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Oil Wealth and Insurgency in Nigeria

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Omolade Adunbi investigates the myths behind competing claims to oil wealth in Nigeria’s Niger Delta. Looking at ownership of natural resources, oil extraction practices, government control over oil resources, and discourse about oil, Adunbi shows how symbolic claims have created an "oil citizenship." He explores the ways NGOs, militant groups, and community organizers invoke an ancestral promise to defend land disputes, justify disruptive actions, or organize against oil corporations. Policies to control the abundant resources have increased contestations over wealth, transformed the relationship of people to their environment, and produced unique forms of power, governance, and belonging.

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1 Sweet Crude: Neoliberalism and the Paradox of Oil Politics

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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,”1 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.”

 

2 The Spatialization of Human and Environmental Rights Practices

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THIS CHAPTER FOCUSES on NGOs’ culture of engaging in practices that create human and environmental rights awareness both within and outside resource-rich communities. NGOs devise programs intended to provide relief for communities whose human and environmental rights have been violated by the state. They present themselves as able to “rescue” the communities from the marauding state. In creating awareness of and promoting human and environmental rights, they not only rely on the language of international human rights declarations, but also use local narratives. In many oil-rich communities, there are narratives that emphasize that oil is a source of wealth promised by the ancestors. In an attempt to gain access to such communities, NGOs have devised ways of inserting this belief into the practice of human and environmental rights. They thus connect local communities to national NGOs, who are in turn connected to the transnational network of NGOs promoting human and environmental rights.

 

3 Mythic Oil: Corporations, Resistance, and the Politics of Claim-Making

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THE NIGER DELTA, particularly the Ìlàjẹ area of the western Niger Delta, can be situated within a historical tradition that produces and reproduces narratives of unjust marginalization based on claims to own land and resources. These claims are embedded in histories that cause those making them to see themselves as the rightful owners of the land and its resources, on the basis of their ancestral lineage, in ways that challenge the colonial and postcolonial basis for ownership. The consequence of this challenge is a high level of contestation among multinational corporations, the Nigerian state, and oil-producing communities such as Ìlàjẹ.

The core problem is that the oil economy is structured by excluding resource-rich communities from the benefits of the oil’s exploitation. This exclusion, which began during the colonial era and continues in the postcolonial state, is implemented through land reform, usage laws (such as the Land Use Act), zoning restrictions, Nigerian army maneuvers in the region, and security forces set up by the multinational oil corporations to protect their operations. Such exclusionary practices deny communities access to their land, create high unemployment, and cut off communities from oil revenues. As a result, many communities, including that of the Ìlàjẹs, have organized politically against corporate control of land and oil in the Niger Delta. The conflict between regional belonging and national resource control is at the heart of this chapter. A good understanding of how the physical presence of oil drilling platforms, flow stations, and pipelines represents a promise of widespread wealth while at the same time excluding local people from the benefits of oil-related modernity illuminates the link between ancestral claims of ownership and protests against corporate and state control of land and resources.

 

4 Contesting Landscapes of Wealth: Oil Platforms of Possibilities and Pipelines of Conflict

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IN OCTOBER 2010, Chevron launched a new global campaign titled “We Agree,” aimed at highlighting what the corporation considers to be “the common ground Chevron shares with people around the world on key energy issues” and “the actions the company takes in producing energy responsibly and in supporting the communities where it operates.” The campaign focused on Chevron’s commitment and leadership in five key areas: growth and jobs, renewable energy, technology, small business, and community development.1As part of the campaign, thirty-second advertisements were shown on major television and cable networks in the United States, in Europe, and around the world. One of them focuses on Chevron’s community development initiatives in Angola. The advertisement, featuring an Angolan student and a Chevron engineer also from Angola, claims that oil corporations are making a difference in Angola by providing jobs, schools, and health-related programs in communities where the corporation operates. It concludes with the student and the engineer agreeing that with Chevron, they are hopeful about their country’s future. This advertisement aired often on the ABC and NBC national networks and their local affiliates, CNN and CNN International, MSNBC, Fox News, and other television stations in the United States.2 Clips are also posted on YouTube and are sometimes returned by an online search for “oil.”

 

5 The State’s Two Bodies: Creeks of Violence and the City of Sin

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THE EAGLE SQUARE, located among Abuja’s major landmarks—the national cenotaph,1 the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, and the Federal Secretariat, the seat of Nigeria’s bureaucracy—was constructed in 1999 to serve as a platform for the inauguration of President Olusegun Obasanjo in Nigeria’s fourth attempt at democracy since independence in 1960. A small stadium with a state box to host important personalities and a popular site for invited guests, it features a view of the Aso Rock Hills, which serve as the backdrop for the presidential villa, known as Aso Rock. The square serves not only as the venue for presidential inaugurations but also as the site of other important national events and celebrations, such as political party conventions, national parades, and anniversaries of independence. Nigeria celebrated the fiftieth of these on October 1, 2010.

