MEND and Boko Haram - or Identity Politics against the Background of the Current Crisis

I have said it before and I will say it again: I’m pretty suspicious of the analytical value of news reports, even more so as the events they pertain to analyse are still unfolding. This is not to question the informatory value of news reporting, certainly not, but to suggests that with the field come certain limits – where I take three years and probably more to write 100.000 words about contemporary arts in northern Nigeria and spent a page or two on the definition and critical discussion of the term ‘northern Nigeria’ alone (and still don’t do my topic justice) news reporting has to provide condensed up-to-date information current events and developments (just imagine the size of newspapers was every news report conceived like the essays you used to write during your undergraduates, let alone a PhD thesis!). So, beyond the facts (and we all know that depending on the availability of information and journalist’s ideological leaning these might be pretty shaky as well) and the insight they provide into a certain public discourse, I often find the reader commentaries more interesting, challenging and insightful than the article their react to. Yes, bless the internet and online news reporting for this new exciting source of information about another public discourse – yes, of course, once more only certain sections of society participate in these discussions and the gap between those who do and those who, for reasons of choice and access, are excluded is probably more pronounced where Nigeria is concerned. Nevertheless, in terms of identity politics there are probably telling … Alright, it is a bold hypothesis against the background of the specificity of those participating but I’d still propose that these discussions still echo significant aspects of popular discourses and such offer an insight into Nigerian identity politics. And I should probably do some reading into the audiences of online newspapers in general and Nigeria in particular before making such a statement but ... for the moment being consider it a working hypothesis.

What prompted these musings and this particular entry? Well, I’ve been checking the news again, the news about recent events in north-east Nigeria and came across this slightly irritating news item: Mends comments on “Boko Haram” Crisis and Killings written by Jomo Gbomo and published online by Sahara Reporters on 29 July 2009. See, MEND is the acronym of the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta, itself an anti-establishment movement arguing and fighting, of course on another ideological basis, for change in another region of the country and which, in the past, has itself used violent means to advance its aims. Alright, let’s confess that beyond that level I’m not really qualified to further comment on the organisation – I’m not following the news about developments in the Delta particularly closely – andhave to refer you to the host of academic discussions, political analysis and news reporting about the conflict in the Niger Delta that has been published and trust you to critically evaluate them. What I thought particularly interesting about the article was how the recent violence with its focus on Maiduguri has immediately been interpreted (again) in terms of a ‘wanton destruction of life and places of Christian worship that is ongoing in the Northern part of Nigeria by Islamic fundamentalists’ when, from what I grasped from the news items many of those killed actually were Muslim, and how the ‘Islamic terrorists’ (also note the still popular recourse to a Bush-ian rhetoric’s here) are compared in terms ‘mode of operation and language’ with the Joint Task Force (JTF) of the Nigerian army that has been deployed in the Niger Delta. Accordingly, the article also condemns ‘the executions by government forces of those men [followers of Boko Haram] who surrendered.’ On the other hand, it reiterates sentiments about the discriminating treatment of the south arguing ‘had such a senseless attack occurred in the Niger Delta region, the military machinery would have been called upon to sack and occupy whole communities after indiscriminate aerial bombings.’ Now of course this article is sympathetic to MEND and its case and needs to be read with that in mind. But what I found particularly interesting are the comments on the article … See, I think they reflect a far wider range of opinion then news reporting alone would suggest but also indicate some of the frontlines in Nigerian identity politics as I, from my outsider who spent a year talking to some chaps largely almost all of them with some background in Western education perspective (yeah, so go ahead and take me apart), perceive them more clearly. And, yes, ever since I naively chose to call my topic ‘… northern Nigeria’ or, to be honest with you, since I got grilled about what I mean by that following the presentation of a paper in Maiduguri, I’m quite curious about the politics of the term. And I think you find them pretty much reflected in the commentaries to this article. Just consider some of the following. - I’ve primarily chosen comments that somehow touch upon the place of ‘northern Nigeria’ in public discourses and the current crisis in the north-east, as this is the aspect relevant to my own topic – partly because, as I explained or rather lamented in an earlier entry, it is this identity politics within which my thesis will be perceived and which I don’t know how to do justice in my writing. For more and a greater variety check out the article’s own site here here.

