In what may turn out to be positive news for the country, there are indications that Boko Haram’s Islamic State for West Africa Province (ISWAP) faction is breaking up. This is occurring at a time when it has suffered setbacks following a reinvigorated campaign and counterattacks by the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) which includes troops from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. In recent weeks the MNJTF has increased its attacks on Boko Haram positions in the Lake Chad Region.
ISWAP’s head, Abu Musab al-Barnawi, has been removed as the group’s leader. Al-Barnawi has also left ISWAP but it is unclear how many of his fighters have followed him. It will soon become clear whether al-Barnawi determines to form a new group and if he will receive any support from the Islamic State group which is under severe pressure in Iraq and Syria.
ISWAP has announced that Abu Abdullah Idris bin Umar (a.k.a. Umar al-Barnawi) is its new leader. He is allegedly the same person who announced the breakaway from the Abubakar Shekau faction of Boko Haram in 2016. This is the second major change in leadership in ISWAP.
Another prominent ISWAP leader, Mamman Nur, was also removed, detained and executed last year. He was supposedly more moderate and lost out in a leadership battle in the group because of his less extremist views.
There are unconfirmed reports that the new leader may have been close to Nur. If correct this could mean that the new ISWAP group may be more moderate in its approach. For example, Nur advocated that the group should not attack civilians unless they are proven to be aiding the military.
This comes as good news for the government as the Nigeria-led MNJTF force has been making significant gains against ISWAP positions in the Lake Chad Region. Security sources have confirmed that ISWAP has suffered heavy losses from a combination of attacks from Nigerian and Chadian troops who have stepped up their offensives in the last two weeks.
If the current victories can be sustained before the onset of the rainy season in the North East — which typically begins in April or May — it may prove difficult to reverse. A clearer picture of the situation in the North East will unfold in the next few weeks.