Commentary: Nigeria’s Boko Haram and MEND quagmire

By Konye Obaji Ori

Posted on June 10, 2011 14:01

Since 2006, militants of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) have threatened Nigeria’s national security and civic stability, but analysts have described Boko Haram as a bigger danger to Nigeria’s multiculturalism and national amalgamation. Espousing a theological framework of social analysis, Boko Haram fervidly opposes the pluralism, tolerance and civic mutuality generated by the survival of the Nigerian state.

Opposed to democracy, Western-style education, and modern science, Nigerian militant Islamist group Boko Haram have killed several civilians and government forces in a crusade against Western ideologies spreading around the country-especially in the north. However, the series of bombings masterminded by Boko Haram before and after the inauguration of the democratically elected southern Christian president Mr. Goodluck Jonathan, and intermittent clashes with elements of the Nigerian security force has posed several questions about Nigeria’s multiculturalism; the seemingly growing rivalry between the predominantly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south, and the issue of militancy in the country’s pursuit of intra-national stability.

According to analysts, the birth of Boko Haram takes its roots in cultural panic – the anguish of communities who are unprepared for a modern social economy, who have been raised to be deeply disparate of modernity and who consider themselves beset by outsiders as a result. Chris Ngwodo of the Salem Consulting Group writes in his article: “Understanding Boko Haram- A Theology of Chaos,” published on October 6, 2010, that young males in the north are socialized to see themselves as victims and then to react as aggressors. Their rage is inevitably directed at presumed alien influences in their communities, often people of other faiths and ethnicities. Supremacist ideologies rooted in inferiority complexes gain increasing audience.

In northern Nigeria, between the 1940s and 1960s, B.J. Dudley in his seminal work, “Instability and Political Order,” cited in Ngwodo’s article, writes that deep-seated resentment of the educated, technically-savvy southerners who formed the urban merchant middle class of the north was the source of ethnic violence. Dudley argued that outburst of inter-tribal animosity were also class conflicts pitting wealthy southerners against the northern urban underclass.

According to Nigeria’s State Security Service, Boko Haram has over half a million members – the group has evidently appealed to a generation of youths who see that they are destined to live and die in poverty and deprivation. Ngwodo further argues in his article that for these deprived northern youths, their present is dreary and their future is uncertain. They therefore take refuge in a manufactured past, a mythical 7th century Islamic Utopia into which they seek to forcibly introduce to the rest of the public.

Nonetheless, the threat from Boko Haram only adds to the threat from MEND. Experts argue that both groups have been born out of decades of failed government and elite criminal behavior of public officials finally leading into social chaos.

As far as the threat to Nigeria’s civic stability goes, MEND and Boko Haram are said to be only a part of the picture. The social circumstances that permit their existence are prevalent across the country. However, it is bad news for Nigeria that these extreme groups with mutually exclusive aspirations occur along geographical lines, because it is such realities that intimidate the survival of the Nigerian state.

While the socio-political and economic conditions of the Nigerian north and the Niger Delta are important in understanding the birth of militancy in Nigeria, Ngwodo argues that Boko Haram differs from MEND only in the sense that Boko Haram in addition to its grievances offers a theological framework of social analysis- and this is where Nigeria’s multiculturalism is mostly threatened.

Albeit, with Boko Haram in the north and MEND in the south, Nigeria faces socio-economic, geo-political and ethno-religious tensions in mammoth new proportions, especially as both groups have millions of unschooled and unskilled able-bodied young men- a ready pool of malcontents for extremist recruitment, at their disposal.

While Boko Haram is at war with the Nigerian state and western education which it perceives as a vector of the corrupting influence of modernity, MEND claims to expose exploitation and oppression of the people of the Niger Delta and devastation of the natural environment by public-private partnerships between the Federal Government of Nigeria and corporations involved in the extraction of oil in the Niger Delta. What is however evident in these two realities are economic, political and social grievances. It is also evident that both groups are taking advantage of a broken-down structural system in Nigeria, to make their cases.

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