(OPE-L) Economies of Violence More Oil, More Blood

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU)
Date: Tue Dec 09 2003 - 16:42:30 EST

EPW Special Articles
November 29, 2003

Economies of Violence

More Oil, More Blood

Petroleum in the Nigerian context has produced a combustible politics
marked by violence. Rather than see oil-dependency as a source of
predation or as a source of state military power, this paper explores
how oil capitalism produces particular sorts of enclave economies and
governable spaces characterised by violence and instability. While
the biophysical qualities of oil matter in this analysis, so do the
powers of transnational oil companies, the character of the 'the oil
complex', and the ways in which oil as a territorially-based and
nationalised commodity can become the basis for making claims.
Michael Watts

Blood may be thicker than water, but oil is thicker than either.
Perry Anderson (2001:30)
Oil, more than any other commodity, illustrates both the importance
and the mystification of natural resources in the modern world.
Fernando Coronil (1997: 49)

The annals of oil are an uninterrupted chronicle of naked aggression,
genocide and the violent law of the corporate frontier. Iraq was born
from this vile trinity. In their own way, the awful spectacle of
oil-men parading through the corridors of the White House, the rise
of militant Islamism across the Q'uran belt, and the carnage on the
road to Baghdad, all bear out the dreadful dialectics of blood and
oil. Paul Wolfowitz' recent confession, to the Asian Security Summit
in Singapore in early June, that the Iraq war driven not by the
fiction of weapons of mass destruction but by the 'simple fact' that
the 'country swims on a sea of oil'1 is consistent at least with the
last eighty years of US foreign policy [Painter 1986]. But there is
another oil story in train, bearing all the hallmarks of the long,
ugly history petrolic violence. Two years ago, vice president Dick
Cheney predicted that Africa would become the fastest growing source
of oil for the American market (as much as 25 per cent of US imports
by 2015) and it is hardly a surprise to learn there where oil reigns
supreme the military are sure to follow. The Wall Street Journal
reported several weeks ago that the Pentagon, in the most radical
deployment of American forces since the end of the cold war, will
move troops from Germany to the Caucasus and west Africa to 'protect
key oil reserves'.2 More oil, more blood.

Protection demands, of course, keeping the oil flowing by working
hand-in-hand with a phalanx of African dictators and political
psychopaths on the one side, and supermajors like ExxonMobil and
ChevronTexaco on the other who, citing confidentiality agreements,
refuse to disclose the fees, royalties and other services
(paramilitaries and security forces among them) made to the phalanxes
of well-placed African nomenklatura. Such is the scale of the
decrepitude and venality - $ 300 million in Equatorial Guinea,
billions in Nigeria over the last two decades - that Tony Blair is
now in a trans-Atlantic tug of war to have oil majors disclose their
payments for leases and concessions, a proposal fiercely resisted by
American big oil and the Bush administration. In a separate proposal
George Soros calls for mandatory reporting as a prerequisite for
listing of oil companies on the world's stock exchanges.3 In the last
year a raft of new reports inventory the appalling record of
oil-based economies in relation to corruption, economic growth and
poverty alleviation.4 Oil, as Anderson says, is thicker than blood or

Another Oil Story

A year before the events of September 11, 2001, the US department of
state in its annual encyclopaedia of 'global terrorism' identified
the Niger delta - the ground zero of oil production in Nigeria - as a
breeding ground for increasingly militant 'impoverished ethnic
groups' for whom terrorist acts (abduction, hostage taking,
kidnapping and extra-judicial killings) against foreigners were
legion.5 The CIA concurred (2000), laying emphasis on the catalytic
effects of 'environmental stresses' in the oil-rich southern delta on
'political tensions'. At this time, Nigeria - the 13th largest
producer of petroleum (and which provides 80 per cent of government
revenues, 95 per cent of export receipts, and 90 per cent of foreign
exchange earnings) - was providing almost 14 per cent of US American
petroleum consumption.6  At about the same time, the Petroleum
Finance Company (PFC) presented to the US congressional international
relations committee sub-committee on Africa a report of the strategic
and growing security significance of west African oil whose high
quality reserves and low cost output - coupled with massive new
deepwater discoveries - required, in the view of PFC, serious
attention, and substantial foreign investment. In the wake of the Al
Qaeda attacks, and on the larger canvas of the crisis in Venezuela
and the Iraq war, west Africa has emerged as the site of 'the new
Gulf oil states'.7 Indeed by January 2002 the Institute for Advanced
Strategic and Political Studies was providing a forum for the Bush
oil-administration to declare that African oil is 'a priority for US
national security'.8 In the last year, Africa's black gold - in
Gabon, Sao Tome, Angola, Equatorial Guinea - and its ugly footprint
are rarely off the front pages. Oil and blood, as Jon Anderson put
it, are ubiquitous.9 With the additional frisson of terrorism: the
'nightmare', as the New York Times noted, of 'sympathisers of Osama
bin Laden sink(ing) three oil tankers in the straits of Hormuz'.10

The mythos of oil and oil-wealth has been central to the history of
modern industrial capitalism. But in Nigeria, as elsewhere in, the
discovery of oil, and annual oil revenues of $ 40 billion currently,
has ushered in a miserable, undisciplined, decrepit, and corrupt form
of 'petro-capitalism'. After a half century of oil production from
which almost $ 300 billion in oil revenues have flowed directly into
the federal exchequer (and perhaps 50 billion promptly flowed out
only to 'disappear' overseas), Nigerian per capita income stands at $
290 per year. For the majority of Nigerians, living standards are no
better now than at independence in 1960. A repugnant culture of
excessive venality and profiteering among the political class - the
department of state has an entire website devoted to so-called 419
fraud cases - confers upon Nigeria the dubious honour of sitting atop
Transparency International's ranking of most corrupt states.
Paradoxically, oil-producing states in the federation - the Niger
delta - have benefited the least from oil-wealth. Devastated by the
ecological costs of oil spillage and the highest gas flaring rates in
the world, the Niger delta is a political tinderbox. A generation of
militant 'restive' youth, deep political frustrations among
oil-producing communities, and pre-electoral thuggery all combine to
prosper in the rich soil of political marginalisation. The massive
rigging of elections across the delta in the April 2003 elections
simply confirmed the worst for the millions of Nigerians who have
suffered from decades of neglect.

The middle-east historian Robert Vitalis (2001) has recently
suggested that the rapid, complete and irreversible rise of American
dominance in Saudi Arabia can shed much light on why 'the Niger delta
is currently in crisis'. And indeed it is. Since March 12, 2003,
mounting communal violence accounting for at least 50 deaths, and the
levelling of eight communities in and around the Warri petroleum
complex, has prompted all the major oil companies to withdraw staff,
to close down operations and reduce output by over 7,50,000 barrels
per day (almost half of national output). President Obasanjo has
dispatched large troop deployments to the oil-producing creeks,
prompting Ijaw militants, incensed over indiscriminate military
action and illegal oil bunkering in which the security forces were
implicated, to threaten the detonation of eleven captured oil
installations. The strikes on the off-shore oil platforms - a
long-festering sore that rarely reaches the media - were quickly
resolved but nobody seriously expects that the deeper problems within
the oil sector will go away. Relatively new to delta politics,
however, are a series of assassinations, the most shocking being the
killing of chief Marshall Harry, a senior member of the main
opposition party and leading campaigner for greater resource
allocation to the oil-producing Niger delta. Fallout from the Harry
assassination has already become a source of tension in his native
oil-producing state of rivers where supporters of the main opposition
party, the ANPP and another opposition grouping of activists and
politicians, the Rivers Democratic Movement, have linked the ruling
party to the assassination. With good reason, the business-as-usual
character of the gubernatorial election victories across the
oil-producing states, has led some to believe that the Nigeria is
another Colombia in the making [Cesarz et al 2003].

