether they wanted to stay in the houses or move on.
“The invaders said those who want to go to nearby Konduga should go and those who want to even proceed to Maiduguri or Bama are free to go,” a source said.
Konduga and Bama are two of the many areas where locals have gone back and continued with their normal life.
A source, who is from Konduga said it was true some people from neighbouring hamlets have been coming in “piecemeal.”
“It is not mass exodus per se and their arrival is not official; most of them relocating from the affected villages simply check-in with their extended families and acquaintances,” he said.
Albarnawi broke away from Shekau
Albarnawi, alongside Mamman Nur, a key Boko Haram leader on US terrorist list parted ways with Shekau in 2016.
This came to the fore in the first week of August 2016, when the ISIS put an end to the seven years of Shekau’s reign, and in his place, anointed Albarnawi.
On August 4, Shekau personally described the breakaway Albarnawi and his cohorts as “heretics” and soon after the new development, sporadic ideological and practical fighting broke out between the two factions.
A security source who confirmed the development yesterday said he was not in a position to speak on the record.
“I would not say any of the Boko Haram factions have absolute control of anywhere but as usual, combating terrorism is not a one- day thing. What is clear is that the Boko Haram, whatever faction you are referring to, are on the defence and on the run,” he said.
The story of the renewed fight between the two factions broke amidst claims by the Nigerian military and civilian authorities that the Boko Haram does not control any territory anywhere in the northeast and Nigeria at large.
Despite the claim, thousands of people in Borno State for instance still live at various Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps in Maiduguri; and lately in major towns like Bama, among others.
Fight over territories
Shortly after they parted ways in 2016, Albarnawi made strenuous efforts and established his bases in northern fringes of Borno that shares borders with Niger, Chad, and parts of Cameroon.
Shekau, on the other hand, consolidated his bases mostly in southern parts of Borno, including Sambisa forest and the Mandara Mountains that leads to Cameroon.
Locations in the edges of Central Borno remain “contentious” between the two groups until recently when both leaders began to launch sporadic attacks on each other, all in an effort to have more presence amidst efforts by the Nigerian military authorities to contain them.
Most IDPs said they could not return to their homes because even if Boko Haram had been chased away as claimed by the Nigerian authorities, the same authorities have failed to establish civil and municipal control in these liberated areas.
The inability of the IDPs to go back home is more severe in northern Borno, sources, including some humanitarian agencies, said.
“For now, many humanitarian agencies have been denied access to northern Borno. I don’t personally know why but we strongly believe that there are locals there who need urgent help,” a volunteer, who works with one of the international donor agencies in Maiduguri, told the Daily Trust last night.