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.”