The strategic significance of Nigeria is incontestable. One of every
five Africans is a Nigerian, Nigeria is the world's seventh largest
exporter of petroleum and a key player in African regional security,
most recently in Sierra Leone. Nigeria is an archetypal oil nation.
Three quarters of government revenues, and almost all export
earnings, flow from black gold. A long-time member of OPEC, and the
fifth largest supplier of oil exports to the US, Nigeria pumps oil
much coveted for its 'lightness' and 'sweetness', yielding more
gasoline and diesel than the 'sour' crude from the Middle East. It is
also home to a vast Muslim community. Since the oil boom of the
1970s, political power has shifted from the conservative Sufi
brotherhoods to well-organised modern Islamist groups like the Yan
Izala founded in 1978. Sharia'a law, of a dogmatic and literalist
sort, has been adopted and implemented in 12 of the populous northern
states, amidst considerable political acrimony and international
censure. At least 350 people were killed in four days of terrible
rioting in northern Nigeria triggered by protests against US military
action in Afghanistan, including particularly bloody clashes between
Muslims and Christians in Kano, Kaduna and Jos.

Olesegun Obasanjo's presidential victory in 1999, in the wake of the
darkest period of military rule in Nigeria's 40 year
post-independence history, held much promise. An internationally
recognised statesman and diplomat imprisoned during the brutal Abacha
years, he inherited the mantle of a massively corrupt state
apparatus, an economy in shambles, and a federation crippled by
long-standing ethnic enmity. Committed to reforming a corrupt and
undisciplined military - the largest in Africa - and to deepening the
process of democratisation, Obasanjo was confronted within months of
his inauguration by militant ethnic groups speaking the language of
self-determination, local autonomy and resource control (meaning a
greater share of the federally allocated oil revenues). In an
incident widely condemned by the human rights community, some 2,000
persons were slaughtered in Odi, Bayelsa state after federal troops
were dispatched in response to clashes between local militants and
the police. Obasanjo has consistently refused to apologise for the
murders and there has been no full inquiry. Last year the military
was involved in yet another massacre, this time in the middle-belt,
in Benue and Taraba states, the most serious communal conflict since
the clashes preceding the outbreak of the Biafran civil war in 1967.
On president Obasanjo's watch, over 10,000 have perished in ethnic
violence. He has failed miserably to address the human rights
violations by the notoriously corrupt Nigerian security forces. Early
in his tenure, Obasanjo did retire a number of senior officers and
embark upon an anti-corruption campaign, aided and abetted by the
US's role in 'retraining' the Nigerian armed forces. President
Clinton committed foreign assistance to 'reprofessionalise' the
Nigerian army in 1999, including the equipping and training of seven
battalions at a cost of over $1 billion. During the Bush imperium,
the presence of 200 special forces in Nigeria, including on-site
training grounds in some of the most sensitive areas of the Muslim
north, has generated enormous suspicion and now vocal opposition. Not
unexpectedly, a number of powerful Nigerian constituencies see a
beleaguered and corrupt Obasanjo regime as simply another miserable
US oil colony.

The zeitgeist of oil - its mythic and spectacular qualities in
relation to the modern - is an essential expression of contemporary
hydro-carbon capitalism. Oil's fetishistic appeal was not lost on the
great Polish journalist Ryszard Kapucinksi who, in his reflections on
oil-rich pre-revolutionary Iran, sardonically observed that, "Oil
creates the illusion of a completely changed life, life without work,
life for free....The concept of oil expresses perfectly the eternal
human dream of wealth achieved through lucky accident...In this sense
oil is a fairy tale and like every fairy tale a bit of a lie" (1982:
35). It is this lie, one might say, that currently confronts west
African oil producers, and Nigeria in particular.

A Resource Curse?

In virtue of the geo-strategic significance of oil to contemporary
capitalism - and to US hegemony in particular - relations between
natural resources (and oil in particular) and economic growth,
democracy, and civil war have emerged as an object of substantial
scholarly attention (operating under the sign of 'resource
politics'), not least by economists and political scientists.11

The IMF and its stenographers have posited a strong association
between resource-dependency, corruption and economic performance.
Sachs and Warner (1995) argue that one standard deviation increase in
the ratio of natural resource exports to GNP is associated with a
decrease of just over 1 per cent in the growth rate (irrespective of
the endogeneity of corruption, commodity price variability and trade
liberalisation). Leite and Weidemann (1999) believe that for fuels
the figure is 0.6 per cent and due 'entirely to the indirect effect
of corruption' (1999:29). For Michael Klare (2001), writing from a
very different vantage point, oil is a dwindling, key-strategic
resource that will necessarily be generative of interstate conflict
(see also Homer-Dixon 1999).12 This is a line of argumentation
developed by Paul Collier, who, in his work with the World Bank, uses
resource dependency as a way of thinking about rebellion (especially
in Africa), with oil posited as central to the economics of civil
war. It encourages extortion and looting through resource predation
(at least up to the point where 26 per cent of GDP is dependent on
resource extraction). And the feasibility of predation by states or
rebel groups determines the risk of conflict. For Collier, the risks
are greater because of resource dependency than ethnic or religious
diversity. Oil is a 'resource curse'. Ross elaborates on this claim
seeing oil in terms of its rentier effect (low taxes and high
patronage dampen pressures for democracy); its repression effect
conferred by the direct state control over sufficient revenues to
bankroll excessive military expenditures and expanded internal
security apparatuses; and a modernisation effect, namely, the 'move
into industrial and service sector jobs render them less likely to
push for democracy' (2001:357).13 This comes terribly close to a sort
of commodity determinism confirming perhaps Coronil's point that oil,
more than any other commodity, 'illustrates both the importance and
the mystification of natural resources in the modern world' [Coronil
1997: 49]. But if oil hinders democracy (as though copper might
liberate parliamentary democracy?), one needs to appreciate the
centralising effect of oil and the state in relation to the oil-based
nation-building enterprises that are unleashed in the context of a
politics that pre-dates oil.

Much of the resource curse analysis runs the risk of imputing
enormous powers to oil (without grasping its specificity), conflating
petroleum's purported Olympian powers with preexisting political
dynamics, and, as in the case of Collier, misidentifying a
predation-proneness for what is in fact the dynamics of state and
corporate enclave politics [Leonard and Strauss 2003]. What is
striking in somuchof what passes as 'resource politics' is the total
invisibility of both transnational oil companies (which typically
work in joint ventures with the state) and the specific forms of rule
associated with petro-capitalism. My analysis charts the relations
between oil and violence, but does so through examining how forms of
governable (or non-governable spaces) are created through the
analytics of 'authoritarian governmentality' [Dean 1999] growing out
of the soil of petro-capitalism. Rather than see oil-dependency as a
source of predation or as a source of state military power, I explore
how oil capitalism produces particular sorts of enclave economies and
particular sorts of governable spaces characterised by violence and
instability. To do so, the qualities of oil in relation to predation
matter (oil and diamonds are after all very different sources of
predation: see Le Billon 2001). But so do the powers of transnational
oil companies, the character of what I call 'the oil complex', and
the ways in which oil as a territorially-based and nationalised
commodity can become the basis for making claims. Unlike the work of
Collier and others, I seek to trace the varieties of violence
engendered by oil, to elaborate the ways in which resources,
territoriality and identity can constitute forms of rule (or unrule),
and understand the genesis of economies of violence that emerge from
differing sorts of governable (or ungovernable) spaces.

Black Gold and Niger Delta

The Niger delta is a vast sedimentary basin constructed through
successive layers of sediments dating back 40-50 million years to the
Eocene epoch. A classic arcuate delta covering almost 70,000 square
kilometres, the Niger delta is also endowed with very substantial
hydrocarbon deposits. Crude oil production currently runs at almost
two million barrels per day, roughly 90 per cent by value of Nigerian
export revenues. Nigeria is not only the largest producer of
petroleum in Africa and is among the world's top 10 oil producers
but, in the wake of September 11 and the current west Asia crisis, it
is being pursued by the Bush administration as a major supplier for
the US market.

