John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Boko Haram in the Niger Delta?

by John Campbell
September 19, 2011

A man, suspected of being involved in a series of bomb attacks, walks handcuffed outside the Wuse magistrate court in Nigeria's capital Abuja September 13, 2011. (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters)

The Nigerian Tribune reports that the security services are searching for Boko Haram militants in Warri. If true, a Boko Haram presence in the Delta would be a major challenge to the Nigerian state. It should be recalled that Warri has long been the site of Niger Delta militancy, cult rivalry, and crime, often complicated by antagonism between the Ijaws and the Itskiris. (President Goodluck Jonathan is from the Ijaw ethnic group.)

While there is troubled water in which to fish, the Tribune report should be treated with caution; no arrests have been made, no operations have been carried out, and there is no credible evidence that Boko Haram has forged links with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), or any other Delta militant group.

I’m skeptical that Boko Haram could establish a meaningful alliance with Delta militants. While there are superficial similarities between grievances in the Delta and the North–alienation from and anger at the federal government–groups like MEND lack any overt religious identity whereas Boko Haram is vehemently Islamic. As Alex Thurston at Sahel blog puts it, “It would be a mistake to say that religion (Christianity, local religions, and even Islam) is not a force in the Niger Delta, but the grievances of MEND have to do with the distribution of wealth resulting from one natural resource, oil. The grievances Boko Haram expresses are more diverse, less material, and are explicitly articulated as religious politics: Boko Haram wants stronger shari’a, it wants a purification of society, etc.”

Further, there is an antagonistic history between Boko Haram and Delta militants. After the Abuja government announcement that alleged Boko Haram members captured by the police in connection to the Abuja police headquarters bombing would not face prosecution, MEND issued a statement accusing the government of double standards for prosecuting Henry and Charles Okah following the Eagle Square bombing and threatened to resume violence. In response, an alleged spokesman for Boko Haram told reporters, “tell MEND that we are ready for them anytime.”

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by unizik

    The boko haram issue has shaken us indeed. I cant even go back to school because of fear of been bombed. when will peace return to NIGERIA?

  • Posted by Bill Knight

    Are the similarities between grievances “superficial”?
    I would argue that there are superficial differences: e.g. in Yobe, sand, donkeys, 4xwheel drives, a schismatic form of ‘ Islam’; e.g. in Bayelsa water, canoes, ‘flying-boats’, a revival of ‘Egbesu’.
    Both ‘religions’, as happens elsewhere in Africa, attempt to reach back and ‘purify’ what’s gone wrong.

    And what has gone wrong, especially in these marginalized areas in north and south, as they are perceived to be by those who live there, “a million miles” from Damaturu and Yenagoa, never mind a long way from Abuja? The state has failed locally: there few, if any, basic services; in many places none at all. “We have no water, no clinics, no schools, no roads…” the people say and if you go to live amongst them you can see that they are right.

    And if you ask them what is their greatest problem, they all reply “poverty”.
    And if you ask them what has made them angry they all reply “marginalisation’.
    These are not superficial differences.

  • Posted by gass

    is like every hausa looking face is boko haram now wo”””’wow

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