Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version
Review of Cyril Obi and Siri Aas Rustad's edited book

A new book on the Niger Delta is 'an invaluable resource for understanding the complex and interrelated dynamics of violence, exploitation, resistance and social change' in the region.

I agree with Michael Watts that Cyril Obi and Siri Aas Rustad's edited book ‘Oil and Insurgency in the Niger Delta’ will become ‘the reference point for future debates’ on the Niger Delta. This book, though rather short, nevertheless brings to bear a broad array of intellectual and methodological tools to tell the story of the past, present and future of the Niger Delta, which has been bedeviled by commodity exploitation, including present-day petroleum production.

Ukiwo and Soremekun join the editors in laying the groundwork by examining a historical and geographical context of oil and insurgency characterised by blurred boundaries, local/global and youth/elder divisions, and long-time collusion among hegemonic Nigerian public, private, ‘traditional’ and expatriate actors.

Building on this broad foundation, the core chapters of the book examine the violence, those who engage in violence, and those who benefit (see especially the chapters by Ikelegbe, Duquet and Zalik). We see here the roots of violence in flawed and selective access to justice (Emeseh); how popular and criminal violence are distinguished as well as blurred (Ikelegbe); networks through which small arms and light weapons proliferate as well as judgments about arms collection programs (Duquet); and use of image and discourse to criminalise resistance and to legitimate corporate exploitation (Zalik).

Equally important are chapters examining social movement resistance and corporate and government response. Ako, Ibaba, Ukeje, Ikelegbe and Oluwaniyi deal quite well with dynamics of peace and violence in these oppositions as well as the seeming inability, as Ukeje suggests, of the Nigerian government to deal with opposition in a non-violent manner.

Watts refers elsewhere to Niger Delta instability as a nearly ungovernable ‘governmentality’,[1] and Frynas has suggested that instability and barely controlled violence can be a competitive advantage for first-mover corporations.[2] The contributions in this book lend breadth and depth to such discussions through chapters on resource control and discontent (Ako), an excellent detailing of the Ijaw National Congress and non-violence (Ibaba), the problematics of resistance and criminality (Bøǻs, Ikelegbe), and the cultural and gender dimensions of resistance (Oluwaniyi).

Oluwaniyi and Zalik provide arguably the most path-breaking chapters, discussing women's movements in the context of Nigerian culture, economy and society (Oluwaniyi) and providing an excellent description of each ‘corporate intervention…a discursive and practical project with real effects, reconstituting ideas of exploitation, greed and accumulation as applied to petroleum extraction from the Niger Delta region of Nigeria’ (Zalik, p.199). By including Zalik's engagement with governmentality (rightly referencing Tania Murray Li's work in this area), Obi and Rustad move discussion effectively toward corporate control of space and discourse. The editors also remain focussed in this way on the difficult and messy realities of exploitation in the Niger Delta, rather than, for example, bringing in primarily discursive treatments that (though out of the mainstream) would privilege play on words at the expense of the materialities of domination. As Watts comments in ‘Collective Wish Images’[3] (p.107) regarding Abacha's execution of Sara-Wiwa and his colleagues: ‘Nine Ogoni were hung not for connivance or play but for confronting state legitimacy on the most sensitive of terrains: the geographical terrain…’

The primary weakness of the book lies in the treatments by Ahonsi and Idemudia of governance and corporate social responsibility. By accepting at face value the core research terms and methodologies of international financial institutions (‘capacity building’, ‘enabling environment’, ‘participation’, ‘local empowerment’), their chapters follow the well-worn reductionist path of essentialising states and public/private divisions, thus disregarding much of the material in the remainder of the book. In the process, these two chapters fall particularly short in acknowledging the long, intimate relationship between the political and corporate elite in Nigeria. Corporations are not simply profit-making organisations, distinct from the regime. Thus, for example, corporations do not get into CSR simply because governments are not fulfilling their role as providers of social welfare. Arguments about ‘enabling environment’ and ‘capacity building’ disregard realities that the corporate, political and cultural elite have interacted over many generations in maintaining control over productive resources.

In addition to the other chapters in this volume, Apter (Pan-African Nation),[4] Frynas (Political Instability and Business)[5] and Watts (Righteous Oil?,[6] Resource Curse?[7]) among others have mapped out quite well the dynamics of these problematic relationships.

Overall, Obi and Rustad have provided students of the Niger Delta as well as other areas of industrial extraction with an invaluable resource for understanding the complex and interrelated dynamics of violence, exploitation, resistance and social change.


* Obi, Cyril and Siri Aas Rustad, eds, 'Oil and Insurgency in the Niger Delta: Managing the Complex Politics of Petroviolence', London: Zed Books in association with Nordic Africa Institute, 2011, 255pp, paperback, £21.99, ISBN: 9781848138070
* Dr. Nicholas Jackson is an independent researcher writing about neoclassical economics, governmentality, international development, social movements, corporate exploitation and the legacy of the Chad-Cameroon Petroleum Development Project.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.


[1] Michael J. Watts, ‘Development and Governmentality’, Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 24, no. 1 (March) (2003): 6-34.
[2] J. G. Frynas, ‘Political Instability and Business: Focus on Shell in Nigeria’, Third World Quarterly 19, no. 3 (1998): 457-478.
[3] Michael J. Watts, ‘Collective Wish Images: Geographical Imaginaries and the Crisis of Development’, in Human Geography Today, ed. Doreen B. Massey, John Allen, and Philip Sarre (Cambridge, UK; Malden, Mass.: Polity Press; Blackwell Publishers, 1999), 85-107.
[4] Andrew H. Apter, The Pan-African Nation: Oil and the Spectacle of Culture in Nigeria (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).
[5] J. G. Frynas, ‘Political Instability and Business: Focus on Shell in Nigeria’, Third World Quarterly 19, no. 3 (1998): 457-478.
[6] Michael J. Watts, ‘Righteous Oil?: Human Rights, the Oil Complex and Corporate Social Responsibility’, Annual Review of Environment and Resources (30) (2005): 373-407.
[7] Michael J. Watts, ‘Resource Curse? Governmentality, Oil and Power in the Niger Delta, Nigeria’, in The Geopolitics of Resource Wars: Resource Dependence, Governance and Violence, ed. Philippe Le Billon (London; New York: Frank Cass, 2005), 50-83.