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Is Nigeria's Boko Haram moving toward governing?

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(Read caption) Self-proclaimed Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau speaks to the camera in this image from a May 12 video.

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A version of this blog originally appeared on Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own. 

The Nigerian media is reporting that Boko Haram is firmly in control of Mubi, a strategically important town in Adamawa state. Apparently based on telephone contact with city residents and a few interviews with those who have fled, the media is presenting a Boko Haram effort to return the city to normal, albeit run according to Islamic law

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Boko Haram “leaders” in the city, not further identified, are urging residents who have fled to return. They have also ordered shops to reopen. A gasoline station has reopened in the neighboring town of Uba, and Boko Haram provided security for the weekly market in Mubi [two weeks ago]. There are reports that Boko Haram is paying for anything they take from the shops. The same “leaders” are also saying that residents are free to come and go and may use motorcycles, the use of which is banned in some parts of Adamawa still controlled by the government. Boko Haram is promising to provide residents with “security.”

On the other hand, the media is also reporting that residents continue to flee.

Boko Haram has renamed Mubi, Madinatul Islam, “the city of Islam and peace.” Residents report that there are checkpoints everywhere.

One resident is reported in the media as saying that the insurgents have warned against any attempts to hold an election in the state, and that Boko Haram would “capture the whole state in no distant time.”

Meanwhile, military sources say that their efforts to retake Mubi continue.

Media documentation of what Boko Haram is doing in Mubi is thin. But, if it is an accurate reflection, it may be a reflection of the direction in which Boko Haram is moving. Boko Haram’s focus appears now to be on the acquisition of territory, including the entire state of Adamawa. It also appears to be moving in the direction of providing services, especially security for the residents in the territories it controls. It remains to be seen whether residents who have fled Mubi and Uba will start to return. Boko Haram’s leadership remains as shadowy as ever.