Much of the literature on the Niger Delta deals with the Ogoni and Ijaw groups together, as having common lived experiences within a shared geographical location. However, the nature of the leaderships led the two movements to adopt distinct strategies in their struggles against the Nigerian state and multinational oil companies. Successful collective action is often ascribed to effective leadership and to the employment of social identity to drive collective group behaviour. Building on the Comparative Case Studies approach, this article compares the nature of leadership within the two movements, and particularly the choices that led Ogoni leaders to preach nonviolence and Ijaw leaders to advocate violence. The article analyses the role of the leaders in determining the strategies adopted by the movements, and examines the importance of the psychological drivers of the collective narratives developed by the two groups of leaders in accounting for the different trajectories. These issues are investigated within the social and political psychological context utilising three axes of comparison — vertical, horizontal and transversal. Findings suggest that strategic choices are frequently based on charismatic leadership, particularly when group leaders are able to utilise a heightened awareness of identity, and on conscious and unconscious fears linking past and current threats.