The Changing Forms of Identity Politics in Nigeria under Economic Adjustment: The Case of the Oil Minorities Movement of the Niger Delta

The Changing Forms of Identity Politics in Nigeria under Economic Adjustment: The Case of the Oil Minorities Movement of the Niger Delta

The Changing Forms of Identity Politics in Nigeria under Economic Adjustment: The Case of the Oil Minorities Movement of the Niger Delta

The Changing Forms of Identity Politics in Nigeria under Economic Adjustment: The Case of the Oil Minorities Movement of the Niger Delta

Synopsis

The Niger delta region of Nigeria has a long history of struggles for self-determination. This study attempts to capture the transformations in ethnic minority identity politics in the oil-producing areas of the Niger delta. It is suggested that part of the solution to the crisis in the delta will involve not only a thorough-going restructuring of the Nigerian state but also the re-orientation of the mode of operation of the giant oil multinationals in order to make them both more sensitive and accountable to the local communities.

Excerpt

This study explains the on-going transformations in ethnic minority identity politics in the oil producing parts of the Niger delta since the late 1980s. It also explores the linkages between structural adjustment and the decay and renewal, taking place within identity movements in the volatile oil-rich delta. the delta region had been noted for its struggles for self-determination since the second decade of the twentieth century (Tamuno, 1970; Saro-Wiwa, 1995), and has since been the site of ethnic minority struggles for a measure of autonomy during the period leading to independence in 1960. However, immediately after independence the struggles of these groups were limited to non-violent intra-elite or intra-class competition; or alliances with other ethnic minority groups making similar demands for their own states.

Recently, identity politics in the delta has become more pronounced, violent and widespread, even to the extent of threatening the Nigerian nationstate as presently constituted. the volatile nature of politics in the Niger delta, especially since the mid-1980s, is traceable to several factors: the emergence of petroleum as the fiscal basis of the Nigerian state, the status of petroleum as a critical element in the reproduction of the ruling class and the ultimate prize of political power. When it is considered that the bulk of the oil is extracted from the lands and waters of the Niger delta, it is not difficult to explain why the continued marginalisation of oil minorities of the delta from the centres of economic and political power has now become a volatile issue in Nigerian politics. This marginalisation derives from power relations characterised by the imposition by the Nigerian State of a centralised mode of access, extraction and distribution. It was further compounded by the deepening of economic crisis in the 1980s, a growing crisis of state legitimacy (Olukoshi, 1997: 452⁁160; Obi, 1997c), the intensification of authoritarian rule in a context of economic adjustment, and global changes attendant on the end of the cold war.

The foregoing combined to fuel the resurgence of ethnic movements and identity politics in the delta on an unprecedented scale and manner. Two decades of political exclusion from direct access to power and oil was interpreted in ethnic terms fuelling strong feelings among the “dispossessed” oil minorities that an end had to be put to the cheating. Identity thus became a marker of the quest for change, while itself undergoing transformation within the dialectics of the struggles for the “liberation” of the oil minorities from the hegemony of the dominant ethnic group factions and the oil multinationals operating in the delta. To capture the significance of these processes, it is necessary to examine the various forces, structures and modalities (and dynamics) through which the oil minorities movements are formed and transformed, and the roles played by extractive actors such as the Nigerian state and exter-

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