Oil Wealth and Insurgency in Nigeria

Oil Wealth and Insurgency in Nigeria

by Omolade Adunbi

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253015730
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 07/29/2015
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 322
Sales rank: 248,306
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Omolade Adunbi is Assistant Professor of Afroamerican and African Studies and Faculty Associate for Program in the Environment at the University of Michigan.

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Oil Wealth and Insurgency in Nigeria

By Omolade Adunbi

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2015 Omolade Adunbi
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-01578-5


Sweet Crude


On a humid afternoon in February 2008 in Abuja, the federal capital, I attended a conference organized by a major Nigerian news outlet, Tell Magazine. The event, "50 Years of Oil in Nigeria," was a weeklong celebration drawing participants mostly from the government and the private sector, and particularly all of the major players in Nigeria's oil industry. The vice president, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan; the Senate president, Mr. David Mark; and other government functionaries had agreed to attend.

Before the conference, individuals, corporate organizations, and government departments placed advertorials in the major newspapers, congratulating the government and the people of Nigeria on the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of commercial oil exploration. Glossy pictures displayed paved roads, beautiful hospitals, well-tended schools, and robust and healthy children being attended to by well-dressed teachers. These images were superimposed on oil pipelines, flow stations, wells, and platforms. Congratulatory television messages also appeared from organizations, corporate bodies, and elite individuals wanting to warmly thank the president and his deputy for "proper management" of the oil revenues, enabling Nigeria and Nigerians to take "giant strides."

The moment Jonathan arrived, everyone began singing along to the national anthem, which blared from the loudspeakers. Afterward, the master of ceremonies introduced the speakers at the high table. Many dignitaries delivered speeches, but Vice President Jonathan and Rotimi Amaechi, the governor of Rivers State in the oil-rich Niger Delta, stood out because of their ties to the Delta. Both speakers are from there, and Vice President Jonathan had been deputy governor and later governor of Bayelsa State, one of its oil-producing states. Both characterized the Niger Delta as a lawless zone because of its many years of neglect, but neither blamed the government or the multinational corporations exploiting resources there for this lawlessness. Further, neither offered solutions, other than to indicate that efforts would be made during their tenure to address what they considered to be youth restiveness in the Niger Delta. Many Niger Delta inhabitants felt that the vice president and other participants used the conference to suggest that fifty years of oil was worth celebrating so long as revenues continued to flow into the federal government's purse.

While Abuja celebrated fifty years of oil exploration in Nigeria, many Niger Delta communities were oblivious to the occasion. As Chris, a middle-aged carpenter and father of four from Rumuekpe, one of the communities in Rivers State, told me,

They celebrate oil exploration every day in Abuja, but what do we have to show for it? Absolute neglect, environmental devastation, misery, poverty, unemployment, no roads, no hospitals, no schools. What we celebrate every day is our power to resist and one day possibly put a final stop to this exploitation of our natural resources without our consent. Let them continue to celebrate. Where their celebration ends is where ours will start. As our local adage says, "The dog that eats last often ends up with the fattest bone."

Many Niger Delta inhabitants will echo Chris's feelings about the Nigerian state and the corporations that the communities consider to be pillaging what their ancestors promised them: wealth from oil. The power to resist, which Chris highlights, is a signifier of the form of resistance being organized by NGOs and insurgency movements. This form of resistance stems from the belief that the communities own the oil and that the corporations are exploiting it with no regard for its rightful owners.

Young postcolonial states often face the challenge of finding an appropriate development paradigm. This challenge becomes more complicated when the postcolonial state is rich in natural resources; the ways that the leaders of the nation-state use development rhetoric about constructing a modern nation using those resources can signal an important paradigm shift. The rhetoric of transforming the new nation into what James Scott (1998) calls a high-modernist state is therefore rooted in all the economic and political policies that its leaders believe offer paths not only to development but to the global market. The state's natural resources become an important ingredient for planning, sustenance, and projection to international capital. Their profits are then used to produce a cultural performance entwined with the project of making modern subject populations. Neoliberal terms such as "free-market economy," "privatization of corporations," and "fiscal responsibility" become catchphrases that the state uses to talk about a new paradigm for development (Ferguson 2006; Okonjo-Iweala 2012). For example, Nigeria's minister of finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former employee of the World Bank, fervently promotes the notion that the state can only develop if it embraces privatization, liberalization, and deregulation of all sectors of the economy. Okonjo-Iweala categorizes all who oppose this idea as socialists who prefer government handouts to hard work (Okonjo-Iweala 2012). These terms are used to emphasize the need for the nation-state, including its populations, to be transformed — even when those populations are impoverished and lack access to land, resources, and basic infrastructure. The state of Nigeria, rich in oil and other resources, has not been immune from the influence of neoliberal economic development.

