In what seems like a reversal of its past positions on the killing of Boko Haram leader, Abubukar Shekua, the federal government on Tuesday said the terrorist was still alive in Sambisa Forest, saying that the manhunt against him by the Nigerian armed forces was still active.
The federal government also gave its backing to the resolve by Borno State government to commemorate the fall of Sambisa Forest December 22 of every year.
Minister of Defence, Brig. Gen. Dan Ali (rtd) while fielding questions from State House correspondents after a private meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential villa, Abuja on the defeat of insurgents said that Shekua had been wearing masks to disguise himself, a reason why he had not been killed.
He however assured that the Nigerian armed forces would not rest until the terrorist was captured.
Ali expressed happiness over the capture of Camp Zero, saying that the Nigerian army would use the Forest as a training ground henceforth.
He said: “If you have been opportune to go to Sambisa, you will know that Boko Haram has been defeated. Go and see what is happening in Sambisa. It is as we have dominated the whole stronghold where they used to be. There is where we call camp zero where their spiritual and their strong headquarters that they were using as communication base was destroyed and as at the same time occupied by our men the armed forces.
“I believe it’s just a matter of time. It took America about 7 to 10 years to get Bin Laden so we will get Shekau as soon as possible.
“I told you before now, the spiritual headquarters has been ransacked and vandalized, he (Shekua) is on the run. So, he may be hiding in one of the enclaves of sambisa forest which we are dominating. We have opened up the place. We are using the place as a training area whereby the army Engineers will open roads. We shall be patrolling and be ransacking that forest for the whereabouts of Shekau.
“Let me tell you categorically, these Insurgents, they have a way of putting mask. There could be so many but we are looking for the real one. He has been using mask to portray Shekau in one incident or the other to give an impression that he has been killed so that we will relax but we will not relax. We are on him.”
The minister also said that it was no wrong doing should Borno government decide to celebrate the fall of Sambisa Forest every Dec 22.
“It is a local celebration. They have seen the significance of having that camp zero captured because hithertho, they can never be at rest when they are been encircled by insurgents. So, with that I believe they have the right to celebrate things happening. Other things are been celebrated in other parts of the country. So, no problem with that. I believe it is not anything that has some wrong doing”, he said.
Ali also told Journalists that his Mission to the presidential villa was to brief president Buhari on the security situation of the county.
He also said that several measures were being made to speed up the return of the Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs to their villages.
“Generally, we spoke about the security in the country across the nation and I believe we had a fruitful discussion and he was impressed with the performance of the armed forces of the federal republic of Nigeria.
“Security situation is something that you cannot get 100 percent and remember that Nigeria has been having these turbulences for a very long time . We are trying to manage it and we are trying to make it solvable whereby every Nigeria will have peace and tranquillity and do his normal business.
“The directive is that we should do more. The more we put our efforts the more Nigeria gets safer. We are doing our best and we have also requested for more in terms of equipment and I can categorically tell you that the Nigeria Armed forces have turned to professional armed forces. The training we had the small arms competition was done last almost 11 years ago so also the sports. So, you can see we are joining the professionalism with the security challenges that is happening in the country.
“One of the issue we also discussed is the fact that we want the IDPs to return to their home and normal businesses because of the economic empowerment of their people in the villages.
“I have gone through the sambisa forest. A lot of villages were empty and we are also thinking of facilitating process whereby all the strong holds and some of them that have no strong issues with boko harm will be released to go back to their farming villages and that will enhance the economic empowerment of the people”, the Minister said.