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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Spaces of Insurgency: Petro-Violence and the Geography of Conflict in Nigeria's Niger Delta

  • Author(s): Courson, Elias Edise
  • Advisor(s): Watts, Michael J
  • et al.

This work challenges the widely held controversial “greed and grievance” (resource curse) narrative by drawing critical insights about conflicts in the Niger Delta. The Niger Delta region of Nigeria has attracted substantial scholarly attention in view of the paradox of poverty and violence amidst abundant natural resources. This discourse suggests that persistent resource-induced conflicts in the region derive from either greed or grievance. Instead, the present work draws inspiration from the political geography of the Niger Delta, and puts the physical area at the center of its analysis. The understanding that the past and present history of a people is etched in their socio-political geography inspires this focus.

Whereas existing literatures engages with the Niger Delta as a monolithic domain, my study takes a more nuanced approach, which recognizes a multiplicity of layers mostly defined by socio-geographical peculiarities of different parts of the region and specificity of conflicts its people experience. In specific terms, the study demarcates Rivers and Delta States in Niger Delta into two distinctive domains – Eastern and Western Niger Delta respectively. Although each domain has experienced violent conflicts of various dimensions and proportions, such conflicts are distinct and distinguishable in several respects: in terms of their genealogy, patterns, trajectories, actors, motivations and modalities. These important distinctions, in turn, define and determine the nature and responses to conflicts generated over the years. The two conflict domains of Rivers and Delta States are shaped, then, by local socio-political dynamics within the Niger Delta.

There are however, cross-delta linkages and common burdens connecting these domains such as: corporate imperialism, marginalization, dispossession, environmental degradation, repression, poverty, unemployment and the quest for social justice. These common denominators influenced Paul Collier and most social science scholars to categorize the Niger Delta holistically as a conflict zone. Unfortunately and significantly, however, all these scholars have ignored the fact that in countries such as Nigeria, there is not just one conflict (resource conflict); rather, there are several, and they cannot be easily placed under the blanket category “resource curse.”

This study thus, rethinks Collier and conventional social science narratives on the Niger Delta conflict with a view to understanding the complicated geo-political dynamics of the region. The work shows that conflicts in the Niger Delta are precipitated by age-long animosities arising from land disputes, territorial claims, chieftancy tussles and demand for political autonomy fueled in the contemporary moment by petro-capitalism (petro-relations) and blurred by the spoils of oil.

The methodology for the study is a comparative analysis of East versus West Niger Delta. It draws on primary and secondary data sources as well as making extensive use of archival materials in order to elicit the historical, geographical and contemporary dimensions of the conflicts.

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