Many scholars (e.g., Shafer 1994; Reno 1998; M. Ross 1999, 2004; Auty 2001; Shaxson 2007; Humphreys, Sachs, and Stiglitz 2007; Ali 2009) have focused on how natural resource abundance contributes to economic volatility, elite greed, corruption, political instability, social inequality, and heightened ethnic and resource conflict. Ross and Humphreys, Sachs, and Stiglitz (2007) suggest that this economic volatility is a result of a lack of commitment to implementing neoliberal economic and political policies. These policies create opportunities for other forms of investment to complement natural resource investments (Okonjo-Iweala 2012). According to this school of thought, when the neoliberal agenda is implemented properly, democracy thrives, economies boom, and social inequality decreases. Many such analyses focus on the perceived failure of state policies while ignoring the transformational impact of such policies and neglecting the lived experiences of the population in resource enclaves.

The inability of resource-rich nation-states to achieve "development" is attributed to factors ranging from policy failures to the rentier effect of reliance on oil wealth. Scholarship on rent-seeking regimes is often framed in relation to the state's institutional capacity to implement reforms prescribed by international financial institutions. Scholars base their arguments on two interrelated issues: (1) abundant natural resources create enormous wealth for postcolonial states, yet (2) when such wealth is generated, many states fail to invest in other sectors of the economy, thereby producing a demoralizing deindustrialization, or Dutch Disease syndrome.

Shafer (1994), for example, argues that a state's capacity to achieve economic growth depends on the characteristics of the leading sector through which it is tied to the international economy. For Nigeria, that is oil. Petro-states primarily rely on a single resource that is capable of generating extraordinary rents and on a highly capital-intensive industrial sector (Karl 1997). Chaudhry suggests that rentier states develop poor extractive institutions and therefore lack the information they need to formulate sound development strategies (cited in M. Ross 1999, 313). Moreover, Mahdavy argues that resource rents make state officials both myopic and risk-averse: upon receiving large windfalls, governments grow irrationally optimistic about future revenues and devote the greater part of their resources to jealously guarding the status quo, rather than to promoting development (cited in M. Ross 1999, 312). Dunning (2008) suggests that while the argument in the literature that resource wealth may heighten corruption, weaken institutions, and support authoritarian regimes in petro-states may be tenable, it is also necessary "to refine such arguments by pointing out the ways in which resource wealth may also bolster democracy. Oil and other forms of mineral wealth can promote both authoritarianism and democracy ... but they do so through different mechanisms; an understanding of these different mechanisms can help us understand when either the authoritarian or democratic effects of resource wealth will be relatively strong" (xvi).

Coronil (1997) proposes a different view: a state rich in natural resources becomes transcendent, deified: "a single agent endowed with the magical power to remake the nation" (4) into a powerful force in the international economic system. He explains, "As an oil nation, Venezuela was seen having two bodies, a political body made up of its citizens and a natural body made up of its rich subsoil" (4). Straddling these two, the state becomes a "legitimate agent of an 'imagined community'" (8). In his focus on multinational oil corporations, Ferguson (2005) observes that "the clearest case of extractive enclaving (and no doubt the most attractive for the foreign investor) is provided by offshore oil extraction, as in Angola, where neither the oil nor most of the money it brings in ever touches Angolan soil" (378). Thus, Angola, at the time the second largest exporter of oil in Africa after Nigeria, remains one of the poorest countries in the world because oil rents provide no benefits for its people (Ferguson 2005).

Like Ferguson, I am interested in understanding the relationship between neoliberal policies and the creation of new governance spaces in resource-rich enclaves. I challenge the conventional privileging of capital expansion in studies of state-based economic growth, which does not consider its effects on resource enclaves and their inhabitants. Any form of economic growth based on natural resource extraction that does not improve the living conditions of the people, particularly those who live in the extraction enclaves, will lead to contestations over land and other resources. Moreover, arguments related to the "resource curse" or "paradox of plenty" tend to focus on political institutions and alliances (Karl 1997; M. Ross 1999; Sachs and Warner 2001; Dunning 2008). Although a focus on economic growth and on strengthening state institutions is by no means a hindrance to development, spotlighting the effects of oil extraction on the people who live in resource enclaves and examining the consequences of state policies illuminates the connection between oil extraction and challenges to state power in resource-rich enclaves.

In order to understand why Nigeria, with its abundant oil resources, struggles with competing forms of governance, it is essential to analyze the complex relationships between oil wealth, state-based economic development, political centralization, and a growth process that is not centered on people. How is it that oil extracted from the Niger Delta region has brought enormous resources to the postcolonial state while at the same time impoverishing the people who live in the extraction areas? Why and how has control over such resources produced a governance structure that is not only centralized but also connected to global capital, as Watts (2004a, 2004c) and Apter (2005) suggested? Answers to these questions will show how oil wealth produces a politically and economically centralized governance structure in postcolonial Nigeria, one that creates different forms of contestation that open new spaces of governance outside the structure of the state.

