Boko Haram, translated from the local Hausa language as “Western education is sinful,” has operated in several northern and central Nigerian states since 2002. The group has also been called the Nigerian Taliban (in reference to its call for Shariah to be implemented throughout Nigeria). Frequent and intense bursts of inter-communal violence, with hundreds if not thousands of civilians killed, have occurred since the sect’s founding. The Nigerian security force’s operation against Boko Haram — which resulted in Yusuf’s death while in police custody July 30 and the deaths of his deputy Buji Fai and probably hundreds of his followers — ended an almost weeklong bout of inter-communal violence.
Boko Haram operates in a part of the country that is parched and void of any meaningful economic resources (agriculture is the northern region’s economic mainstay). This contrasts sharply with the economic environment in the Niger Delta region in the south, MEND’s territory, which is home to about 90 percent of the country’s crude oil and natural gas sector and provides the lion’s share of Nigeria’s national budget. The principal locations of clashes between Nigerian security forces and Boko Haram since July 26 were in three northern states — Borno, Kano and Yobe — controlled by the ANPP. The Borno State capital, Maiduguri, was where Boko Haram was headquartered and where Yusuf and Fai lived. While Yusuf lived an open life of relative luxury (owning a mansion and a fleet of Mercedes-Benzes), Fai held high-level state government posts, including commissioner for religious affairs, commissioner for water resources and chairman of the state’s Kaga Local Government Area.
Yusuf had a close working relationship with at least one other state official — Borno State Deputy Gov. Adamu Dibal, who has professed to have interceded on the sect leader’s behalf in recent years whenever Yusuf crossed paths with Nigerian security services. Indeed, meetings occurred between Borno State police officials and the sect’s leadership after the first clashes between Nigerian forces and Boko Haram, when the Nigerian military launched “Operation Flush” on June 14 and killed 17 sect members in Maiduguri. The meetings that followed indicated that Boko Haram had political patronage.
The government currently faces a threat in the Niger Delta region from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the armed wing of the region’s dominant Ijaw tribe. MEND has been responsible for shuttering approximately 900,000 barrels per day of crude oil production through its attacks since the group was founded in late 2005. The militant group espouses a social justice agenda and claims to be fighting for pro-environment causes and against the exploitation of the Niger Delta by international oil companies and the Nigerian government. But MEND has not shared any of the proceeds it receives from its political patrons with the inhabitants of the Niger Delta. Essentially, MEND takes advantage of deep-seated, pre-existing social tensions as cover for its violence. Meanwhile, the militant group is really working for top Ijaw politicians and politicians within the PDP elite.
A global intelligence gathering body, Stratfor, said by eliminating Boko Haram, Abuja (and the PDP) will make it difficult for the opposition ANPP to fight ahead of the 2011 elections. Since Nigerian political parties use militant groups to intimidate voters and win elections, the ANPP may have just suffered a large blow, since it likely relied upon Boko Haram to help achieve its goals during the 2003 and 2007 national elections. As the ruling party, the PDP maintains a near-monopoly over security forces, which it can deploy to its advantage when it comes to electioneering.
Tensions between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram (and the ANPP-led governments of the northern states where it has operated) have origins that predate the recent clashes. The ANPP has accused the PDP of undermining multiparty democracy in Nigeria by enticing opposition politicians to abandon their parties for the PDP. Opposition politicians in Plateau and Bauchi states have also in recent months accused “political detractors” and the PDP of vote rigging. They have also accused Nigerian security forces of cracking down disproportionately on their members when clashes have occurred. Cracking down on the ANPP and enticing its leaders to join the PDP allows the ruling party to undermine the opposition’s chances to maintain its current state governorships and clamp down on sources of state government funding for ANPP presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari (who ruled Nigeria as military leader from 1983 to 1985 and lost to Yar'Adua in the 2007 election) to run again for president in 2011.
Several ANPP politicians have switched to the PDP. Bauchi State Gov. Isa Yuguda (Yar'Adua’s son-in-law), who has been accused of harboring Boko Haram, crossed over to the PDP from the ANPP in February, after Zamfara State Gov. Mahmud Shinkafi left the ANPP for the ruling party in December 2008. Sheriff probably received his own offer to leave the ANPP for the PDP when former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who remains a leading political godfather in the country as chairman of the PDP’s board of trustees, spent three days with him in Maiduguri in late April. However, Sheriff has not yet made the switch. His answer of “no” (or at least “not yet”) to Obasanjo likely triggered the Nigerian security forces to prepare a move against Boko Haram.
Days after Nigerian security forces killed Boko Haram sect leader Mohammed Yusuf, Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua on Aug. 4 called for an investigation into violence involving the sect. An upcoming meeting between Yar’Adua and Ali Modu Sheriff, governor of Borno State, where Yusuf maintained his headquarters, has become part of that investigation. The government’s operation against Boko Haram, the investigation of the violence the sect was involved in and the meeting with Sheriff likely are part of a strategy by Nigeria’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to try to sweep national elections scheduled for 2011.The PDP is not yet giving up on the Borno State governor — far from it. Sheriff’s meeting with Yar’Adua in Abuja (a date is not yet known) likely will be a chance for the Nigerian government to lay out the merits — made even stronger after the attack on Boko Haram — of crossing the parliamentary floor to the PDP. By deploying an apparent carrot-and-stick approach to the ANPP, Nigeria’s ruling PDP party can aim to win control of opposition-held state governorships in the country’s north. The PDP likely already considers winning the handful of other states, like the commercial hub of Lagos, as something currently beyond its control.
Elections in Nigeria are won not through a free and fair vote but by the use of militant groups paid from political parties’ deep pockets.