[Also I’ve indicated where I have abridged quotes and generally deleted breaks within a comment so that the presentation here become a bit more clearly arranged, otherwise I have left the comments unedited]

written by Olusailor, July 29, 2009

[…] However Mend has no point they are anti-stability and so are the Almajaris, jobless, hopeless and without goals. Agitation would be very useful if less violent is used with, i would recommend they change tactics, adopt ur governors, ur reps and senators, since they fail to represent you well.

written by great, July 29, 2009

[…] Nigeria is troubled by bad corrupt leaders, tribalism and Islamic fundamentalist whose grand design is to kill people, or what have they been doing since ?? or what is the meaning of Jihad ?? it simply means you are either for Islam or we kill you !!! Now they dont want education, while their leaders are busy going abroad for the best education, they dont want western culture, if so, then why are they driving western cars, Jeeps, benz, using GSM and the good things of life the western culture developed ??? I think those fundamentalist are sick !! […] They are sick becos , their reasoning goes absolutely way out of human co-existence. […] These ones are fighting anything that does not do with their culture of Islam. […]

written by Smasher, July 29, 2009

[…] I believe this is a political angle with Niger Delta freedom fighters in mind. Otherwise why call religious fanatics militants? MEND be prepared. The North has something under their sleeves.

written by calorie , July 29, 2009

Olusailor??? can a visitor come to your house and tell you where to put your television? Why should The Hausa/Fulani and few Yoruba/Igbo leaders decide the fate of all these people. […] Now some idiots are fighting in the North because they do not want education. Yet there are not considered as terrorist who can one day start attacking foreigners who have come to help Nigeria. […] I think the south should go and the North should also find there path and let peace reign supreme. Even with segregation, are we still going to have present greedy leaders rule the south? we have a long wa y to go in the south. […] God help us in that country!

written by Tata Bello, July 29, 2009

What a Shame Nigeria ! ,MEND deploring acts of wanton destruction ? , Lord Have Mercy ! . If they are that civil , why cant they have a dialogue with the Government ? , stop the kidnappings , the destruction of infrastructure , which by the way is needed for the very development they are agitating for ? . As for the So-called Taliban , they are borne out of dire Poverty and frustration , Ignorance and Lawlessness , taken advantage of , by a Confused and Sick Clerick , Aided and abeited by a weak Government , afraid to regulate and check the activities of extremists in both Islam and Christianity . Christianity has been turned into a commercial venture , the CEOs doing whatever they like with the employees , while in Islam , the ignorant believers are being enslaved and abused . Religious leaders in both faith are today Preaching and Practicing Contradictory messages from the Bible and Holy Quraan . May Allah Punish them , along with deceitful and corrupt , hopeless Leaders .

[On the use of the label ‘Taliban’ here it is important to note that all sources I have read seem to agree that there is NO actual connection between the thus labelled Nigerian group and the Afghani Islamist movement. I think this BBC article might throw some useful light on this.]

written by calorie, July 29, 2009

TATA BELLO- why are you talking with this level of mediocrity. Are your people in the North that civilized? do they have what it takes to rule Nigeria? I know for sure that Hausa/Fulani will never sit and allow other people run their homes for them. Your people has caused us so much havoc in Nigeria, and you really do not care about the development of the country as a whole. […] We are talking about stupid, uneducated, barbaric fundamentalist killing innocent folks in the North and you are talking about CEOs in christianity. What is the correlation between MEND fighting for a just course and idiots fighting because they do not want education. Do not bring the Bible and christianity into play here, because christians are not mentioned anywhere starting or initiating violence. What am I even talking about? you are just like other Northerners who lack initiative and do reason irrationaly. […]

written by D PETERS, July 30, 2009

[…] These visionless hausa/fulani are not capable of ruling nigeria. Ghana is a success story today becos the born to waste (hausa/Fulani) are not part of their policy makers.who are the hausa/fulanis role models, bunch of stupid emirs, rogue ex generals, daft ass politicians, and some bigots's a fact if nigeria is divided these smelly hausa/fulani are all doom.

written by Chaps, July 30, 2009

[…] Islam is a religion of peace, and there's no single word in our holy book that say we should fight or hate those who are not muslims. So anybody you see fighting or killing people in the name of Islam does that at his own wish. I think in every religion you will find people who are going on the right path and those who are trying to bring something wrong against there religion and are trying to claim it right. Recently i heard of a sect in christianity trying to allow homosexuality in Israel and which is wrong. So whenever something of this kind arises you should first of all investigate before condemning Islam or Hausas. Lastly i want to remind you guys that northerners and particularly Hausas are not the same as you knew us before, we are progressing every minute of the day. The so called western knowledge came to nigeria through the southern part that's why you have people with western education more than us but we are catching up with the south in western knowledge and before it we've already know Arabic. How much did you know?