The centralized government, formed to manage the enormous wealth generated by oil resources, in effect transforms local communities that host extractive industries into "small masquerades." In Yorùbá mythology, there are ancestors who live in heaven (Òrun) but occasionally visit — in the form of masked and fully covered men, the Egúngún ("masquerades"), who dance in the village square — to protect their children and bring heavenly blessings. In return, the masquerades are occasionally compensated, on the principle that "Bi wontin se ni ile aye, bee naa ni won nse ni ode Òrun" (As it is in heaven, so it is on earth). The compensation metaphorically thanks the ancestors for their blessings while literally thanking the performers for their time and effort. There are different categories of mythological masquerade, but in general, when several masquerades come to town, the smaller (i.e., less significant or important) ones are allowed to perform first; this clears the way for the bigger (i.e., more important) ones, whose performances, although shorter than those of the smaller ones, usually eclipse them.

I suggest that a "small masquerade," who performs longer than the big masquerade but garners only a little of the compensation, devises creative ways of enhancing his performance. This makes him relevant among the earthly descendants of the ancestor he embodies, as well as within the comity of masquerades. I call the oil-bearing communities of the Niger Delta "small masquerades" because those communities are like the goose that lays the golden egg for the big masquerade, the Nigerian state. Small masquerades sometimes believe that they will one day become big. Thus, when they perform, they do their very best, hoping that the audience will approve. But their performances are never enough to make the big masquerade abdicate the stage and let the small masquerade take over. As the small masquerade continues to perfect his performances year after year, the big masquerade keeps shifting the goalposts, making it more and more difficult for the small masquerade to catch up. It becomes an annual ritual: those who are on top remain there, while those beneath them keep hoping for the day when they too will be on top. More importantly, when the audience offers the performers gratuities, the big masquerades always take the lion's share while the small masquerades are left with the crumbs. The small masquerades do not challenge the domination of the big ones, because they hope to someday claim the lion's share themselves.

In the Niger Delta, crude oil, sweet and valuable, is what the audience pays for the performances of the masquerades.7 The only difference between sweet crude and the blessings of the masquerade is that the sweeter the crude, the worse its consequences can be for the audience. Such consequences include generating wealth for the state at the expense of the communities and environmental degradation. The Nigerian state maintains its hold on the Delta's sweet crude and uses the wealth it generates to project itself as a big masquerade, powerful both within and outside of its territory. Communities of the Delta that claim ownership of the resources, the small masquerades, often contest this projection of power within the region.

Thus, when oil wealth makes it possible for the postcolonial state to project itself into membership in the comity of rich nations, the subsoil of the state becomes a big masquerade propelled by that wealth. This transformation is similar to what Apter (2005) eloquently describes as the ways in which Nigerians' version of universal blackness ultimately sought to embrace all of humanity (53). Nigeria's oil wealth thus allows it to become a big masquerade for the whole of humanity. Oil wealth permits the politically and economically centralized state to continually eclipse communities, forcing the latter to produce new forms of governance. The multinational oil corporations ally with the Nigerian state in ways that project the nation-state into the global community of resource-rich nations. The state then introduces new rules and processes that often marginalize the people. To survive, and to redress the injustice they perceive, the people form alliances. These alliances may challenge the state by establishing governance structures that compete or collaborate with it and with multinationals.


Excerpted from Oil Wealth and Insurgency in Nigeria by Omolade Adunbi. Copyright © 2015 Omolade Adunbi. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Environment, Transnational Networks, and Resource Extraction
1. Sweet Crude: Neoliberalism and the Paradox of Oil Politics
2. The Spatialization of Human and Environmental Rights Practices
3. Mythic Oil: Corporations, Resistance, and the Politics of Claim-making
4. Contesting Landscapes of Wealth: Oil Platforms of Possibilities and Pipelines of Conflict
5. The State’s Two Bodies: Creeks of Violence and the City of Sin
6. Oil Wealth Of Violence: The Social and Spatial Construction of Militancy
7. Proclaiming Amnesty, Constructing Peace: Oil and the Silencing of Violence
Conclusion: Beyond The Struggle for Oil Resources

What People are Saying About This

author of A Culture of Corruption: Everyday Deception and Popular Discontent in Nigeria - Daniel Jordan Smith

Provides a much needed ethnographic perspective on the complex dimensions of the long-running social and political conflict in Nigeria's Niger Delta.

Emory University - Kristin D. Phillips

Reveals the complex interrelationships and ambiguous borders between key groups of actors: NGOs, militants, youth groups, elders, the army, corporations, and the state, and looks specifically and uniquely at the centrality of oil in the production of social identity.

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