Pan-African Nation: Oil and the Spectacle of Culture in Nigeria / Edition 1

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When Nigeria hosted the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) in 1977, it celebrated a global vision of black nationhood and citizenship animated by the exuberance of its recent oil boom. Andrew Apter's The Pan-African Nation tells the full story of this cultural extravaganza, from Nigeria's spectacular rebirth as a rapidly developing petro-state to its dramatic demise when the boom went bust.

According to Apter, FESTAC expanded the horizons of blackness in Nigeria to mirror the global circuits of its economy. By showcasing masks, dances, images, and souvenirs from its many diverse ethnic groups, Nigeria forged a new national culture. In the grandeur of this oil-fed confidence, the nation subsumed all black and African cultures within its empire of cultural signs and erased its colonial legacies from collective memory. As the oil economy collapsed, however, cultural signs became unstable, contributing to rampant violence and dissimulation.

The Pan-African Nation unpacks FESTAC as a historically situated mirror of production in Nigeria. More broadly, it points towards a critique of the political economy of the sign in postcolonial Africa.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226023557
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2005
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew Apter is professor of history and anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and chair of the interdepartmental program in African studies. His previous book, Black Critics and Kings: The Hermeneutics of Power in Yoruba Society, was published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Read an Excerpt

Oil and the Spectacle of Culture in Nigeria
By Andrew Apter
The University of Chicago Press
Copyright © 2005 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-02355-7

Chapter One
Rebirth of a Nation

We are no longer the third world. We are the first world. -Commander O. P. Fingesi

In perhaps the most famous passage of Capital, Marx (1978, 319) wrote, "A commodity appears at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood. Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties." Thus opens the section on the fetishism of commodities, introducing a specific argument about the mystification of productive relations and a more general phenomenology of value forms that moves from external appearances to underlying levels of contradiction and determination. Marx's dialectical reversals are of course well traveled today, standing Hegel, political economy, even chairs and tables-not to mention class relations-on their heads. My own invocation of commodity fetishism concerns the reversal of fortunes during the early 1970s known as the energy crisis among Western powers, otherwise experienced as an oil boom among those third world countries allied with OPEC and endowed with precious petroleum.

I start, then, with the momentous impact of oil on Nigeria, a nation emerging from the bloody civil war between the central government and the eastern region, the former secessionist state of Biafra (1967-70), and catapulted into what Watts (1992) has called "fast capitalism" and rapid development. After nearly four years of armed struggle, infrastructural deterioration, and imminent political fragmentation as Biafra attempted to secede, Nigeria's deposits of high-quality crude-combined with a fourfold leap in world market price-was received as a blessing from Providence. Nigeria's newly found "God-given" wealth reunited the nation with unprecedented prosperity, portending a state-directed industrial revolution that would be lubricated by oil. As petroleum revenues poured in, an ambitious national development plan invested in parastatal industries, education, hospitals, and mass media, matched by a boom of imported commodities ranging from staple foods and raw materials to expensive technology and luxury goods. An ever expanding public sector bringing schools, clinics, piped water, and electricity to the rural areas developed the national landscape from "above" while well-connected contractors amassed private fortunes through business deals. Nigeria's oil bonanza was literally sensational. Lavish parties, fleets of new Mercedes-Benzes and Peugeot 504s, and the congested "go-slows" of Lagos traffic reflected the dizzy excitement of new wealth and opportunity, celebrated by popular Juju and Fuji musicians exhorting their patrons to live up to their good fortunes (Waterman 1990). The clutter and cacophony of new construction intensified as sports stadiums, national monuments, bridges, highways, and palatial hotels modernized the nation. Nigeria's oil boom was a spectacle to behold.

