Abubakar Shekau, the Boko Haram helmsman is notorious for the violent campaigns against the Nigerian state and the people. But in this mind-boggling wanton destruction of lives and property, Shekau is just the symbol of terror. He is backed by commanders and foot soldiers who, without conventional military training, launch coordinated attacks with high-calibre weapons and locally-produced explosive devices (IEDs).
Who are the Shekau’s men and where are they, what is their life like and how did they get into the group? Some residents of Maiduguri, Borno State and Damaturu, Yobe State where the insurgents had operated for about three years attempt to answer these posers about the life and times of men who sustain Boko Haram attacks.
The Shura members
Apart from Abubakar Shekau, four people stand out in the hierarchy of Boko Haram leaders. They are members of the highest decision making body (Shura) of the sect. Those who are privy to the activities of the sect before the July 2009 uprising said Shekau was actually the brain behind the establishment of the Shura despite initial reluctance from the founder of the sect, Malam Mohammed Yusuf. The four are Habibu Yusuf (a.k.a Asalafi), Khalid Albarnawai, Momodu Bama and Mohammed Zangina. A notice by the defunct Joint Task Force (JTF) Operation Restore Order 1 in Maiduguri early 2013 confirmed the four as belonging to the highest decision making body of the group headed by Shekau. Residents who knew some of these men said they once lived in the metropolis particularly in Nganaram, Zajeri and Kabar Maila before they finally moved to the sect’s headquarters at Railways Quarters. “Apart from Momodu Bama and Zangina, we don’t really know the other men. I don’t think they are from Borno. Maybe they moved to Borno from Kano after 2009 as some of their members later did,” a resident claimed. The resident said Momodu initially lived at Bama, his hometown until early 2011 when he was seen regularly around Shehuri in Maiduguri.
Security sources said he specialized in manning high-calibre weapons including anti-aircraft guns, RPGs among others though he assumed the identity of Abu Sa’ad as a pseudonym. Momodu is believed to have been killed together with his father, Abatcha Flatari during a bloody encounter with military forces.
Momodu’s father, a Mallam, was alleged to be providing charms for the sect’s foot soldiers. Many explosives were reportedly recovered from his house in Maiduguri by the military.
Mohammed Zangina (fifth in the Shura) also grew up in Maiduguri metropolis but little is known about his adolescent years, residents said, adding that most of the men were “not very well known in the past.” Zangina was arrested on January 13, 2013 in a house in GRA Maiduguri by security forces. According to the military, he was responsible for coordinating the suicide bombings in Abuja, Jos, Kaduna, Kano and Potiskum. He was said to be addressed as Alhaji Musa or Mallam Abdul by his Shura members.
Two names are well-known to Maiduguri residents among the 14 major commanders of Boko Haram before late 2013 when the insurgents were randomly arrested by club-carrying youth volunteers. They gave the names as Abu Kaka or Qaqa and Abu Sa’ad. Abu Kaka is the undisputed information officer of the sect. He was known as director of public communication/affairs who was sending the messages of the sect across in telephone conferences with journalists in Maiduguri especially in 2012 before the group adopted the YouTube medium. Those who knew him said he grew up around State Low Cost Estate in the metropolis. “He hails from Kogi State and an Ebira by tribe with tribal mark,” an elderly man who knew him said. His real name is Mohammed Bello, said another resident, who added that Bello graduated from the state-owned Ramat Polytechnic Maiduguri with a National Diploma (ND) in Social Work.
“He was married with a child but never got to see the child because he left home and relocated to Markka (Boko Haram’s now demolished headquarters) in 2009 before the crisis. He had abandoned his work at University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH) at that time,” a resident added. He was subsequently arrested in the metropolis on March 30 by military troops and taken to Abuja. He was believed to be among Boko Haram suspects who attempted to break jail at the SSS Headquarters, Abuja on Sunday, March 30, 2014.
The man who was later dubbed Abu Qaqa II by the media was originally known as Abu Zaid. He had been speaking to journalists on telephone with the name until Abu Kaka/Abu Qaqa surfaced. But after the arrest of the first Abu Qaqa, Zaid introduced himself to journalists in Maiduguri as the real Abu Qaqa and all attempts by the Boko Haram to correct what the group perceived as media misunderstanding of the name of its information officer did not yield results as the media dubbed the man Abu Qaqa II though he maintained he was the real Abu Qaqa or Kaka.
A police officer with the counter-terrorism squad of the Nigeria Police who wanted to be anonymous told Sunday Sun that “terrorists often hide their real identities to adopt pseudonyms to evade arrest or avoid suspicion,” adding that even “their foot soldiers may not know their real names, making it impossible to divulge the identities of their leaders when caught by the security.
“Therefore, don’t be surprised those who are living together with them in their area before they were dislodged from here, may not even understand that the man they know as very humble Mohammed is a terrorist but with another name. They may even be discussing with him everyday about the dastardly acts of Boko Haram unknown to them they are talking with a kingpin. That was how many people were killed in Maiduguri by the sect. They just mark the person as their enemy having said one thing or the other.”
Other commanders are: Abdulmalik Bama, Umar Fulata, Alhaji Mustapha (Massa Ibrahim), Abubakar Suleiman Habu, Hassan Jazair, Ali Jalingo, Alhaji Musa Modu, Bashir Aketa, Abba Coroma, Ibrahim Bashir, Abubakar Zakariya and Tukur Ahmed Mohammed.
Sources said there are also zonal commanders in charge of each of the zones in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states. Residents, however, said the present crop of Boko Haram zonal leaders are unknown to them as most of them had not been seen around or were appointed to replace the previous leaders who had either been killed or arrested.