written by noble, July 30, 2009

Mr Tata Bello, so, you can't differentiate between the goals of MEND which is 'justice and equity' for the people of Niger Delta on their GOD-given natural resources and that of the Talibans which is 'Islamisation of Nigerians' by way of Forceful acceptance of their Islamic faith or you be killed. MEND's target is oil facilities to force Govt to listen to them haven explored all possible dialouge to no avail. though, MEND kidnap but they have never killed any of their hostages unlike the Talibans who kill anyone outside their faith as well as destroying their properties. Mr Tata, can you read through tghe lines. [again, on the use of the label ‘Taliban’ cf. this BBC article]

written by Confidence, July 30, 2009

[…] The Islamic fundamentalist in the North sees himself achieving an unachievable dream, Islamise the country and destroy the western system that he is benefitting from. […]

written by hausa man, July 30, 2009

[…] who has the audacity to blame the north for its woes, was there anytime the north forced its self on nigeria or the riches of the south? the first carnage in the history of nigeria started by the igbo's and the niger delta must be always greatful to the north for saving its ass for the rougue igbos to analiate them and enslave them. pls south south take your oil and keep we do not want it and pls today declear independence what are you waiting for? we have a long history of survival and exsistance of 1000 years, we have a history of civilization long before any community in the south, can you imagine southerners have destroyed our image around the world with drugs,419 etc. you lot sold your brothers in slave trade can you imagine and you have mouth to talk? how are you better than anybody or feel superior to any one? yes you guys have big mouth but no action. please we are ready to let go of the amalgamation. why is it you see mend as a struggle yet you fail to realise that the whole problem in all parts in nigeria is failed leadership,corruption, and poverty? this leads to agitation yet but it is given a different name in order to damage reputations. first ask the question if these people are even not foreign fighters? […] [note here that several news items, correctly or not I cannot evaluate, suggesting the involvement of Chadian refugees with Boko Haram and the recent violence]

written by dikko, July 30, 2009

[…] you call the hausa/fulani cattle rearers or farmers really i dont know whether it's suppose to be an insult or you mean cattle rearing and farming is something good for humanity. […]ON education i agree that the north is behind the west/nigeria but definitely not behind the estern/nigeria talkless of the south-south i have been to school with this people and i know what they are made of, i believe even if the northerners lack behind on education should not be a ground for ridicule in the nigerian context, we can only say it's a society bend on self distruction not a society that think's they are educated anough to distroy other societies with 419/YAHOO YAHOO, PROSTITUTION, HYPOCRACY AND slaving around in a white man country so that they can say they are civilize it' really funny!!!!

written by Dr. Sunny Orumen Akhigbe, July 30, 2009

Government should dialogue with the leaders of Boko Raham and find out what they want. i dont support killing those arrested [captured?] like birds. if they had been organizing for some time now as alleged, why are they choosing this time to strike? who knows they might just be doing this to be included in the amnesty for millitants. These one would not reject amnesty as they don't get millions of dollars by hijacking ocean liners carrying crude oil. […] talking seriously, the federal government and the security agencies had better sit up. with the large army of unemployed youths roaming the streets. it takes the devil next to nothing to find jobs for them and provide the implements to execute them

I don’t know about you but I find these repeated comparisons between MEND and Boko Haram and claims to their equal or completely distinct legitimacy quite interesting, maybe because as a result the arguments have been still more explicit than usual … As I said before I’m a long way away from making sense at all of Nigerian identity and other politics …

Well, identity politics being a pet interest of mine aside, why am I discussing that here? Well, probably as a forewarning … well, I’m feeling a bit guilty about that but … as much as I deplore the violence with which this conflict is currently escalating in the north-east and as concerned as I am about the well-being of friends and acquaintances in, primarily, Maiduguri (I got a call from Kano yesterday and was assured that on the whole the town was quite and safe – let’s hope and pray that my friend’s assessment was correct) as interesting I consider the question allegedly behind the conflict: the status and perception of Western education. So, as I am screening the news for more information about the conflict I have started collection opinions about Western education and when I ever find time for a more analytical entry, I’ll bother you with them. So be warned, it might turn out even more extensive than this …


  1. On Identity Politics and how different people from different parts of the country interpret Nigeria's history pretty much differently. Consider this article in today's Daily Triumph, presenting one northern view: 'North: Challenges before leadership' [] and contrast the here presented opinion with those comments I quoted above ... Identity politics per excellence that is!


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