The blessings of oil were mixed, however, and would eventually become a curse. A highly fetishized commodity in Nigeria's national economy, oil concealed, within its natural forms, the social and political contradictions of its money-generating powers. These are not easily reduced to the classic opposition between labor and capital, or even use-value and exchange-value, given the global and deterritorialized character of transnational oil, but embrace a wider range of structural features that developed out of the colonial economy and into the postcolonial African state. In the most basic sense, the oil-based wealth of the Nigerian nation derived not from domestic labor or commodity production but from royalties and revenues appropriated from such companies as Shell-BP, Elf, Agip, and Chevron. Although never fully nationalized, the state gained increasing control over production and marketing, giving rise to the proverbial goose that laid the golden egg, as the oil bonanza was called in the popular media. Serving the nation as a natural resource beneath the ground, oil was technically owned by the federal government, which underwrote domestic production and national development within its own grand narrative of a manifest destiny.

In addition to money and commodities, the opening act of Nigeria's dramatic boom featured new forms of state-fetishism. These involved not merely the majestic trappings of power that the federal military government could suddenly afford but the reification of the rentier state itself as a centralized organ of economic and political disbursement, suspended above society and penetrating into the circulatory system of a revitalized national body (see Watts 1994, 418; Coronil 1997). Moving from the logic of state power and planning to the apparently boundless wealth of the nation, this chapter will trace the circulation of value during the formative years of the oil economy, focusing on its "paradoxes of prosperity" (Watts 1994, 418) and associated value forms. These involve a specific contradiction between state-controlled capital and private patronage (prebendalism) that was intensified and mystified by the emergence of oil as a general form of value. As Nigeria's "black gold" revitalized the economy, coursing quickly but unevenly throughout the body politic, the Nigerian nation was literally remade in the image of a highly valued commodity form. Backed by petrodollars, the convertible petronaira, as Nigeria's new and powerful currency came to be known, represented a nation reborn into "natural" wealth. If in concrete terms this meant higher buildings and per-capita income, more abstractly it assimilated the nation form to the dazzling image of the money form. Nigerians may have been divided by region and ethnicity, but they were dramatically united by the "blessings" of oil, which circulated, like blood, through the national body.

As we shall see, the transmutations of oil into money and blood were not automatic phantasms of an imagined community, but took shape through specific technologies of cultural production. Building on a history of local and regional festivals of art and culture, including rituals of colonial rule such as northern durbars and riverine regattas, FESTAC '77 fashioned the Nigerian nation into an autonomous object of vision and reflection that could be separated from the state and thrown back into the precolonial past. To be sure, the boundaries of the new nation form were fluid and variable, narrowing into local icons of cultural tradition and fanning out into global expressions of Pan-African unity, thereby mirroring the very commodity that underwrote the festival's exorbitant costs. But underlying the nation's shifting horizons was a general "substance" of intrinsic value, differentially articulated in ethnic, cultural, and racial terms, convertible into money and commodities, and endowed with a mysterious life of its own. We will thus examine FESTAC "post festum" (Marx 1978, 324), not merely as a celebration of Nigeria's oil wealth, but as the midwife of the nation's historic renewal.


On September 26, 1975, Gulf Oil Company Nigeria Limited concluded the fourth Nigerian oil seminar, part of a series about the oil industry held to educate the general public about the nation's sudden wealth. The working sessions on oil law, exploration, production, and global marketing were supplemented by a televised visit to the Escravos Oil field, where the participants were flown in helicopters to the company's offshore drilling rigs. But the crowning event that stole the show was Mr. Emmanuel Omatshola's Magic Barrel, a public relations conjuring trick that featured the countless commodities generated by oil. Out of the Magic Barrel came "gasoline and diesel oil to drive your cars and tractors; greases to lubricate the moving parts of machines; kerosene for lighting your cooking stoves and hurricane lanterns; gas for cooking." The dance of commodities then moved on to the "miracles" of the petrochemical industry: insecticides to save the cattle, which "provide milk and steak for man"; cellophane and polyethylene for wrapping "carrots, frozen poultry, fish and meat"; Freon 12 in refrigerators and freezers "to make food keep"; and a wide range of materials used to improve homes and bodies, including asphalt shingles, paint and varnish, "perfumes, face creams, lipstick, rouge, eye shadow, wave lotion, nail polish removers and other beauty aids." To conclude with his Magic Barrel, Mr. Omatshola pulled out rubber heels and soles of shoes, nylon stretch socks, shoe polish, plastic buttons, nylon zippers, neckties, polyester shirts, and plastic bags.

