The shadowy leader of the Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, has appeared in a new video – the first in nearly a year.
In the latest one, released to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan, the Boko Haram leader spoke in Arabic and appeared to have visual impairment, judging by the way he struggled to read his prepared text.
In his message the elusive leader denounced democracy and defended his group’s ideology of hatred for secular education and anything associated with Western culture.
This is nothing new, but the timing of the video’s release is significant and seems to be sending a direct message to the Nigerian government.
President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn-in for a second term just last week as the country clocks 20 years since the return of democracy – a system of government Shekau’s Boko Haram is trying to overthrow to impose a strict system of Islamic law.
It appears Shekau is trying to signal that he and his group are still around even though in reality the Boko Haram faction allied to the Islamic State (IS) group is seen to be more active and is believed to be behind most of the recent attacks in north-eastern Nigeria.
Shekau, who has led Boko Haram for a decade, forged an alliance with IS in 2015, renaming the group “Islamic State West African province” (Iswap).
But the following year the group split after IS sacked Shekau, reportedly for his indiscriminate attacks on civilians – including Muslims, women and children.
Shekau then continued to lead Boko Haram with Iswap operating separately.
It could also be seen as a jibe at the military, which recently said that its offensive had defeated his Boko Haram faction, though it admitted that Iswap was still a challenge.
The 10-year insurgency in Nigeria – and several other countries – has killed more than 20,000 people and forced millions of others from their homes.