The contemporary geo-strategic significance of the Niger delta has
emerged from an astonishing ethnic and linguistic complexity, and
from a recent history of economic and political irrelevance. There
are five major linguistic categories (Ijoid, Yoruboid, Edoid, Igboid
and Delta Cross), but each embraces a profusion of ethno-linguistic
heterogeneity. The establishment of the Nigerian colony and the
imposition of indirect rule in the early 1900s marked an end to the
brief period of commercial vitality associated with the
commercialisation of palm oil across the region in the 19th century.
For most of the first half of the 20th century, the delta was an
economic and political backwater. In the gradual transition to
independence in the 1950s, the so-called ethnic minorities voiced
their concerns to the departing British administrators that their
interests in a Nigerian federation dominated by three ethnic
majorities (the Hausa, the Yoruba and the Ibo) were to all intents
and purposes invisible. What was true at the moment of imperial
departure only became more so as the post-colonial period got under

The onset of commercial petroleum production in the heart of the
delta in 1956 - discovered in Oloibiri in current Bayelsa state -
seemed to hold out the promise of rapid development for the ethnic
minorities. But instead, the presence of transnational oil companies
in joint ventures with the Nigerian state (through the Nigerian
National Petroleum Company (NNPC)) produced enormous environmental
despoliation and a crisis in extant forms of livelihood. By the 1970s
and 1980s, a number of ethnic communities had begun to mobilise
against the so-called 'slick alliance' of oil companies and the
Nigerian military. Most famously, the movement for the survival of
the Ogoni People (MOSOP) led by Ken Saro-Wiwa challenged Shell for
its environmental despoliation and human rights violations and the
Nigerian state for its unjust control of 'their oil'. Saro-Wiwa and
the MOSOP leadership were executed by the Nigerian military in 1995,
but since that time the Niger delta has become a zone of intense
conflict as more oil-producing minorities (for instance, the Adoni,
the Itsekiri, the Ijaw) clamour for compensation and for the
recognition of their claims for resource control. As I write,
substantial coverage in the world press has been devoted to a group
of delta women who have occupied Chevron oil refineries, demanding
company investments and jobs for indigenes.14

I want to make three important points about oil in Nigeria. The first
is that oil capitalism operates through what I call an 'oil complex'
(comparable in, say, Venezuela or Gabon or Indonesia) involving a
statutory monopoly over mineral exploitation (the 1969 Petroleum Law
in Nigeria, reinforced by a number of key laws including the 1978
Land Use Decree), a nationalised oil company (NNPC) that operates
through joint ventures with oil majors who are granted territorial
concessions (blocs), the security apparatuses of the state (and the
companies) to ensure that costly investments are secured, the oil
producing communities, and apolitical mechanism (in Nigeria called
the 'derivation principle') by which federal oil revenues are
distributed to the states [Ibeanu 2003, Anugwom 2001]. This oil
complex - rather than a laundry list of oil-attributes a la Ross, is
key to understanding the relations between oil and violence. The
second is that this oil complex matters profoundly to the character
and dynamics of Nigerian development. Oil is, of course, a
biophysical entity (a subterranean fluid capable of being pumped and
transmitted); it is also a commodity that enters the market with its
price tag, and as such is the bearer of particular relations of
production. And, not least, oil harbours fetishistic qualities: it is
the bearer of meanings, hopes, expectations of unimaginable powers.
Not unexpectedly, oil is a constant in the popular Nigerian
imagination [Watts 2000], resplendent with all manner of brilliant
and unctuous qualities. The third point is that Nigerian
petro-capitalism contained a sort of double-movement, a contradictory
unity of capitalism and modernity captured in the fact that oil
production in Nigeria has always been a joint venture, currently with
14 transnational companies, in which joint operating agreements
determine the distribution of royalties and rents. On the one hand,
oil has been a centralising force that has rendered the state more
visible and globalised, underwriting a process of secular nationalism
and state building. On the other, a corrupt and undisciplined oil-led
development, driven by an unremitting political logic of ethnic
claims-making, has fragmented and discredited the state and its forms
of governance. It has produced a set of conditions that have
compromised and undermined the very tenets of the modern nation
state. Coronil (1997) refers to this conundrum as 'the Faustian trade
of money for modernity', which in Venezuela brought 'the illusion of
development'. In Nigeria, too, the double movement brought illusion
and produced forms of governable spaces that questioned the very idea
of Nigeria, spaces that generated forms of rule, conduct and
imagining at cross purposes with one another, antithetical to the
very idea of a coherent modern nation state that oil, in the mythos
of the west, represented.

Economies of Violence and Governable Spaces

Government, for Michel Foucault (2000), referred famously to the
'conduct of conduct', a more or less calculated and rational set of
ways of shaping conduct and securing rule through a multiplicity of
authorities and agencies in and outside the state and at a variety of
spatial levels. In contrast to forms of pastoral power in the middle
ages from which a sense of sovereignty was derived, Foucault charted
an important historical shift, beginning in the 16th century, toward
government as a right manner of disposing things 'so as to not lead
to the common good...but to an end that is convenient for each of the
things governed' (2000: 211). The new practices of the state, as
Mitchell Dean (1999:16) says, shape human conduct by 'working through
our desire, aspirations, interests and beliefs for definite but
shifting ends'. It was Foucault's task to reveal the genealogy of
government, and the origins and modern power, the fabrication of a
modern identity. The conduct of conduct - governmentality - could be
expressed as pastoral, disciplinary or as biopower. Modern
governmentality was rendered distinctive by the specific forms in
which the population and the economy were administered, and
specifically by a deepening of the 'governmentalisation of the state'
(how sovereignty comes to be articulated through the populations and
the processes that constitute them). What was key for Foucault was
not the displacement of one form of power by another, nor the
historical substitution of feudal by modern governmentality, but the
complex triangulation involved in sustaining many forms of power put
to the purpose of security and regulation [Foucault 2000: 219].
On this theoretical canvas, I seek to explore the relations between
two interrelated aspects of governmentality.15 One is what Foucault
explicitly refers to as relations between men and resources (in my
case, people and oil in the Niger delta) as an expression of his
complex notion of the governance of things. As he put it:
On the contrary, in [the modern exercise of power], you will notice
that the definition of government in no way refers to territory: one
governs things. But what does this mean? I think this is not a matter
of opposing things to men, but rather of showing that what government
has to do with is not territory but, rather, a sort of complex
composed on men and things. The things, in this sense, with which
government is to be concerned are in fact men, but men in their
relations, their links, their imbrication with those things that are
wealth, resources, means of subsistence, the territory with its
specific qualities, climate, irrigation, fertility, and so on; men in
their relation to those other things that are customs, habits, ways
of acting and thinking and so on; and finally men in relation to
those still other things that might be accidents and misfortunes such
as famines, epidemics, death and so on...What counts is essentially
this complex of men and things; property and territory are merely one
of its variables (2000: 208-209)

The other aspect of governmentality that I use is taken from Rose's
notion of 'governable spaces' as they emerge from the analytics of
government detailed above. For Rose, governable spaces and the
spatialisation of government, are 'modalities in which a real and
material governable world is composed, terraformed, and populated'
(1999: 32). The scales upon which government is 'territorialised' -
territory is derived from terra, land, but also terrere, to frighten
- are myriad: the factory, the neighbourhood, the commune, the
region, the nation. Each of these governable spaces has its own
topology and is modelled, as Rose puts it - through systems of
cognition and remodelled through government practice - in a way that
frames how such topoi have emerged: the social thought and practice
that has territorialised itself upon the nation, the city, the
village or the factory. The map has been central to this process as a
mode of objectification, marking and inscribing but also as 'a little
machine for producing conviction in others' (1999: 37). But in
general it was geography that formed 'the art whose science was
political economy'.16 Modern space and modern governable spaces were
produced by the biological (the laws of population which determine
the qualities of the inhabitants) and the economic (the systems of
the production of wealth). Governable spaces necessitate the
territorialising of governmental thought and practice but are
simultaneously produced as differing scales by the cold laws of
political economy.