Mr. Omatshola's public relations gimmick illustrated the magical qualities of oil through its alchemical transmutations into "one thousand-plus" commodities, a mysterious process clearly witnessed if not well understood during Nigeria's boom in imported goods. The Magic Barrel yielded distinctly modern commodities: fuels and lubricants for cars and industry, fertilizers and insecticides for the new agroindustry that would nourish the nation, new building materials for hotels and housing projects, synthetic clothes and cosmetics for refashioning the national body. Small wonder that amidst the technical papers and reports delivered by experts and disseminated by journalists, the Magic Barrel seemed to capture the essence of the boom. Nigerian oil meant money and modernity; it was revitalizing and glamorous. As one journalist in the oil-producing area of Port Harcourt reported, "You have to tell a woman you are an oil worker or a contractor to oil companies to be in favour with girls." At two million barrels of daily production, the petroleum industry brought international political influence, national pride, and an intensified hustle for money and profits. But if the magic barrel inaugurated an era of prosperity, it also prefigured unspoken anxieties about the questionable properties of conjured wealth. Popular idioms of money-magic generating instant cash from human blood and body parts would come to characterize the hidden evils of oil (Barber 1982, 438). In the early days of the boom, however, such anxieties were easily allayed by the tidal wave of wealth and opportunity.

Aggregate statistics of government revenues from oil reveal windfall profits boosted by OPEC'S price hikes and augmented by the state's growing participation in production. Between 1972 and January of 1974, Nigeria raised the posted price from $3.56 to $14.96 US per barrel and assumed 55% participatory shares in the oil companies through the Nigerian National Oil Corporation. Up from the previous 35%, Nigeria's controlling interest formed part of a general policy of indigenization that increased Nigerian access to foreign capital but avoided total nationalization of the oil industry. While the oil companies continued to finance exploration and production, the government expanded its share of the take by raising royalties from 12% to 20% and profit taxes from 50% to 61%. As oil flowed into the global market and money flowed into the government purse, the nation's money supply more than doubled, rising 57.4% from November 1975 to June 1976 alone, further boosted by a climbing gross domestic product that reached $25.2 billion in 1975 and $27.2 billion in 1976 (fig. 1.1).

Maintaining control of the commanding heights of the nation's growing oil economy, the federal military government embarked on a variety of prestigious projects and structural reforms designed to lift Nigeria out of postwar poverty and into mainstream industrial production and development. Over 30 billion petrodollars were budgeted in the utopian Third National Development Plan (1975-80). In addition to modernizing the "traditional" agricultural sector, overhauling national health and education, building roads and power plants, and improving mail delivery and telecommunications, the Third Plan would invest the profits of oil in a mighty engine of industrial production. Addressing the nation in the formal launching of the plan on March 29, 1975, Head of State Yakubu Gowon declared, "The nation is now on the threshold of an industrial revolution which will be characterized by the production of consumer durables such as motor cars, and capital goods such as trucks, iron and steel, and petrochemicals." Featured among the new initiatives was the mighty Ajaokuta steel mill that would become a notorious white elephant scheme, and two petroleum refineries in Warri and Kaduna designed to break the nation's dependency on foreign processing while developing a network of pipelines and flow stations that would bring petrol to the people. We will examine the economic realities of implementation in due course, addressing what Watts (1992, 27) calls the "spasm of state-led investment and industrial development" which followed. Indeed, Gowon's grandiose government-by-largesse was soon cut short by the bloodless coup of Murtala Mohammed on July 29, 1975, calling for greater fiscal responsibility and stronger measures against corruption. But as the personnel of government continued to change-Murtala as assassinated six months later on February 13, 1976, in a failed coup attempt that put Lieutenant-General Olusegun Obasanjo in charge-the Nigerian petro-state continued to take shape, carrying many of the earlier initiatives forward while transforming the body politic in fundamental ways. Following Watts (1992, 1994) and Joseph (1987), I will highlight political centralization, bureaucratic expansion, and what I call the involution of class formation in a preliminary structural sketch of the Nigerian petro-state.

