After nearly 3 years of violence and fighting by Nigeria’s extremist group Boko Haram, in which more than a thousand people have been killed, the country’s security services have released a list of Boko Haram’s ‘Most Wanted’ men.
The list is published with corresponding bounties on offer for the capture of the men, and appeals to members of the public who wish to come forward with information leading to the arrest of the wanted men, to do so.
All the men on the list are being pursued in connection with terrorist activities in parts of northern Nigeria over the last couple of years which has included the bombings of churches, schools, civilian murders, assassinations of religious leaders, businessmen and politicians, and attacks on the media.
First on the ‘Most Wanted' list is Abubukar Shekau, the self-styled leader of the group, and the man seen in a string of YouTube videos in the internet in which Shekau celebrates Boko Haram attacks, threatens more, and in some instances denies the involvement of the group in other acts of violence in the country.
The Nigerian government is offering over $300,000 dollars in reward money for Shekau’s capture.
This is a handsome figure in a part of the world where widespread poverty exists, and this may put Shekau at significant risk of capture by spurring collaborators and potential informants to hand in him in to the authorities.
The other 18 men on the Boko Haram’s ‘Most Wanted’ list, who have bounties ranging from $155,000 dollars down to a more meagre $60,000 dollars upon their heads, names and faces are hardly known to the public or the media.
This may make their capture much more difficult.
But undoubtedly there will be those out there who know some of the men, so the authorities say.
What is to be taken from the release of the Boko Haram’s “Most Wanted’ list is change in strategy by Nigeria’s Joint Task Force, Restore Order – the combined effort of the military, police, state security services, and their adherent intelligence units to put an end to the group.
The release of the list suggests that the security services have enough information to believe naming Boko Haram 'suspects' may go some way to unmasking senior members of the group, and understanding the group's command structure and its aims, with a view to weakening and destroying the sect.
However, given the political pressure the Goodluck Jonathan led adminstration is under to bring an end to the Boko Haram insurgency, there is a real fear that the release of this 'Most Wanted' list could be a catalyst for false arrests and even the extra-judicial killing of Boko Haram suspects by security agents.
Last month the human rights organisation Amnesty International hit out at Nigeria’s security services accusing them of extrajudicial killing of suspected Boko Haram suspects, and innocent civilians, and other human rights abuses, in over-zealous pursuit of the group.
But the release of Boko Haram’s “Most Wanted’ list is likely to be welcomed overwhelmingly by the Nigerian public, many of whom feel the security services are failing dismally to get a grip on the group.
Particularly the millions of people in the parts of northern Nigeria affected by Boko Haram violence that have seen loved ones killed, and their livelihoods, businesses, and homes destroyed. Nowhere moreso than Borno State, capital, Maiduguri, the birthplace of the Boko Haram, from where the security services have released the 'Most Wanted' list.
I remember reporting from the once beautiful and vibrant city before and during the killing of Boko Haram’s late leader Mohammed Yusuf and after.
Communities in this area have had their lives turned almost to ashes in Boko Haram's wake, tens of thousands have fled to other states.
For many Nigerians the stated aim of Boko Haram to create a Nigeria ruled by strict Islamic law remains a futile ambition, and simply does not make sense.
Given the fact that mostly Muslims have died in Boko Haram violence, and given the fact that Muslims and Christians have been living in peace accross many parts of the region for centuries.
Now everyone is waiting to see who on the list might be captured, and when.