The Nigerian oil complex can be grasped in territorial terms, taking
as my cue Nikolas Rose's point about enclosures: 'Governmental
thought territorialises itself in different waysŠWe can analyse the
ways in which the idea of a territorially bounded , politically
governed nation state under sovereign authority took shapeŠOne can
trace anomalous governmental histories of smaller-scale
territoriesŠand one can also think of these [as] spaces of enclosure
that governmental thought has imagined and penetratedŠhow [does it]
happen that social thought territorialises itself on the problem of
[for example] the slum in the 19th century?' [Rose 1999: 34-36]. I
want to think about the genesis of differing sorts of governable
spaces in Nigeria as part of a larger landscape of what Dean calls
'authoritarian governmentality', that is to say an articulation of
generalised uses of the instruments of repression with bio-politics.
As he says (1999: 209), 'it regards its subjects' capacity for action
as subordinate to the expectation of obedience'. I want to root these
spaces and forms of power in the logic of petro-capitalist
development, that is to say a particular sort of extractive
development which is generative of differing sorts of scale, or the
'politics of scale' as Neil Smith (1992) calls it. My analysis
conversely charts the relations between oil and violence, but does so
through examining how forms of governable (or un-governable) spaces
are generated by the baneful twins of authoritarian government and
petro-capitalism. To do so, I will turn briefly to governable spaces,
and to three in particular that I shall refer to as the space of
chieftainship, the space of indigeneity, and the space of the nation

Space of Chieftainship

Nembe community17 in Bayelsa state stands at the originary point of
Nigerian oil production. In the 1950s, the Tennessee Oil Company (a
US Company) began oil explorations there but oil was not found until
much later when Shell D'Arcy unearthed the Oloibiri oil field in
Ogbia. Subsequent explorations led to the opening of the large and
rich Nembe oil fields near the coast in Okpoama and Twon-Brass axis.
Currently, the four Nembe oil fields produce approximately 1,50,000
barrels of high quality petroleum through joint operating agreements
between the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), AGIP and
Shell. If Nembe is the ground zero of oil production, it is also a
theatre of extraordinary violence and intra-community conflict, the
result of intense competition over political turf and the control of
benefits from the oil industry. The violence can be traced back to
the late 1980s when the Nembe Council of chiefs acquired power from
then king, justice Alagoa Mingi IX, to negotiate royalties and other
benefits with the oil companies. The combination of youth-driven
violence and intense political competition has transformed Nembe's
system of governance and set the stage for further challenges to the
traditional authority of chieftainship [Kemedi 2000, HRW 2002].18

Oil became commercially viable in 1970s, but to grasp its
transformative effects on Nembe politics and community - that is to
its genesis as a distinctive governable space - requires an
understanding of chieftainship in the delta. Indirect rule in the
colonial period certainly left much of the Niger delta marginalised
and isolated, but it also, in the name of tradition, built upon and
frequently invented chiefly powers of local rule which in the Nembe
case were grafted onto a deep and complex structure of kingship and
gerontocratic rule. To understand the dynamics of Nembe as a
governable space recall that land lay in hands of customary
authorities (notwithstanding the fact that the 1969 petroleum law
granted the state the power to nationalise all oil resources). Land
rights and therefore claims on oil royalties were, from the outset,
rooted in the amayanabo (king), and derivatively the subordinate
powers, namely, the council of chiefs and the executive council.
Historically, the Nembe community possessed a rigid political
hierarchy consisting of the amayanabo presiding over, in descending
order, the chiefs (or heads of the war canoe houses19 ) elected by
the entire war canoe houses constituted by their prominent sons.
Although the chiefs were subservient to the amayanabo, they acted as
his closest advisers, supporting him in the event of military threat
and, in turn, were responsible for electing the amayanabo from the
Mingi group of Houses, or the royal line. The current Nembe council
of chiefs is the assemblage of the recognised chiefs of Nembe
'chalked' by the king.20

Accordingly, in 1991, the Nembe monarch's ineffectiveness in dealing
with the oil companies led to a radical decentralisation of his
powers to the council of chiefs, headed by chief Egi Adukpo Ikata.
Insofar as the council now dealt directly with Shell, and handled
large quantities of money paid by the oil companies, competition for
election to the council intensified as various political factions
struggled for office. By 2000, the council had expanded from 26 to 90
persons. Coeval with the evisceration of kingly powers, the deepening
of the council mandate, and the expansion of the council members, was
a subtle process of 'youth mobilisation'. In an age-graded society
like the Nembe Ijaw, youth refers to persons typically between their
teens and early forties who, whatever achievements they may have
obtained (university degrees, fatherhood and so on), remain
subservient to their elders. Central to any understanding of the
emergence of a militant youth in Nembe town was the catalytic role
played by a former company engineer with Elf Oil company named Nimi B
P Barigha-Amage. He deployed his knowledge of the oil industry to
organise the youths of the Nembe community into a force capable of
extracting concessions from the oil companies, in essence, by
converting cultural organisation into protection services. Chief
Ikata was quick to exploit the awareness and restiveness of the
youths to pressure Shell into granting community entitlements. A pact
between chief Ikata and the young engineer was in effect instituted;
the engineer supplied the youths with information regarding community
entitlements, and the chief deployed his knowledge of military
logistics to organise the shutting down of flow stations, the seizure
of equipment and sabotage [Alagoa 2001, HRW 2002].

Armed with insider knowledge of the companies and an understanding of
a loosely defined set of rules regarding company compensation for
infringements on community property, Barigha-Amage pushed for the
creation of youth 'cultural groups' which gradually, with the support
of some members of the council of chiefs, intermediated with oil
companies and their liaison officers, and manipulated the system of
compensation in the context of considerable juridical and legal
ambiguity. Liaison officers, colluding with community
representatives, invented ritual or cultural sites that had
ostensibly been compromised or damaged by oil operations, for which
monies exchanged hands. As the opportunities for appropriating
company resources in the name of compensation became visible through
the success of the cultural groups, other sections of the youth
community began to organise in turn around clan and familial
affiliations. In 1994, for example, a group called 'House of Lords'
(Isongoforo) was created by a former university lecturer, Lionel
Jonathan, and a year later in 1995, the wife of a well-placed
military officer, Ituro Garuba established Agbara-foro. Inevitably,
with much at stake financially, and control of the space between
community and company in the balance, conflicts within and among
youth groups proliferated and deepened. In turn, growing community
militancy spilled over into often-violent altercations with the
much-detested mobile police ('Mopos') and local government
authorities. The regional state and governor attempted to intervene
as conditions deteriorated but a government report, on which such
action was predicated, was never released for political reasons. A
subsequent banning of youth groups had, as a result, no practical
effect [HRW 2002].

