John Campbell

Africa in Transition

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

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Nigeria’s Boko Haram and MEND Similar?

by John Campbell
October 4, 2012

Nigeria president Goodluck Jonthan in an interview calling for Boko Haram to identify themselves and state their demands as a basis for talks 27/01/2012. (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters)


Stratfor, the global intelligence company based in Austin, Texas, has published a thoughtful analysis that is well-worth reading, though I disagree with its fundamental premise. The starting point is a possible deal between President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration and the Delta militant leader Henry Okah, now imprisoned in South Africa (at Nigeria’s behest) for alleged terrorism. Okah has long been thought a senior leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) that carried out extensive attacks on the oil industry in the Niger Delta between 2005 and 2009. The article places MEND in the context of national politics and posits that a deal with Okah could be part of an effort to secure MEND’s cooperation in the run-up to the 2015 presidential elections, and the struggle for ruling party leadership, which, is suggested to be already underway. It directly ties MEND’s successes from 2005 to 2009 to its protection by the delta region’s governors and security officials. MEND’s activities largely stopped as the result of a national amnesty that included a massive payoff of MEND warlords and the region’s political leaders.

The article suggests that Boko Haram may be “The North’s answer to MEND.” That Boko Haram, like MEND, is protected by political insiders. The North has no oil, but Boko Haram has successful undermined public confidence in Jonathan’s ability to govern. So long as Boko Haram limits its operations to internal–not international–targets, it will survive.

Implicit in the argument is that Jonathan could end, or at least significantly decrease, Boko Haram’s activities by buying-off its leaders and according its sponsors with greater political influence.

The article portrays MEND and Boko Haram as mostly the proxy battles of elite politics. I see a much greater popular dimension to both than that understanding allows. Highly diffuse, Boko Haram includes a popular, religious millenarian dimension that makes it immune to the accepted ways Nigerian politicians “settle” their opponents; mostly by payoffs. Similarly, MEND taps into a deep sense of popular grievance in the Delta over the region’s failure to benefit from oil while at the same time it suffers from the industry’s environmental impact.

In both the North and the Delta, popular grievances are probably growing. Until they are addressed politically, continuing cycles of violence seem inevitable.

Post a Comment 6 Comments

  • Posted by Lawrence Freeman

    Popular grievances have to be addressed, most especially, lack of economic justice. The failure to develop Nigeria, which would require massive investment in basic infrastructure-water, power and rail-in particular utre cutuere there will be support for groups like the MEND, Boko Haram and more. The crisis in Mali and other parts of North Africa are the consequences of the same dearth of development. Poverty is the number one assest for recruiment by these various Salifist extremists. With the financial system of the Trans-Atlantic region crashing, African countries have to work together with other allies for provide public credit for essentail infrastructure.
    Lawrence Freemna, Dir African Desk, EIR.

  • Posted by Chavuka

    There is an angle to Boko Haram that some analysts never seem to focus on – anger at the Northern ruling elite.

    A few months ago, a 15 year old boy blew himself up – he wanted to kill the Shehu of Bornu. The Emir of Fika was almost killed by another young suicide bomber.

    There are several things going on in the North, and comparing Boko Haram and MEND may be “intellectually fulfilling”, but doesn’t help one understand two very different organisations, with very different reasons for existence.

  • Posted by Chavuka

    I must also add that Nigeria does not consist only of the “North” and the “Niger Delta”.

    Boko Haram’s victims come from all parts of the nation – and these people also have genuine grievances.

    And that is before we get to the peculiarities of the Middle Belt and the South East or what grievance the Christian community may have against Boko Haram and what section of the country / ethnic group they perceive to be their main supporters.

    Northern Nigeria is too big to do a “Niger Delta” – and at this point in our evolution as a nation, we need more sacrifices and compromise than demands for resources at the center.

    All Nigerians have genuine grievances, and Western analysts should stop promoting this “grievance theory”.

    We have a nation to build, or destroy.

  • Posted by katakori

    Any comparison between MEND and Boko Haram is absolutely misguided and baseless. The historical circumstances that rise to both groups are dissimilar. Equally unrelated are the ultimate objectives of the groups, not to mention the different cultural and political environments in which they thrive.

    Any analysis that fails to distinguish between the essentially material agitations of niger-delta militants and the purely spiritual pursuits of boko haram does not grasp the dissimilarity in factors that animated the two groups into revolt.

    A major implication of the foregoing is that while it is possibe to apply the unique Nigerian remedy of “settlement” to appease & rein in the niger-deltans, such mundane approach will serve no purpose with boko haram.

    While niger-delta militants find acceptance and refuge among their local populace as a consequence of their converging material cravings, boko haram enjoys no similar immunity from the opprobium and even hate of their local population who, it must be remembered, are the direct targets and victims of boko haram attacks.

  • Posted by Bill Hansen

    John Campbell is absolutely right, especially with regard to Boko Haram, a movement with which I’m far more familiar. Nigerian politics is certainly involved – proxy and otherwise – but what Campbell calls the “popular dimension” cannot be ignored. Full disclosure: Although I’ve never met him, John Campbell is on the Board of Trustees of the American University of Nigeria where I teach.

  • Posted by Costus Spectabilis

    I laugh at this over-simplistic comparison. One can hear similar conclusions stating that Al-Qaeda is a subsidiary of the CIA. Both these groups have outgrown their original and political sponsors. If you want to meet a Northern Governor you have more chance of meeting them in Abuja. Most are personna non gratis in
    many areas in their own states. They traditional elites are becoming less critical with respect to security. If they get paid for support to elections they will not be able to guarantee ‘peace’. This anti-elite dimension is more expressed in The North than The Niger Delta. Full blown anarchy beckons.

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