The weeklong golden jubilee celebration had been marred by accusations and counteraccusations by government and civil society organizations; many civil society leaders called it a colossal waste of money. Initially, the government had budgeted 16.9 billion ($106.7 million), but President Goodluck Jonathan later reduced this amount to 9.5 billion ($60 million). On the morning of October 1, many Nigerians from different parts of the country, representing various local governments, ethnicities, and cultural groups, gathered at the Eagle Square to await the arrival of the chief celebrant, President Jonathan. His motorcade, comprising more than twenty-five exotic cars, was preceded by fifteen men on horseback dressed as Buckingham Palace guards, and by a police van with its siren blaring. Barricades lined both sides of the road to prevent the crowd from obstructing the president’s entrance into the Eagle Square. Inside, the National Troupe and representatives of the country’s many diverse ethnic groups performed cultural displays to entertain Nigerians and representatives of various countries.

 

6 Oil Wealth of Violence: The Social and Spatial Construction of Militancy

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PORT HARCOURT, THE capital of oil-rich Rivers State in the South-South region of Nigeria, is one of the Delta spaces dominated by oil exploration. The area was originally a group of farming villages occupied by Ikwerres. Frederick Lugard, the colonial governor general of Nigeria, named the city Port Harcourt in 1913 after Lewis Vernon Harcourt, the then secretary of state for the colonies (Walker 1959; S. Okafor 1973; Wolpe 1974; Isichei 1976). The colonial administration established the city as a port to convey coal from the Enugu coal industries (S. Okafor 1973; Isichei 1976), but the discovery of oil in the 1950s quickly changed the city’s dynamics.

Today there are two sides to Port Harcourt. The first side is made up of its diverse indigenous population, living in neighborhoods such as Rumuokoro, Rumuokwuta, Rumuola, Oroworukwo, and Diobu—vestiges of the villages that were incorporated into the new city at its establishment in 1913 (Alagoa 1970, 2005; Alagoa and Tamuno 1989, Isichei 1976). The second side of Port Harcourt is defined by three landmarks: Bori Camp, the barracks of the Nigerian Second Amphibious Brigade; the Shell camp, located a few miles from Bori Camp; and the Agip camp, also located a few miles from Bori Camp. The Shell camp, heavily fortified and gated, can be described as a city within a city, as its design and amenities are comparable to those of any modern city in the U.S. or Europe. Residents of the camp are mostly expatriates; hence the camp is like a home away from home, in which kids play with roller skates and skateboards. The rest of the city is a sharp contrast to this pleasant picture. Several parts of it, particularly Rumuokwuta, Diobu, Waterfront, Borokiri, and Town, lack infrastructure, proper drainage, and sewage systems.

 

7 Proclaiming Amnesty, Constructing Peace: Oil and the Silencing of Violence

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Militant—75k/month,
Boko Haram—100k/month,
NYSC—19,800/month,
Minimum wage (civil service)—18,900/month.
Choose your career wisely

REMARK COMMON ON THE INTERNET
AMONG NIGERIANS, SUMMER
2013

ON A HOT Sunday afternoon in June 2011 at an elementary school in the Rumuola area of Port Harcourt, many youths had gathered for a soccer game between two opposing teams. The elementary school, like many in the region, is decrepit. There are no windows in the classrooms, the science laboratory exists in name only, and the soccer field is dilapidated. The game was organized by a group of youths, and I had been recruited as a coach for one of the teams. Soccer is my favorite pastime, and I played with many of the good friends I made while doing fieldwork in the Niger Delta. It is extremely popular throughout Nigeria, and often renders ethnic alliances irrelevant. It is only during soccer games that many Nigerians rally around the national flag. Politicians and militants both use soccer games to promote their causes, and games serve as organizing platforms. At the end of every game in the Delta, youths will gather to discuss the conflict in the region.

 

Conclusion: Beyond the Struggle for Oil Resources

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AT A COLORFUL ceremony on February 4, 2013, in Abuja, the federal capital of Nigeria, the secretary to the government of the federation, Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, nicknamed Mr. Centennial by the Nigerian press, inaugurated the centenary celebration of the amalgamation by the British, on January 1, 1914, of the Northern and Southern Protectorates of Nigeria. The celebration is expected to begin on January 1, 2014, and, with a variety of activities planned, to last the whole year. At the inauguration, the former military head of state, General Abdusalam Abubakar, presented the theme song of the centenary celebration to the public. Composed and performed by Onyeka Onwenu, a popular musician, in collaboration with other famous Nollywood artists, the song, titled “This Land: Celebrating 100 Years of Nigeria,” honors “this land of mine, Nigeria on my mind, born in diversity, standing tall, 100 years of unity, one nation, strong, indivisible and here to stay.”1 The video of the song, posted to YouTube with more than a hundred thousand views,2 features key figures in Nigeria’s fight for independence, such as Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, and Ahmadu Bello; cultural artifacts; rich agricultural produce; Abuja and Lagos skyscrapers; and oil rigs, platforms, and wells.

 

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