NEW DELHI: The Nigerian military has said that more than 260 militants belonging to rebel group Boko Haram have surrendered in the country’s north-east town of Buni Yadi in Borno state, as rumours circulate that the group’s leader -- Abubakar Shekau -- has been killed.

The Nigerian military said that it had on Wednesday killed a man who appears in the militant group’s propaganda videos posing as the group’s leader, and had in fact, killed Shekau himself earlier. The military’s announcement comes after previous claims of having killed Shekau in 2009 and 2013.

The military did not say when or how Shekau was killed, nor provided any proof of his death, leading many to believe that Shekau is still indeed alive. More importantly, as pointed out by Defence spokesperson Chris Olukolade, Shekau has acquired the status of a brand name of sorts amongst Boko Haram rebels, and it is possible that multiple leaders have gone by that name.

The news of Shekau’s alleged killing comes as 18 people were killed by the rebels in the northeastern town of Shaffa late Wednesday night. The Nigerian military has been under intense pressure to regain territory captured by the militants, who have continued the onslaught and have captured a string of towns in the country’s northeast in the last few weeks.

Attacks have continued despite a state of emergency in the region, with locals alleging that the military is largely absent or inactive. A report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and the Norwegian Refugee Council pins the number of people killed by Boko Haram this year at 3000.

International attention has been directed at Nigeria since the kidnapping of 276 school girls, with Boko Haram releasing a video saying that the girls will only be released if all the group’s prisoners being held by Nigerian authorities are freed in return. The military issued a statement a few weeks later saying that it knew where the girls were being held captive, but ruled out the use of force in rescue operations.

The militants followed the kidnapping with an attack on the town of Gamboru Ngala on the border with Cameroon, as Senator Ahmed Zanna estimated that the death toll was close to 300. The town being unguarded with troops that used to be present there having been redeployed was highlighted as a reason facilitating the attack, much like the attacks on villages in the past few days.

These incidents are being projected in western Media as examples of Islamic terror, with little context specific to Boko Haram being mentioned. As most conflicts that are seemingly religious in nature, the agenda of Boko Haram is outrightly political. The group’s aim is to overthrow the country’s government and seize power. As part of this agenda, the group has adopted a specific variant of Islam - one that is opposed to any political or social activity associated with western society. This includes voting in elections, wearing western clothes and receiving what is considered a western (non religious) education.

The origins of Boko Haram, the official name of which is Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad, which in Arabic means "People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad", sheds light on the specific social-economic context that has determined developments. As parts of Nigeria fell under British control in 1903, locals came to view western education with suspicion, and this resistance continued as Nigeria gained independence, with many muslim families refusing to send their children to government run “western schools.” The problem was compounded by the lack of priority given to education by the state government.

Located in this context, in 2002, Muslim cleric, Mohammed Yusuf, formed Boko Haram in Maiduguri with the intention of setting up a religious complex, which included a mosque and an Islamic school. Many families across Nigeria and the region enrolled their children in Yusuf’s school. The movement did not remain restricted to education, with the eventual aim of an Islamic state being conceived within the struggle for power that was rooted in an anti-western discourse. In 2009, the group carried out a series of attacks on official buildings in Maiduguri. The group was defeated and Yusuf was killed, but fighters regrouped and in 2010, attacked a prison in Bauchi state, setting free hundreds of the groups’ supporters.

Since then, the group’s attacks have increased in severity, with some of the worst attacks being the 2011 Christmas day bombings on the outskirts of Abuja and in Damaturu; bombing the police headquarters and the UN headquarters in Abuja in 2011; and an attack on a military barracks in Abuja in 2010.

The context is far more complicated than a mere religious rendering can do justice to. Nigerian American author and columnist offered a voice of reason when he tweeted: “I understand the impulse to "do something." But Boko Haram is irreducibly complex. Makes Kony look like child's play” and “The history of the Nigerian military "doing something" about Boko Haram has been one of mass murder of civilians.”

The threat posed by Boko Haram is not going to disappear by launching an offensive attack, which, at best will cause a temporary lull of activity till the fighters regroup and hit back even more violently. The solution to the threat is in reducing the region’s chronic poverty and building an education system which gains the support of local muslims - measures which are not being given priority to by the establishment and figure no where in the “do something” position adopted by the west.