Academic journal article African Studies Review

Oil and the Production of Competing Subjectivities in Nigeria: "Platforms of Possibilities" and "Pipelines of Conflict"

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Oil and the Production of Competing Subjectivities in Nigeria: "Platforms of Possibilities" and "Pipelines of Conflict"

Article excerpt


This article examines how multinational corporations, recognizing the symbolic value of oil pipelines, flow stations, and platforms as ancestral promises of wealth to subject populations, work with NGOs and communities (sometimes in collaboration with the latter, but sometimes in a more adversarial manner) in setting up governance structures that often compete with, and sometimes oppose, the state in struggles over territorial control and resource extraction. These forms of contestations, it argues, create new sites of power in which NGOs aid multinational oil corporations in negotiating new sites of governance that in themselves create new structures of power.

Résumé: Cet article examine comment des sociétés multinationales, reconnaissant la valeur symbolique des oléoducs, des stations d'écoulement et des plateformes comme des promesses ancestrales d'enrichissement pour les populations locales, créent des partenariats avec des communes et ONG pour mettre en place des structures de gouvernement qui rivalisent, et parfois s'opposent à l'état, dans les luttes pour le contrôle du territoire et l'extraction des ressources. Ces formes de contestation, selon nous, créent des nouvelles zones de pouvoir dans lesquelles les ONG aident les sociétés multinationales du pétrole à négocier des nouvelles zones de gouvernement, qui en elles-mêmes, créent des nouvelles structures de pouvoir.

On February 11, 2008, Tell Magazine, one of Nigeria's leading news magazines organized a conference in Abuja, the federal capital, with the tide "50 Years of Oil in Nigeria." Organized as a celebration of a half-century of oil production in the nation, and focusing on the great benefits that oil exploration had brought to Nigeria, the conference was attended by representatives of Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, AGIP, TotalFinaElf, and all other major players in the oil industry, as well as then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, himself from die Niger Delta, and governors of the Niger Delta states of Bayelsa, Delta, and Edo.1 But while the conference was a great spectacle announcing a major milestone in the history of Nigeria, many communities of the Niger Delta were oblivious of the celebration.

With the advent of oil exploration in 1956, a thriving agrarian economy in the Niger Delta declined, giving way to oil pipelines, flow stations, and platforms. Today, farmers are deprived of what they consider their land and natural resources by legal institutions and ordinances of the state such as the Land Use Act of 1978 and the Petroleum Act of 1969, which transfer ownership to the federal government of Nigeria. Currendy, as this article shows, community members in many parts of the Niger Delta see oil prospecting, flow stations, pipelines, and platforms as symbols of the ancestral promises of wealth through oil exploration. In many ways, however, the wealth is exclusively symbolic rather than material.

Many Niger Delta communities view oil as a resource that was divinely ordained by their ancestors. For example, the Ugbos and Ijaws explicidy connect their history of migration with "oil wealth," and many of my Ugbo and Ijaw informants told me that their ancestors were led to their present locations because of ancestral myths that promised an abundance of natural resources, including oil.4 These communities view the Nigerian state as an impediment to the realization of these ancestral promises, because they perceive the state as operating in alliance with multinational corporations that exploit the oil resources for their own profit. This situation has led to conflict on several levels, including various claims and counterclaims over ownership of land and natural resources.

While the laws assert clearly that state and local governments own the land, communal landholding still persists in many parts of Nigeria (see Renne 1995). This has led to a situation in which multinational corporations, in many cases, negotiate both with the state ana with communities - and even with family members - in areas where they explore for oil. …

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