Slowly, the subversion of royal authority, the strategic alliances
between youth and chiefs, and the growing (and armed) conflict
between youth groups for access to Shell resulted in the ascendancy
of a highly militant Isongoforo. In an environment of rampant
insecurity and lawlessness, occupation and closure of flow stations,
and tensions between the companies, the service companies and local
security forces, Isongoforo was provided 'stand by' payments by the
companies (that is to say, it was hired for protection purposes),
even as it colluded with the community liaison officers to invent
compensations cases. Isongoforo occupied the centre of a new
governable space which it ruled through force rather than any sense
of consent or customary authority. This quasi-mafia was funded by the
large quantities of monies that it commanded from the companies, and
by the arms which it controlled. This volatile state of affairs
collapsed dramatically as local resentments and struggles
proliferated. In February 2000, a 'people's revolution' overthrew
Isongoforo, ostensibly precipitated by the humiliation of the council
of chiefs at the hands of Shell (backed by the intimidating
Isongoforo forces). The chiefs now orchestrated the occupation of
flow stations and undermined the powers of Isongoforo by recruiting
and supporting other youth groups. By May 2000 Isongoforo had been
sent into exile but it was promptly replaced in the wake of
Barigha-Amage's return as high chief of Nembe, by his own 'cultural
group' Isenasawo/Teme. Teme instituted a rule of terror and chaos far
worse than its predecessors. It too proved unstable in the context of
excessive youth mobilisation and split into two factions which
subsequently produced two 'counter coups' and much bloodshed. A
government peace commission was established in January 2001 in a
desperate effort to bring peace to one of the jewels in the
oil-producing crown [Alagoa 2001, NDWC 2000].

Much of this later violence (after 1996) could not be regulated by
the state authorities because of its concurrence with the 1999
elections in which some of the key youth leaders were expected to
deliver votes for the incumbent gubernatorial race. In the creation
of what, in effect, was a sort of vigilante rule, there were complex
complicities between chiefs, youth groups, local security forces, and
the companies. Plans to occupy oil flow stations (for purposes of
extortion) were often known in advance and involved collaboration
with local company engineers; youths were de facto company employees
providing protection services, and local compensation and community
officers of Shell and AGIP produced fraudulent compensation cases and
entitlements. Nembe, a town with its own long and illustrious history
and politics, had become a sort of company town in which authority
had shifted from the king to warring factions of youth who were in
varying ways in the pay of, and working in conjunction with, the
companies. The council of chiefs stood in a contradictory position,
seeking to maintain control over revenues from the companies and yet
intimidated and undermined by the militant youth groups on whom it
depended. In the context of a weak and corrupt state, the genesis of
this power nexus bears striking resemblances to the genesis of the
Mafia in 19th century Sicily [Blok 1974].

What I have described is the displacement of a specific form of power
(chieftainship) by a governable space of civic vigilantism, a
thickening of civil society that does not necessarily imply the basis
of the kind of governance put forth by Granovetter, Putnam and others
[Putnam 2000] - that is, the self-organising networks that arise out
of the interactions between a variety of organisations and agencies.
Civic powers have expanded by overthrowing a territorial system and a
gerontocratic royal order. Youth mobilisation - whose political
affiliations and ambitions in any case were complex because they
reflected an unstable amalgam of clan, family and local electoral
loyalties - had thrown up an identity and subject that was
indisputably revolutionary, representing an unholy alliance between
civic organisations (presenting themselves as cultural organisations)
and private companies. Rule in Nembe is a realm of privatised
violence, a form of consent by a form of force. Government here turns
on what Foucault (2000: 208-09) calls 'men in their imbrication with
wealth and resources' - the government of men and things, as opposed
to territory. It is institutionalised through forms of calculability,
techne, and visibility that emerge from the legal and company
dispositions to regulate local populations backed by the forces of
repression. The governable subject is de facto a sort of employee,
and rule is a Gramscian 'war of position'. Culture serves as the form
by which company rule is experienced - violent youth groups - but in
a way that renders the space increasing ungovernable.

Space of Indigeneity

The Niger delta is a region of considerable, even bewildering,
ethno-linguistic complexity. The eastern region of which the delta is
part is dominated statistically by the Ibo majority, but there is a
long history of excluded ethnic minorities in the delta dating back
at least to the 1950s when the Willinck Commission took note of the
inter-ethnic complexity of the region. Throughout the colonial period
prior to arrival of commercial oil production, there had been efforts
by various minorities, who saw themselves as dominated by the Ibo, to
established native authorities of their own. In the 1960s prior to
the outbreak of civil war, two charismatic local figures, both Ijaw -
Nottingham Dick and Isaac Boro - declared a delta republic, a
desperate cry for some sort of political inclusion that lasted a mere
12 days. The ill-fated Delta People's Republic of 1966 was the
forerunner of what is now a prairie fire of ethnic mobilisation by
the historically excluded minorities - now tagged as 'indigenous' in
order to capture the political and legal legitimacy conferred by the
International Labour Organisation of the United Nations (ILO169)
[Brysk 2000, Nelson 1999]. The paradigmatic case in the delta is the
struggle by Ken Saro-Wiwa and the movement for the survival of the
Ogoni people (MOSOP). Their case reveals a rather different sort of
governable space, one marked by ethnic subjects and indigenous

The Ogoni are typically seen as a distinct ethnic group, consisting
of three subgroups and six clans dotted over 404 sq miles of creeks,
waterways and tropical forest in the north-east fringes of the Niger
delta. Located administratively in Rivers State, a Louisiana-like
territory of some 50,000 sq km, Ogoniland is one of the most heavily
populated zones in all of Africa. The most densely settled areas of
Ogoniland - over 1,500 persons per sq. km - are also the sites of the
largest oil wells. Ogoniland's customary productive base was provided
by fishing and agricultural pursuits until the discovery of
petroleum, including the huge Bomu field, immediately prior to
independence. Part of an enormously complex regional ethnic mosaic,
the Ogoni were drawn into internecine conflicts within the delta
region, largely as a consequence of the slave trade and its
aftermath, in the period prior to arrival of colonial forces at Kono
in 1901. The Ogoni resisted the British until 1908 [Naanen 1995] but
thereafter were left to stagnate as part of the Opopo division within
Calabar province. As Ogoniland was gradually incorporated during the
1930s, the clamour for a separate political division grew at the
hands of the first pan-Ogoni organisation, the Ogoni Central Union,
which bore fruit with the establishment of the Ogoni native authority
in 1947. In 1951, however, the authority was forcibly integrated into
the eastern region. Experiencing tremendous neglect and
discrimination, integration raised longstanding fears among the Ogoni
of Ibo domination.21 Politically marginalised and economically
neglected, the delta minorities feared the growing secessionist
rhetoric of the Ibo and consequently led an ill-fated secession of
their own in February 1966. Ogoni antipathy to what they saw as a
sort of internal colonialism at the hands of the Ibo led to their
support of the federal forces during the civil war. While a Rivers
State was established in 1967 - which compensated in some measure for
enormous Ogoni losses during the war - the new state recapitulated in
microcosm the larger 'national question'. The new Rivers State was
multi-ethnic but presided over by the locally dominant IJaw, for whom
the minorities felt little but contempt.22

