The Nigerian jihadist scene today is primarily represented by two factions: the Islamic State’s West Africa Province led by Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi and Abu Bakr Shekau’s group. Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi is the son of Abu Yusuf al-Barnawi (Muhammad Yusuf), who was the founder and first leader of the group that became commonly known as Boko Haram, though the appellation was never formally adopted by Yusuf for his group. After Yusuf’s death in 2009 amid clashes between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government, Shekau became the overall leader. In March 2015, Shekau, whose group formally controlled a substantial portion of Nigerian territory, attracted headlines through an official allegiance pledge to the Islamic State, thus inaugurating Islamic State’s West Africa Province with Shekau as the first provincial governor (wali).
However, Shekau was eventually removed from his position by the Islamic State, and Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi, who was announced to be the wali of West Africa Province in August 2016, has led the Islamic State affiliate ever since. Perceptions that Shekau’s ideas are too extreme even for the Islamic State, his rejection of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s authority as caliph, and Shekau’s ruthless conduct against his internal critics, are the main reasons why Shekau was removed from his position as wali of the West Africa province.
It has been claimed that Shekau’s group and the Islamic State’s West Africa Province represent two rival factions professing loyalty to Baghdadi and competing for recognition as the Islamic State’s wing in the West Africa. In fact, this claim is incorrect. Shekau clearly does not recognize the Islamic State as a legitimate authority whatsoever, and on multiple occasions his group has actually fought the Islamic State’s West Africa Province, which deems Shekau and his followers to be Khawarij.