There is no question that as Nigeria's enclave economy developed, the state grew increasingly dependent on oil as source of export earnings and foreign exchange. During the boom years, oil accounted for over 80% of government revenue, a figure which reached over 95% in the 1990s. Like other oil and "monocrop" economies, such dependency rendered the rentier state highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the global market while systematically eroding traditional productive sectors in agriculture and manufacturing. In Nigeria's version of what economists call the Dutch Disease-referring to how overperformance in North Sea gas production caused distress and underproduction in other sectors (Karl 1997, 5)-oil overwhelmed the regional bases of agricultural production, which declined in prestige and output. Whereas earlier, state marketing boards had served as mechanisms of peasant surplus extraction for regional elites, oil provided greater and immediate wealth disbursed directly from the center, deepening what Watts (1992, 35), following Hirschmann (1976), calls fiscal linkages to the federal purse. In the historical context of Nigeria's federal structure, the political consequences of centralized disbursement were dramatic.

According to the Richards (1945) and Macpherson (1951) constitutions, the British-with increased Nigerian participation-established the Northern, Western, and Eastern Regions, with separate budgets and Houses of Assembly that were weakly federated in what would soon become a parliamentary model of self-government. As political entities of a "consociational" democracy from 1959 to 1966, these regions became increasingly ethnicized into Hausa-Fulani (Northern), Yoruba (Western), and Ibo (Eastern) sections within a fragile union that nearly broke apart during the Biafran war. In an effort to stabilize the federation and recognize the interests of ethnic minorities (some of which formed the Mid-West Region in 1963), the Gowon regime restructured the regional system into twelve states (1967) that increased to nineteen under Murtala. Through this process of "states creation," which would continue to develop under Babangida and Abacha, the politics of oil patronage was consolidated at the center of what became an increasingly unitary government.

The rhetoric of minorities notwithstanding, the creation of more states broke up regional power blocs-including the venal governors' fiefdoms that had formed under Gowon-to disburse petro-naira more directly from the center. In formal terms, the Supreme Military Council assumed executive, legislative, and economic functions as it directed development from above, ruled by decree, and bought off rival interests and initiatives. The convenient marriage of oil and politics is, in fact, well represented by their coterminous centralization within the corridors of power. It was in government's interest to reorganize the control of oil from several ministries and committees into one self-contained and self-policing body that became the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation in 1976, designed to integrate all sectors of the oil industry while domesticating foreign capital. In addition to exploration and production, the federal military government also assumed total control of petroleum licensing in domestic marketing and distribution, taking allocative authority away from the states to further undercut their autonomy. In an arrangement of "internal dependency," top-down fiscal control was politically secured by a new statutory formula that siphoned off oil from the Delta states for equitable revenue redistribution throughout the nation. In the accelerated excitement of the 1970s boom, however, the patrimonial (if not praetorian) politics of oil were second to the imperatives of national development. The military governments from 1974 to 1979 meant well and had the money to prove it. Combining the discipline and efficiency of a top-down chain of command with a revitalized infrastructure, they would pave the way for a return to civilian rule.


Excerpted from THE PAN-AFRICAN NATION by Andrew Apter Copyright © 2005 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

1 Rebirth of a Nation
2 Nigeria at Large
3 Producing the People
4 War Canoes and Their Magic
5 A Genealogy of the Durbar
6 The Mirror of Cultural Production
7 The Politics of Illusion
8 Death and the King's Henchmen

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