During the first oil boom of the 1970s, Ogoniland's 56 wells
accounted for almost 15 per cent of Nigerian oil production23 and in
the past three decades an estimated $ 30 billion in petroleum
revenues have flowed from this Lilliputian territory. It was, as
local opinion had it, 'Nigeria's Kuwait'. Yet according to a
government commission, Oloibiri, where the first oil was pumped in
1958, has no single kilometre of all-season road and remains 'one of
the most backward areas in the country' (cited in Furro 1992: 282,
see also Okonta and Douglas 2001). Rivers State saw its federal
allocation fall dramatically in absolute and relative terms. At the
height of the oil boom, 60 per cent of oil production came from
Rivers State but it received only 5 per cent of the statutory
allocation (roughly half of that received by Kano, north-eastern
states and the Ibo heartland, east-central state). Between 1970 and
1980 it received in revenues one 158th of the value of the oil it
produced. Few Ogoni households have electricity, there is one doctor
per 1,00,000 people, child mortality rates are the highest in the
nation, unemployment is 85 per cent, 80 per cent of the population is
illiterate and close to half of Ogoni youth have left the region in
search of work. Life expectancy is barely 50 years, substantially
below the national average. If Ogoniland failed to see the material
benefits from oil, what it did experience was an ecological disaster
- what the European parliament has called 'an environmental
nightmare'. The heart of the ecological harms stems from oil spills -
either from the pipelines which criss-cross Ogoniland (often passing
directly through villages) or from blow-outs at the wellheads - and
gas flaring. As regards the latter, a staggering 76 per cent of
natural gas in the oil producing areas is flared (compared to 0.6 per
cent in the US). As a visiting environmentalist noted in 1993 in the
delta, 'some children have never known a dark night even though they
have no electricity'.24 Burning 24 hours per day at temperatures of
13-14,000 degrees Celsius, Nigerian natural gas produces 35 million
tonnes of CO2 and 12 million tonnes of methane, more than the rest of
the world (making Nigeria probably the biggest single cause of global
warming). The oil spillage record is even worse. There are roughly
300 spills per year in the delta and in the 1970s alone the spillage
was four times than the much publicised Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.
In one year alone, almost 7,00,000 barrels were soiled according to a
government commission. Ogoniland itself suffered 111 spills between
1985 and 1994.25 Figures provided by the NNPC document 2,676 spills
between 1976 and 1990, 59 per cent of which occurred in Rivers State
[Ikein 1990: 171], 38 per cent of which were due to equipment
malfunction.26 Between 1982 and 1992 Shell alone accounted for 1.6
million gallons of spilled oil, 37 per cent of the company's spills
worldwide. The consequences of flaring, spillage and waste for Ogoni
fisheries and farming have been devastating. Two independent studies
completed in 1997 reveal total petroleum hydrocarbons in Ogoni
streams at 360 and 680 times the European Community permissible
levels [Rainforest Action Network 1997, HRW 1999].

The hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the 'Ogoni Nine' in November 1995 -
accused of murdering four prominent Ogoni leaders - and the
subsequent arrest of 19 others on treason charges, represented the
summit of a process of mass mobilisation and radical militancy which
had commenced in 1989. MOSOP necessarily built upon previous cultural
and political organisations like the Ogoni Klub and Kagote (both
elite organisations) and most especially the Ogoni politician Naaku
Paul Birabi who established in 1950 the Ogoni state representatives
association to promote Ogoni interests in the new eastern region
government. The civil war hardened the sense of external dominance
among Ogonis. A 'supreme cultural organisation' called Kagote which
consisted largely of traditional rulers and high-ranking
functionaries, was established at the war's end and in turn gave
birth in 1990 to MOSOP. A new strategic phase began in 1989 with a
programme of mass action and passive resistance on the one hand and a
renewed effort to focus on the environmental consequences of oil (and
Shell's role in particular) and on group rights within the federal
structure. Animating the entire struggle was, in Leton's words, the
'genocide being committed in the dying years of the 20th century by
multinational companies under the supervision of the government'
(cited in Naanen 1995: 66). A watershed moment in MOSOP's history was
the drafting in 1990 of an Ogoni Bill of Rights [Saro-Wiwa 1992].
Documenting a history of neglect and local misery, the Ogoni Bill
took head on the question of Nigeria federalism and minority rights.
Calling for participation in the affairs of the republic as 'a
distinct and separate entity', the Bill outlined a plan for autonomy
and self- determination in which there would be guaranteed 'political
control of Ogoni affairs by Ogoni people...the right to control and
use a fair proportion of Ogoni economic resources...(and) adequate
representation as of right in all Nigerian national institutions'
[Saro-Wiwa 1990: 11]. In short, the Bill of Rights addressed the
question of the unit to which revenues should be allocated - and
derivatively the rights of minorities [HRW 1999, Okonta 2002]. At the
heart of Saro-Wiwa's vision was an Ogoni state.

In spite of the remarkable history of MOSOP between 1990 and 1996,
its ability to represent itself as a unified pan-Ogoni organisation
remained an open question. There is no pan-Ogoni myth of origin
(characteristic of some delta minorities), and a number of the Ogoni
subgroups (clans) engender stronger local loyalties than any
affiliation to Ogoni 'nationalism'. Gokana clan for example was the
most populous and well-educated and its elites wielded
disproportionate influence in Ogoni. Conversely, the Eleme clan-head
did not even sign the Ogoni Bill of Rights and Eleme's leading
historian has argued that they are not in fact Ogoni [Ngofa 1988]. In
1994, Eleme leaders proposed the creation of Nchia state which
comprised non-Ogonis from Bonny, Andoni, Opobo and Etche, thereby
turning their backs on Saro-Wiwa's goal [Okonta 2003]. Furthermore,
the MOSOP leaders were actively opposed by elements of the
traditional clan leadership, by prominent leaders and civil servants
in state government, and by some critics who felt Saro-Wiwa was out
to gain 'cheap popularity' [Osgahae 1995: 334]. Some Ogoni notables
(Edward Kobani, Leton) aspired to participate in conventional
politics by running for the two major parties rather than assisting
in the birth of a nation. MOSOP, moreover, was a political movement
of the elite led by the elite; it was not a mass movement and youth
and women were not represented on its first steering committee.
Gradually the youth wing of MOSOP, which Saro-Wiwa had used, emerged
as militants but the leadership was often incapable of controlling
it. MOSOP, in short, was wracked by tensions. There were as Okonta
says 'cracks in the pot' (2003: 12).

Saro-Wiwa built upon over 50 years of Ogoni organising and upon three
decades of resentment against the oil companies, to provide a mass
base and a youth-driven radicalism - and an international visibility
- capable of challenging state power. Yet at its core the indigenous
subject - and the indigenous space - was contentious and problematic.
Ike Okonta (2002) has brilliantly shown, how in the Ogoni case,
indigeneity unravelled into fragments of class, clan, generation and
gender. These tensions came to the fore after Saro-Wiwa's death and
MOSOP declined as rapidly as it had ascended.

What sort of articulation of indigenous identity and political
subjectivity did Saro-Wiwa pose? What sort of governable space did
Ogoniland represent? It was clearly one in which territory and oil
were the building blocks upon which ethnic difference and indigenous
rights were constructed. And yet it was an unstable and contradictory
sort of articulation. First, there was no simple sense of
'Ogoniness', no unproblematic unity, and no singular form of
political subject (despite Saro-Wiwa's claim that 98 per cent of
Ogonis supported him). MOSOP itself had at least five somewhat
independent internal strands embracing youth, women, traditional
rulers, teachers and churches. It represented a fractious and
increasing divided 'we', as the splits and conflicts between
Saro-Wiwa and other elite Ogoni confirms (Ogoni Crisis 1996).27
Second, Saro-Wiwa constantly invoked Ogoni culture and tradition yet
he also argued that war and internecine conflict had virtually
destroyed the fabric of Ogoni society by 1900 (1992: 14). His own
utopia then rested on the recreation of Ogoni culture and suffered
like all ur-histories from a quasi-mythic invocation of the past.
Third, ethnicity was the central problem of post-colonial Nigeria -
the corruption of ethnic majorities - and for Saro-Wiwa its panacea
(the multiplication of ethnic minority power). To invoke the history
of exclusion and the need for ethnic minority inclusion as the basis
for federalism, led Saro-Wiwa to ignore the histories and geographies
of conflict and struggle among and between ethnic minorities.
Saro-Wiwa's brilliance, then, was to make MOSOP a green, indigenous
movement (with international backing and visibility) and to take the
movement to the poor and the young to secure a powerful identity, in
the face of elite opposition (and his own marginal position in the
1980s). Saro-Wiwa's crowning glory was Ogoni national day on January
4, 1993 when he presided over the birth of the Ogoni flag, the Ogoni
anthem and the National Youth Council of the Ogoni People.

