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Review of Oil and Insurgency in the Niger Delta: Managing the Complex Politics of Petro-Violence


By James Van Alstine

Oil and Insurgency in the Niger Delta: Managing the Complex Politics of Petro-Violence. Cyril Obi and Siri Aas Rustad (Eds). Zed Books, London and New York, 2011. Pp. 255. ISBN. 978 1 84813 807 0 (pb). £21.99.

Obi and Rustad’s edited volume provides up-to-date analysis and insight into the complex dynamics of petro-violence in the Niger Delta. Its empirically rich chapters engage with the processes and drivers of militant resistance and violent conflict, and, to varying degrees, provide policy recommendations for sustainable peace in the region. The volume provides readers excellent insight into how and why the complex drivers of conflict in oil producing areas change over time, and how a traditionally marginalised place, i.e. the Niger Delta region, has become embedded in the political economy of international energy and security concerns. The book is divided into three sections: part one (chapters 1 to 7) explores the causes of the conflict with a focus on the role of the state; part two (chapters 8 to 11) highlights the various dynamics of conflict actors in the Niger Delta; and part three (chapters 12 to 14) explores the responses of transnational oil companies (TOCs) through various stages of the conflict in the region.

On identifying fundamental causes of the conflict, one of the book’s key themes is the issue of alienation in the oil producing communities arising from the political question of resource control. Ukiwo (chapter 1) highlights how the security and governance perspectives have been privileged in policy spaces over the root problem of alienation and resource control, and Ako (chapter 3) demonstrates how the struggle for resource control is grounded in the historical struggles of the people of the Niger Delta for self-determination and local autonomy. However, Ibaba (chapter 5) highlights the interesting case of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), which has struggled for equitable distribution and control of oil since the 1990s, but has been hindered by corrupt leaders within Niger Delta states who misappropriate much of the revenue earmarked for the region. Other causes of the sustained conflict include severe environmental degradation, lack of political participation and democratic accountability, infrastructural underdevelopment and widespread poverty, especially youth unemployment (see Ahonsi, chapter 2). From a socio-legal perspective, Emesey (chapter 4) examines the inability of Nigerian law to resolve the crisis and provide access to justice for aggrieved oil-producing communities. Ukeye (chapter 6) and Soremekun (chapter 7) make an important contribution to the discussion of causes to the conflict by engaging with the international dimensions of petro-violence in the region. Ukeye highlights the transnational character of oil, and how the militarisation of the Niger Delta has not only occurred through state-led repression, but also through TOCs and home governments. Soremekun argues that the uneven relationship between the state and TOCs lies at the centre of the crisis.

Related to actors’ dynamics in the conflict, Boas (chapter 8) and Ikelegbe (chapter 9) both seek to unpack the contradictions of armed insurgencies and the diverse and complex dimensions of violence in the Niger Delta. Boas, using the example the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), demonstrates how rebel groups may forsake political agendas to take a track of ‘violent profit-seeking warlordism’ and Ikelegbe highlights the distinction between popular and criminal violence in the region. Duquet (chapter 10) notes the intensification of illicit small arms and light weapons proliferation in the region over the last decade, and Olumaniyi (chapter 11) provides an insightful contribution related to the drivers of women’s protests, which she highlights are struggles against both the state-TOC partnership and oppressive gender relations in the region.

On the responses of TOCs, Idemudia (chapter 12) explores the viability of corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a ‘strategy for managing corporate-community conflict’. The chapter highlights different CSR strategies TOCs have taken, such as the Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMoU) Shell and Chevron have adopted in partnership with local communities versus the Foundation Model Total and Statoil have employed. Although Idemudia views the conflict as a function of a breakdown in stakeholder relationships, he does recognise constraints on the effectiveness of CSR in the region, such as structural issues and a lack of an enabling environment. Zalik (chapter 13) critically reviews how two industry-led interventions, and the GMoU, reframe debates on resource control, criminality and legality in the Niger Delta crisis. is an initiative which seeks to certify oil at its source in order to minimise the market for stolen oil. Zalik demonstrates how this initiative discursively focuses attention on bunkering of oil which is a consequence not the cause of the socio-economic breakdown in the region. Similarly, she demonstrates how the GMoU makes non-violent protest effectively criminal. In the concluding chapter, Obi and Rustad discuss recent events and opportunities for lasting peace in the region. They are not optimistic that the ‘half-opened’ window of peace will succeed, given the state response through the amnesty and post-amnesty programmes has been to ‘appease conflict entrepreneurs’ and entrench dominant power relations over oil extraction.

Many of the chapters also make policy recommendations, which range from the quite general to very specific. For example, Obi and Rustad call for a ‘transformative social project’ which involves a non-military open and participatory process with all stakeholders, including marginalised grassroots people. Boas stresses the need to transform the insurgency into a more genuine and legitimate political force, and Ahonsi suggests linking community groups directly with government agencies that are to implement planned development initiatives. On resource control, the Akassa Model (or Foundation Model as discussed by Idemudia) is heralded by Ukiwo and Ako as an excellent example of institutionalizing a model of community ownership. Ukiwo also notes that Nigeria’s Petroleum Industry Bill which is being considered by the National Assembly provides an opportunity for mainstreaming community participation in revenue distribution to oil-producing communities, and Ako stresses that increased derivation is the most feasible variant of resource control. Governance and accountability initiatives such as the Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI) are also highlighted as avenues through which Western states and TOCs can put pressure on poorly governed resource rich countries such as Nigeria (see Ukeye and Idemudia).

In sum, this volume is a richly detailed collection of chapters, which provide considerable insight into the drivers, actors and TOC engagement processes related to the oil conflict in the Niger Delta.  The volume is very strong on this ground providing an up-to-date account of petro-violence, potential solutions and limiting factors in the region. Less strong is how each chapter engages with theory. There is no unifying theoretical framework, but some chapters do dabble with conceptual framing, e.g. Ahoso on governance and capacity building, Idemudia with stakeholder engagement and CSR, and Zalik utilizing Harvey’s accumulation by dispossession and critical discourse analysis. This lack of theoretical orientation is not necessarily a drawback as there is significant potential for this empirically strong volume to inform future meta-analyses of resource conflicts within and beyond the Niger Delta.

[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 73 (December 2011), pp. 85-88]

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