Omolade Adunbi, Oil Wealth and Insurgency in Nigeria.
Omolade Adunbi's book engages with one of the most popular themes in the study of contemporary Nigeria: the politics of violence and the contested ownership of the country's oil wealth. His thesis on oil as an 'ancestral promise of wealth' grounds this work in the discipline of anthropology, and takes the discussion of conflict and insurgency in the Niger Delta well beyond conventional explanations that dwell majorly on environmental degradation, economic deprivation and local resource control. While this enables him to construct resource rights as embedded in mythical connections between people and places, the approach also allows for some grey areas of interpretation.
Adunbi's scholarship is profound, as is the analysis of his data. Unlike previous authors who have researched the region, he extends the context of his investigation beyond the core Delta states to incorporate the very margin of the oil-producing areas and to include the Ilaje, a Yoruba-speaking group. This experiment with multi-sited ethnography allows him to establish a parallel in oil consciousness across ethnic and regional borders. Across Nigeria's oil communities, the author explains, activism and insurgency rely on a consciousness of inheritance, depicted in myths and narratives that connect the people with oil.
In the seven chapters of his book, Adunbi treats history, activism, contestations, inequality, violence and negotiation, all in relation to oil wealth, and offers an analytical account of interactions that take place among numerous actors he describes as endlessly engaged in 'claim-making'. The author sheds light on the part played by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in promoting human and environmental rights rhetoric among the people of the Niger Delta as a tool for challenging state power and control of the oil wealth. He shows how NGOs and insurgency movements latch on to local narratives of oil as an 'ancestral promise of wealth' to insert themselves into spaces of governance. He further depicts how references to Abuja, the country's capital city, are couched in the image of a predatory state and shows the effectiveness of such constructions in raising people's consciousness and mobilizing large-scale dissent. Adunbi moves on to identify three logics of the Amnesty Programme instituted by the Nigerian state to end insurgency. The trio of co-optation, incapacitation and dispersal, he argues, provides a temporary respite for the state and leaves oil communities of the Delta to contend with the continued degradation of their environment.
The central thesis of this book no doubt offers a deeper insight into the struggle of the Niger Delta people than previous works. However, as strong as the argument of the 'ancestral promise of wealth' appears to be, it lacks sufficient textual evidence. Apart from the Ilaje-Ugbo migration history (pp. 103-9), other narratives on which the author relies refer much less directly to resource wealth as inheritance. In the absence of historical narratives that confirm his argument directly, Adunbi is forced to depend on informants' statements to foreground his very important focus on inheritance. As a result, the book's focus on the complex intersection of heritage and claim-making shifts attention from the 'why' of claim-making to the question of 'how' governance spaces such as NGO activists and insurgency movements deploy narratives of an ancestral promise for opportunistic and self-centred activities.
The author's valuation of the Amnesty Programme mostly reflects his background in rights activism--a link he acknowledges in the very early part of the book. Adunbi appears pained by the terms of the Amnesty and asks why the programme 'created a peace grounded in rendering Niger Delta youths immobile' and 'unable to make claims of belonging and of entitlement to oil benefits' (p. 220). The author sees the vocational and educational opportunities offered to youths by the programme as palliative and a distraction by the Nigerian state from the core issue of the nature of claims to oil. Adunbi identifies Amnesty measures as the state's recognition of oil as a local inheritance, but he also argues that the process remains uncompleted. As long as the different dimensions of this inheritance are disputed, the Niger Delta remains a permanent site of contestation.
In all, Adunbi's book constructs an explanation of the Niger Delta insurgency within an ethnographic framework in which claims to oil wealth are both naturalized and manipulated through the language of inheritance. Clearly presented and accessible, this book offers both a convincing analysis and a fascinating narrative.
University of Ibadan
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2017|
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