Paradoxically MOSOP surfaced as a foundational indigenous movement
even though Ogoni's significance as an oil-producing region was
diminishing. By the late 1990s moreover as a movement it had fallen
apart and inter-group struggles deprived it of much of its previous
momentum and visibility. But it gave birth to what one might call
indigenous movements among oil producing communities. The same forces
have spawned a raft of self-determination indigenous movements among
Ijaw (INC, IYV), Isoko (IDU), Urhobo (UPU), Itsekiri (INP), Ogbia
(MORETO) among others [Obi 2001]. MOSOP itself fell apart precisely
as these other movements gained power. Since the return to civilian
rule in 1999, there has been a rash of such minority movements across
the delta calling for 'resource control', autonomy and a national
sovereign conference to rewrite the Nigerian constitution. At the
same time the delta has become ever more engulfed in civil strife:
militant occupations of oil flow stations, pipeline sabotage,
intra-urban ethnic violence, and the near-anarchy of state security
operating in tandem with company security forces. The shock troops of
many of these indigenous movements are youth and women, and the
multiplication of ethnic youth movements is one of the most important
political developments in contemporary Nigeria. And it is here that
the politics of oil-producing communities meet up with the politics
of oil-producing indigenous groups.

What does the Ogoni case reveal, then, as a governable space?
Particular 'populations' have been constructed as indigenous. As I
explain below, this construction emerged from the nationalist
struggle as customary rights were added to a discourse of
citizenship. But the process received enormous energy as indigeneity
as a political category garnered international support in the last
part of the 20th century, a resource that Saro-Wiwa deployed
brilliantly [Bob 2002].

The emergence of a national debate in Nigeria over resource control
in the late 1990s is precisely a product of indigenous claims-making
on the state, a process by which ethnic identifications must be
discursively and politically produced. The Ogoni case shows that
there is no pre-given ethnic identity, but complex and unstable
genealogies of identification that have emerged in the last century
[Li 1996]. The indigene has to be made - interpolated - around a
strong sense of territory and tradition but in the context of
cultural, economic and political heterogeneity. This was achieved
through an imbrication of things and people - oil and ethnicity - and
it has been generative of a profusion of indigenous movements.
Indigeneity has in this sense unleashed the huge political energies
of ethnic minorities who recapitulate in some respects the
post-colonial history of spoils politics in Nigeria. The effect of
this multi-ethnic mobilisation was the production of political and
civic organisations and new forms of governable space, a veritable
jigsaw of militant particularisms. The Kaiama Declaration in 1999
indicates that there is a pan-ethnic solidarity movement in the
works, but its contours are at present limited [Douglas and Okonta
2001, ERA 1999]. As the Ogoni case shows, much of this visibility and
identification turned on the invention and reinvention of tradition
and local knowledge, with an eye to the Nigerian constitution and
international politics [Nelson 1999]. This is a case of the
multiplication of governable spaces which stand in some tension or
even contradiction with each other - they account for the explosion
of inter-ethnic tensions in the delta - and within the national space
of Nigeria, to which I now turn.

Space of Nationalism

One of the striking aspects of the governable spaces of indigeneity
as they emerge in the delta is that they become vehicles for
political claims, typically articulated as the need for a local
government or in some cases a state. Indigeneity necessarily raises
the question of a third governable space, that of the nation state,
an entity that pre-existed oil and came to fruition in 1960 at
independence. Oil in this sense became part of the nation-building
process - the creation of an 'oil nation'. Nature and nationalism
become inextricably linked. But how did petro-capitalism - understood
as a state-led, and thoroughly globalised, development strategy -
stand in relation to the creation of the governable space called
modern Nigeria?

As Mamood Mamdani (1996, 2001) has observed, colonial rule and
decentralised despotism were synonymous. The native authorities
consolidated local class power in the name of tradition (ethnicity)
and sustained a racialised view of civic rights. The nationalist
movement had two wings, a radical and a mainstream. Both wished to
deracialise civic rights but the latter won out and reproduced the
dual legacy of colonialism. They provided civic rights for all
Nigerians, but a bonus 'customary rights' for indigenous people. The
country had to decide which ethnic groups were indigenous and which
were not a basis for political representation, a process that became
constitutionally mandated in Nigeria. Federal institutions are
quota-driven for each state but only those indigenous to the state
may apply for a quota. As Mamdani (1998: 7) puts it:

The effective elements of the federation are neither territorial
units called states nor ethnic groups but ethnic groups with their
own statesŠGiven this federal character every ethnic group compelled
to seek its own home its NA, its own state. With each new political
entity the non-indigenes continues to grow.

Once law enshrines cultural identity as the basis for political
identity, it necessarily converts ethnicity into a political force.
As a consequence, in Nigeria, clashes in the postcolonial period were
ethnic, and such ethnic clashes, which dominated the political
landscape in the last three decades, are always at root about
customary rights to land and, derivatively, to a local government or
to a state that can empower those on the ground as ethnically

Into this mix enters oil, that is to say a valuable, centralised
(state-owned) resource. It is a national resource on which
citizenship claims can be constructed. As much as the state uses oil
to build a nation and to develop, so communities use oil wealth to
activate community claims on what is seen popularly as unimaginable
wealth - black gold. The governable space of Nigeria is as a
consequence re-territorialised through ethnic claims-making [Suberu
2001, Adebayo 1993]. The result is that access to oil revenues
amplifies what I call sub-national political institution-making;
politics becomes then a massive state-making machine. This partly
explains how, between 1966 and the present, the number of local
governments has grown from 50 to almost 1000, and the number of
states from 3 to 36! Nigeria as a modern nation state has become a
machine for the production of ever more local political institutions.
The logic is ineluctable and terrifying.

What sort of national governable space emerges from such
multiplication in which, incidentally, the political entities called
states or local government areas (LGAs) become vehicles for massive
corruption and fraud - or the disposal of oil revenues? The answer is
that it works against precisely the creation of an imagined community
of the sort that Benedict Anderson (1998) saw as synonymous with
nationalism. Nation-building, whatever its style of imaging, rests in
its modern form on a sort of calculation, integration, and state and
bureaucratic rationality which the logic of rent-seeking,
petro-corruption, ethnic spoils politics, and state multiplication
works to systematically undermine. Lauren Berlant has said that every
nation - and hence every governable national space - requires a
'national symbolic'; a national fantasy which 'designates how
national culture becomes local through images, narratives and
movements which circulate in the personal and collective
unconsciousness' (1991: 61). My point is that the Nigerian national
symbolic grew weaker and more attenuated as a result of the political
economy of oil. There was no sense of the national fantasy at the
local level; it was simply a big pocket of oil monies to be raided in
the name of indigeneity. At independence, Obafemi Awolowo, the great
western Nigerian politician, said that Nigeria was not a nation but a
'mere geographical expression'. Forty years later this is still true.

What we have in other words is not nation-building - understood in
the sense of a governable space - but perhaps its reverse: the
'unimagining' or deconstruction of a particular sense of national
community. Nicos Poulantzas (1978) said that national or modern unity
requires a historicity of a territory and a territorialisation of a
history. Oil capitalism (and its attendant governmentality) in
Nigeria has achieved neither of these requirements. The 'fictional'
governable space called Nigeria was always something of a public
secret. Forty years of post-colonial rule has made this secret both
more public as ethnic segregation has continued unabated and
undermined the very idea of the production of governable subjects.
The double-movement of petro-capitalism within the frame of a modern
nation state has eviscerated the governable space of the nation; it
has compromised it and worked against a sense of governable subject.
The same, incidentally, might be said of the impact of oil on the
Muslim communities of Nigeria [Watts 1998: 2000]. Oil and identity -
people and things - have produced an unimagined community on which
the question of Nigeria's future hangs.

