Nigeria: Boko Haram leader may be dead

  • Abubakar Shekau may be be dead or fatally injured after a clash with rivals from Islamic State West Africa Province
  • Boko Haram was five times more deadly for civilians prior to Buhari becoming president in the March 2015 election
  • If BH grew out of a sense of disenfranchisement in the north/northeast, that risk may resurface around the 2023 election
Nigeria: Boko Haram leader may be dead

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau may be dead, according to unconfirmed media reports. The conflict with Boko Haram has led to c80,000 deaths over the past decade, of which 22% have been civilians. Some might breathe a sigh of relief that a notorious terrorist is no longer on the scene in Nigeria, but investors should be more wary (independent of other risks, such as FX convertibility or inflation).

Nigeria's decade of violent conflict involving Boko Haram

There are three reasons why Shekau's death, if confirmed, should be greeted cautiously.

  1. Boko Haram has long ceased to be the disruptive force it was prior to Muhammadu Buhari's election win in 2015. While violent incidents have continued, the civilian deaths associated with them have plummeted: the monthly average in the three years prior to Buhari's election win was 270 compared with 110 in the three years after, and in the past year the monthly average is below 60.

  2. To the degree that Boko Haram grew out of a sense of disenfranchisement of the north and northeast regions under the Goodluck Jonathan presidency, this may re-emerge in the event of a disorderly transition from northerner Buhari to a southern presidency after the 2023 election (in line with Nigeria's unwritten zonal power-sharing agreement, where the presidency rotates between northern and southern zones every two terms).

  3. Any vacuum left by Boko Haram is likely to be filled by Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). Indeed, the clashes that may have led to Shekau's death were not with Nigerian state actors but with ISWAP.

Boko Haram much more deadly prior to Buhari presidency

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