The Gloom After Oil Boom And Doom


Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

Oil Wealth And Insurgency In Nigeria by Omolade Adunbi; Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana, USA; 2015; pp296

Nigeria as a country is a pathetic study in the so-called oil curse. Back in the 1970s youthful Nigerian leader General Yakubu Gowon boasted that Nigeria’s problem was not money but how to spend it. Of course Gowon was overthrown in due course by his mates for not knowing what to do with oil money! The sad matter really is that the Nigerian military leaders and the civilian types failed woefully in utilising Nigeria’s vast oil wealth to give the hapless country a place in the sun.

Before the Nigeria-Biafra War of 1967-1970, the federating regions of the country applied the principles of derivation to compete on a level-playing footing. The Western Region was arguably the richest with its cocoa production. The Eastern Region that made do with palm produce was before the war ranked as the fastest-growing economy on the global scale. The sprawling groundnut pyramids of the Northern Region assured the zone of a competitive edge just as the rubber plantations of the young Midwest Region ensured that no area was left in the lurch. Incidentally with the advent of oil and war, derivation was struck off the federal mill through military fiat.

Dr. Omolade Adunbi, an Assistant Professor of Afro-American/African Studies and Faculty Associate for the Programme in the Environment at the University of Michigan, USA, undertakes a groundbreaking study of the multiform dimensions of oil conflicts bedevilling the Niger Delta in the very contemporary book Oil Wealth and Insurgency in Nigeria. Adunbi was forged in the smithy of Marxism-Leninism as a student of Philosophy in Ondo State University, Ado-Ekiti.

As fate would have it, he undertook his one-year national service in the oil city of Port Harcourt where he collaborated with many notable Niger Delta activists such as Oronto Douglas, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Ledum Mitee, Agnes Shaaba, Chris Akani etc. He was duly sucked into the uprising following the annulment by General Ibrahim Babangida’s military regime of the June 12, 1993 election won by Chief MKO Abiola. Adunbi later worked for Nigeria’s first human rights group, the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO). It is noteworthy that Adunbi began graduate study two years after the end of military rule in 1999, and chose for his Master’s degree thesis the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission, aka Oputa Panel, instituted by the civilian regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo.

In undertaking the research into the oil crises of the Niger Delta in Oil Wealth and Insurgency in Nigeria, Adunbi takes cognisance of the crucial factor that the Niger Delta is not homogenous which entails facing “the task of conducting a multisited ethnography in a region with diverse languages, customs, and traditions.” He centres his study on the key oil-producing states of Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa, and Ondo.

Adunbi makes bold to stress in his prefatory note that “the federal government of Nigeria derives more than 90 percent of its revenue from oil.” The irony strikes in the face that a zone so rich in oil wealth is economically challenged because of the consequences of oil exploration. The oil-bearing communities share an ancestral promise of wealth, from the Ilajes to the Ijaws and the Ikwerres. Many of the Niger Delta people thus see their migration to the land through the prism of a sacred promise to their ancestors that they would eventually settle in a wealthy place. In the course of time the communities are made to bear the burdens of the predatory state, oil corporations, NGOs, and even their complicit leaders.

The story of oil wealth is indeed harrowing, as Adunbi notes thusly: “While Abuja celebrated fifty years of oil exploration in Nigeria, many Niger Delta communities were oblivious of the fact.” The commonwealth becomes privatised to the extent that the multinational oil corporations and their fronts are effectively owners of life and death. Asking for more benefits from their wealth can only meet with the brutal force of suppression. It was only after the end of the Cold War that “transnational NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, Friends of the Earth International, and the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (which later became Human Rights First) started paying attention to human and environmental rights issues in countries such as Nigeria.”

Oil Wealth and Insurgency in Nigeria is a work of unremitting courage. Adunbi boldly names comrades who started out as activists within the NGO network only to end up as collaborators with the oil companies and the state. For instance, Robert Azibaola who established the Niger Delta Human and Environmental Rescue Organization (ND-HERO) set his lawyer’s wig and gown on fire after the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa only to end up as a collaborator with Agip and as a government contractor! The late Oronto Douglas started out as a firebrand ERA activist and ended up as a private jet-flying special adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan, according to Adunbi.

Violence supervenes with increasing cases of insurgency, kidnapping and hostage-taking. Militant groups such as MEND, NDPVF, the Martyrs Brigade, NDVM, and the Egbesu Assembly cannot but use hostage taking to replenish resources for additional attacks. Principalities like Asari Dokubo undertake hostage negotiations, delineating the Niger Delta hostages in three broad groups, notably struggle hostages, financial hostages, and political hostages.

The book ends on the note of the 2009 proclamation of amnesty for the Niger Delta militants by the President Musa Yar’Adua administration. Even so, the struggle continues with the continuing reaffirmation of the ideals of the early Niger Delta activists such as Isaac Adaka Boro and Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Omolade Adunbi has in writing Oil Wealth and Insurgency in Nigeria given the world a vista of penetration into the dark nooks of oppression in the creeks of Nigeria. He opens up the soft underbelly of NGOs, and visits the charge of militants with courageous understanding. His considerable reach lends cubits of meaning to the activities of agents of state, the army, the oil corporations, the community elders, and the youth groups. He dares to venture into where angels fear to tread, remarkably getting behind the veils of the militants. Oil Wealth and Insurgency in Nigeria is recommended reading for all seeking understanding in the vast fields of the politics and economics of oil in Nigeria and elsewhere.
-Uzoatu writes from Lagos