Blood and Oil

The entire history of petroleum is, as Daniel Yergin (1991) details
in his encyclopaedic Whig account of the industry The Prize, replete
with criminality, violence and the worst of frontier capitalism.
Graft, autocratic thuggery, and the most grotesque exercise of
imperial power are its hallmarks. As the US armoured divisions roll
up the Iraqi oil corridor around Basra, this point hardly needs
further empirical confirmation. And it is to be expected in an age of
unprecedented denationalisation and market liberalisation - to say
nothing of the horrific rise of the gas-guzzling sports utility
vehicle in the US - the mad scramble to locate the next petrolic El
Dorado continues unabated. Eastern Russia looks ever more like a
slice of Mafiosi sovereignty. Petro-violence is rarely off the front
pages of the press. The Caspian basin reaching from the borders of
Afghanistan to the Russian Caucasus is a repository of enormous
petro-wealth; Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and the
southern Russian provinces (Ossetia, Dagestan, Chechnya) have however
become, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, a 'zone of
civil conflict and war'.28 The oil companies jockey for position in
an atmosphere of frontier vigilantism and what the Azerbaijani
president calls 'armed conflict, aggressive separatism and

Based on the Nigerian case, I have suggested that petro-capitalism
operates through a particular sort of oil complex (a configuration of
firm, state and community). The complex is strongly territorial,
operating through local oil concessions. The presence and activities
of the oil companies as part of the oil complex constitute a
challenge to forms of community authority, inter-ethnic relations,
and local state institutions principally through the property and
land disputes that are engendered, and via forms of popular
mobilisation and agitation to gain access to (i) company rents and
compensation revenues, and (ii) the petro-revenues of the Nigerian
state largely through the creation of regional and/or local state
institutions. The complex generates differing sorts of governable
spaces in which contrasting identities and forms of rule come into
play; in some cases youth and generational forces are key, in some
cases gender, in others the clan or the kingdom or the ethnic
minority (or indigenous peoples), in some cases local chiefly or
governmental authorities, and in others the forces of the local
state. A striking aspect of contemporary development in Nigeria is
the simultaneous production of differing forms of rule and governable
space - different politics of scale [Smith 1992] - all products of
similar forces and yet which work against, and often stand in direct
contradiction to one another. I have focused on youth, the indigene
or ethnic minority, and the nation. These idioms are inseparable from
oil, but their forms of identification and the robustness of their
spaces are often incompatible. Standing at the centre of each
governable space is a contradiction: at the oil community, the
overthrowing of gerontocratic authority but its substitution by a
sort of violent Mafia youthful rule. At the level of the ethnic
community is the tension between civic nationalism and a sort of
exclusivist militant particularism. And at the level of the nation,
one sees the contradiction between oil-based state centralisation and
state fragmentation, or multiplication, as oil becomes a sort of
generalised equivalent put to the service of massive corruption. I
have tried to root these contradictions in the double-movement of
petro-capitalism which is generative of an authoritarian
governmentality constituted by the three forms of governable space
that I have described. Such is the heart of the so-called crisis of
the post-colonial state in Africa. It is in this sense that I invoke
the idea of 'economies of violence' to characterise governmentality
in contemporary Nigeria.

Adress for correspondence:


[I am grateful to Oronto Douglas, Ike Okonta, Von Kemedi, Amita
Baviskar, and Donald Moore for their suggestions and assistance.]

  1 George Wright,'Wolfowitz: Iraq War was About Oil', Manchester
Guardian, June 4, 2003.
  2 Ike Okonta, 'Nigeria and the World', This Day, June 22, 2003,
Sunday editorial.
  3 Gal Luft, 'Africa Drowns in a Pool of Oil', Los Angeles Times,July 1, 2003.
  4 See Catholic Relief Services, Bottom of the Barrel, 2003; Global
Witness, Resources Conflict and Corruption, 2002; Fuelling Poverty,
Christian Aid 2002; Mark Renner, The Anatomy of Resource Wars,
Worldwatch Institute, Washington DC 2002; OXFAM, The Extractive
Sector and the Poor, 2001.
  5 See http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/pgtrpt/2000.
  6 See http://www.eia.gov/emeu/cabs/nigeria.html.
  7 Servant, Le Monde Diplomatique, January 13, 2003.
  8 See http://www.iasps.org.
  9 Anderson, J, 'Blood and Oil', The New Yorker, August 14, 2000, pp 46-59.
10 New York Times, October 14, 2001, III, 1.
11 Economists typically distinguish direct (so-called Dutch Disease)
effects in which resource booms lead to recession, and indirect
effects through rent seeking and institution-building.
12 For an elaborate critique of this position, see Peluso and Watts (2001).
13  Ross provides a shopping list of the consequences of oil: limited
backward linkages, inelastic demand, labour extensive, subject to
boom and bust cycles, subject to rent-seeking and so on. At the very
least one needs to be clear how oil differs from other commodities
(in order to be able to distinguish what is peculiar to oil as
opposed to extraction in general), and to be able to distinguish what
is it about the resource (and not the political context into which it
is inserted) that can explain the so-called 'paradox of plenty' (see
Catholic Relief Services (2003) as a case in point).
14 New York Times, August 13, 2002.
15 Some of these Foucauldian ideas have already been productively
deployed in the understanding of nature and resource management -
what one might call 'green governmentality' - and the relations
between nature and nationalism. See Braun (2000).
16 Rhein quoted in Rabinow (1989: 142).
17  Nembe in its macro-usage refers to six towns (Bassimbiri,
Ogbolomabiri, Okpoama, Odioma and Akassa ) that are among the 16
towns that comprise Nembe Kingdom. For the purposes of this paper,
however, Nembe town refers to Ogbolomabiri only.
18 The data for the case study was collected during a visit to the
Niger delta in January and February 2001. I also rely on the
assistance on Von Kemedi and his work [Kemedi 2002] and the Nembe
Peace Commission [Alagoa 2001].
19 The war canoe houses were the units of the kingdom's defence
forces. A war canoe house consisted of the head of the house and a
formidable number of able-bodied men who were responsible for
defending the house and the king.
20 There is a long running dispute over kingly authority that has
spilled over into the establishment of local government areas (LGAs).
In this paper I do not address the conflicts between Bassambiri and
Ogbolamabiri (two contiguous towns) over the authority of their
respective paramount chiefs, and disputes over LGA territory (and
hence access to oil rents).
21 As constitutional preparations were made for the transition to
home rule, non-Igbo minorities throughout the eastern region appealed
to the colonial government for a separate Rivers State. Ogoni
representatives lobbied the Willink Commission in 1958 to avert the
threat of exclusion within an Ibo-dominated regional government which
had assumed self-governing status in 1957 but minority claims were
ignored [Okpu 1977, Okilo 1980].
22 The Ogoni and other minorities petitioned in 1974 for the creation
of a new Port Harcourt State within the Rivers State boundary [Naanen
1995: 63].
23 According to the Nigerian government estimates, Ogoniland
currently (1995) produces about 2 per cent of Nigerian oil output and
is the fifth largest oil-producing community in Rivers State. Shell
maintains that total Ogoni oil output is valued at $5.2 billion
before costs.
24 Village Voice, November 21, 1995, pp 21.
25 Hammer, J, 'Nigerian Crude', Harper's Magazine, June 1996, pp 58-68.
26 The oil companies claim that sabotage accounts for a large
proportion (60 per cent) of the spills, since communities gain from
corporate compensation. Shell claims that 77 of 111 spills in
Ogoniland between 1985 and 1994 were due to sabotage (Hammer 1996).
According to the government commission, however, sabotage accounts
for 30 per cent of the incidents but only 3 per cent of the quantity
spilled. Furthermore, all oil producing communities claim that
compensation from the companies for spills has been almost
27 Saro-Wiwa was often chastised by Gokana (he himself was Bane)
since most of the Ogoni oil was in fact located below Gokana soil. In
other words, on occasion, the key territorial unit became the clan or
clan territory rather than a sense of pan-Ogoni territory.
28 San Francisco Chronicle, August 11, 1998, A8.


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