SHAFAQNA – Almost 100 members of Nigeria’s armed forces faced a court martial yesterday, accused of mutiny and cowardice, as their colleagues struggle to defeat a brutal Islamist insurgency which has turned parts of the country into a warzone.The charges against 16 officers and 81 enlisted men came as the head of the Boko Haram militant group issued a video message denying government claims that he was dead. Clad in military fatigues on the back of a pick-up truck, Abubaker Shekau was shown firing an anti-aircraft gun into the air. “Here I am, alive. I will only die the day Allah takes my breath,” he said. “Nothing will kill me until my days are over.”
The 36-minute video, in which the militant leader speaks Arabic and Hausa, the language of northern Nigeria, came just days after President Goodluck Jonathan praised his armed forces for “inflicting devastating blows at the heart of terror”. “Driven by patriotic zeal, they are turning the tide by their prowess and determination,” said President Jonathan, at a ceremony to mark 54 years of independence from Britain.
President Jonathan, who is seeking a third term in office next year, declared a state of emergency last year and warned that Boko Haram was threatening Nigeria’s territorial integrity.
His soldiers, who have repeatedly claimed to have killed Shekau, launched a series of airstrikes last week on the outskirts of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, to halt an assault by Boko Haram during which a number of towns were captured by the militants.
Shekau appeared to echo the Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, by claiming that Boko Haram had also implemented a caliphate, or Islamic state. He seemed to gloat in the video, joking at one point that people claimed he had “two souls”. “No, I have one soul, by Allah,” he said, appearing to read. “It is propaganda that is prevalent. I have one soul. I’m an Islamic student.”
The court martial came two weeks after 12 soldiers were sentenced to death for attempting to kill their commanding officer.
The soldiers were accused of trying to assassinate General Ahmed Mohammed, a divisional commander, by shooting at his armoured car in Maiduguri, which has borne the brunt of Boko Haram’s attacks.
The rights group Amnesty International said that a scorched-earth policy of arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial killings in areas where the militants operated had served only to swell their ranks and exacerbate the problem.