Falmata Abubakar, the mother of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, says she recognizes that her son has “brought problem to many people” but she still loves him just as every mother does her son.
In a rare interview — her very first, in fact — with the Voice of Africa (VOA), Falmata said she hadn’t seen Shekau for 15 years, and wondered where she could find him to convince him to change his ways.
“I don’t know if he’s alive or dead. I don’t know,” she said in Shekau Village, Yobe State. “It’s only God who knows. For 15 years I haven’t seen him. Since Shekau met with Mohammed Yusuf, I didn’t see him again.”
People of Shekau Village often hide the fact that they are from Abubakar Shekau’s hometown because others may fear they have Boko Haram connections.
According to Falmata, Shekau left the village as a boy to continue his Islamic education in Maiduguri, a centre of religious studies for hundreds of years.
Shekau was an almajiri. In the generations-old tradition, almajirai are sent off by their parents to study the Quran in schools locally known as a tsangaya, where a teacher coaches the dozens, sometimes hundreds, of male students to memorize the entire Quran.
Almajirai beg on the streets for food, and it is believed that Shekau did the same. At some point in his studies, Shekau, according to his mother, met Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of Boko Haram, who condemned Western education as sinful. Falmata says her son was brainwashed.
“Yes, he’s my son and every mother loves her son, but we have different characters,” she said.
“He brought a lot of problem to many people. Where can I meet him to tell him that these things he is doing is very bad? He brought many problems to many people, but I am praying for God to show him the good way.
“He just took his own character and ran away; it is not the character I gave him. I don’t know what this type of behavior is. It’s only God who knows.”
Shekau’s Boko Haram is responsible for the majority of the killings in Nigeria’s north-east since the insurgency broke out in 2009. He also spearheaded the abduction of 276 female students from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, in 2014, more than 100 of them still unaccounted for.
In 2012, the Federal Government advertised a N290 million bash reward for anyone able to volunteer information that could lead to Shekau’s arrest. The following year, the US declared Boko Haram a terrorist organisation and placed a $7 million bounty on Shekau.
Earlier this year, the army promised to give N3 million to anyone who could provide information on Shekau’s whereabouts.